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Faster than a speeding inkjet, more colorful than a monochrome laser and now showing at an office near you-color laser printers! They're the business blockbuster of the season. Sure, laser printers have always been big-but when you add some color to the palette, the possibilities are endless.
But before we start digging into all that fun hardware, you may be asking, Are color laser printers even affordable? They sure are. What used to cost well over $10,000 can today be had for less than $2,500. In fact, all the lasers in our chart ("Shopping List") check in at less than $2,600, and the least-expensive Minolta-QMS Magicolor 2200 DeskLaser costs just $1,299 (all prices street). While that looks like a lot compared to a $300 color inkjet printer, there's no contest when it comes to consumables.
Every time you replace one inkjet cartridge, you pay about $30 for the privilege. For a high-use printer, the bill to change both black and color cartridges every month or two could exceed $360 over the course of a year. By comparison, a black toner cartridge for the Brother HL-2400CeN runs $130 and lasts for 10,000 pages at 5 percent coverage. The Cyan, Magenta and Yellow cartridges cost $125 each for 6,000 pages at 5 percent coverage. Combined, they last much longer than any inkjet replacement around.
"Solid ink" sounds like an oxymoron, but it's actually the name for an unusual technology that shows up in some Tektronix/Xerox laser printers. Rather than standard toner cartridges, the Phaser 850N uses small blocks of solid ink. The individual ink sticks get used up faster than regular cartridges, but the cost is lower. A package of two cyan sticks and one black stick goes for around $81.
There are quite a few numbers to decipher when it comes to laser printers. At the top of the list are RAM, processor speed and hard-drive size. The Hewlett-Packard LaserJet 4550N, for example, sounds like a fully stocked computer when you look at the details: 128MB RAM, a 233MHz processor and a 5GB hard drive. All that tech oomph translates to fast handling of large print jobs. Those numbers are especially important if you plan on printing big color graphics files on a regular basis. Some lasers offer a hard-drive option, but it isn't standard equipment.
Another spec to pay attention to is pages per minute (ppm). Most of the printers in the chart are around 4 ppm in color and 16 ppm in monochrome. Unless you're running a printing press operation, that's fast enough to handle most of your needs.
When you pay $2,500 for a printer, expect a few extras. One of those is networking. Unlike most inkjets, most of the printers in our chart come standard with Ethernet networking. That makes them ideal for use in a workgroup or a small networked office. The Canon C LBP 460PS and NEC SuperScript 4650N are examples of cross-platform Mac- and Windows-compatible machines.
Once you've decided that a color laser printer is right for your business needs, selecting one comes down to price and features. If you're dealing with lots of large graphics files on a regular basis, look to the amount of RAM and the hard-drive size. If speed's a concern, consider something along the lines of the Minolta-QMS 2200 for marginally faster printouts. Most of all, your budget will enjoy the cost-savings over color inkjets.
Affordability aside, there's still a hefty swing in price and performance. Here are the numbers.
|167MHz processor, Ethernet interface, Mac- and Windows-compatible, 600 x 600 dpi, optional 6GB hard drive||$1,999|
C LBP 460PS
|133MHz processor, Ethernet interface, Mac- and Windows-compatible, 600 x 600 dpi||$2,185|
|233MHz processor, HP Jet Direct 610N network card 600 x 600 dpi, 5GB hard drive||$2,359|
|200MHz processor, 1,200 x 1,200 dpi||$1,929|
Magicolor 2200 DeskLaser
|100MHz processor, Ethernet interface, 1,200 x 600 dpi, supports manual duplexing||$1,299|
|200MHz processor, Mac- and Windows-compatible, 1,200 x 1,200 dpi, 2.1GB hard drive||$2,384|
14 fast-color mode
|200MHz processor, Ethernet interface, 600 x 1,200 dpi, uses solid ink||$2,599|