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Buying advice: How to choose a network printer

Specs and features to look for in your colour laser

Looking for a network printer? Here are the specs and features you need.

Network printers buying advice: Connections

Workgroup printers are specifically designed for sharing across a network, so you'll find a wired 100Base-TX ethernet connection and may also get support for the far faster gigabit ethernet (sometimes referred to as 1000Base-T). Your network will also need to support gigabit ethernet to benefit from the faster data transfers this mode offers, however.

Wireless connectivity is often offered by desktop printers, but it's not a common feature on a network colour laser printer - particularly given the faster ethernet option. Some of the models we review here offer it as an optional extra. Bluetooth is another potentially useful connectivity option.

Network printers buying advice: Paper chase

With hundreds of pages to print each week, it's important that your printer has strong paper-handling capabilities. This means input trays that can take 200 pages or more, and additional trays that can accommodate different stocks or contain company letterhead paper (also read our guide to creating a company letterhead). Ideally, you'll want a total input capacity of 500 sheets or more.

For output, look for a 200-sheet tray. If you're a particularly productive office in terms of the paper mountain you create, you'll need more capacious feeder and output trays. This will save you from having to keep running to the printer to replenish it with paper or ending up with a mess of printed pages on the floor.

Consider whether you're likely to print more pages in the future than you do now, and whether that means you'll need more generous paper trays. Also bear in mind how many people will be using the main paper tray for the majority of their print jobs each week - is it able to take enough sheets at once to cover your needs? The multipurpose additional tray is just that.

Printing Advisor

Also consider the printer's monthly duty cycle. The higher this figure is, the greater the quantity of prints the manufacturer believes your model will be capable of generating in a month. Regularly push the printer beyond this figure, and you might be inadvertently causing it long-term damage.

Workgroup printers will generally need a good complement of memory. This is particularly true if the documents printed include large, high-resolution graphics. A 128MB allocation will be fine for text-only pages, but 256MB is preferable if you're looking to print full-colour images or documents with a number of images. Most can be upgraded - sometimes to as much as 1,280MB - but retrofitting memory can be expensive.

Another feature that's easy to overlook is the support for printer command and description languages. These can give the printer a faithful idea of how the final page should look. HP's Printer Command Language (PCL) and Adobe's rather more sophisticated PostScript (PS) are commonly supported or emulated by laser printers. If your printer can handle both printer languages, it may make for better results.

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