HP's ink-based MFP threatens laser supremacy

Big new CM8060 Color MFP with Edgeline technology proves that six print heads are better than one

Give up my laser printer for an inkjet? Are you kidding? But that's exactly what HP hopes you will do, and the company may be on to something. HP's new CM8060 Color MFP with Edgeline Technology prints quickly, and it prints well. If it is truly as affordable as HP's estimated pricing indicates, we may have a new heavyweight contender. We certainly have a heavyweight.

Inkjet, unbound

The CM8060 takes HP's existing inkjet technology and kicks it up about 10 notches. As does an inkjet, the CM8060 sprays ink, but from six print heads (instead of one), spread in three rows across the full width of the page. The broad coverage provided by all these jets, compared with the ordinary inkjet's single jet inching across the page, provides a dramatic speed boost.

The ink tanks are huge: For instance, the black tank lasts 25,800 pages (based on ISO standards), the magenta 68,900 pages. A large vacuum drum holds as many as three pages at a time while it's printing. HP equips the CM8060 with a 1.6GHz Intel Pentium M-730 processor and 1GB of non-upgradable DDR RAM. You need a 20-amp electrical connection to power it. And you'll never mistake this 725-pound hulk for that cute, little inkjet on your desk at home.

What does all this beefy equipment promise? For the CM8060, an average printing speed of 60 ppm (pages per minute) for black-only images, and 50 ppm for color images. Along with fast, HP promises cheap: An estimated list price (for the base unit) of $23,530, which seems competitive with laser-based offerings in the same speed band (given the murky, service-contract-based pricing of this category). Its near-twin, the CM8050, is a little slower and less expensive.

You should note that this product will be sold with a lease and a service contract, so the base price above is somewhat meaningless (as it always has been for the MFPs we've reviewed). Further, the ink pricing is not published, but negotiated as part of the contract.

But will it play in Boise?

Because the CM8060 is so huge, HP wouldn't send one to InfoWorld's Test Center; instead, I had to travel to HP's facility in Boise, Idaho. Due to the completely different testing environment, I can't compare the CM8060 directly to any color MFPs we've tested in the past; nevertheless, I hewed as closely as I could to what we normally do.

There we were, the CM8060 and I, crammed into the corner of a wide passageway in an HP building. Several staffers kept a friendly eye on me while I printed, copied, and scanned (using an HP-supplied notebook on an HP LAN). Many passersby stopped to ask, "Is this the new MFP? Are we going to get one in our department? Can I watch?" My dismayed escorts vainly shooed them away.

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Meanwhile, the CM8060 went about its business. Although it's as big and bulky as any other corporate-level MFP, the gentle swishing sound it makes while printing will tip you off that it's no laser. The noisiest part of the machine was the optional, 4,000-sheet input bin, which whirred and rattled a lot while feeding paper; the integrated input trays were more discreet. Most features are available via a large, full-color, LCD control panel. Big buttons for primary functions lead you into more detailed menu levels.

Fast and fuzz-free

The CM8060 is, indeed, fast. It printed a 10-page, plain-text document at an impressive rate of 27.64 ppm; more complex documents, such as full-page presentation slides and photos, exited at much slower (but still good) speeds of 8.44 ppm and about 3 ppm, respectively. Making multiple copies helps any MFP hit its stride; in my tests, the CM8060 topped out at 53.5 ppm while making 10 copies of a 10-page, plain-text document -- admirably close to its fastest spec.

The print, copy, and scan samples I made on the CM8060 (all on HP papers) equaled those of a select sampling of laser MFPs for crispness and color quality. Printed text looked flawless to the naked eye; copied and scanned text looked only a little fuzzy. Color images varied more: Printed photos and Excel charts looked bright and realistic, but large areas of color on our PowerPoint presentation slides looked washed-out and sometimes blotchy. Copied and scanned color images faded a bit and looked a little grainier than the originals. The CM8060 sprays a bonding agent onto the page to enhance image quality and water resistance; in my anecdotal attempts, the CM8060's output can handle a little water spillage or one or two swipes with a highlighter before it begins to smear.

Big MFP, small (mostly) problems

Although the CM8060 is mostly easy to use, a few quirks stood out. The top of the multifunction finisher I used looks like a great place to lean your elbow -- until it adjusts itself upward, pushing you away. Opening the multipurpose tray is difficult because you can't tell where to pull -- and you have to pull hard. If you get lost among the many features available on the control panel, you'll have to look hard for the "Home" button; tucked into the upper left-hand corner, it looks more like a decoration. The onscreen keyboard's buttons -- which one might use, for instance, to send a scanned image to an e-mail address -- seemed too small and insufficiently sensitive to the touch.

Trying to print in pure grayscale -- using only black ink -- uncovered some problems: Selecting the "Black and White" Printing Shortcut (one of several umbrella settings that automatically changes a lot of underlying settings) yields a four-color gray (which looks a little pinkish); you have to go into the Color tab to set it straight. Currently you can't print in pure grayscale on the printer's own Edgeline Glossy Media 180g; HP says it'll fix this in the near future.

I used to complain about 300-pound, color-laser MFPs, but no more; the CM8060 outweighs all of them by more than double. But this isn't a sumo-wrestling match; it's a test of a new technology against a really familiar, comfortable, older one. In this regard, the CM8060 measures up very well.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Ease of use (15.0%)
Features (25.0%)
Management (10.0%)
Output quality (25.0%)
Speed (25.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
HP CM8060 Color MFP with Edgeline Technology 7.0 8.0 9.0 8.0 9.0 8.2