Dude, You're Gonna Get A Dell � Printer

By Wayne Kawamoto | Posted March 07, 2005

From business letters to color transparencies, to memos, employee handbooks, personnel directives and color brochures, Dell's Laser Printer 3100cn is a powerful print solution that easily handles the needs of small businesses and offices. And with a color laser printer of this quality available for under $600 (the lower-end 3000cn starts at only $449), there's simply no reason to hold back on bringing color capabilities into your business.

A Colorful Laser
Compared to inkjet printers, laser printers are faster and better for handling the volumes of pages that small businesses and offices generate. And laser printers cost less-per-page to operate than inkjet printers.

While inkjets do create more attractive color images, particularly when it comes to digital photographs, color lasers do an excellent job of printing crisp color text, graphics and line art, and they produce adequate photographs. Dell's 3100cn and 3000cn is the same printer, but the higher-end 3100cn comes with a larger input paper tray and higher-capacity toner cartridges.

At its core, the 3100cn is a fairly speedy printer designed to produce documents at up to 25 pages per minute (ppm) in black and white with a maximum resolution of 600x600 dots per inch (dpi). It produces up to five ppm in color at a resolution of 2400 dpi. In our real-world testing, the printer produced black and white documents at 19 pages per minute and color documents at about five pages per minute. Black and white text was crisp and clear, and the color images had decent color saturation and accuracy.

The printer comes with 64MB of memory, which you can upgrade up to 320MB — a good option for your business if you print a lot of high-resolution graphics. Along with USB and parallel ports, the printer also includes Ethernet 10/100 Base T networking, making it a great option for companies that want to share printers over the network.

Paper and Toner
The 3100cn comes with a 250-sheet input paper drawer as well as a 150-sheet multi-purpose input tray. With an optional 500-sheet drawer, the printer can hold up to 900 sheets of paper. The device stores enough paper to support the needs of most offices, minimizing the number of times the input trays must be refilled. The 500-sheet drawer costs $230.

According to Dell, its 3100cn black toner cartridge prints 4,000 pages (at five percent coverage), and its cyan, magenta and yellow toner cartridges are designed to print up to 4,000 pages (at five percent coverage). Dell estimates that the imaging drum's capacity at 42,000 pages.

In addition to letter and legal size paper, the printer does an excellent job handling various paper weights as well as postcards (4x6-inch), index cards (3x5-inch), custom-size banners (8.5 x 17-inch maximum area), envelopes, transparencies, photo paper, card stock and labels.


 Dell Laser 3100cn
Big Print — Dell's 3100cn color laser produces great copy at an even better price — just make sure you have room for it's larger-than-life profile.

Out of the Box
The 3100cn is an absolute whopper at 16.9x16.3x18.2-inches, and it weighs close to 70 pounds. Before buying such a printer, be sure that you have the space and a desk that can adequately support it.

While the printer is certainly sizeable, it's mostly self-contained. You won't find the usual assortment of paper trays that protrude from other printers, and it needs no space beyond its original footprint.

A Quick Reference brochure offers advice on loading the paper trays and navigating the printer's front panel, but there's no "quick start"-style document that walks you through the process of unpacking the printer and installing its main, not multi-purpose, paper tray. In fact, the documentation doesn't mention of how to do this at all.

Installing the drum and toners requires consulting the manual. You'll eventually find those directions buried near the middle. Note to Dell: Your customers shouldn't have to search for instructions.

Furthermore, the documentation doesn't mention the series of packing tabs that you need to remove from inside the printer before you install the toner cartridges. Most people will eventually figure this out, but there's no good reason anyone should have to go through this without clear, step-by-step instructions.

Software Management
The installation disc offers easy options for connecting the printer onto a local PC or network, and the driver installs without any problems. The print driver also lets you toggle between black-and-white and color printing. This lets you use color toner only when printing important documents in color.

The 3100cn uses a toner management system that automatically monitors the toner and consumables level and displays them on the front LCD panel. The front panel also provides an easy way to configure the printer with a fairly intuitive menu system.

Dell covers the printer with one year of its Next Business Day On-site Response Service. The service promises to have a Dell-certified technician at your place of business within one day if over-the-phone troubleshooting fails to solve the problem. You can upgrade the 3100cn printer's Next Business day service to a three-year plan for $218.

The 3100cn retails at $549.

The Fine Print
While Dell can definitely improve on the setup documentation, the 3100cn produces crisp, attractive print and color pictures at solid print speed for an excellent price.

Over the last ten years, Wayne Kawamoto has written over 800 articles, columns and reviews about computers, new technologies, the Internet and small businesses. Wayne has also published three books about upgrading PCs, building office networks and effectively using and troubleshooting notebook computers. You can contact him through his Web site at www.waynewrite.com.

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