Bake-Off: Color Printers

The CRN Test Center compared color laser printers from eight different manufacturers, looking for the best of the bunch. Read the full article.

First Place: Oki Data C6150

The numbers we saw with the C6150 are enough to make its channel partners feel good: It spit out 30 pages in a minute, 185 pages in 6 minutes, 20 seconds; its colors were vibrant -- second only to Xerox in quality -- and its management console was robust and outstanding, offering nice administrator-level security and monitoring capabilities.

The unit installed on the network within minutes and, at about 50 pounds for the base unit, won't break your back on deployment. Oki Data Americas Inc. lists MSRP for the unit at $699, making it more than a fair value on acquisition.

Second Place: Xerox Phaser 6180 DN

We loved the Phaser 6180 DN. For the price (estimated street price of $649 with rebate), this Phaser's color quality was absolutely stunning (it's the only vendor that uses solid ink rather than cartridges). Its management features were solid, with a Web-based browser that monitors page count, job lists, toner levels and provides for e-mail alerts when something goes wrong. It was just as energy-efficient as almost any of the units we reviewed.

Its one downfall: It took 10 minutes, 23 seconds to print a 185-page document, which put it at the lower end of the speeds-and-feeds.

Third Place: Hewlett-Packard Color LaserJet CP6015

This machine is a monster. It's a heavyweight on at least three counts: its size (about 300 pounds, deadlifted), its performance (it was the fastest printer we reviewed) and its cost (a starting list price of $4,199 makes it the most expensive unit we reviewed).

Test Center reviewers were torn about how to size up this LaserJet given that it was on such a different level from every other color laser printer we examined. First, the numbers: It printed 185 pages in 4 minutes, 55 seconds -- more than twice as fast as some of the other units, and it printed 40 pages in one minute. Its 107 watts consumed while printing shows it has a sizeable appetite for power. Installation was simple, but did require a couple of people to unbox and lift it into position.

On the downside, we also considered that it was as much as 10 times more expensive on a list-price basis than some of the other units. But if this is a unit that is deployed to do the work of between five and 10 smaller printers, the benefits of consolidation, lower management overhead and a much longer duty cycle could make a customer very happy.

Fourth Place: Lexmark C532N

Lexmark has clearly been struggling over the past two years with its revenue and earnings. But its problems have largely been limited to its consumer and OEM businesses,while sales of its branded, commercial color printers have done better.

With the C532N, the Test Center found a capable and worthy color laser printer. From a speeds-and-feeds perspective, it printed 17 pages in a minute, 185 pages in 8 minutes, 26 seconds, had a standard Web-based management interface and was the easiest printer to set up. Lexmark has been criticized for its color offerings at times, but its color quality was no slouch and, considering the $499 list price,worked well as part of an office solution.

Fifth Place: Kyocera-Mita Eco Pro C220N

The Kyocera Mita Eco Pro C220N lived up to its reputation and was the most energy-efficient printer we reviewed in this round, consuming 60 watts of power during a 21-page print job, for example. For VARs with customers that need multiple printers throughout an enterprise -- from several dozen to perhaps several hundred -- the EP C220N could provide a compelling argument from a cost-savings point of view.

At a list price of $1,030, it also could provide a compelling argument from a cost-of-acquisition standpoint. From a performance perspective, it was a little disappointing, printing 18 pages per minute and 185 pages in 9 minutes, 51 seconds with middle-of-the-pack color quality.

Sixth Place: Samsung CLP-610

Starting from almost nothing a few years ago, Samsung Electronics has come far, fast. At this pace, it's poised to threaten other vendors' channel market share in the next 24 months, if not sooner. Right now, though, there's a clear gap between veteran players in the color laser space and Samsung.

The numbers: The CLP-610 printed 14 pages per minute, 185 pages in 11 minutes, 29 seconds, offered a friendly, browser-based management console that gave clear views of toner life, unit page count, roller information, machine and network settings, and support information. Its color quality was above-average. The unit is list-priced at $399 but street pricing was found as low as $329, making it clearly the least expensive unit reviewed in this roundup. Its form factor is nice and light and it deployed in a snap.

Seventh Place: Konica-Minolta Magicolor 4650dn

First, the good news: The Magicolor 4650dn has one nifty feature the others don't: an LED display on the printer unit that tallies the number of pages that have been printed as each print job is under way. This might not sound important, but in an office where large print jobs are routine, it's a huge help. Don't underestimate this feature.Additionally, the 4650dn knocked off a 185-page print job in 8 minutes, 17 seconds, making it one of the fastest units we saw, and color quality was OK.

Now the bad news: The documentation provided us with an incorrect administrator password, a big no-no in the Test Center lab. Also, while management and monitoring can be conducted either by Web browser or through a stand-alone application, the application was balky for us on a PC running Windows Vista.

Starting price on the 4650dn is $699, and Konica-Minolta says VARs in its channel program can expect to attach between 50 cents and a dollar of services for each dollar in product sales.

Eighth Place: Brother HL 4070 CDW

This unit printed only 19 pages in one minute, and 185 pages in 9 minutes, 50 seconds, so speed is not its primary selling point.

Its color quality proved somewhat flat compared to the most vibrant of the printers we reviewed, but it was clear. The HL 4070 CDW deployed in under 10 minutes, provides an LED indicator for toner levels, was quiet -- 64 db during a print job -- and efficient (about 80 watts while working, 19 watts while idle). List pricing on the unit is $499, but we saw street prices as low as $378.