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We have explored the operating characteristics of UV preionized discharge lasers producing 10-100 mJ from noble-gas/ monofluoride excimers. We have studied in detail the temporal characteristics of the discharge, the effects of instabilities, variations of circuit parameters, and the effects of varying degrees of preionization on energy deposition and lasing. Spectral characteristics, tuning, stable and unstable resonator geometries, and beam focusability are also discussed. A companion paper presents the results of a computer modeling of the laser.