A strong all-rounder colour laser that's competitively priced, the Epson C3900DN shows it has the abilities to shine as an office printer, as well as in the home.
Not a particularly large printer (its weight of 22.3kg is one of the lowest in our recent printers group test), the Epson C3900DN will nonetheless require plenty of room around it, in a manner similar to the Canon i-Sensys LBP7750Cdn. This is partly because of the substantial 100-sheet multipurpose tray that's provided alongside the standard 250-sheet drawer. The multipurpose tray drops out of the right-hand side of the Epson, so once again, you'll need to leave space around the C3900DN, if you're to use it to its fullest.
In fact, we found the Epson C3900DN a slightly disorienting printer to use. When you load paper into the standard 250-sheet tray, for instance, you have to place it in the tray side-on. And the output tray in the top of the printer is similarly positioned sideways. To anyone familiar with the conventional laser printer, this gives the impression that the Epson is turned around the wrong way - only the location of the control panel tells you that this is so.
The paper handling is decent, though, with the Epson supporting 350 sheets as standard, with the option of upgrading to 850 sheets in all - not a massive figure, but probably enough for most businesses. The 90,000 sheet monthly duty cycle shows that Epson has confidence in the ability of its printer to cope with sizeable workloads.
The LCD panel has large lettering, making it easy to read, if not particularly attractive. The menu structure is fairly simple to understand, though, given the range of options on offer. You can adjust most of the features from the main panel, and this combined with the ability to plug in a USB memory drive makes it easy to use the Epson without needing a spare computer. The panel can also be locked down - only to be reactivated upon entry of a password.
Like the Canon, the Epson C3900DN comes with a capable 256MB of memory, and this can be pushed up to a plentiful 768MB. The ethernet facilities are very good, with the Epson going up to Gigabit ethernet (or 1000Base-T). Considerably faster than the 100Base-TX interfaces supported by most of its rivals, this'll give it a significant advantage in those businesses looking to the future.
Wireless networking isn't provided, and there's no option for adding this at a later date - although given the generally high prices of such upgrades, the lack of Wi-Fi as an option probably isn't a negative. The Epson C3900DN can support up to version 6 of PCL, and PostScript 3 support is also offered. There's support for most operating systems, including Server 2003 and 2008. There's also some support for Linux.
Epson C3900DN: Performance
The Epson C3900DN was one of the faster printers overall in our group test, turning out text at the rate of exactly 20 pages per minute (ppm). Duplexing caused this to fall to 12.5ppm, a slightly disappointing fall, and one which may make impatient users opt for the simplex option when they could be saving money with double-sided printing.
While laser printers are generally accepted to be in a different class to inkjets in terms of text quality, not everybody adores the cleaner but generally slightly lighter text of lasers. For such people, the Epson may fit the bill. A little darker than typical laser text, the characters aren't quite as perfectly formed as on some here. In particular, at tiny detail levels (particularly in our small font tests), the Epson was difficult to decipher. The text is generally of a good quality, but if you look closely, the characters fall slightly short of perfection.
Graphics printing is very fast, and the Epson C3900DN hit a top rate of 14.3 pages per minute - faster than anything else we looked at in our group test. The Epson is another of the printers with a rather dark colour palette. However, it uses this to good effect, producing exciting vibrant graphics for the most part. Every now and again, the results were just that touch too dark, but gradients were well handled, and the overall impression was very appealing. The Epson isn't the fastest at processing data, though, and 21 seconds for a two page PDF file seemed steep. PowerPoint tests were handled swiftly.
The one-year warranty can be extended to three, and the running costs are also very affordable. 1.7p for a page of black text is quite acceptable - although not quite as cheap as, for example, the 1.4p of the Canon - but it's the relatively low colour cost of 7.4p a page that really distinguishes this printer. Only the Canon can better than that.
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