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Fair Specs, Foul Speeds
Based on its specs, the $99 Ultima 2000 looks promising. It captures color at 36 bits per pixel and distills it down to the 24-bit color depth that most software can handle. Its maximum optical resolution of 600 by 1,200 dots per inch (dpi) is enough to produce crisp, detailed images.
Unfortunately, in CNET Labs' tests, the Ultima 2000 proved to be very slow. It took 92.6 seconds to scan an 8-by-10-inch color document at 150 dpi, making it one of the slowest scanners we have ever tested. It chugged through the grayscale test document in 36.4 seconds, also a very slow time.
Speed wasn't the Ultima 2000's only problem; CNET Labs' scanner jury found that it also had trouble with image quality. Scanned color images showed washed-out blues and greens, while anything reddish was oversaturated. Only flesh tones and browns appeared fairly realistic. The scanner introduced awkward stair-step patterns in the transition areas between colors and textures, and grayscale images suffered terribly from a lack of texture and detail.
Spartan Design; Stuffed With Software
Not everything about the Ultima 2000 is bad. Bright points include its space-saving, simple design and its cross-platform compatibility. Its slim profile--only 10 inches wide, 15 inches long, and 1.5 inches tall--won't hog your desk space. Its CIS (contact image sensor) scanning unit draws power from your PC through a USB cable, eliminating the need for a bulky power adapter. The lid is removable to accommodate thick materials (though removing it is a bit tricky). The Spartan front panel has no buttons, just an LED power indicator; you control all scan functions via the software driver. Artec provides a CD-based manual in Adobe Acrobat's PDF format, and a fold-out setup poster covers installation step-by-step (in ten languages).
The Ultima 2000 is compatible with both PC (Windows 95 OSR2, 98, 2000, Me) and Mac (OS 8.5 or later) platforms, and Artec bundles a good supply of software for both. In addition to the scanner drivers and manual (in PDF format), you get TextBridge Classic OCR 2.0 for PC and Mac, which converts scanned documents into text files. For photo editing, Artec provides a Windows version of MGI PhotoSuite SE and Adobe PhotoDeluxe 2.0 for Macs. Artec's ScanEZ (Windows only), an augmented version of the scanner driver, leaves a convenient toolbar open on your desktop for launching scans, and it includes some image-correction features such as controls for gamma, brightness, and color saturation.
Support for the Ultima 2000 is standard: A limited warranty covers the unit against defects for one year. Phone support runs Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Pacific time. Although it is a toll call, the support is free and doesn't run out with the warranty. Artec's Web site offers little, other than a FAQ section and PC drivers.
The Artec Ultima 2000 is easy to use, and it comes with a handy software bundle. Unfortunately, its slow scan speeds and below-average image quality overshadow its other attributes. Even its low price is matched by better products from other vendors, giving us little reason to recommend it.