COLOR laser printers

Laser printers make the grade



Most color laser printers are optimized for workgroup service.
Within two years, they’ll replace high-end color ink-jets in
many organizations.
Color laser reproduction is adequate for most print jobs.
Good printer management software is as important as hardware.
Web remote printer management is a good option for large
organizations.







For more than a year, the buzz in printers has been about ink-jets—their leap
forward in quality and versatility, their low cost, the way they gnashed and tore at color
laser printer sales.  


That’s over. The whistle in the wind today is the sound of color laser prices
swooping deep into the affordability pocket.


Some leading vendors have backed out of the market—most notably IBM Corp. and
Digital Equipment Corp. But the handful of printer makers in this Buyers Guide have met
the challenge of last year’s slow sales with 1998 models that are good performers and
competitively priced. In fact, since last year the average price of a color laser printer
has dropped $1,500.


But the news isn’t all about price. If these buff machines were on the beach,
they’d be kicking sand all over the place. Most are powered by strong fast RISC
engines with loads of upgradeable RAM. Take virtually any system in this guide, optimize
it for network service, and it’ll pump out 12 to 16 pages of monochrome text and
three to six pages of color per minute. It’s as network printers that color lasers
stand out.


Besides ink-jets, copiers, monochrome lasers, fax machines and a bunch of all-in-one
products such as fax/printers, printer/copiers and Hewlett-Packard Co.’s Mopiers
compete with color lasers for printing niches. Faced with such an array of options, many
would-be buyers have taken a wait-and-see attitude.


Color lasers offer advantages that other color print technologies cannot match.
Ink-jets aren’t robust enough for workgroup service, but color lasers are designed
for it. Look for higher print resolutions, stronger print engines and better mean time
between failure (MTBF) ratings for color lasers.


When you factor in the cost of consumables, color lasers also boast a lower per-page
cost than ink-jets. A typical laser toner cartridge may serve up 10,000 to 20,000 pages of
monochrome prints compared with about 500 pages for a typical ink-jet cartridge. Most
color lasers are network-optimized, while most ink-jets aren’t.


Color lasers won’t provide the rich rainbow of colors that thermal-wax or
dye-sublimation color printers do, but they make up for it by being much faster and
cheaper than such specialized systems. And their output quality is acceptable for most
printing needs.


As with their monochrome, or black-and-white, brethren, color laser printer engines use
laser beams to project reflected light onto a rotating drum or series of drums or
cylinders. Color units use an electrical charge to fuse tiny bits of colored toner onto
the page, rendering crisp, smudge-free text and graphics.


Don’t worry about buying a dead-end technology. Most analysts expect color laser
sales to increase by an annual compounded rate of about 50 percent over the next three to
five years.


Meanwhile, you have an elite selection of products from which to choose. We’ve
scouted out 16 units from leading manufacturers, any one of which can meet your color
workgroup printing requirements. They all meet six criteria:


Most of the printers have excellent management software.


Apple Color LaserWriter 12/660 PS. Apple
Computer Inc. isn’t renowned for its printer products, but most of its units, such as
the Color LaserWriter 12/660 PS, have proven themselves over time.


The $4,498 unit is a no-nonsense, high-performance printer with Adobe PostScript Level
2. It supports systems running Microsoft Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows NT and Unix. It
also works with Apple Macintosh and Power Macintosh computers.


It comes with a range of networking connections, including standard LocalTalk and
Ethernet, through which AppleTalk, TCP and Novell NetWare protocols are supported.


The printer comes with a 30-MHz AMD 29030 RISC processor for top print speeds of 3 ppm
for color and 12 ppm for monochrome, and an engine lifecycle of 300,000 monochrome pages
and 150,000 color pages. Monthly duty cycle maintenance is minimal.


The print engine provides 600-dpi resolution, which is further enhanced by Apple’s
Color PhotoGrade technology for exceptionally clear image renderings in color and
grayscale. The printer comes with 16M of RAM, but users can easily upgrade it to 40M for
large jobs.


The 12/660 PS supports the usual print media, including letter, legal, A4, B5 and
transparencies. Users should buy options such as network interface cards using
Apple’s well-designed Web site.


Pro: The 12/600 PS is well-designed. Expect it to
provide few frills but many hours of trouble-free service.


Con: It’s pricier than equally well-equipped
competitors, and Apple’s shrinking market share casts a shadow on the future of its
printer line.


Hewlett-Packard HP Color LaserJet 5M. This
$5,199 unit is the networked version of Hewlett-Packard Co.’s popular Color LaserJet
5. It comes with Adobe PostScript Level 2 and HP’s PCL 5 print languages, and is
easily networkable via the HP JetDirect network card for Ethernet and Local Talk or
third-party NICs. It supports all HP’s workstation platforms and PCs running Windows.


The 5M is powered by a 40-MHz AMD 209040 RISC processor with standard RAM of 36M that
can be boosted to 84M. Its top print speeds of 3 ppm for color and 10 ppm for monochrome
aren’t outstanding, and its print resolution is a relatively low 300 dpi. But its
performance is boosted by HP’s Image Ret 1200 resolution technology, which provides
the equivalent of 1,200-dpi resolution and what may be the sharpest color output of all
the color lasers in its class.


Users concerned about network management can rest easy. HP has bundled the 5M with the
same outstanding HP JetDirect management software that comes with most of its other
printers, making remote feedback, job status management and configuration information a
breeze to handle.


Pro: The 5M’s 1,200-dpi resolution, flexible paper
handling, full set of features and excellent software—all supported by a
knowledgeable HP technical staff—earn it kudos for usability.


Con: It’s big, bulky and the second most expensive
printer listed in this buyers guide.


Konica KL-3015 Force Color Printing System.
Konica Business Technologies Inc., a major original equipment manufacturer of color
lasers, makes the feature-rich new KL-3015, the first released under the company’s
own name. The $3,295 price could put it on the retail map. It supports the PCL 5 and
PostScript print languages and will run on virtually all widely used operating systems,
including Windows 3.1, Win95 and NT, as well as Unix and Macintosh System 7.5 and System
7.6.


The KL-3015’s 33-MHz R4300 processor is fast and powerful, allowing 3 ppm color
and 15 ppm monochrome output at a 600-dpi resolution. It comes with 16M of RAM. Users can
buy optional memory upgrades up to 96M and an optional 1M internal hard drive.


Konica’s new printer incorporates an advanced EFI Fiery X2e print controller and
uses EFI’s RIP-White Print and Continuous Print technology for increased throughput
of multiple page documents.


Continuous Print lets the printer generate faster output by eliminating the need for
the print engine to cycle down between pages or jobs.


It also comes with Konica’s Fiery WebTool remote management software. The suite
provides remote access to all KL-3015 functions via any Java Web browser.


Pro: The KL-3015’s combination of the fast million
instructions per second R4300 and EFI’s X2e controller and Continuous Print
technology produces blazingly fast and accurate monochrome output that rivals monochrome
lasers.


Con: Networking capability comes only in options that
add hundreds of dollars to the KL-3015’s otherwise attractive entry-level price.


Lexmark Optra SC 1275n. Lexmark
International Inc. recently knocked $500 off the price of this printer. At $3,499,
it’s one of the most attractive and well-priced packages among networkable color
laser printers. The unit supports Ethernet and AppleTalk protocols as well as HP PCL 5,
PCL 6 and PostScript Level 2 print languages. Support for just about every operating
system available—including Windows 3.1, Win95 and NT, Unix, OS/2 and IBM Warp LAN
Server—comes with Lexmark’s own optional MarkNet network interface card.


The unit is powered by a high-performance 32-bit 66-MHz Intel i960 RISC processor with
an integrated ASIC controller for faster input/output speeds, allowing 3-ppm full color
and 12-ppm monochrome output at a 600-dpi resolution. Its standard 32M of RAM can be
upgraded to 192M for exceptionally large print jobs.


The SC 1275n provides the best connectivity options of all the printers in this guide.
It has a high-speed bidirectional IEEE 1284 parallel port, a bundled 10/100Base-TX
Ethernet adapter and three ISP PCI ports for serial RS-232C and RS-422, LocalTalk and
IrDA-compliant 1-Mbps infrared connections.


The optional MarkNet adapters also include a coaxial and twin-axial version for IBM
3270 and 5250 environments.


Lexmark’s exceptional MarkVision printer management utility software comes with
the SC-1275n for integrating the unit into most enterprisewide network management
applications, including generic Simple Network Management Protocol packages.


Pro: The SC-1275n is among the fastest, best-priced and
most versatile color lasers available today. MarkVision software takes the woes out of
printer setup and management. The unit exemplifies Lexmark’s commitment to
workgroup-level color laser printing.


Con: What’s not to like about a fully networkable
color laser for $3,499?


Minolta Color PageWorks PS. The $3,299
Color PageWorks PS is a full-featured network printer at an attractive price. It supports
PCL 5 and PostScript Level 2 printing languages.


Install Minolta Corp.’s network board option in the standard PageWorks unit to
gain support for mixed network environments that include IPX/SPX (Novel NetWare), TCP/IP
(Unix), EtherTalk and Windows NT protocols, with an option for token-ring support.


The unit’s 33-MHz Intel i960 processor provides a 600-dpi resolution and adequate
3-ppm color and 12-ppm monochrome output. The standard 4M of RAM is inadequate and must be
bolstered with additional RAM up to a limit of 68M.


Minolta claims that its Real Time Memory Compression technology will print any color
page with only 4M of memory. But why take the chance?


The Color PageWorks PS comes with Minolta’s Super Fine-Micro-Toning system for
superior toner transfers.


The company says its Object-Based Imaging technology lets the printer’s software
select the optimal rendering technique for each graphic object to be printed, providing
photorealistic images.


Color PageWorks’ straight paper path lets the unit handle more types of media than
most other color lasers.


Pro: Super Fine-MT technology, with Minolta’s
belt-fusing system, renders text crisply and handles paper virtually jam-free.


Con: There’s no mention from Minolta about the
Color PageWorks PS’ network management or remote management capability.


The KX-P8410N from Panasonic has
a 1,200- by 1,200-dpi resolution. It prints labels, envelopes and transparancies in
addition to letter- and legal-size paper.


Panasonic KX-P8475. This $6,000 unit is
a fast color printer that supports the PostScript Level 2 and PCL 5 print languages. It
offers an IEEE 1284 bidirectional parallel port and a SCSI-2 port as standard, with
optional Ethernet, LocalTalk and token-ring support.


Details about the KX-P8475’s printer engine and processor weren’t available
from Panasonic Communications and Systems Co., but the company claims the unit prints up
to 5-ppm color and 14-ppm monochrome output at a maximum resolution of 1,200 dpi. It comes
with 8M of RAM, but 24M of RAM is required to gain the full 1,200-dpi resolution. Memory
can be upgraded to 72M.


Beyond saying it’s ideal for any color application, Panasonic is mum on the
KX-P8475. The company’s Web site held scant details, and its sales staff was
unwilling or unable to discuss pricing and technical options.


Pro: The KX-P8475 is obviously fast and powerful.


Con: There’s too much mystery.


QMS magicolor DeskLaser 2. This new
$2,499 unit is a breakthrough in affordable, high-quality color network printing. Ethernet
interface for plug-and-play network compatibility is standard. At this price, it
doesn’t offer additional support for other network protocols, support for PCL 5,
PostScript print languages or network administration tools.


To get such tools, you can upgrade the unit to QMS Crown Printer status, exemplified by
QMS Inc.’s more expensive magicolor 2 CX and 2 EX units.


But for fast, entry-level workgroup color printing needs, the DeskLaser 2 is difficult
to beat. It comes with a 33-MHz i960 processor and 8M of RAM, upgradeable to 64M for
600-dpi resolution and fast print speeds of 4 ppm for color and 16 ppm for monochrome.


Pro: The DeskLaser 2 is good for budget-conscious
departments needing an inexpensive, fast, entry-level workgroup color printer.


Con: If you’ve used QMS’ excellent CrownView,
CrownAdmin and CrownNet software packages, you’ll miss them in the DeskLaser 2 and
want to upgrade immediately.


Tektronix Phaser 560. Tektronix Inc.
advertises the $3,995 unit as a smart color laser for a reason. It’s a fast, powerful
printer with PostScript Level 2, an IEEE 1284 bidirectional parallel port, SCSI port and
Ethernet, LocalTalk and token-ring network capability via proprietary PhaserShare NICs
that come with the unit.


It earns the smart distinction because of its included software for dynamic consumables
tracking, Web management, automatic selection of up to four input trays and automatic
print mode optimization.


Its 33-MHz AMD 29040 processor with 24M of RAM, expandable to 72M, pumps out 5-ppm
color and 14-ppm monochrome output at a maximum true resolution of 1,200 dpi.


The 560 supports TekColor, the company’s color management software and is one of
the first color lasers to support duplex printing. The system’s unique toner
cartridge design supplies twice the capacity of standard color lasers, and its 850-page
input tray permits large print job handling with little operator maintenance.


Pro: The Phaser 560 is an industrial-strength printer
with plenty of built-in intelligence for large workgroup service.


Con: Tektronix hasn’t lowered the price of the
Phaser 560 in more than a year. It is still $3,995.


Xerox DocuPrint C55mp. The C55mp, a
$4,087 networkable version of the standalone C55, is Xerox Corp.’s answer to critics
who say the company is interested only in high-end printing systems.


The C55mp superseded two earlier Xerox color laser models, the Xprint 4915 and 4920
Plus, and is intended as a low-end counterpart to the $8,995 Xprint 4925 Plus.


It comes with an Ethernet card—standard with the C55 model—and a token-ring
NIC. The new unit supports nearly every network protocol and operating system and offers
both PCL 5 and PostScript emulations.


The C55mp boasts a fast 50-MHz AMD 29040 RISC processor and comes with 30M of RAM,
upgradeable to 70M. It can generate up to 3-ppm color and 12-ppm monochrome output.


A FastBlue feature doubles color print speed while retaining the impact of color.
Automatic Transparency Detection recognizes and optimizes the printing of transparencies,
and a special Hold Job function gives users extra time to load special paper or retrieve
private documents. Xerox’s CentreWare DP and CentreWare Internet Services software
comes with the printer.


Other advanced features include ImageFix, which automatically corrects low-quality or
poorly scanned images, and Fax-Friendly Black, which converts color graphics into readable
black-and-white patterns for faxing or copying.


Pro: The C55mp has features more often found only in
high-end units. It also has the smallest footprint of any networkable workgroup color
laser.


Con: Rumor has it that the C55 series is merely an
afterthought to Xerox’s main interest, which is said to be large-scale color laser
printing systems.


J.B. Miles writes about communications and computers from Carlsbad, Calif.

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