Top 10 Printers

SAN FRANCISCO (01/31/2000) - Leapin' lasers! When we set out to discover the state of the art in office-ready color printers, we were inundated with new models. This flood of products prompted us to launch our Top 10 color laser chart this month, covering printers from the plain and inexpensive to the sophisticated and costly.

Eight of the 15 printers we tested are new: Five print standard-size color documents, and three are tabloid (11-by-17-inch) models. Three new models--from IBM Corp., Mita, and QMS Inc.--made the chart. We also retested seven printers from previous months on our new ethernet network.

Leading Lasers

The capabilities of standard printers--even those from the same vendor--tend to overlap. QMS Magicolor 2+ CXE, which just missed the chart, prints the same attractive text and detailed, colorful graphics as sibling Best Buy Magicolor 2 DeskLaser. Both operate similarly, but the 2+ CXE offers a bit more speed and memory, plus extras like watermarks and color separations. The 2+ CXE's 8.6-ppm text printing is 10 percent faster, but its $1869 price is a whopping 70 percent higher. The DeskLaser's impressive print quality and performance for a low $1104 price make it our top pick. But if you need extra features, the 2+ CXE is still a good deal.

NEC's new SuperScript 4600N (not on the chart) and the sixth-ranked 4400N are also close relations. Both offer solid quality and similar speeds--1.2 ppm on graphics and about 9 ppm on text--but the 4600N costs $500 more. If you need more features and a faster processor, the 4600N may be worth the higher price.

Another chart newcomer, Mita's seventh-ranked Ci1100, impressed us with its sharp text, broad array of features, and reasonable $2718 price. Text speed, however, lagged at 7 ppm, and the printer's weak documentation and baffling control panel unfortunately may take the fun out of using it.

Oki Data's OkiColor 8n and IBM's Infoprint Color 8--essentially identical printers in different packages--use an array of LEDs instead of the laser found in most color page printers. Oki Data has perfected the technology, and these two models produce admirable text quality and detailed, if average, color on graphics. They're very slow on text, however. With a PostScript driver, the IBM turns out only 4.2 ppm, and the OkiColor with a PCL driver prints at 4.7 ppm.

The main difference (beyond a few features) is price: The $2699 IBM lands in ninth place, while the $3795 OkiColor misses the chart altogether. (For more information about these two products, see www.pcworld.com/jan00/np_lasers.)Extra LargeThree of our new models print tabloid-size pages--great for multiple-page layouts or spreadsheets. QMS's $3399 Magicolor 6100N debuts in fifth place, offering crisp text printing and detailed, if pale, graphics. It's quick too--8.3 ppm on text and 1 ppm on graphics--and it's easy to set up and maintain. QMS throws in an excellent maintenance video to help you.

Other tabloid contenders included the hefty $4995 Tektronix Phaser 780/N, which weighs in at over 150 pounds, and the enormous $6799 Hewlett-Packard Color LaserJet 8500N, which comes with its own wheeled cart. Both models offer a wealth of features, but neither made the chart--the Tek held back by slow text-printing (3.3 ppm), and the HP handicapped by weak print quality and the lack of toll-free support despite its high price.

Refresher Course

As we've seen on black-and-white models, all color lasers that we retested performed slower on text and faster on graphics this time around. Lexmark International Inc.'s Optra Color 1200N, a $5999 tabloid-size printer, whipped out graphics at 2.1 (letter-size) pages per minute in our new tests--almost twice as fast as any other model here. It debuts in eighth place.

Lexmark's $1713Optra SC 1275 also fared well in our retests and earns a Best Buy. This low-cost unit is easy to use, fast, and has extensive features. The Xerox DocuPrint NC60 climbs onto the chart in third place after a $700 price cut to $1995. NEC Corp. makes the chart with two older models, the $2100 SuperScript 4200N, at number four, and the sixth-ranked SuperScript 4400N, priced at $2499. HP's $3799 Color LaserJet 4500 DN includes a duplexer for double-sided printing and rounds out the list in tenth place.

For more-detailed information, including estimated operating costs for all the color printers we tested this month, visit www.pcworld.com/mar00/color_lasers.

Near-perfect text and tabloid-size printing land the Magicolor 6100N, the first unit under QMS's merger with Minolta, in fifth place.

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More about Hewlett-Packard AustraliaIBM AustraliaLexmarkLexmark InternationalMinoltaMitaNECOKI Printing SolutionsQMSTektronixXerox

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