Xerox ColorQube

GCN LAB REVIEWS

Xerox takes a leap forward in solid-ink printing

ColorQube 8870DN reduces waste and power consumption while increasing speed

What could be more essential to an office than a printer? Even in today’s electronic workplace, when something needs to get done, ink often meets paper. And if you’re looking for the ultimate in solid-state ink printers to join your network, look no further than the Xerox 8870 ColorQube.

The ColorQube uses four solid block cubes of different colors as ink. As opposed to traditional printers, which use liquid ink or powdery toner, these solid-ink cartridges resemble yellow, blue, magenta and black blocks of crayon rather than ink.


Xerox ColorQube 8870DN

Pros: Excellent printing quality for text; good color accuracy.
Cons: Difficult setup and install to desktop PC.
Features: A
Ease of use: C+
Color accuracy: A-
Text quality: A
30-page black-and-white text print time: 2:03
30-page color print time: 2:24
Value: B+
Price: $2,499

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The printer works by melting the colors into a malleable liquid that the printer then infuses on paper. The result is superior color and texture quality delivered in a more eco-friendly manner. According to Xerox, solid-ink sticks create as much as 90 percent less waste and uses as much as 30 percent less energy over a life cycle. Xerox also estimates a carbon footprint that’s as much as 30 percent smaller than comparable laser printers. After all our testing, there was only a little bit of a crayon-like hardened slurry sitting inside.

As a bonus, you can use the slurry like a crayon. It’s the most fun you will have with waste, most likely, and there is very little of it given how many pages the ColorQube prints The printer uses almost the entire block of colored ink. There isn’t a case to throw away other than the box used to ship it.

On the power front, those eco-friendly claims are strong words for a solid-state printer, which are historically notorious for being power hogs. However, advancements in print driver settings, with features such as an easy-to-use print driver gauge, really help. Using those settings, you can choose the most environmentally friendly print settings. And an Intelligent Ready technology learns your workgroup’s use patterns and automatically adjusts to low-power mode when you’re least likely to use printing, such as late at night. That lets Xerox limit the power hunger of this printer to the point that the ColorQube meets Energy Star requirements.

I owned a predecessor to the ColorQube for several years, the Tektronix Phaser 850, and I noticed the difference in power consumption almost immediately. It used to be said that those old Phaser printers, which were the ColorQubes before Xerox purchased Tektronix in 2000, were good for two things: printing pictures and heating a room. Those old printers sucked in so much energy to melt the solid-state ink that they often raised the temperature of rooms by a couple of degrees if used frequently. Other problems with the old Phasers were painfully slow wake-up processes and sluggish printing times — and they were so darn heavy.

We were happy to learn that since the Tektronix days, Xerox has not only fixed the heating and power problems but also significantly accelerated the printing times. I clocked the warm-up process at just a notch longer than 60 seconds, as opposed to the 3- to 5-minute waiting times of old.

On average, the ColorQube printed our 30-page all-text test file in 2 minutes, 3 seconds. That’s a little on the slow side for straight black-and-white text printing, though some leeway has to be given based on the quality of the output.

The ColorQube does a great job at laying down the black solid-state ink on paper so that there is a refined glossy shimmer to the jet-black print. Under a magnifying glass, we could not find any imperfections in the edges or the curves of the letters, even though we printed more than 120 pages.

On the 30-page color test document, which is filled with punishing images that are difficult for many printers to get right, the ColorQube also shined brightly. It completed that intensive test in 2 minutes, 24 seconds, a time that competes well with most printers we see, although some of the high-end toner printers can accomplish this same task in just longer than a minute.

On the color pictures test, we paid particular attention to kerning, which refers to the space between each printed letter, to ensure that there are no irregular gaps between letters. That often occurs on portions of the test where the machine must print a complex, multicolored image and then interlay text on top of that image.

Typically, a printer will behave by pausing for a moment or two while analyzing the request from the file, which the Xerox did. But what we traditionally see on the printed document is a slight over- or under-exaggeration between the spaces where the letters meet the image. Ideally, you want the image to look as if you’ve typed right over the picture with a typewriter, and the ColorQube did this beautifully with no over- or under-exaggeration of space between letters and image.

One strong feature of  this printer — above all others in our opinion — is how easy it is to install the solid-state ink. With the 8870, all you need to do is open the top of the printer, load each individual cube in the color-coded slots and close the lid. They won’t fit into the wrong slot because of the unique shapes of the blocks.

Unfortunately, that easy install does not extend to the driver side of the equation. If you expect to attach this printer to a static desktop PC, be careful because this printer is by no means easy to set up via a USB cable. It took one failed tech support call and about three hours of separate work to get my standard Dell computer operating a 64-bit version of Windows 7 Professional to recognize this printer’s drivers. Not to mention the fact that once I had the drivers finally installed, Windows still did not recognize the printer as anything except an unspecified machine. That meant the operating system recognized the Xerox machine, but the drivers and install procedures had not alerted Windows that it was a printer.

To fix the problem, I had to reinstall all the drivers using the latest driver pack found on Xerox’s Web page. That glitch added a serious blemish to what could have been a perfect Ease of Use score.

But despite an abysmal setup, the Xerox 8870 performed well on all the tests. Performance features like a high-end 1 GHz processor that allows the ColorQube to handle big, complex print jobs make it a good choice for any agency that needs the scalability to handle larger initiatives over time. Much of that scalability is attributable to how easy the printer is to use on the network. For example, a feature named RAM Collation sends files across the network just once no matter how many sets are printed. RAM Collation frees network space usually reserved for redundant print jobs.

Another advanced feature that the ColorQube offers is Job Pipelining. This network-enhancing feature also optimizes system performance by allowing the ColorQube to process print jobs even if the print engine is busy with an earlier job. That removes a common bottleneck created by multiple print jobs hitting the queue at similar intervals.

The ColorQube offers a laundry list of security features, including a robust System Administrator Authentication capability that allows access to administrative Web pages to authorized employees. The Device Access Password Protection function further restricts access to device setup screens and remote network settings.

A firewall adds limited access via IP address filtering, port blocking and domain filtering. A feature named Image Overwrite Security electronically erases data that has been processed to the hard drive, which, according to Xerox, uses a three-pass algorithm specified by the Defense Department at regular, preselected times.

Despite the burdensome install, every other aspect of the Xerox ColorQube makes it worth the setup trouble. It produces high-quality printouts at reasonably fast speeds. But it no longer heats your room, so you might need to buy a space heater for cold days — not that you’ll probably mind.

Xerox, www.xerox.com

Reader Comments

Sun, Apr 17, 2011

Very good article. I am thinking of buying one.

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