Color MFPs go mainstream

Newest generation of multifunction printers from Ricoh, Sharp, Toshiba, Xerox add office-friendly features

It’s not the slowest machine in this review, but the e-Studio 3510c averages an unimpressive 21.1 ppm when printing plain black text and accelerates to a somewhat less disappointing 26.7 ppm when copying text.

The machine holds its own on copy quality but does a little less well on print and scan quality; it scores second behind the Xerox on overall image quality. Printed text is black but has slight dropouts that give it a bit of a gray look; ordinary choppiness is not really visible. Large areas of color have some banding but otherwise color is accurate.

Copies look almost as good as prints, especially on text; the only real weak spot is the serious posterization that crops up when copying black-and-white photos -- something you probably won’t need often.

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If you’re not too concerned about its middling speed and if Toshiba’s low list price truly translates to a low street price, the e-Studio 3510c could be a good enterprise deal.

Xerox WorkCentre 7655

Xerox gets high marks for the WorkCentre 7655 on almost everything except, alas, speed. It delivers remarkable image quality on most documents and is friendly to use.

Mechanically, Xerox did most things right. The document feeder holds 250 pages, compared to 100 or 150 on the competition. An LED on the feeder alerts you if you try to feed a scan when a document is already on the glass, instead of mangling your documents without a warning. Dual black toner cartridges mean long maintenance intervals and you can replace an empty black cartridge while the machine continues chugging away.

The control panel isn’t built-in to the machine itself; it sits off to the side on a stalk and can swivel and tilt. It is higher than a normal control panel, with its top edge 55 inches from the floor, and I found pushing buttons on it requires a bit more force than I’d like.

For users unable to manage the control panel, you can attach a PC to a USB port and run the machine with Xerox’s Copier Assistant software. Potential paper jam sites are marked inside the machine with colored labels, and the paper path is very accessible.

One note for your facilities department: This machine requires a 20 amp circuit. All of the other machines I tested run on 110 voltage (it hasn’t been long since most copiers required 220), but only the Xerox can’t use a standard 15 amp line.

From a functionality perspective, I found the WorkCentre 7655 menus long on understandability but short on power-user features. Still, it’s the only machine in our tests that can mix and match different formats in a job build. You can scan a batch of single-sided pages and a batch of double-sided pages, hand-place several color pages, convert a stack of pages into 2-up, and combine it all as one print job.

With that job-build capability, plus tools to clean up page edges, I sure miss being able to add page numbers, which seems like a must-have for serious copying. But on the plus side, you can rescan one section of a job-build if your test print reveals a problem. You can also name, save, and reuse a complicated job-build setup and a complicated single-section setup.

An on-board help system provides good instructions for most control panel tasks. It’s especially welcome because most of the Xerox user documentation is a series of shallow Flash animations.

Another productivity feature: If the printer can’t complete a job -- for example, because the envelope tray is empty -- it moves on to the next job instead of screeching to a halt.

I wish the WorkCentre 7655 could preview scans -- that big LCD screen just begs for it. Also, the control panel menus feel sluggish; once I got familiar with the menu structure the delay became inconvenient.

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Speaking of slow, I don’t know how an engine rated at 55 ppm mono and 45 ppm color can drag like this. The WorkCentre 7655 prints mono text at an average of only 20.9 ppm, less than two-thirds the slower-rated Ricoh’s performance, and averages copying text at 25.1 ppm.

The trade-off for that snail-like speed is very fine image quality. Printed black text looks really black but is free of shininess; letter shapes show no roughness at all and seem perfectly weighted. Color prints have accurate colors, smooth coverage even on big areas, and precise edges.

Even more impressive are copies of text, which look almost as good as the prints. Color copies show some mild moire patterns but overall look fine.

The Xerox WorkCentre 7655’s sluggish performance may be a drawback for many offices, but for many other users (especially those who deal with a lot of visually rich documents in their daily work, such as marketing and design departments) the ease of use and fine image quality are sure to compensate.

Multifunction Mania

As you can see, buying a multifunction for the office is a lot more complicated than buying a printer or even a server, and consequences of buying the wrong multifunction would ripple quickly through your organization.

To make sure that doesn’t happen, survey would-be users to figure out what features are critical and which would be gravy, then see demos of various systems to see how well the vendors implement the items on your critical list.

Work with your organization’s financial staff to negotiate a good deal. And if your organization has a document management strategy, the managers in that area should weigh in on coordinating software. You’ll need all this because a multifunction printer not only performs multiple tasks but touches multiple functional areas of the office.

The PC World Test Center contributed methodology and logistical support to this project.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Print quality (25.0%)
Speed (25.0%)
Features (20.0%)
Value (15.0%)
Ease of use (15.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Ricoh Aficio MP C4500 8.0 10.0 9.0 9.0 8.0 8.9
Sharp MX-4501N 8.0 8.0 8.0 8.0 8.0 8.0
Toshiba e-Studio 3510c 8.0 7.0 8.0 9.0 8.0 7.9
Xerox WorkCentre 7655 9.0 6.0 8.0 8.0 8.0 7.8
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