Phaser makes a (dry) splash

Different-shaped slots keep users from inserting the wrong color ink blocks into the Phaser 8400.

Henrik G. de Gyor

Xerox leads the way with a fast, high-quality color printer for less than $1,000

If the GCN Lab were to choose the best-value segment of the IT market, printers would probably win.

Monochrome personal printers, even laser models, cost less than $300 these days. Network printers aren't much more, and the final price barrier that's now falling is color.

Among printer makers, Xerox Corp. often leads the charge into new areas of value, quality and speed. Since acquiring Tektronix Inc., it is using more solid inks. The result is far higher image quality, especially for color printing.

In the early days of solid ink, a pencil eraser could smudge a page. But improvements in fixers and inks have hardened solid-ink output until it is about as stable as conventional toner'and without sacrificing print quality.

The Phaser 8400 sells for $999 up, depending on configuration. The price is set by network connections and number of paper trays shipped, not by output quality. We reviewed the $999 configuration.

One pleasing feature: The first time the Phaser is turned on it produces a configuration page explaining all the features, installed fonts and how to navigate the menus.

The Phaser doesn't waste ink by reprinting that information every time it powers up, but you can force another copy if necessary. That's a nice, ink- and time-saving setup feature.

In back is a slot for a thumbnail-sized configuration chip, which stores the setup information. If your office bought another Phaser, you could simply insert the original chip and copy the info, which again saves setup time.

My test images looked amazingly good. At the high end, the Phaser 8400 can produce 600- by 600-dot-per-inch images. I recommend this only when output must be top quality, however, as it slows things down and uses more ink. A standard color print from the Phaser 8400 is going to look better than the highest-quality prints from most other printers.

In normal mode, the Phaser worked extremely fast. It could crunch our test documents at 24 pages per minute in either standard color mode or black and white. The first page came out in less than seven seconds, thanks to a fast, 500-MHz controller chip and 64-bit bus. The 20G hard drive can store images for spooling if necessary.

The solid inks are easy to replace: Simply drop a new block into the correct slot on top. Each slot has a different shape, so you can't accidentally insert yellow instead of blue or black. Your hands won't get dirty, either. The ink blocks are no more smeary than an unwrapped crayon.

Be aware that any earlier Phaser ink blocks you might still have around won't fit into the 8400's slots, and the chemical composition is new, too.

The one negative is that the Phaser takes a long time to warm up. The first user in the morning probably will have to wait three minutes or more while heat builds up to soften the ink.

The Phaser 8400 does amazing solid-ink printing at a sub-$1,000 price, and it can double as a monochrome document printer, though if you mostly print in black, you can find a cheaper model. Offices that produce a lot of colorful documents, however, won't find better quality at a better price.

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