Multifunction printers: A place for everything
We tested eight midrange MFPs on their feature-juggling skills; one shines above the restFollow @infoworld
Wave good-bye to that printer down the hall -- and to the fax machine, copier, and scanner that sit nearby. MFPs (multifunction printers) combine the functionalities of these four machines into one, promising to save space, money, and maintenance hassles while providing sophisticated document management and workflow features.
But do they deliver? To find out, we tested the performance and output quality of eight MFPs from eight major vendors. We also evaluated feature depth and ease-of-use, paying particular attention to control panels. The best of the bunch -- Ricoh’s Aficio 2035eSP -- managed to do everything quickly and well, whereas the rest stumbled in one or more areas.
More than paper pushers
All the MFPs we tested had 33-, 35-, or 40-ppm (pages per minute) monochrome-laser engines and came ready to print, copy, and scan to network volumes (most came fax-ready, but we didn’t test that function). Each had a tabloid-size document feeder, duplexer, scanner glass, paper tray, and an internal hard drive to store files locally. We tested most units with their standard output tray. Each vendor offers finisher options that stack, staple, drill holes, or even saddle-stitch and fold booklets. The Hewlett-Packard LaserJet 9040mfp and the Xerox WorkCentre Pro 35 require an external finisher to operate.
The latest MFPs offer useful document-production tricks. In job building, for instance, the machine combines multiple scanned or copied documents into one output job. Job interrupt allows a user to stop a job in progress, run another job, and then resume the interrupted job -- useful for rush situations, as is the ability to manually reorder jobs in the queue.
To account for all those capabilities, MFPs demand additional resources. Make sure you allot enough space for the main unit and any finishing options. Most importantly, check your electrical resources: All the MFPs we tested draw anywhere from 1.1kW (kilowatts) to 1.5kW, and most require or prefer to have a single line to themselves. Because MFPs can hook into your network’s print, fax, and e-mail systems, a vendor or reseller technician typically assists with installation.
One additional caution is in order. Each system we tested has features for users and features for administrators, with separate, password-protected areas for the latter. None, however, provides adequately granular tools for administrators to control access to specific features. An errant or curious user could, as we did, suddenly change the control-panel language to kanji (Japanese); even the Undo button became incomprehensible, forcing a service call to restore the panel.
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IS departments accustomed to buying equipment outright at fixed prices are in for an unhappy surprise. MFPs are priced based on the copier business model, where lease-to-own contracts and service agreements are the norm, and everything -- equipment pricing, supplies, cost per page, lease terms, financing -- is unpublished and negotiable. That’s why we provide only list prices. For a crash course on what you’re up against, see “Multifunction Printers, Multifunction Pricing,” page 45.
Canon imageRunner 3320i