Dell has just made our world a little more black-and-white — in a very good way — with the first laser printer ever introduced...

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Dell has just made our world a little more black-and-white — in a very good way — with the first laser printer ever introduced for under $100.


The $99 monochrome Dell Laser Printer 1100, which began shipping in late June, is a surprisingly strong performer. Printing speed and output quality are comparable to monochrome lasers costing several times more, and replacement toner cartridges are affordably priced.


In the intensely competitive printer business, Dell’s dramatic move has already drawn a response: Hewlett-Packard, the King Kong of home printing, has effectively cut the price of its least-expensive laser printer to $149 from $179.


For home-computer users, it’s now a good time to consider a laser as a second printer.


Inkjet printers make it too easy to print in color when it’s not necessary, sucking up expensive ink cartridges for unwanted images such as colorful banner ads on Web pages. Inkjets are also slower on big print jobs, and produce text that isn’t quite as sharp as laser.


Brother HL-2040


$149

(before rebate)


Operating system:


Compatible with Windows, Macintosh, Linux


Print speed: 20 ppm


Resolution: Up to 2400 x 600 dpi


Ports: Parallel, USB 2.0


Dimensions: 14.6 x 14.2 x 6.5 in.

If you have enough desk space, I recommend using a laser for day-to-day printing while saving the inkjet for occasions when you really need color. That’s what I do, and I find myself printing in color very rarely.


A little more gray, in other words, saves me a lot of green.

Just three years ago, entry-level lasers cost $300 to $400, but prices have been dropping steadily since then, and models less than $200 emerged last year from Brother, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Konica-Minolta and Samsung, among others. One-time promotions and rebate offers have occasionally pushed final purchase prices below $100.


But the Dell 1100 (www.dell.com/printers) is the first laser printer, as far as I can tell, to break the $100 barrier with no gimmicks.



Dell Laser Printer 1100


$99

Operating system: Compatible with Windows


Print speed: Up to 15 ppm


Resolution: 600 x 600 dpi


Ports: USB 1.1


Dimensions: 14.1 x 11.7 x 8.5 in.

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After several days trying out a Dell 1100 borrowed from the company, the best thing I can say is: There isn’t much to say.

The Dell 1100 is easy to set up, runs quietly and delivers sharp-looking black-and-white pages.

For those who want all the details, the Dell 1100 requires a Windows computer running Windows 98, Millennium Edition, 2000 or XP.


The connection is via USB cable, not included in the box; there’s no parallel port, which was common in older printers. Resolution is 600 x 600 dots per inch (dpi), official print speed is 15 pages per minute, and the paper-input tray holds 150 sheets.


The printer comes with a half-capacity, 1,000-page toner cartridge. Replacement toner cartridges with 2,000-page capacity cost $65, and must be ordered direct from Dell. The warranty is 90 days, which can be extended to one year for $29 at the time of purchase.


Hewlett-Packard Laser Jet 1020


$179

(before rebate)


Operating system: Compatible with Windows


Print speed: Up to 15 ppm


Resolution: 600 x 600 dpi


Ports: USB


Dimensions: 14.6 x 9.5 x 8.2 in.

A footnote on lineage: Dell doesn’t design or manufacture its printers. The company instead turns to four partners — Fuji-Xerox, Lexmark, Kodak and Samsung — but resolutely declines to say which of them provides any specific model.


However, it’s clear where the Dell 1100 comes from. The printer is almost identical physically and in its technical specifications to the Samsung ML-1610, a model that is sold around the world, including in Canada, but isn’t available in the United States. That’s comforting to know, because Samsung has a solid reputation in laser printers.



Konica Minolta PagePro 1350W


$149.99

Operating system: Compatible with Windows


Print speed: Up to 21 ppm


Resolution: Up to 1200 x 1200 dpi


Ports: Parallel, USB 1.1 (cable not included)


Dimensions: 15.2 x 11.5 x 11.1 in.

My gripes with the Dell 1100 are few. Graphics and photos aren’t quite as sharp as more expensive laser printers with 1,200-by-1,200-dpi resolution, although you’d hardly notice unless you compare output side by side as I did.


Heavy users — those who print more than 50 to 100 pages a day — would want to step up to a model with a larger paper-input tray and faster output speed. Some higher-end models also include built-in support for connecting the printer to a network.


Still, I believe most home users will get all they need from the Dell 1100 or similar entry-level machines. HP’s LaserJet 1020 at $149 after rebate, for example, compensates for the higher upfront cost compared with the Dell 1100 by including a full capacity 2,000-page cartridge in the box, along with a one-year warranty.



Samsung ML-1740


$129.95

(before rebate)


Operating system: Compatible with Windows, Linux


Print speed: 17 ppm


Resolution: 600 x 600 dpi


Ports: Parallel, USB


Dimensions: 13.7 x 14 x 7.6 in.

It’s difficult to make precise cost comparisons between inkjets and lasers, in part because manufacturers refuse to take consumer-friendly steps toward standardizing their measurements of ink and toner consumption.


Dell says toner cost for the 1100 when printing a typical page is 3.25 cents, and Dell’s 1700 at $199 drops toner cost down to 1.6 cents. Inkjet costs vary, but would typically start at 4 to 5 cents a page — again, going up from there if you print in color.


In my two-pronged approach, an inexpensive laser should be your default printer. If you want scanning and color copying along with color printing, get an inkjet multifunction printer, or MFP, which now costs as little as $80.


Color laser MFPs are just now becoming affordable for high-end home users, at about $800, but will probably drop below $500 within a year or two. Color lasers are good at printing everything except photographs, so you’d save even more money by using your inkjet solely for making pictures.