Lab Test: Jacks of all trades

Anthony Caruana
18 May, 2010
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Multifunction printers not only save you money on hardware – you don’t have to buy a printer, a scanner, a copier and a fax – but can also save you money on ink and paper if you make the right choices. ANTHONY CARUANA explains how.

We’ve been hearing it for years – the paperless office. As data storage increased, communications networks expanded and displays improved, we expected the number of trees being felled to fuel our thirst for paper to fall. But it never happened.

Independent research by Gartner and IDC puts the cost of printing at between 1 and 3 percent of revenue for businesses – that’s a lot of money.

However, over the last 20 years a new category of printer, one that could help us save on printing costs, has come to the market – the multifunction centre, or MFC.

MFCs combine at least three different functions into a single device. At the very least a MFC will print, scan and copy. Some add faxing to the equation. The majority of consumer and small business MFCs use inkjet printing, although there are quite a few laser-based units on the market.

The most basic MFCs on the market retail for under $100. While they look attractive at first glance, they skip many features that we think should be on your shopping list. Of the five units we looked at, four include a sheet feeder for the scanner. We suggest that this is a very handy feature. As bills, letters and other correspondence come in, a sheet feeder makes it easy to scan the paper for electronic storage. That way, you can reduce the need for binders, shelves and filing cabinets.

For those concerned about the Australian Taxation Office’s view on such things, the ATO says that‚ ‘Where paper records are produced or received in the course of carrying on business, the Tax Office accepts the imaging of those records onto an electronic storage medium provided that the electronic copies are a true and clear reproduction of the original paper records.’

We’d also strongly recommend that you consider the ability to print double-sided, or duplex, as an important feature. Businesses that set duplexing as a default on their printers make substantial savings on paper costs.

If you can manage it, CD/DVD printing is handy as well. If you need to send disks to clients being able to print your logo on the media makes you look a lot more professional than a scrawl in permanent marker.

Finally, look at the cost and capacity of consumables. We’d suggest that the true cost of a printer needs to take this into account. Also, look for units that let you buy separate colour cartridges. Entry-level MFCs often have a black cartridge and a colour one. With these, if the magenta tank in the colour cartridge is emptied first, then the whole cartridge needs to be trashed. Once you’re out of the entry level, each colour can be replaced separately.

All printers we looked at were set up using Snow Leopard’s default drivers. When you connect a printer with Snow Leopard it’s able to determine the make and model and then retrieve the latest driver using Software Update. We tested the printers using their Wi-Fi, Ethernet and USB connections.

To see each of the models in the Lab Test, click on the links below:

Epson TX610FW

Brother MFC-9120CN

HP OfficeJet 6500

Canon Pixma MP640

Lexmark Prestige Pro805

This Lab Test originally appeared in the April issue of Australian Macworld magazine.

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