Viva Las Lasers
Cheap laser printers? Sounds as likely as Elvis being alive. Well, we found a few hiding in an out-of-the-way lounge in Las Vegas, so to speak. While they may not have the brawn and production power of their bigger, more expensive laser siblings, they pack enough punch to handle most small-office tasks.
Despite low inkjet prices, lasers are still the workhorses of heavy-duty office printing. Crisp text output, speed and relatively low maintenance costs are all laser perks. Color lasers are currently beyond the sub-$600 reach of our column. If you want cheap color, you'll have to look toward an inkjet. All the laser printers we looked at come with 600 x 600 dpi "laser-quality" resolution.
If you need a printer for networking, you might want to look higher up in the laser ranks. The NEC SuperScript 870 and Xerox DocuPrint P1202 have networking options available. But if you don't need color or networking and you do need to keep the budget beast tamed, look to any of these low-cost lasers.
Lexmark Optra E310
The Lexmark Optra E310 sports a 67MHz processor and 2MB memory. If you need to print huge files, the memory is upgradeable to a hefty 66MB, but you likely won't need that much; its 8ppm also matches up with the NEC. Yet unlike the NEC, the Optra's USB port makes it Mac-compatible. A parallel port is also standard for you pre-USB PC people. The Optra lists a monthly duty cycle of 10,000 pages. Compare this to the more expensive Xerox Docuprint P1202.
Street Price: $399
Phone: (888) LEXMARK
Brother's HL-1250 tops the crowd with a maximum output of 12ppm. The 4MB memory is upgradeable to 36MB. Parallel and USB ports make it compatible with PCs and Macs. Like the Okipage 10ex, the Brother has a handy, large-capacity 250-sheet input cassette. If that's not enough for you, a second 250-sheet cassette can be added as an option. While its standard resolution is the usual 600 x 600 dpi, it boasts a true 1,200 x 600 dpi graphics resolution.
Oki Okipage 10ex
OKI considers the Okipage 10ex to be a "digital LED" printer. That loosely translates to "laser type." Close enough. For the same price as the Lexmark Optra E310, the OKIPAGE packs a 10ppm speed and 4MB memory, upgradeable to 37MB. It also comes with a parallel interface. The input tray can handle up to 250 sheets. But if you prefer USB, check out the Lexmark or the Brother.
NEC SuperScript 870
A 60MHz processor and 2MB memory (upgradeable to 16MB) come under the hood of the NEC SuperScript 870, NEC's bottom-of-the-line laser. A 10/100 Base-T connection isn't standard, but it is an option if you need to network. The 870 features the standard 600 x 600 dpi laser resolution and prints 8ppm. The software bundle includes some no-frills business design programs, but at $299, the 870 costs even less than many inkjets.
Xerox DocuPrint P1202
You knew Xerox had to show up somewhere in this column. Xerox refers to the DocuPrint P1202 as a "personal laser printer." If you need networking, an optional Ethernet adaptor card is available. You get 2MB memory, upgradeable to 18MB. At 12ppm, the P1202 matches the Brother HL-1250 in print speed. However, it's one of the most expensive printers we looked at. It does come with a one-year warranty and USB and parallel port, making it Mac-compatible. A monthly volume of 12,000 pages is better than the Lexmark.
Samsung Qwiklaser 6100
The Samsung QwikLaser 6100 could be the Brother HL-1250's long-lost brother. Like the HL-1250, it features a fast 12ppm print speed and 4MB memory, which is upgradeable to 68MB (better than the upgraded 36MB Brother). A 250-sheet input tray keeps the reloading chores down, and a second 250-sheet holder is optional. The main difference is about $100. A one-year warranty is included.