The lowdown on bargain lasers

What's a bargain for a laser printer? Paying $399 for a laser printer might not seem like a bargain, until you realize that it's a color laser printer you're getting for that price, less than half of where prices for desktop color lasers once started. Then again, $179 for a monochrome laser printer may seem on the high side of the bargain price range until you note that the $179 printer will support Apple Macintosh, for example. In short, a bargain is in the eye of the beholder, even though it's easy to spot clear bargains in monochrome, color and network-ready lasers.

Is there more than one way to price a bargain? Yes. Getting lasers on everyone's desk for under $150 each is nice; knowing that your consumables won't cost an arm and a leg is even nicer. Another way of looking at the price of a bargain laser printer is the total cost of ownership, which involves the price of the unit, consumables over a reasonable (or annual) use cycle and any maintenance costs. The best bargains remain bargains when all these factors are figured in.

What about networking? If an agency director or senior manager needs a laser in his or her office, networking that printer may be less important than one placed in a small workgroup or remote office. Among the best bargains in our roundup are systems that include networking already installed or available as an option.

What's ahead? We may not have hit the absolute bottom of laser prices, but manufacturers are stressing their goal of cramming more speed and more features into next year's low-end models. The greatest growth in terms of new kinds of units may be in rock-bottom-priced color lasers, which even monochrome-laser advocates admit will squeeze things at the low end.

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