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Group test: what's the best network printer?

The best network printers you can buy

Times move slowly in the world of the network printer, with businesses spending enough on consumables that they don’t need the additional expense of a pricey new printer every other year. But the technology continues to advance, and we’ve seen several changes take place since our previous network printer round-up. See also Group test: what's the best printer?

An example is wireless, with the cable-free connectivity beginning to filter through to some of the cheaper models in our group test. However, its omission in the dearer network printers suggests Wi-Fi still isn’t seen as a core infrastructure of large offices.

In a home or small office, not having to physically lay cables means a wireless model is more convenient and an attractive choice. Larger businesses, meanwhile, will almost certainly have a wired network in place, and may not want to add an unstable or potentially insecure WLAN to the mix.

For those that don’t offer wireless as standard, it’s often possible to add the feature at extra cost. This has been known to add as much as £200 to the price tag, however, so if you think you might want to use a wireless connection at some point in the future it makes sense to have it from the get-go. The faster 802.11n standard can be found, but 802.11g is still adequate for most jobs.

Every professional printer has an ethernet port. This wired connection will typically be 100Base-TX, also known as fast ethernet, and specified for 100Mbps operation. Some models are equipped with the faster gigabit ethernet (or 1000Base-T) interface. If your business transmits a lot of data across the company network, a gigabit connection is preferable.

We also saw a greater range of printer technologies this time round. The typical office printer is still a laser model, which are noted for their good speed, clean and precise text, and ability to handle larger print jobs; but the inkjet is fighting back.

Epson, in particular, has developed a number of inkjets that can outperform lasers, at least in terms of running costs and graphics output. Many of these inkjets are also stuffed with features, and a good number are multifunction devices – printers that can also be used as scanners and photocopiers, and sometimes fax machines.

If your company is looking to buy an inkjet, consider what the printer will be used for. Inkjets don’t tend to be able to keep pace with the workload of a busy office, and also struggle with text. Laser printers, by comparison, can churn out crisp text at ?15 or more pages per minute (ppm).

The final model in our round-up uses solid-ink technology. Here, slabs of ink are melted and then sprayed on to the page. Such models tend to be very noisy and require more time to warm up, but the output is worth the wait. Duplexing seems to work particularly well with solid-ink printers. We may see more of these models in the future, but their drawbacks mean they remain niche products for the time being.

Canon i-Sensys LBP7200cdn

RRP: £250

Rating: We rate this 9 out of 10


Epson WorkForce Pro WP-4535 DWF 

RRP: £250

Rating: We rate this 9 out of 10

HP LaserJet Pro 400 Color M451nw
 

RRP: £300

Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10


Kyocera Mita FS-C5250DN 

RRP: £460 

Rating: We rate this 9 out of 10


Oki C530dn

RRP: £410 

Rating: We rate this 7 out of 10

Xerox ColorQube 8570DN 

RRP: £540 

Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10

Conclusion

Which printer is best-suited to your office depends entirely on what you need to use it for. Of the three sub-£300 models here, only two are really worthy of your consideration. The Canon is a good model, but it’s old and you can get more for your money.

The Epson WorkForce Pro WP-4535 DWF is an excellent model, offering almost every feature we can think of. Its running costs are stunning, too. But, as an inkjet, it can’t produce text at high-speed.

For those needing top-quality text, the HP LaserJet Pro 400 is more suitable. This laser printer ticks all our boxes for quality, but its running costs are steep for colour graphics.

With a slightly larger budget, the Kyocera Mita FS-C5250DN is the clear Best Buy. It has amazing paper-handling facilities, a fine turn of speed, and low running costs that’ll make it a very economical addition to any self-respecting office.

The Xerox ColorQube is an interesting choice, with its solid-ink technology making it a good graphics printer. It’s also fast in duplex mode. But the Xerox is very noisy, and its solid ink takes some time to melt before you can get printing.

How we test

We put each network printer through its paces with 10 different test files.

First we printed a single page of text 10 times consecutively to assess the print speed. We also noted how long it took each printer to start the first sheet to gauge how quickly the printer would take to get going.

A second file, consisting of the single page of text repeated 10 times, was used to test performance with auto-duplexing. We also printed longer files containing text in different fonts and sizes to assess quality.

A number of A4 colour images were used to measure the graphics-printing speed, although we took our results from a single 6.4MB (4000x3000 pixels) photo. This was processed five times by each printer. We also printed out a five-page PowerPoint file.
Where a printer had more than one quality mode, we used the fastest ‘high quality’ mode for speed testing. We didn’t use any eco modes.

All printers were installed and the setup routines assessed. We checked the control panels and looked to see what special features were supported. Connectivity and usability were also taken into account.

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