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Apple LaserWriter and LaserWriter Plus

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Model Information

[Apple LaserWriter]

Model Data
Model Number LaserWriter: M0156
LaserWriter Plus: M0188
Introduction Date LaserWriter: December 1984
LaserWriter Plus: December 1986
Original MSRP LaserWriter: $4,995
LaserWriter Plus: $5,799


Distinctive shape and color

The Apple LaserWriter looks unlike any other Canon CX-based laser printer. Apple was the only company not to use the standard Canon cover set. The covers were originally molded in an off-white shade of plastic, which was changed in late production to the same battleship gray used for the Macintosh II computers and LaserWriter II printers. Apple documentation calls this color "platinum." Apple also used different colors for the paper input cassette and the output trays. The paper cassette color was usually off-white or gray instead of brown. The two piece output tray was molded in a "black-smoke" colored plastic, as opposed to the "bronze or brown smoke" colored plastic used on almost all other CX-based printers from HP, Canon, and the other Canon OEMs.

A Key Part of the Desktop Publishing Revolution

If the computer business had a hall of fame, like so many professional sports, then the Apple LaserWriter would surely deserve a place in the Computer Products Hall of Fame. It was one of the first desktop laser printers, and it was the first laser printer to contain PostScript, the revolutionary page description language from Adobe Systems that has rightfully become the industry standard Page Description Language (PDL) for professional typesetting and graphics.

The LaserWriter was also probably Apple Computer's most important printer product ever, and it may have saved Apple Computer from financial disaster when many computer industry analysts were predicting Apple Computer's demise. At the time it was introduced, people weren't sure the Macintosh computer was useful for business. They knew it was a neat toy and fun for kids, but they questioned whether the cute little icons, pull-down menus and strange pointing device called a mouse would ever make it as a serious business tool. Then people saw the output from the new LaserWriter and it changed their minds. Its scalable Helvetica and Times-Roman fonts were the best thing since the invention of the daisywheel printer by Diablo Systems in 1972. The LaserWriter even emulated the latest Diablo 630, for compatibility with programs that did not have PostScript drivers. Programmers soon discovered that relatively simple PostScript commands could create professional looking typeset pages. This had only been possible previously with expensive professional typesetting equipment. Simultaneously, Adobe created RIPs (Raster Image Processors) for Linotype imagesetters, and the existence of both allowed the low-cost Apple LaserWriter to become the perfect proofing device for high-end publishing systems.

PostScript made writing a desktop publishing program much easier than ever before. Aldus Corporation (creators of PageMaker) and Manhattan Graphics (creators of Ready-Set-Go) brought out the first truly WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) page processing programs. Paul Brainerd, founder of Aldus Corporation, is credited for coining the phrase, "desktop publishing." The phrase, "WYSIWYG page processing" had been too clumsy and didn't encompass the scope of the vision Paul Brainerd and others, such as Jonathan Seybold, had for this new and wonderful application for personal computers. Without the Apple LaserWriter, Aldus Corporation wouldn't have been able to make PageMaker work as well as it did then, and does now. Desktop publishing would have evolved very slowly. The PDLs of the day were very primitive compared to PostScript. Most were simply extensions of the ASCII character set, with huge lists of "escape sequences" for switching fonts, setting margins and drawing simple lines and bit-mapped graphics.

The LaserWriter and desktop publishing programs suddenly gave people a reason to buy the Macintosh computer, and sales skyrocketed. The Macintosh computer is often credited for creating the desktop publishing revolution, but actually the Apple LaserWriter with PostScript had as much or more to do with it than the Mac. If Apple hadn't connected with Adobe for the LaserWriter, then PostScript probably would have resided only on high-end workstations and the desktop publishing revolution might have been delayed by as much as five years.

The LaserWriter was expensive when introduced. The suggested retail price was $6,995. Towards the end of production it came down to a street price of about $3,800. The price was high because the printer contained far more RAM (1.5 megabytes) and ROM (512 kilobytes) than the computer. At the time, the hot system was a "Fat Mac," which had 512K of RAM instead of only 128K. Two megabytes was considered incredible, especially for us die-hard S-100 bus users who thought 64K was enough for anything an individual user needed to do.

Another landmark feature of the Apple LaserWriter was the AppleTalk interface. AppleTalk is basically a very low-cost-to-implement network. It made printer sharing easy. The only thing users had to do was plug the cables together and: bingo! All users could share the printer and get intelligent status messages back on their screens for their print jobs. By using the operator's screen as a control panel, the printer didn't need one itself. Apple chose to put just three LEDs on the printer and promoted the notion that the user should never have to touch a peripheral to make it work. The printer was controlled from the operator's desk. Users never needed to walk over to the printer to read a display panel and press form feed if the computer did not eject the page, something they often had to do on non-Apple systems.

The LaserWriter's AppleTalk interface also supported RS-232, so other systems, such IBM PCs and Sun workstations, could connect to the power of PostScript. Sun liked the LaserWriter so well that they OEMed it from Apple and called it the Sun Laser. This is one of the few times since Bell & Howell received black-painted Apple II computers that Apple ever allowed any company to officially OEM an Apple product.

The LaserWriter also included a limited implementation of Xerox's Diablo 630 protocol. The purpose of the Diablo 630 emulation was to allow users to use the LaserWriter like any other dumb ASCII printer for printing from applications such as database, accounting and other DP programs that didn't have PostScript drivers yet.

Even though the LaserWriter was only marketed to Apple Macintosh users, it soon became the preferred printer for desktop publishing programs on the PC, like Ventura Publisher. Soon every PC word processing (such as WordPerfect, WordStar and Word) supported the Apple LaserWriter. Initially, Apple didn't want to promote the fact that the LaserWriter was usable on PCs, because it wanted to sell Macs. Not until 1992, when Apple was tired of seeing HP and QMS sell to the Mac market, did it come out with the LaserWriter NTR, which had a parallel port for the Windows PC market.


The original Apple LaserWriter had only 13 typefaces in three font familes, plus a Symbol Set. The font families included were Courier, Helvetica, and Times Roman, which came in regular, oblique or italic, bold, and bold oblique or italic.

The LaserWriter Plus added 22 more typefaces: the ITC Avant Garde, ITC Bookman Light and Demi, Helvetica Narrow, New Century Schoolbook, and Palatino families, plus ITC Zapf Chancery and ITC Zapf Dingbats.


Although the Apple LaserWriter and LaserWriter Plus have been discontinued, The Printer Works offers refurbished printers in like-new condition with a six-month warranty. For a price quote, select the part number of the model that interests you in the ordering information table.

Controller Notes

Model Information | Supplies and Accessories | Ordering Information | Text Only

[Apple LaserWriter Controller]

Controller Specifications
Part Number LaserWriter (original version): 661-0270
LaserWriter (revised version): 661-0436
LaserWriter Plus (original version: 661-0324
LaserWriter Plus (revised version): 661-0437
Designer Apple Computer & Adobe Systems
Manufacturer Apple Computer
Design Similar to None
Languages (Std & Opt) PostScript, Diablo 630
CPU & Clock Rate Motorola 68000 at 11.16 MHz
Resolution 300 x 300
RET None
Base/Max RAM 1.5 Megabytes
ROM LaserWriter: 512K
LaserWriter Plus: 1MB
Control Panel Type LED Status panel only
Standard Interfaces AppleTalk, RS-232

The Apple LaserWriter and LaserWriter Plus use the same controller board assembly. Only the copyrighted ROMs have been changed to add the additional fonts. The original mass-produced printed circuit board was part number 820-0131-B. This revision B was designed in 1984 and could accommodate only 256K or 512K bit ROMs, not 1 megabit ROMs. The 1.5 megabytes of DRAM typically found in the LaserWriter is made up of 48 256K by 1 chips. The speeds are usually 150 to 200 nanosecond access time; great in 1984, but considered very slow today.

In 1987 the controller was revised for use with 1 megabit ROMs, while maintaining compatibility with either 256K or 512K ROMs as well. The part number of the revised PCB is 820-0131-C. When changing ROMs, the installer must be careful to set the configuration block (Apple Part NO.511-1603 or a commonly available 4 position DIP shunt) at the correct position, as labeled in the silk screen on the PCB. The LaserWriter cannot print a legal-size page without clipping the edges of the output, due to memory limitations.

The LaserWriter (non-plus) ROMs exist in several revisions. The part numbers and locations for Revision 2, which was current in December of 1986, are:

LaserWriter ROM Sets

Location 512K ROM Rev 2 512K ROM Rev 47 1 M ROM Rev 47

L0 342-0081 342-0568 342-0359

H0 342-0082 342-0569 342-0360

L1 342-0083 342-0570 342-0361

H1 342-0084 342-0571 342-0362

L2 342-0085 342-0572

H2 342-0086 342-0573

L3 342-0087 342-0574

H3 342-0088 342-0575

The LaserWriter Plus ROMs also exist in several versions. The LaserWriter Plus ROM part numbers and locations are as follows:

LaserWriter Plus ROM Sets

Location 512K ROM Rev 2 512K ROM Rev 47 1 M ROM Rev 47

L0 342-0089 342-0371 342-0363

H0 342-0090 342-0372 342-0364

L1 342-0091 342-0373 342-0365

H1 342-0092 342-0374 342-0366

L2 342-0093 342-0375 342-0367

H2 342-0094 342-0376 342-0368

L3 342-0095 342-0377 342-0369

H3 342-0096 342-0378 342-0370

L4 342-0097 342-0379

H4 342-0098 342-0380

L5 342-0099 342-0381

H5 342-0100 342-0382

L6 342-0101 342-0383

H6 342-0102 342-0384

L7 342-0103 342-0385

H7 342-0104 342-0386

Supplies and Accessories

Model Information | Controller Notes | Ordering Information | Text Only
You can check prices or order these items from the ordering information table below.


The LaserWriter and LaserWriter Plus use the same toner cartridges as all other CX-based printers.


The LaserWriter and LaserWriter Plus printers use the same shaped paper trays as all other CX-based printers. All versions are physically interchangeable, but there are slight color differences. (See also Diagram 300, Paper Cassettes for CX Engines.)


The LaserWriter and LaserWriter Plus have 1.5 MB of RAM installed on the motherboard. They are not upgradeable.


The LaserWriter and LaserWriter Plus printers have standard connectors for AppleTalk and RS-232 Serial.


Option 1: Add software for additional capabilities

External software emulations for PC users are available for both HP-PCL and Epson FX. The Printer Works sells a program called PCL4T that translates HP's Printer Command Language (PCL) Level 4 into PostScript Level 1. If you have a LaserWriter connected to a PC and have ever needed to print from an application, this transparent, DOS-compatible TSR may be just what you need. The Printer Works also markets a program called PSFX, from Legend Communications, which allows PostScript printers to emulate Epson and IBM dot matrix printers.

Option 2: Convert to External Video

The Apple Controller is easily removed and simply replaced by a video interface cable harness assembly. This is a rather unorthodox conversion, because the printer may or may not be Apple-compatible any longer, depending on what is connected to the external video interface. If you are a PC user who has an Apple LaserWriter printer, making such a conversion may be very logical. Some Mac users may have switched to PCs and some PC users may have purchased Apple printers for use on PCs. Other PC users may wish to buy an Apple printer on the used market, since many are available at low prices.

Once the printer has been converted to external video, many other external controllers can be connected to it. (See our page on external and host-based controllers, as well as The Printer Works' SX Catalog for more information about external video controllers.) The control panel LEDs on the side of the printer will still function, as these lights are driven from the printer's DC controller, not from the formatter. If you desire to convert your Apple LaserWriter to external video, we can supply the appropriate cable assemblies.

Some external controllers are also Apple-compatible (SCSI to Video and etc.), but these are rather esoteric and are not stocked by The Printer Works.

Ordering Information

Model Information | Controller Notes | Supplies and Accessories | Text Only
For price and ordering information or to place the item in your shopping cart,
select a Part Number in the table.
Part NumberDescription
M0156 Printer, Apple LaserWriter, Refurbished
M0188 Printer, Apple LaserWriter Plus, Refurbished
661-0436 Controller, Apple LaserWriter
661-0437 Controller, Apple LaserWriter Plus
M0191 Upgrade Kit, LaserWriter Plus ROMs
M0228 Paper Cassette, Letter, Apple LW (R33-0014-000)
M0229 Paper Cassette, Legal, Apple LW
M103-305 Cable, DB9 to DIN8, 1 Mac to 1 Printer
M03-213 Cable Ass'y, DB-9 to PhoneNet
M03-202 Cable Ass'y, AppleTalk to DB-9
M103-213 Cable Kit, PhoneNet, DB-9 to RJ11
M02-117 Apple LW to IBM XT Serial
M02-115 Apple LW to IBM AT Serial
RG9-0124-000 Interface Bracket Assembly, CX Video DB-37
Model Information | Controller Notes | Supplies and Accessories | Text Only

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