Once upon a time, laser printers were the domain of corporate monoliths with money to burn. But these days, with the latest technology available at reasonable prices, even the humblest entrepreneur can afford the higher quality of a laser printer.
One of the most important features to look for in a laser printer is resolution quality (which is the primary advantage of laser printers over ink-jets), expressed in dots-per-inch (dpi). The standard resolution for laser printers is 600 x 600 dpi for text, although many offer 1,200 x 600 dpi or better through optional image-enhancement technology.
Other important features include speed of printing, expressed in pages per minute (ppm), and duty cycle, the maximum number of pages to be printed per month. The more document-intensive your business is, the more important these features become.
Perhaps the best advice is to realistically evaluate your business's needs before purchasing any type of printer. Do you need to print thousands of pages a month or just a dozen per week? Do you routinely print long documents that require high-capacity input trays? Will you need to expand the printer's memory to enhance performance, or will the average 2MB suffice? And keep in mind, it's a good idea to buy a better machine than you currently need to make sure your business won't outgrow it too quickly.
Model: Okidata OKIPAGE 6E
Features: 6 ppm; 6,000 pages per month; 600 x 600 dpi; 1MB memory, expandable to 17MB; 100-sheet paper tray
Warranty: one-year limited and five-year limited on the LED printhead
List price: $369
Phone: (800) OKIDATA
This is a good basic model, offering standard performance levels at a midrange price, but at 1MB, the memory is smaller than average. It can be expanded, however, at an additional cost. The main advantage of the OKIPAGE 6E is the extra-long warranty on the LED printhead, scoring it major points in the "just-in-case" department. Remember, you can never be too rich, too thin or have too long a warranty.
Model: Minolta PageWorks 8L
Features: 8 ppm; 10,000 pages per month; 600 x 600 dpi; 2MB memory, expandable to 18MB; 150-sheet paper tray; can handle paper weights of up to 90 pounds
Warranty: one-year limited
List price: $449
The Minolta PageWorks 8L is one of the more expensive of the laser printers we reviewed, but it also has some of the best features available in the under-$500 range. Both the print speed and the duty cycle are among the highest we found. In addition, this printer can handle paper weights of up to 90 pounds. For a document-intensive business, a printer with this much versatility will likely be worth the extra money.
Model: Xerox DocuPrint P8 Personal Laser Printer
Features: 8 ppm; 3,000 pages per month; 600 x 600 dpi (1,800 x 600 dpi through optional image enhancement technology); 512KB memory; 250-sheet paper tray
Warranty: three years
List price: $300
Phone: (800) TEAM-XRX
The DocuPrint P8 offers a faster-than-average print speed, as well as the lowest price (along with Brother's HL-1040) and the longest general warranty of the printers we reviewed. The large-capacity input tray is convenient if you routinely print long documents.
Model: NEC SuperScript 870
Features: 8 ppm; 6,000 pages per month; 600 x 600 dpi; 2MB memory, expandable to 16MB; 150-sheet paper tray
Warranty: two years
List price: $349
Phone: (800) NEC-INFO
This is another good basic model. The print speed is quite fast, and the warranty is double that of most. With a price at the lower end of the scale, the SuperScript 870 offers excellent value for the money for entrepreneurs looking for a standard, reasonably priced printer for their needs.
Model: Lexmark Optra E+
Features: 6 ppm; 10,000 pages per month; 600 x 600 dpi; 2MB memory, expandable to 6MB; 150-sheet paper tray
Warranty: one year
List price: $499; Mac-ready, $589
Phone: (800) LEXMARK
Web site: http://www.lexmark.com
The primary selling point of Lexmark's Optra E+ is its high duty cycle, which is among the best we found. This printer's other features are all in the standard ranges, but if your business routinely requires high document volume, the Optra E+ may be a good choice for you.
Model: Brother HL-1040
Features: 10 ppm; 3,000 pages per month; 600 x 600 dpi; 2MB memory; 200-sheet paper tray
Warranty: one year
List price: $300
Phone: (800)?21-2846 (fax-back system)
Simply put, the Brother HL-1040 is both the cheapest and fastest laser printer we found. It has a higher print speed and more memory than the Xerox DocuPrint P8, yet it costs the same amount of money. If your business doesn't require copious numbers of pages per month or an enormous printer memory, you'll be hard-pressed to find a laser printer that offers more advantages for less money than the HL-1040.