â€˜Tis the season of the single-function laser-class printer. Over the past several months, several entry-level, â€œpersonalâ€ LED-based color printers have passed through our labs. The two most recent of these low-cost, low-volume devices weâ€™ve tested, theÂ Â and theÂ were from Dell. Hot on the heels of these, Brother sent us its newest entries in this niche class of small- and home-based-office machines: the $249.99-list HL-3140CW and the $279.99-list HL-3170CDW.
Here, weâ€™re looking at the slightly faster, more versatile (and, of course, more expensive) of the two, the HL-3170CDW. (Watch for our review the HL-3140CW in the next week or two.)Â These two printers are much the same, except that for its $30 price premium, the model we’re reviewing hereÂ gains you an auto-duplexer (for printing two-sided pages without requiring you to flip them over manually), as well as an Ethernet connector and twice the memory (128MB versus 64MB). As we see it, these additional features are well worth the minimal difference in price, making this slightly more expensive version a better fit for small offices and workgroups.
Before we go on, though, letâ€™s talk about what makes LED-based printers like this one â€œlaser-classâ€ devices, as opposed to being simply laser printers. Although an LED printer is technically not a laser printer, it looks and acts very much like one. The difference between them centers on the basic print technology. Instead of using a laser, LED-based machines use an LED array (an array of light-emitting diodes) to charge the page image onto the print drum. Printer makers substitute LEDs for lasers because they have fewer moving parts, are smaller and lighter, and cost less to manufacture. Otherwise, LED models operate much the same as laser printers do, including in their use of toner.
Historically, small and home offices have chosen laser and laser-class printers over inkjet models because they print faster and cost less to use over the long haul, despite their somewhat heftier upfront purchase price. Nowadays, thoughâ€”due to the onslaught of high-volume, low-cost-per-page inkjetsâ€”you typically have to buy a relatively high-volume (and high-priced) color laser printer to see much speed or per-page cost benefit. Many lower-volume, lower-cost color lasers no longer have the speed and operational-cost advantages over their inkjet counterparts.
Why? Some inkjet models claiming “laser-quality” output, such as the $499.99-listÂ Epson WorkForce 4590Â and the $199.99-listÂ HP OfficeJet Pro 8600 Plus, reallyÂ doÂ print business documents on par with high-volume laser models, in terms of both quality and speed. In addition, these relatively new high-volume inkjets perform their magic at a very reasonable cost per page (CPP), which, as youâ€™ll see in the Setup & Paper Handling section of this review, the HL-3170CDW does not. Furthermore, these inkjets are multifunction machines, which means that you get the ability to scan, copy, and fax, as well as print for about the same price,Â or sometimes even less.
Compared to some other personal LED printers weâ€™ve reviewed lately, such as the two Dell models mentioned above, the HL-3170CDW comes with a respectable feature set. For about the same price, this Brother offers, as mentioned, automatic two-sided printing, as well as a wide range of options for printing from cloud sites and wireless devices. Itâ€™s also considerably faster than Dellâ€™s most recent single-function models.
However, this Brother unitâ€™s print quality, as we discuss in the Print Quality section later on, isnâ€™t quite up to what we saw from the Dell LED models. In addition, the HL-3170CDW has a relatively low recommended monthly print volume, and the cost of its toner cartridges make for, compared to some inkjet counterparts, a high CPP for both monochrome and color prints. We wouldn’t recommendÂ this machineÂ as a serious high-volume workhorse printer. It’s best for occasional, light-duty color printing.
See the entire review atÂ Computer Shopper.