Network-Attached Printers

These printers now offer advanced features, such as wireless connectivity and multifunctional capabilities. We'll help you find the right option for your needs.

August 13, 2004

5 Min Read
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All-in-One Devices

For home users or a small office where space is limited, look to multifunction devices--combination printer, copier, scanner and/or fax machines. Heavy-duty versions of these same printers are now being used in larger offices, too. Thanks to their improved reliability, today's high-end multipurpose machines are well worth considering.

One of the first items to consider is how much printing the office does in a month. And when determining your monthly duty cycle, be sure to factor in expected growth. You want a printer that can handle what you'll need throughout its useful life. Rated duty cycles of the printers we've surveyed range from several thousand pages to 300,000 pages per month. By matching expected load to the rated duty cycle, you'll avoid burning out the printer prematurely and buying more printer than you need. In addition, consider the number of pages per minute. For efficiency, buy a machine that will spit out documents as fast as your users can send them.

For larger groups where everyone tends to print at the same time, or if you need to print large, multipage documents, look to the higher duty-cycle/more pages per minute set. It's at this point that the ROI on the larger office-collaboration machines that staple, stack, collate and duplex-print becomes meaningful. Higher-end standalone multifunction devices built for this capacity likely will offer more advanced options.

For small offices, don't worry too much about duty cycle, since even the lowest-rated cycle is more than the most aggressive SOHO user will ever need.Size Matters

Also make sure the printer has the appropriate paper trays for your group's needs. Letter, legal and envelope are standard, but if your organization prints documents in other sizes, make sure the machine offers expandable options before you close your Kinko's account.

In addition, make sure the printer has enough memory. When a network printer generates a page, all information concerning that page must be loaded into the machine's memory. Check the amount of standard memory on-board, as well as its expandability. This is especially important in an organization that makes a lot of printouts. You'll also need more storage/queuing space if you're in an office of media designers who continually print large color files. One way to determine needed memory is to ask users how many kilobytes their largest document is likely to be.

Adding Color, Cutting Wires

Prices for heavy-duty, networked color printers are dropping. If you go this route, however, make sure the printer you choose can keep up with user demand. As an added benefit, color toner costs per page are often lower than for a monochrome device.To make color laser printers more affordable, manufacturers use some older, and in some cases slower, technologies, which means pages per minute and duty cycles per month con't compare with those of a monochrome device. The older, slower method is called multipass--the printer first lays down one color, then goes back to add other colors. The process is repeated until all four colors--cyan, magenta, yellow and black--have been applied. Although this method takes some time, it's significantly less costly than single pass, which lays down all colors in one swipe.

Oki Data America's least expensive single-pass color entry, the OKI C5200n, retails at $1,199. It has some of the same specs (pages per minute black/duty cycle per month) as the $599 OKI B4350n monochrome printer, but gives you single-pass color.

Printers with wireless capabilities are becoming common. Some high-end models offer other advanced features, such as stacking, stapling and collating. Duplex printing, which lets the machine use both sides of a sheet of paper, is available on many higher-end models, but often requires an additional module or tray. Our survey didn't include these specialized features, but your printer salesperson should be more than happy to show you these higher-priced models.

Get InteractiveDon't miss our Interactive Buyer's Guide on Network-Attatched Printers. Compare features and options so you can make an educated purchase.

Leasing vs. Buying

If you're not sure of your needs, or if coming up with all the cash for a high-end printer poses a problem, look into leasing. This will let you try out advanced features that might otherwise be out of reach. And you'll get upgrades when the lease expires, instead of being stuck with what you've got.

If you're buying, be sure to get a service agreement that will meet your organization's needs. A multinational enterprise with heavy printer demands, for example, will require 24/7 service.

Ask the right questions: What are the costs? How long will it take a technician to come out and service your machine? What about upgrades?Network-attached printer vendors are always adding features to their products. The enhanced machines can often offset their higher price tags by reducing the need for outsourcing and by doubling as fax machines, copiers or scanners.

Research is the key. Talk to your office manager and users, and consider current as well as future needs. Just be sure you know what features you want before you buy--you may have trouble getting more money out of the CFO once you've made your purchase.

Christopher McQueeney is vice president of information technology at Empire Federal Credit Union in Syracuse, N.Y. Prior to joining Empire, McQueeney worked as a network security analyst and security product engineer for a national ISP. Write to him at [email protected].

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