Top 10 Printers

SAN FRANCISCO (05/26/2000) - Say hello to some great new color lasers--and good-bye to two favorites. Recently discontinued printers from Lexmark International Inc. and Xerox Corp. leave space for three fresh faces to debut on our chart.

We tested four new models this month; Brother International Corp.'s HL-2400CeN leads this pack, claiming second place with a low $1999 price and fast text speed. Two Tektronix-labeled Xerox models (Xerox acquired Tektronix's printer division) also make the chart: The $2295 Phaser 750/N lands in fifth place, and the $2495 Phaser 850/N nabs tenth. But NEC Corp.'s $2999 SuperScript 4650N misses getting on board--two older NEC models offer a better balance of price and speed.

We retested IBM Corp.'s Infoprint Color 8 this month because IBM updated the printer's drivers and corrected a power-save feature that resulted in slow printing speeds. Improved speeds (31 percent faster on text at 5.5 ppm and over twice as fast on graphics at 1.9 ppm) and a new $2499 price help it climb to seventh place, though its text speed is still slow.

Top 10 Newbies

Brother's HL-2400CeN makes its debut in second place. At 9.4 pages per minute, the HL-2400CeN is the fastest text printer on the chart. It's also among the least expensive, at $1999. While it prints graphics slower than most others on the chart (1.1 ppm), it's still fast and prints razor-sharp text, straight narrow lines, smooth grays, and detailed if slightly oversaturated color images. The documentation, however, could be better. The printer ships with 13 printed manuals, brochures, and fliers, but most of the useful information comes on a CD-ROM. The control panel is one of the most confusing we've seen--Brother dedicates a 70-page chapter to it in the manual. A legal-size paper tray costs $150 extra.

The Tektronix Phaser 750/N by Xerox shows a hint of shadowing and some jaggedness on large letters, but it prints smooth, detailed images in both gray-scale and color. We were also impressed with its narrow lines, which were straight and sharp. At $2295, it's relatively inexpensive, and it prints speedily enough, with text at 7.3 ppm and graphics at 1.4 ppm. The Phaser 750/N's control panel is easy to understand, but it sits on the side of the printer, so you may have to crouch to see it. A comprehensive online manual runs about 900 pages and covers everything you could want to know about printing.

The $2495 Tektronix Phaser 850/N doesn't use the powdered toner of laser printers; instead, it uses solid ink, which comes in waxy blocks that get heated and sprayed as a vapor onto the drum. This technology accounts for the 850/N's reasonable price and low operating costs: Solid ink printers have few components to replace, and Tektronix provides free black ink for the lifetime of the printer. The Phaser 850/N's 2.4-ppm graphics speed is the fastest on the chart, but text speed is slightly slower than most of its peers', at 6.8 ppm.

Print quality suffers with solid ink technology, however. The wax scrapes easily off the paper, and although text looks rich and black, it's also choppy.

Narrow lines are smudged and banded, and color and gray-scale graphics look as if they were printed on a mediocre ink jet--dark, grainy, and undetailed.

NEC's new SuperScript 4650N doesn't offer enough to displace some venerable NEC printers. It boasts Internet printing capabilities (its own IP address for printing over the Web), but we've seen this feature in other printers. The SuperScript 4650N prints text quickly at 8.9 ppm, but its graphics speed is a bit slow at 1.2 ppm. It produces sharp text; clean lines; and smooth, if dark, graphics. Price keeps it off the chart: At $2999, it costs $500 more than the SuperScript 4400N, which prints text even faster.

Price Mysteries

We've been expecting laser printer prices to rise in the United States as Japan's currency strengthens; even domestic manufacturers rely on Japanese components. But this month IBM cut the price of the Infoprint Color 8 by 7 percent, while Lexmark dropped the Optra Color 1200n's price by 24 percent. Now $4589, the 1200n climbs from eighth to third place on our chart. Meanwhile, Minolta raised prices on both of its QMS-labeled models: The Magicolor 2 DeskLaser remains our number one printer despite a 15 percent hike to $1274, and the tabloid-size Magicolor 6100N, up 8 percent to $3654, slips from fifth to sixth place.

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