In this first of a two-week series, we're going to give you the scoop on laser printers, how to buy one, what to look for, and why HP is over-charging you. When shopping for a laser printer, your first criteria is obviously price. Generally, a $700 laser printer will always perform better and/or include more features than a $300 model, so you'll want to ensure you purchase the most feature/performance-packed printer you can afford. How do you tell what you need? Here's a cheatsheet:
"Pages Per Minute, or ppm " -- Print Speed: Unlike inkjet printers, the ppm rating of laser printers is usually accurate to within 10% of what you get in the real-world. For a home-based business where only one or two people print, a printer that ranges from 20ppm-25ppm will do the job. For small businesses of 5 to 20 employees, look for a model in the 35ppm range. Those with more than 20 employees all using the same printer should opt for a model that exceeds 45ppm.
"First Page Out, or fpo " -- Time Needed for Printer to Awake and Print: This is an underrated factor that is very important only if the printer is not under constant use. If it is, you can ignore this criteria because yours will always be in "awake" mode. However, if you print less frequently, your printer will go to "sleep" and will need to awake when the next print command comes along. This spec indicates the amount of time the printer needs to wake up from sleep mode and make a printout.
"Print Resolution, or dpi " -- Image Sharpness Quality: On laser printers, a low dpi rating will still produce text that is superior to almost any inkjet printer because of the way laser technology works. Having said that, if plan on using your laser printer solely for text printing or for graphics where superior quality if not necessary, even the lowest dpi rated lasers, typically 600dpi, will more than suffice. If you are planning on printing graphics that need to look professional, go for 1200dpi or better.
Networking, Duplexing, Trays, & Finishers -- Add-Ons: Extras are usually identified in a printer's model name by adding a "d", "n", etc. to the end. A network-capable printer is essential for a company with more than one person printing to the same unit. Just connect it to your network and anybody on the network can print to that printer. Duplexing is the ability for a printer to print to both sides of a page automatically. A "t" designation generally means the printer includes an additional paper tray for high-demand needs. A "finisher" adds capabilities like auto-stapling, folding, and/or, sorting. So for example, the Lexmark C920dtn includes duplexing, network-capability, and an extra tray. If it was called the C920dtnf, it would also include a finisher.
Both HP and Lexmark, among others use the designations at the end of a model name to indicate its add-on capabilities. But how do Lexmark and HP differ? Mainly in price, and by a large margin. Take for example the HP 4600n color laser printer. At $1564 it includes 17ppm color/black, 600dpi resolution, a 400MHz CPU, and 96MB memory. But look a Lexmark's competing printer, the C762n, and you get 25ppm color/black, 1200dpi resolution, a 600MHz CPU, and 128MB memory...for over $200 less (priced at $1339)! We don't play favorites here, we just tell it like it is.