Laser printers — budget busters

Ian Yates
15 September, 2007
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These days you can buy an inkjet printer at the supermarket for less than $50 — less than the cost of replacement ink cartridges. However, if you need to do more than produce the occasional printed page you’ll soon wish you’d bought something a bit more substantial.

Those budget inkjets do a decent job of producing postcard prints captured on the weekend. They just don’t excel at spitting out large quantities of text pages. Usually hobbled by tri-colour cartridges, or at best allowing you to swap-in an all-black cartridge, they weren’t designed to be printing powerhouses.

For speedy low-cost high-volume page production, you need to look at laser printers. Black and white lasers first appeared in the 1970s and back then you’d spend as much to acquire one as you would for a small car. Things have changed. Now you can get your hands on a 20 page-per-minute monochrome laser printer for retail prices under $250 and street prices below $150. AMW Lab took a look at four of these pocket rockets to see what you get for your money.

Walking off the shelves. The first thing we discovered is that these printers are very much in demand. So much so, that we simply couldn’t get our hands on an HP Laserjet 1022, nor the Lexmark E120n. Although the HP 1022 will be replaced in October with a new model, you can still find them in some stores at keen prices, but stocks are shrinking fast.

The only HP product available for review had a retail price tag of $499, which elevated it beyond our “budget” category. Due to stock shortage on the Lexmark E120n, we were sent the E250d to look at, with a retail price tag of $340, which is stretching the limits of the term “budget”. However, it does include a duplex facility. Printing on both sides of the paper won’t save you any ink, but it will reduce the number of trees felled in the process.

The other three printers came from Brother, Fuji Xerox and Samsung. The Brother HL-2040, the Samsung ML-2010 and the Fuji Xerox DP204A all came in under the $250 retail price target. Street prices are much lower than the manufacturers’ suggested prices, so shop around, but the Fuji Xerox doesn’t seem to be discounted as hard as the other two.

However, for the extra cash you get Ethernet connectivity as well as USB, which might be a deal clincher for some buyers. Note that if you can locate the elusive but un-reviewed Lexmark E120n it also includes an Ethernet port and sells for a street price around $150.

Peas in a pod. If you line up the Brother and the Fuji Xerox side-by-side and cover their name badges you won’t be able to tell them apart. We don’t know which factory they come from but other than the lack of an Ethernet port, the Brother HL-2040 is identical to the Fuji Xerox DP204A, right down to using the same toner cartridges. The Samsung ML-2010 is also very similar looking, but obviously not from the same factory, while the Lexmark E250d is a whole lot bigger and heavier than the other three. The extra bulk might mean it is better built and may therefore last longer, but only a long-term test would prove the point.

Setting up the printers was a complete no-brainer, with each having a single toner cartridge to insert, and a single 250-sheet paper tray to load. They all also provided a single-sheet feed slot for the occasional letterhead or envelope. Each came with its own CD loaded with the correct Macintosh-friendly drivers, and each was automatically added to the available printers list after loading the drivers and connecting the USB cable.

The Fuji Xerox also appeared in the Rendezvous/Bonjour menu when connected to an Ethernet switch, without requiring any fiddling with settings or IP numbers. We then fed a couple of Microsoft Word documents at each machine, a three-pager from which we asked for five copies and a 15-pager single-copy. Next we tried a couple of PDFs with graphics, and several web pages.

Nothing fazed these pocket rockets — except of course that everything is in black and white — but graphics were still crisp and clear along with the text. The rated 20ppm speed is achieved when printing text-only pages from any of these machines, but after all that is what they are designed to do well. Graphics take a little longer, and if there’s any colour you’d probably divert them to your trusty inkjet anyway. The only thing you need to change on these printers is the single toner cartridge, and of course the paper. Cartridges for the Brother are $80, for the Lexmark $155, for the Samsung $129 and for the Fuji Xerox you can expect to pay around $75.

All are rated at 2500 pages of average text printing, except the Samsung cartridge, which claims 3000 pages. The quoted cartridge prices are from online suppliers of original consumables.

Australian Macworld’s buying advice.
If you need a printer to churn through multiple text pages on a regular basis, any of the four we reviewed is well and truly up to the task. There doesn’t seem to be much difference in build quality between them, although the Lexmark E250d contains a lot more metal than the others, coming in at twice the weight, but also asking for a bit more cash. The budget beater is the Samsung ML-2010 at a street price of $120, however, should you need network connectivity the Fuji Xerox DP204A is worthy of your attention as well as your additional dollars.

Brother HL-2040

Rated speed 20ppm
Ports USB
Cons No network
Pros Speedy, compact, envelope feeder
Rating 4
Type Budget laser printer
Weight 6.5kg
Distributor Brother International (Aust) 02 8875 6210
SRP $AUD229
Reviewer: Ian Yates

Samsung ML-2010

Rated speed speed 20ppm
Ports USB
Cons No network
Pros Speedy, compact, envelope feeder
Rating 4.5
Type Budget laser printer
SRP $AUD229
Distributor Samsung 02 9957 5655
Reviewer: Ian Yates

Lexmark E250d

Rated speed speed 28ppm
Ports USB
Cons Heavier than the others, pricey
Pros Speedy, duplex printing, envelope feeder
Rating 4
Type Budget laser printer
Weight 11.4kg
SRP AUD$340
Distributor Lexmark Australia 02 9930 3500
Reviewer: Ian Yates

Fuji Xerox DP204A

Rated speed speed 20ppm
Ports USB, 10Base-T
Cons None
Pros Speedy, envelope feeder
Rating 4.5
Type Budget laser printer
Weight 5.4kg
Distributor Fuji Xerox Australia 13 14 12
Reviewer: Ian Yates

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