Laser Printers Buying Guide

To help you in your decision making process, we present some of the issues and questions you should be considering when choosing a laser printer.

PPM (pages per minute)

The rate at which the printer can output finished pages.

Monthly Duty Cycle

The recommended number of pages a laser printer should produce over a month. It is important to distinguish between maximum monthly duty cycle (how much a printer can theoretically endure) and a recommended monthly duty cycle (the manufacturer's recommended monthly page limit for a printer). The latter is often a fraction of the former.


Is it important to have a lot of memory?

Memory (RAM) is an important specification when dealing with large workgroups. Most low-end printers will ship with 32MB or 64MB of memory, which is suitable for use with one or two computers, but may be troublesome when dealing with a network of five to 10 computers. It isn't always important to purchase a more expensive model just because it has more memory, as it is often possible to upgrade RAM later and at a cheaper overall price.

Do I need a hard drive?

Hard drives are a useful accessory for laser printers if you require reprinting and password-protected printing facilities. Some printers store these documents on embedded memory rather than hard drives but may not be able to store as many documents at one time.

What's the difference between laser and inkjet printers?

Laser and inkjet printers use two different printing technologies to produce documents and images. Inkjet printers transfer ink from a cartridge to a printhead, which then bonds with the media. This makes inkjet printing useful for printing high quality images on glossy media or producing accurate colour.

Lasers (and LED printers) etch a digital image on a magnetically charged drum, which is then rolled through toner powder and pressed onto paper. The toner powder is heat-fused onto the paper, rather than bonding with it, so it won't produce bleeding or running on the page. Laser printers are very useful for producing accurate text documents but typically don't do so well when dealing with colour and photos.

LED — isn't that a type of TV?

LED stands for light emitting diodes. LEDs are used in a wide variety of technologies from car headlights to the backlight in some LCD televisions. In printers, LEDs can be used instead of a laser to etch the digital image onto the printer's drum. There are several advantages to using LEDs instead of a laser, including cheaper initial cost and smaller printers.

Do I need to have emulation languages?

Emulation languages are most useful when using Linux or an operating system that may not be supported by the printer manufacturer. For most users, however, the vendor's software driver will provide all of the functionality you need to run and administer your printer, so additional emulation languages won't be necessary.

How do I connect my printer to a network?

As every network is different, it is impossible to give you a step-by-step guide to setting up a specific printer on a specific network. Make sure to research your chosen printer before purchasing to see if it has the right network connectivity (Ethernet or Wi-Fi) to suit your workgroup.

If connecting to a wireless network, check to see if your printer offers button-based setup compatible with your router. Most new routers offer Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), which makes it easier to connect wireless devices, and many wireless laser printers are beginning to support this option.

Is print speed important?

Print speed can be important if you need to produce a document quickly or work in an environment where several computers are constantly printing documents. However, basic print speed isn't the be all and end all of productivity. There are a number of things that can also slow down a printer, including lack of memory, a slow computer or a congested print server. The time it takes for a printer to wake from sleep, or to print the first page can often add two to three minutes to the printing time, so make sure to ask the sales representative the true print speed of your chosen model.

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James Hutchinson

PC World
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