Cheap Laser Printer Guide
Written by Erik Neff   
Wednesday, 22 February 2006
For one reason or another, Sailors always seem to have potty mouths.  This guide pays homage to those afformentioned men of the sea.  Consider yourself warned. 

About a year ago, I researched the low-cost monochrome laser printer market and decided to get NCIX's lowest-cost printer, the Samsung ML-1520.  One of the reasons this printer was so low-cost was because they were imported from the U.K. and thus had virtually no support or even recognition of their existinance anywhere in samsung.com or samsung.ca, and who would...
 
...want that?  This didn't turn out to be a problem however, because it's not an HP, so it doesn't have a fucking retarded 200mb driver file that sits in the background with 7 idle processes running chewing up processor cycles (sister has an hp, dad has an hp - never ever again).  Instead it uses a driver included with windows xp (and presumably win2k and lower) call the samsung printer language - a very very efficient and unobtrustive driver.  Because it's already in the system and is so small, literally connecting the printer to a USB port is the first and only step in setting it up - no joke.  At the time that printer cost about $150.  Shortly after I bought it the world-wide stock seems to have dried up, and was immediately replaced by a practically identical model with no parallel port called the Samsung ML-1620.  I would expect no less than the same ease of use with it.  I found two draw-backs that would have me not go down the same route again however, which leads me to my recommendations:
  1. No Parallel Port:
    • "But why would anyone want this?" you ask.  3 Simple Reasons: System processor cycle stealing predictability, networkability, and OS compatibility.
      • System Processor Cycle Stealing Predictability:
        Many manufacturers use the USB connection as a way to offload processing requirements to the host computer.  HP has been the worst for this historically.  They were the ones who started the whole $25 printers with $60 cartridges trend (thanks a lot, stupid fuckers).  The way they managed to make printers so cheap was by literally abstracting everything to software, leaving merely a plastic shell with a print head and a relay pcb.  This ultimately required huge processor-intensive printer drivers to be installed in windows to allow their obtrusive software to control and instruct the printer in every fascet of operation right down to the smallest of detail like how and when to move the printer head itself.  Fucking r-eDonkey-ulous.  So how does this all relate to parallel ports?  Well, the parallel port does not have the capacity for such ludicrous abstraction of hardware functionality into software and drivers.  Thus, if you get a laser printer with a parallel port, you are guaranteed that the printer driver that windws uses will #1: be inluded in windows already, even if you only use the USB connector, and #2: will be an extremely efficient low-overhead driver.
      • Networkability:
        How do you use a printer over your local network?  Well, you connect it to a computer, and then go through windows' ugly sharing functions to try to share it, then have to add it to each other computer on your network, and you have to leave that computer running all the time if you want printing to be a seamless 'always-on' function of all computers in a household.  What if the printer is a piece of shit that can't be remotely controlled?  Well, if you bought an HP, then you're pretty much fucked across the board, but many other printers have similar limitations.  However, if your printer has a parallel port, you can be almost guaranteed that the printer driver is one so simple that sharing it would be almost too easy for windows to do, regardless of whether you used the parallel port or the usb port - sweet.  But what about that annoying requirement for having the host computer always on?  Well, to solve this, you could get a little print server is basically just a network card and a printer port.  There's a catch though - how many of these have USB connectors?  That's right - almost none.  And why is that?  Because so many fucking retarded printer manufacturers use the USB port in wild and wacky ways that off-load hardware requirements to the software, and no print server could be affordable if it was capable of handling all these stupid things manufacturer's do, so they just don't support it.  Once again, the parallel port is here to save the day.  Parallel port print servers are widely available, and often even come built into some network routers.  Ahh, no more requirement on having a computer running non-stop.  A truly blessed set-up.  A final alternative which I choose to ignore due to its cost is the category of "workgroup" printers.  These are basically printers that usually have the typical usb and parallel connectors, but also have an RJ-45 jack to connect the printer directly to your LAN over ethernet.  These printers are classicly overpriced, and can easily be recreated by getting a parallel-port-enabled laser printer and a stand-alone parallel-port print server device from D-Link or others.
      • OS Compatibility:
        Once again, the off-loading of processing requirements to the host computer makes most USB-based printers a pain, but this is parcitularily problematic when it comes to getting your printer to work in Mac or Linux or other non-windows-based PCs.  This is because the driver software must be specifically written for that OS since it is doing non-standard operations, but most manufacturer's ignore the existance of anything other than windows, so you're pretty much screwed if you're not using the latest security-debilitated version of windows.  Also once again, the parallel port comes in to save the day, since operations that go over Parallel port connectors are completely standardized, and are thus totally supported by standard print drivers for all operating systems.  Faaaannnnnntastic!
  2. Print Catridges:
    • The 3 big questions here are: How much can you print with the included toner, How much is a replacement toner cartidge, and finally, Are there any other catches.
      • How much can you print with the included toner?:
        The Answer: DYH (Do Your Homework).  NCIX has very active user comments below most of their products, so that's a good place to start looking for people who have posted what they've found from doing research.  If the product or user commentary doesn't reveal to your satisfaction however, then ultimately the manufacturers themselves are sometimes quite up-front about what's included, and if they aren't, other online merchants can be located who have been.  The bottom line is that most low-cost laser printers come with what they call a "starter" cartridge.  This is a Full-Sized cartridge that's only 30% filled.  It's annoying, but it's everywhere.  So one of the jobs when looking to buy a laser printer is to ascertain exactly what they actually come with, and to have that decision be an integral part of what you decide to buy.
      • How much is a replacement toner cartridge?
        The Answer: DYH.  Most retailers will sell the replacement cartridges for the printers they sell, since they benefit from the recurring sales business model just as much as the manufacturers do (at the behest of the consumers).  So it should be pretty easy to find out what they charge.  For the low-cost laser printer model, around 50% of the MSRP of the printer is the norm.  Obviously that's pretty high, which is why it's so important to investigate the above in conjunction with this item.  The manufacturer's are walking a fine line that I believe will come back to hit them in the face, where just buying a new printer altogether that is priced at a loss for the manufacturer is actually cheaper than buying their over-priced replacement cartridges.  Frustrating, but it's the reality consumers are faced with.
      • Any catches?
        Hell yes.  One so far that I've found particularily perturbing is that samsung is now employing toner chip technology on the toner cartrdiges for their low-cost color laser printers that do not allow printing when when the toner cartridge reports that it is empty.  Several user comments have indicated that as much as 15% of the toner was still there when they cut open the toner cartridge - what a self-serving scam.  So, do your homework, and make sure that type of technology doesn't find its way into your home.
So, to summarize all of the above, basically the two main concerns when getting a laser printer are that it have a parallel port (regardless of whether you actually use it), and that it come with a full print cartridge, or if not that, then a price for replacement cartridges that you can live with, or if not that, then an expectation that you will just sell it on ebay and buy a new one when it runs out.  I was doing a little bit of lookin around, and I discovered that canadacomputers.com had some pretty sweet deals on printers that matched the criteria from above.  I must admit that I don't particularily like mail-in rebates, but the first place winner, the Brother HL-2040 seems to have a mail-in rebate that is so huge that it's hard to imagine I might shrug off or forget to do.   The second place Lexmark C510 is probably the lowest-cost Color Laser Printer ever sold, although granted it is refurbished, but wow, it's only slightly more than a new mono laser.  However, with color laser printers the cartridge becomes far and away the most important thing to consider, particuarily with a refurb, since it might be harder to know exactly how much toner is included, and with colour cartridges there are usually have 3 or 4 drums that all have to be replaced at different intervals, so the replacement price and availability of those drums are all important considerations.  So, without further ado, here's the: Neff's Top Low-Cost Laser Printers List.

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Last Updated ( Friday, 24 February 2006 )
 
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