Review of the OKI C612dn at Computer ShopperIt’s been a while since we’ve reviewed an OKI Data stand-alone (that is, print-only) color printer. The most recent was the wide-format-capable OKI C831n back in March of 2014. Like the subject of our review here today, this was also a laser-class printer.

We call these machines “laser-class” because, though they look and act like laser printers, they use light-emitting-diode (LED) arrays, rather than actual lasers, to etch page images onto the printer drum, which the toner in turn adheres to. It’s a small technical distinction, but we make it because in places, printers like these are referred to by their proper name: LED printers. Today’s review subject, the $789-list OKI C612n, is indeed an LED-based machine.

For a while there, most of the major laser-printer manufacturers—Dell (really Samsung, behind the scenes), HP, OKI, Canon, Brother—deployed LEDs in some of their laser-class machines. Why? Because LED arrays are cheaper to manufacture, and they’re smaller, allowing printer makers to make less-expensive, smaller, and lighter machines. Nowadays, we don’t see as many LED-based printers as we once did, but OKI still deploys them in a significant portion of its product line.

In addition to being less costly and smaller (since they have fewer moving parts), LED arrays can also be more reliable than their laser counterparts. On the other hand, laser-based mechanisms are typically more precise; they have only one light source, so every pixel gets the same amount of illumination, making for a higher degree of consistency. LED arrays have thousands of LEDs, and, as a result, illumination can and does vary among them. In addition, the number of LEDs in an array determines the printer’s resolution, where most laser printers support more than one dots-per-inch setting.

OKI C612dn (Front)

Does this mean that laser output is inherently superior to LED prints? It’s not that simple. Let’s say that it can be, depending on the consistency of the LEDs across the array, and to an extent that can depend on how well it’s built. What we will say is that we’ve seen some LED-array-based printers, such as the OKI C831n mentioned above, that churn out some darn good-looking prints. So, like in so many things in life, the answer to our question is: It depends.

Which brings us back to the OKI C612dn. Currently, OKI offers two C612-series machines: the model we’re reviewing, the OKI C612dn, and the $649-list OKI C612n. The “d” stands for “duplex,” or automatic two-sided printing. In other words, to get auto-duplexing from a C612 model, you’ll have to fork out an additional $140 (or thereabouts, depending on the street prices of the printers that day). Apart from the duplexing distinction, these two printers are essentially the same.

Compared to some laser printers reviewed recently, such as the $999-list Dell Color Smart Printer S5840Cdn and the $800-MSRP HP LaserJet Enterprise M553dn, the OKI C612dn’s output is slightly subpar. And compared to that pricier Dell competitor, the running costs (the per-page cost of toner) is a little high. (For a detailed description of print quality, see the Output Quality section near the end of this review; for running costs, refer to the Cost Per Page section.) On the other hand, another benefit (aside from smaller machines) of LED-based printers is that they use significantly less power than their laser-based counterparts.

That said, whether the OKI C612dn is right for you really depends on what you’re looking for. The truth is that we’d feel much better about recommending this OKI model were its running costs a little lower. If you print thousands of pages each month, a fraction of a cent for each page can make a big difference in the ongoing cost of ownership. Other than that issue, though, the OKI C612dn is a highly capable laser printer with better-than-passable output for most business scenarios.

Read the entire review at Computer Shopper


 

OKI B512dn Monochrome Printer Review and Ratings“Lasers! We’re under attack!” That might be our headline here, were we writing a cheesy 1950s sci-fi epic, not a laser-printer review. But, nonetheless, that’s a pretty accurate summary of affairs in the laser-printer market nowadays.

We’ve been saying for some time that, on the value front, high-volume inkjet printers have been edging out entry-level and midrange laser models. That’s happened for a number of reasons. Among them? Better-than-ever text printing from the inkjets (and, as ever, superior photo printing), plus competitive per-page costs for consumables.

In short, recent business-class inkjets went and cut away two of the major reasons that companies opted for laser- or laser-class printers in the first place. And laser makers have been scrambling of late to catch up.

Every now and then, though, we come across a laser-class machine that upholds the old-school laser tradition of aggressively priced consumables and excellent print quality. One of them is the topic of this review, OKI Data’s $499-list B512dn Monochrome Printer.

OKI B512dnThis is a printer clearly meant for churning loads of plain document pages, given that OKI tags it with a healthy 100,000-page maximum monthly duty cycle. (That’s the recommendation for the most pages you should run through this printer in a given month. Of course, you’ll need a forklift for all that paper delivered at once.) That rating, paired with the excellent text-print quality and a cost per page (CPP) of under 1.5 cents, made a fine impression on us. It’s not all that often anymore that we run across laser-class output in a new printer at this competitive a CPP.

That said, this OKI printer’s only real flaw—its somewhat slow print speed—offsets its appealing qualities a bit. After all, if you mean to print thousands of pages a month, it’s going to take thatmuch more time. But it’s not a deal-killer unless you mean to max out this laser-class printer, all day, every day.

Notice that we refer to the OKI B512dn as a “laser-class” printer, rather than simply a laser printer. We do so because this is not a “true” laser printer, in a sense. A classic laser printer deploys an actual laser mechanism inside to draw the page image to be printed onto the printer’s drum. (The drum, charged by the laser in that pattern, then attracts toner and transfers it to the page.) OKI’s model is more accurately termed an LED-based printer. An LED printer works similarly to a laser, but it charges the page image onto the drum with a fixed array of light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

The reason for using an LED array instead of a scanning laser is simple: LEDs cost less. Substituting LEDs for lasers also allows printer manufacturers to make smaller and lighter printers with fewer moving parts. All else being equal, LED models tend to cost less to manufacture than their laser counterparts, too. Aside from the economics involved, LED-based printers look from the outside very much the same as laser devices do, and they function and act identically, too; hence, the “laser-class” name. Unless you dismantled the printer, you’d likely never know the difference.

We like the per-page economics on this OKI printer, but overall, as modern printers go, this one is a little thin on features. According to OKI, it’s really designed to sit there and churn out page after page of text at a rate of up to 45 pages per minute. (More on that later.) Out of the box, though, it has no wireless connectivity (that feature costs extra), and it supports only a smattering of mobile-printing features.

As we’ve pointed out in many recent reviews, fewer businesses today—especially smaller ones—rely as much as before on single-function, monochrome laser-class printers, one reason being that their now-more-economical inkjet counterparts print nicer graphics and images, and in color. However, there will always be those offices that, for one reason or another, require laser output and don’t care about image printing. Think about all those tire shops, doctors’ offices, and other places of business and points of sale that require short black-and-white documents and receipts in a jiffy.

The good news about the OKI B512dn is that it can serve these needs and more while keeping a light touch on your budget. And that’s a huge part of what we expect from a high-volume printer—and what can make one a success. A printer like the OKI B512dn may be light on frills, but you don’t fault a bulldozer for pushing through big jobs and delivering muscle where it is needed—and that’s what this printer does with monochrome documents.

Read the entire review at Computer Shopper.


 

In case you’re wondering why I refer to certain types of laser-like printers as “laser-class” devices, rather than simply laser printers, there’s a sound technical reason, I assure you. “True” laser printers use a laser mechanism inside to draw the page image to be printed onto the printer’s drum (which then picks up and transfers toner to the page). This is quite similar to what LED printers do, but they don’t do it with lasers.

Light-Emitting Diodes

LED-based machines, on the other hand, charge the page image onto the print drum with an array of light-emitting diodes. (Mind you, this isn’t a ploy by manufacturers to make knock-off laser printers; substituting LEDs for lasers simply allows printer manufacturers to make smaller and lighter printers with fewer moving parts.) All else being equal, LED models tend to cost less to manufacture than do their laser counterparts. Aside from the economics involved, though, LED-based printers function much the same as laser devices do, and they act identically from the outside; hence, I call them “laser-class” printers—though there is nothing laser about them.

Read the entire article at About.com.


 

Brother HL-3140CW Review and RatingsDeservedly or not, inexpensive LED-based printers are enjoying a renaissance of late. Over the past few months, we’ve looked at a bunch of new entry-level, LED-based color printers designed for small and home offices. The three most recent of these low-cost, low-volume machines we’ve tested are Dell’s C1760nw Color Printer and C1660w Color Printer, and Brother’s HL-3170CDW. The last of those is the beefier of a pair of LED-based color printers that the Japanese electronics giant sent us recently.

Here, we’re looking at the slightly less versatile of that pair, Brother’s $249.99-list HL-3140CW. (It’s also the less expensive of the two; the HL-3170CDW lists for $279.99.) Aside from a $30 price difference, this color LED model is much the same as the HL-3170CDW, which we reviewed just a few weeks before this printer. And for that modest $30 savings, we found that you give up a bunch.

The biggest thing you give up in the HL-3140CW is automatic duplexing (which, of course, allows you to print on both sides of the paper without having to manually flip it over). Connectivity and memory are also different; the higher-cost machine comes with an Ethernet port (which the HL-3140CW lacks) and twice the memory (128MB, rather than 64MB). As we noted in our review of the HL-3170CDW, these additional features are hefty sacrifices for $30, making this higher-priced laser-class printer a better overall value.

Brother HL-3140CWIn case you’re wondering why we call these printers “laser-class” devices, rather than simply laser printers, there’s a technical reason. “True” laser printers use a laser mechanism inside to draw the page image to be printed onto the printer’s drum (which then picks up and transfers toner to the page). LED-based machines, on the other hand, charge the page image onto the print drum with an array of light-emitting diodes. Mind you, this isn’t a ploy by manufacturers to make knock-off laser printers; substituting LEDs for lasers simply allows printer manufacturers to make smaller and lighter printers with fewer moving parts. All else being equal, LED models tend to cost less to manufacture than do their laser counterparts. Aside from the economics involved, though, LED-based printers function much the same as laser devices do, and they act identically from the outside; hence, we call them “laser-class” printers.

No matter what they have inside them, though, this class of printers, in general, has become—due primarily to pressure from high-volume, business-centric inkjet models—less and less attractive from a bottom-line perspective. At one time, small and home offices chose laser and laser-class printers over inkjet models because they printed faster, turned out near-laser-quality text, and cost less to use per page on an ongoing basis. However, these low-cost laser-class devices no longer outperform some of today’s high-volume inkjets enough to justify their somewhat higher up-front cost. Plus, some of them cost significantly more to use than many of today’s business-centric inkjets.

It’s that last item—the high cost of the toner—that concerns us most. As we often contend, seldom should the up-front price of a printer be your first consideration when buying a printer for business use. Unless you print very little, how much you’ll pay to keep the printer supplied with ink or toner is much more important. (We’ll show you why in the Print Quality & Conclusion section near the end of this review.)

Where the Brother HL-3140CW outshines not only inkjet printers, but also most other color-laser-class devices in this price range, is in speed. In our tests, it outpaced most entry-level color-laser-class machines we’ve tested. However, what itdid print was a notch or two below the norm for laser-class output. That’s not to say that the print quality was bad, by any means. But we’ve seen better from some other lasers and LED printers.

Brother HL-3140CW Right Side ViewOverall, given the high cost per page, lack of support for automatic two-sided printing, and slightly below-industry-standard output, we found ourselves lukewarm about the HL-3140CW, especially when you can buy the HL-3170CDW (with auto-duplexing and twice the RAM) for just $30 more. And, in fact, that’s our recommendation. If, after reading our review, you decide that the HL-3140CW is the right printer for your small or home office, we suggest that you jump over and read our take on its higher-end sibling, the HL-3170CDW. It’s just a better value.

See the entire review at Computer Shopper.

Brother HL-3170CDW Review and Ratings‘Tis the season of the single-function laser-class printer. Over the past several months, several entry-level, “personal” LED-based color printers have passed through our labs. The two most recent of these low-cost, low-volume devices we’ve tested, the  and the 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, we’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.) These two printers are much the same, except that for its $30 price premium, the model we’re reviewing here 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.

Brother HL-3170CDWBefore we go on, though, let’s talk about what makes LED-based printers like this one “laser-class” 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, though—due to the onslaught of high-volume, low-cost-per-page inkjets—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-list Epson WorkForce 4590 and the $199.99-list HP OfficeJet Pro 8600 Plus, really do 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 you’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, or sometimes even less.

Compared to some other personal LED printers we’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. It’s also considerably faster than Dell’s most recent single-function models.

Brother HL-3170CDW Front ViewHowever, this Brother unit’s print quality, as we discuss in the Print Quality section later on, isn’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 recommend this machine as a serious high-volume workhorse printer. It’s best for occasional, light-duty color printing.

See the entire review at Computer Shopper.

Dell C1760nw Color Printer Review and RatingsOver the past few years, we’ve been watching with interest as Dell’s stable of entry-level and midrange LED printers has continued to grow. Considered “laser-class” devices, machines that employ LED technology rely on LED-based lamp arrays, rather than lasers, to draw the page image to be printed on the machine’s drum. Replacing the lasers with LEDs allows for smaller, trimmer, and lighter printers that consume less energy and have fewer moving parts, without compromising on speed and print quality.

Historically, businesses tend to favor laser or LED printers because they print faster than inkjets. Also, they’re capable of much higher volumes for longer periods, and the cost of using them is typically cheaper over the long haul. (The machine usually costs more up front, but the cartridges cost less per page than most inkjets.) However, much like Dell’s 1250c Color LED Printer we looked at back in November 2010, as well as the 1355cnw Multifunction Color Printer from January 2011, Dell’s $279.99-list C1760nw Color Printer bucks that trend. The device itself is moderately priced for a color-laser-class machine, but the per-page cost is as high as or higher than most inkjets, making it suitable only for small or home offices that need color laser output but don’t print a lot.

Dell C1760nwIn addition to the single-function C1760nw, Dell also sells a multifunction (print/scan/copy/fax) version, the $349.99-list C1765nfw Color Multifunction Printer, built around the same print engine. (We’ll be reviewing that model shortly.) In terms of overall value, gaining the ability to scan, copy, and fax for an additional $70 seems like a good deal to us, making the C1765nfw a better value, even though both machines are quite basic. (All the C1760nw can do is print.)

Indeed, “basic” is the word that sums up the C1760nw best. It lacks an eye-catching color touch-screen control panel with apps for connecting to cloud sites or downloading and printing Internet content. It has no front-panel USB port for flash drives or, for that matter, support for any other type of memory device, and it doesn’t even support auto-duplexing (the ability to print two-sided pages unassisted). Here in 2013, color-printer feature sets don’t get any more basic than this.

If you don’t need the extra features, of course, basic can be good. But what really concerned us about the C1760nw was its ongoing cost of operation, namely the cost per page (CPP). Like preceding LED printers from Dell, this one costs too much to use, which, despite Dell’s maximum duty-cycle rating of 30,000 pages per month, relegates it to light-duty personal printing, not heavy business output. If you actually printed thousands of pages per month on this machine, the per-page cost would, compared to higher-volume machines with lower CPPs, cost you plenty over time—much, much more than you’d save with this model’s relatively low purchase price.

Dell C1760nw Front ViewStill, this printer has its high points. The C1760nw performed respectably on our speed tests; its output looked up to snuff for a laser-class device; and it’s light, small, and easy to set up and use. The bottom line for this printer is, the more you use it, the less value it provides. It’s best suited for environments where laser-like speed and text quality are required, but only when you need to print a few pages here and there. It works for us as a personal laser printer, or for home-based and small offices where print volume is very light.

See the full review at Computer Shopper.