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Laser Tag

Affordability has finally caught up with performance in laser printers. Does that make you "it"?

Twenty minutes. That's how long it took to get going--from opening the box until we were printing a test sheet from the Samsung ML-1651N networkable laser printer. Not too shabby. You can expect to get a good degree of user-friendliness when dealing with most of the lasers on the market, even when you take the extra step of tying them into your network. Congratulations, you're one wire away from sharing a printer.

The days of working in an office that looks like an inkjet ranch or spending a Bill Gatesian ransom on a laser printer are gone. Growing businesses can now choose from a herd of affordable monochrome lasers to meet their workgroup printing needs. Benefits of going this route include low consumables costs, fast printouts and robust duty cycles. One disadvantage is lack of color, but that's still not a requirement for most business printing. For the sake of comparison, the one exception in this (rticle is the Xerox Phaser 8200. We'll give you more on that later. No matter what, a good laser will look like Charles Atlas compared to your average inkjet.

As with your choice of computer, you'll want to choose a printer that meets you at the intersection of budget and performance. For example, the $1,580 (all prices street) HP LaserJet 4100N has a maximum duty cycle of 150,000 pages per month and a top speed of 25 pages per minute (ppm). Need more speed? You can get the same duty cycle and 35 ppm out of the MINOLTA-QMS PagePro 9100 N for the slightly more attractive price of $1,499. Remember, duty cycles and ppm numbers are like gas mileage-actual performance and output quality can depend on how hard you drive your machine. Other specs to look out for are processor speed and memory. Just as with that PC sitting under your desk, a higher processor speed and more memory help boost performance. The amount of RAM, in particular, is an issue when the printer has to keep track of multiple print jobs coming in. The MINOLTA-QMS PagePro 9100 N comes standard with 64MB of memory and can be upgraded to 512MB if you need more.

The printers in our chart all slip in under the $2,000 price point. It's easy to go higher if your business requires faster printing times or heavier duty cycles. Most growing workgroups will do just fine with one of these. For small workgroup applications when price is pressing, you can look into models like the $450 Samsung ML-1651N. A small footprint also makes a difference in tight workspaces.

There's more to laser printing than just lasers. The Xerox Phaser 8200, for instance, uses solid ink, and the Oki Data OKIPAGE 24n uses Digital LED technology to achieve laser-quality prints. These three methods of printing don't necessarily offer any difference in quality; they're just different. Unless you have a strong preference one way or another, purchase according to price and features. For example, the Phaser 8200 offers a fairly fast sub-$2,000 alternative if you need color occasionally. It does have the one trade-off, however, of slower print time.

There's a wide-open world of workgroup printing technology out there, and the mostly midrange machines in our chart are a good place to jump in. Entrepreneurs with more sophisticated printing needs can explore the realms of high-volume color printers that vault well over the two-grand mark.

Wireless print servers are hitting the scene as well. Hewlett-Packard, for one, offers the $300 WP110 external print server for Wi-Fi networks. Expect to see more untethered printing options aimed at growing businesses and their wireless workgroups. Wires or no wires, it's all about networking.

Shopping List
Ready to start putting your printing needs and your budget on the appropriate sides of the scale?

PRODUCTCONTACTPPMDUTY CYCLEFEATURESSTREET PRICE
Hewlett-packard
LaserJet 4100N
(800) 752-0900
www.hp.com
25150,000250MHz processor, 32MB memory, 256MB max$1,580
Lexmark
T522n
(888) LEXMARK
www.lexmark.com
25120,000250MHz processor, 32MB memory,288MB max$1,299
Minolta-qms
PagePro 9100 N
(800) 523-2696
www.minoltaqms.com
35150,000250MHz processor, 64MB memory, 512MB max$1,450
Oki data
OKIPAGE 24n
(800) OKI-DATA
www.okidata.com
2470,000120MHz processor, 32MB memory, 80MB max, Digital LED$1,430
Samsung
ML-1651N
(800) SAMSUNG
www.samsung.com
1740,000166MHz processor, 16MB memory, 144MB max$450
Xerox
Phaser 8200
(800) ASK-XEROX
www.xerox.com
1665,000300MHz processor, 64MB memory, 192MB max, solid ink colorunder $2,000

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This article was originally published in the June 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Laser Tag.

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