Magazine article Online

Boringly Good: Today's Printers

Magazine article Online

Boringly Good: Today's Printers

Article excerpt

Is your current printer more than three years old? Four years ago, when I last wrote about printers in the March 1996 ONLINE, I could safely suggest that you should be looking for a new printer if it was more than three years old. But by 1996, printers had already reached a level that made fast obsolescence less likely.

My Hewlett-Packard LaserJet 5P was built in July 1995. The HP DeskJet 820Cse connected to my wife's home computer was built in September 1996; the DeskJet 695 I use at work is a little older. I don't plan to buy new printers; all three printers seem to be new enough--and good enough.

That may be true for your printer as well. It's useful to know what you'd gain by moving to a newer device--even if you conclude that the gain isn't worth the price.

WHY CHANGE?

You may have good reasons to buy a new printer:

* If you use a laser printer that gives off ozone or makes noise when it's not printing, or if you have any qualms about print quality, it's time for a newer printer.

* If your inkjet printer produces feathery text, yields output that smears, or prints text and draft graphics annoyingly slowly, you'd benefit from a newer printer.

* If you print photographs and complex color images, you might get better results with a newer printer.

* If you want to save paper by printing on both sides, some new printers support duplex printing at surprisingly low prices.

INKJETS RULE

Most new printers are inkjets: two out of three in 1998, projected to grow to three out of four in 2003. That's a lot of printers: nearly 15 million new units in 1998, projected to be more than 23 million in 2003. For most home use and many small-office uses, inkjets offer the best one-printer solution.

Cheap--But Not Too Cheap

You can buy an inkjet for as low as $50. Unfortunately, the cheapest printers typically don't offer the best value. Most very cheap printers only have one cartridge slot, which means you either lose color or get muddy, expensive, slow text printing. Unless you need a miniaturized portable printer, don't buy an inkjet printer that doesn't hold black and color cartridges simultaneously. You might save a few bucks at purchase time, but you'll regret it throughout the life of the printer.

How cheap can you go? HP's DeskJet 612C lists for $120 and uses two cartridges, although you gain speed and graphics quality by spending $160 for the 812C. Epson offers the Stylus Color 440 for $80, with good text quality.

Consumable costs vary widely, and cheaper printers usually cost more per page. Still, unless you do a lot of printing, the cost of text printing should not be a major factor (figure three to six cents a page, plus paper). Color pages may run anywhere from ten cents to a dollar or more per page, but you shouldn't be printing hundreds of color pages each day. If you do enough text printing so that the difference between, say, four cents a page and two cents a page is important, then you should consider a laser printer.

Rated Speed and Real Speed

You'll see some remarkable claims for print speed in printer ads and catalog listings, but the reality is usually more modest for inkjet printers. For example, Canon's $150 BJC5100 claims 10 pages per minute (ppm) black text, 4 ppm color. When PC Magazine printed a Word document consisting of 12 pages of plain, black 10-point Times New Roman text, the BJC5 100 averaged 0.6ppm--and in a complex color 12-slide PowerPoint test, it took 10 minutes per page. HP's $200 8820, an Editors' Choice, was rated at 5.lppm mono and 3.6ppm color. It printed 3.Gppm in the mono Word test, 0.6ppm in the color PowerPoint test. Based on rated speed, the Canon should be twice as fast as the HP for black text and a little faster for color. In reality, the HP was six times as fast for both black text and color.

For the best combination of speed and quality, your choice is simple: which Hewlett-Packard DeskJet will you buy? …

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