Workhouses for workgroups

What to look for in a workgroup printer

  • 80,000-pages-per-month duty cycle or higher

  • Fast RISC processor

  • Easily upgradeable RAM

  • Plenty of paper handling options

  • Automatic duplexing

  • Multifunction options

  • True resolution of at least 600 by 600 dpi

  • Automatic interface switching

  • Multiple OS drivers

  • Local source of toner and other supplies
  • IBM's Infoprint Color 1220dn, priced at $2,698, prints 20 ppm in color or black-and-white, with 1,200- by 1,200-dpi resolution and a 3,900-sheet capacity.

    Left: Genicom's $3,619 monochrome mL450 prints 45 ppm at 600- by 600-dpi, with 3,500-sheet capacity.
    Right: Xerox's Phaser 7300DT prints 30 ppm in color and 37 ppm in black-and-white, with 2,400- by 2,400-dpi and a 1,200-sheet capacity. It's priced at $5,499.

    Most offices still do plenty of printing'these fast lasers can handle the load

    Early hopes that Internet technologies would reduce the mountains of paper generated by government agencies are fading fast in the light of some hard facts.

    Despite an exponential increase in the use of e-mail, e-commerce and other electronic business tools, the volume of paper documents created by most organizations is growing at a rate of 6 percent to 8 percent a year, according to research by printer manufacturer Lexmark International.

    In many companies, the use of e-mail alone has increased printing volumes by a whopping 40 percent. E-commerce, while streamlining many business procedures between sellers and buyers, still generates paper-based forms that must be printed.

    Bottom line: Offices are still hooked on print technology.

    Printing isn't cheap. A $1 billion enterprise generally spends $10 million to $30 million annually on hard-copy output. And the expenses don't stop there. Print-related queries from users account for up to 60 percent of help desk calls in many organizations, according to Lexmark.

    With facts like these, you'd think printers would get more attention in planning and budgeting processes. But cost-conscious departments often ignore printers'until they fail. Outdated printers that are too slow, or a mishmash of different printers with different requirements and maintenance, can amount to costly performance bottlenecks.

    There's no such thing as a perfect workgroup printer, but if you look carefully at the color and monochrome lasers in the accompanying chart, you're almost certain to find one that will meet all or most of your requirements.

    Higher-end models

    To be eligible for this roundup, the printers had to be either color or monochrome laser models rated for printing speeds of at least 16 pages per minute'monochrome'with an internal slot for a 10/100-Mbps Ethernet network card, and a decent set of management and setup tools. I sought higher-end models in each manufacturer's product line, so they typically have a fast RISC processor, plenty of upgradeable RAM, print resolutions of at least 600 by 600 dots per inch and drivers for the most common operating systems. An option for an internal hard drive is a plus.

    Paper handling is another important feature of workgroup printers. The models I preferred all had easy-access trays, with options for adding more capacity, so you can build up a system's input capacity from about 350 sheets to more than 1,000. Although many of the manufacturers listed here make models that can handle tabloid-sized (11-inch by 17-inch) stock, I limited this selection of printers to models handling letter, legal, executive, A4, A5, A6, B5, B6 and envelopes.

    Automatic duplexing is an essential feature for any workgroup printer worthy of the name. The duplexing feature allows users to print on both sides of the paper without manual intervention. It should be built into your printer or available as an option.

    The best workgroup printers have a wide assortment of connection interfaces, including 10/100 Ethernet, Universal Serial Bus, IEEE 1284 parallel and RS-232/422 serial. Some have optional slots for such interfaces as IBM 3270 coaxial or 5250 twinax. All network-ready workgroup printers should feature automatic interface switching.

    Support for network protocols should include such standbys as Novell NetWare (IXP/SPX), Telnet, EtherTalk, DEC LAT, AppleTalk, TCP/IP, SNMP and Printer MIB, many of which will be built into the printer's proprietary remote control software.

    Standard print languages, fonts and typefaces generally come bundled with most printers. Language support should include HP PCL 6, PCL 5e and Adobe PostScript 2 or 3.

    If most of your workgroup print jobs require monochrome text with only occasional color inserts, monochrome lasers could be your best bet. They print faster and have more productivity features for the money than any other type of printer. They excel at high-quality text output, and their grayscale graphical output can be equally excellent.

    Two-printer solution

    Paired with an inexpensive laser or ink-jet printer for those spots of color, a networked monochrome laser with a fast processor, plenty of RAM, at least 600- by 600-dpi resolution and a built-in or optional duplexer could meet all your workgroup needs.

    Color lasers, meanwhile, have shed their reputation for being large, slow and complex, with long set up times and mediocre results.

    New color models use single-pass print engine technology, which can deliver high-resolution text and graphics in a fraction of the time it used to take. Instead of the paper making four passes in the machine to pick up a different primary color, these lasers do it all in one pass without sacrificing image quality. With dedicated RISC processors, ample RAM and other technological tweaks, many of these printers produce both color and monochrome images with equal speed.

    Most new workgroup lasers include utilities that allow the use of Web browsers for gleaning management information about the configuration and status of all printers on the network. Brother International Corp.'s BR-Admin Professional, Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Web JetAdmin and Lexmark's MarkVision are examples of such proprietary software.

    These utilities vary from vendor to vendor, but the basic features tend to be similar. They let you find printers and change settings from a Web browser.

    But proprietary Web utilities often don't work well with other vendors' printers. To counteract this, Microsoft Corp. introduced Internet Printing Protocol (IPP) 1.0 in Windows 2000. IPP gives Windows users Web-enabled printer management along with Internet printing, which enables a remote connection to printers using their URLs.

    J.B. Miles of Pahoa, Hawaii, writes about communications and computers. E-mail him at [email protected].


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