ColorQube proves you can't judge green by power use alone

This is the first in a series of green IT product reviews.

Of all the different types of IT products, printers are among the hardest to gauge in terms of their environmental impact because it involves a lot more than just power consumption. In fact, judged solely on how much power is consumed, the ColorQube 8900X from Xerox would not be considered green IT right off the bat.

The 8900X is a solid ink printer, which gives it a lot of advantages in terms of going green. However, a solid ink printer has to melt the wax-like media it uses as ink, and that generally means more power consumption.

In fact, when the 8900X was idle in our lab, it was using 68.2 watts of power per second. That is compared to much larger toner-based units that generally idle at around 45 watts. When printing, the standard toner-based units can spike as high as 102 watts, while the solid ink based 8900X had peaks as high as 580 watts while spitting out the pages. That’s a lot more energy consumption in the short run, though that’s not the whole story.

Xerox ColorQube 8900XColorQube 8900

Performance: B+
Features: A
Ease of Use: A
Value: B+
30 Page Color Print Time: 2:01
30 Page Text Print Time: 1:48
Price: $4,999

Pros: Almost no waste products, brilliant color quality, double sided printing default
Cons: Long warm-up time, needs more energy than a comparable toner-based printer

Unfortunately, another strike against the printer is that the 8900X can’t simply power down when not in use like a toner printer. That’s because while a toner-printer might take 15 or 30 seconds to get ready from a powered-down state, once the wax gets cold inside the 8900X, it takes 10 minutes, 43 seconds to warm back up to print again. So it’s forced to idle instead, hence the higher power consumption. Otherwise a user might end up with a really long wait to print a page.

Xerox tries to mitigate this power disparity by putting a lot of intelligence into the 8900X. It learns your office usage patterns. If you are always starting to print at 8 a.m. during the week and nothing is ever printed after 5 p.m., it will program itself to wake up at 7:50 a.m. and totally shut down at 5:05 p.m., but only on weekdays.

It can also learn about anomalies. For example, if someone constantly comes in to print over the weekend, it can set its power-up times to accommodate that person. Users can also manually set print wake-up and shut-down times, in case they don’t want to wait for the machine to learn them on its own.

Multi-function advantages

When the printer is powered down, it draws almost no power at all, so that helps to make up for the large-than-normal draw during usage. And of course, because it’s a multi-function printer, you get the energy savings from combining your fax, printer and copier into a single unit.

The 8900X shines in other green IT areas. Most notably, it produces almost no waste products at all. There is no need to replace toner cartridges and after several thousand pages printed; the waste receptacle barely had a thimble full of unused wax-like media.  Adding new ink is as easy as dropping colored blocks into one of four slots, and the ink blocks ship inside containers made of recycled materials. And dual-sided printing is turned on by default, just to try and save a few trees that way as well.

The 8900X being is relatively fast. It crunched our 30-page graphically-laden document in 2 minutes, 1 second and our 30-page black and white text-only document in 1 minute, 48 seconds. That tells us that graphical and text printing speeds are almost identical with the print engine. There were only a few pages inside the graphical test file that caused the 8900X to pause and think about how to render the pages. Solid ink printers have a much simpler paper path too, so the 8900X isn’t prone to jams, and never once had a problem in all our testing.

Color quality, as with most solid inks, is amazing. Graphics really pop off the page, and fine details are handled reasonably well. Text is readable but can come off looking a touch dark by default. As such, we would highly recommend the 8900X for any graphics printing, and find it completely adequate for straight text documents too.

At $4,999, the 8900X isn’t cheap. But if you’re looking for a workgroup MFP that is mostly environmentally friendly over the long haul, the 8900X can save you a bit of money, and quite a few trees as well.

Xerox, www.office.xerox.com.

TOMORROW: The Tripp Lite Energy Saving UPS scares off phantom power loads.

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