Multifunction Device / Multifunction Printer Buying Guide

Our tips on how to buy the best printer - for printing photos, scanning, faxing or copying. We help you choose the right multifunction device or all in one printer

A final downside of multifunction printers is maintenance; it is often thought that if one part stops working, you can lose the other functions too. While it's true that if the printer breaks, you will generally not be able to photocopy, most MFDs are designed so that you will still be able to scan. In addition, most business-targeted multifunction devices will provide you with an error reporting system or e-mail notifications when there is a fault, allowing you or a designated maintenance person to fix the machine before it affects productivity.

Factors to consider

When hunting around for an MFD for the home or the office, ask yourself what sort of functionality you require. Maybe you don't need a fax machine? Maybe a memory card reader is not required? Maybe you don't need a network adapter? Asking yourself these sorts of questions will narrow down your search for a machine and will also allow you to save money by not purchasing a device with features that you don't need.

It is a good idea to estimate the maximum number of pages per month that you need to print, and buy a printer that can handle that workload. Printer manufacturers often provide maximum monthly duty cycle figures that give you a rough idea of how much that printer can handle in a given time period. Depending on your needs, you may only need to print 300-400 pages per month, though larger offices will require multifunction devices with a maximum monthly duty cycle in excess of 20,000 pages.

Another factor to consider when purchasing a multifunction device is whether you need inkjet or laser. Inkjet multifunctions are generally much cheaper to purchase and are better suited to printing photos (though you are looking at $300-$400 for an MFD that can produce particularly good quality photos). Laser multifunction printers, on the other hand, are much more expensive but provide better quality documents at a much faster rate. Though the initial outlay and subsequent consumables will cost more, laser printers can also have a lower running cost than inkjets as toners generally have a higher yield.

Printing speed

Since print speed is the easiest performance indicator on a multifunction to quantify, it is also the most-used weapon in the marketing war among vendors. As such, print speed figures are readily available for any model you are looking to purchase. However, this doesn't mean that it should necessarily be taken seriously.

Quoted print speeds often bear little to no relation to a multifunction device's real-world capabilities. Vendors frequently cite ratings based on standardised ISO tests, but these are often very simple text documents printed in draft mode or at an arbitrary resolution. As a result, print speeds — particularly in regards to inkjet multifunction devices — can simply be confusing. Many vendors don't even include the first page out time — the time it takes for the PC to send a job to the printer.

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