A Speedy, Lightweight Color Laser

By Eric Grevstad | Posted May 13, 2005

When it comes to laser printers, we've had to huff, puff and brace ourselves before lifting a 60- or 70-pound color laser printer out of its box. But when we tried that with the Konica Minolta Magicolor 2430DL, we darn near yanked the thing up and smacked ourselves in the face with it: The 2430DL weighs a relatively trim 44 pounds with consumables, and takes just 17 by 20 inches of desk or table space (it stands 13.5 inches high).

It also sets up in seconds, has a front-mounted PictBridge USB port for direct printing of images from newer digital cameras, and costs $499. That's obviously many times more than your average color inkjet printer, but Konica Minolta is unashamedly targeting small-office inkjet buyers with a pitch for fast (20 pages per minute), laser-quality black text as well as sharp, vivid color printing at 5 ppm, with resolution up to 2,400 by 600 dpi, no need for inkjets' costly coated paper and short-lived ink cartridges, and an industrial-strength duty cycle of up to 35,000 pages per month.

We think it's an appealing package, slightly tempered by the fact that our test unit was really priced at $648 — $499 plus the 256MB memory upgrade (over the standard 32MB) that Konica Minolta admits is required to print full-page, high-resolution images or use all PictBridge functions such as index printing.

To be fair, while "Around $650!" is a less seductive line than "Under $500!", the Windows-, Mac-, and Linux-compatible 2430DL does give you more than some stripped-down, entry-level color lasers.

Besides being faster than 16/4 ppm rivals, it includes both Ethernet and USB 2.0 ports (in addition to the PictBridge connector), so it's ready for network sharing. It has a decent-sized (actually letter- or legal-sized) 200-page input tray that folds down from the front panel — not a photocopier-style pull-out drawer, but it mimics one and keeps paper dust-free with a snap-on plastic front extension and cover — and can grow with your business, thanks to an optional 500-sheet lower drawer ($299) and automatic duplexing unit for two-sided printing ($399).

If you're a solo operator who can do without the Ethernet and PictBridge ports and paper-handling options, the Magicolor 2400W offers the same mechanicals for $399 (and is probably a more direct comparison for inkjet shoppers).

Preinstalled — What a Wonderful Word
To Konica Minolta's credit, the Magicolor's drum cartridge and four toner cartridges (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) are installed at the factory, so the hardest part of initial setup is removing various strips of tape and tugging free a string holding a couple of plastic spacer pegs that secure components during transit.

To Konica Minolta's discredit, the 2430DL follows the tacky low-priced-laser custom of shipping with skimpy starter cartridges — rated for approximately 1,500 pages apiece versus the 4,500 of replacement cyan, magenta, and yellow ($130 apiece or $349 for a set) and black ($85) toner cartridges. The $149 drum cartridge will need replacing after something between 11,500 (all color) and 45,000 (all black) pages.

Following that 4:1 ratio of monochrome to color printouts, we reached for our calculator and guesstimated that 45,000 pages — 36,000 black and 9,000 color — would cost $1,527 in consumables (not counting paper), or 2.1 cents per black and 8.6 cents per color page. That's more than the most cost-efficient, high-volume corporate printers, but a bargain compared to desktop inkjets.

Hot and Noisy

Though you won't have to do it during your first 1,500 pages, servicing the 2430DL is simple enough: Lifting the hood (which includes a fold-down, facedown output tray) reveals the carousel of four toner cartridges up front; as with other four-pass color lasers, this rotates to apply each shade of toner when making up a color page.

The drum cartridge is just aft of this, with the fuser unit at the rear and transfer belt unit attached to the hood. Both pop-up status-utility software and the easy-to-navigate, not-too-easy-to-read (non-backlit) two-line LCD guide you through pressing control-panel buttons to spin the carousel and replace an empty toner cartridge.

We experienced precisely one paper jam in our testing — our first page, as it happened. Lifting the hood and removing the drum cartridge by its grab-bar handle revealed a sheet that had only fed halfway; tugging it out, replacing the drum, and closing the hood got us back on track.

Four-pass or rotary printers can't help making a thunking, clunking noise while moving the toner carousel into position for each layer of a color page; the Konica Minolta's thunks and clunks are quieter than many of its rivals', but accompanied by a background buzz or whir that makes the printer too loud for desktop placement near your phone. Of course, when idle the printer is not only silent, but drops from its peak 1,100-watt power consumption to 250 watts or less. Also, if you pounce on pages as soon as they hit the exit tray, you'll find them noticeably hot to the touch, but a few seconds' patience fixes that.

Wondering just how quickly pages hit that exit tray? We found the Magicolor 2430DL to be one of the fastest under-$1,000 laser printers we've tested, even keeping up with some single-pass designs for color jobs. Twenty pages of black Microsoft Word text took just one minute and 13 seconds, beaten — in our testing — only by the Lexmark C510.

Our one-page Word business letter with spot-color company logo appeared in 24 seconds. Six full-page, white-background PowerPoint slides printed in one minute and 26 seconds — and six dark-background slides took only four seconds more, versus the significant slowdown experienced with low-priced, less-memory-onboard models.

The Magicolor slipped from the front to the middle of the pack in our biggest printer test, a 55-page Adobe Acrobat document mixing text with color graphics that took 11 minutes and 24 seconds. But it printed 8 by 10-inch digital-camera images in a swift 33 seconds each — at its default 1,200 by 600 dpi resolution, used for the above tests — or 38 seconds at its peak of 2,400 by 600 dpi.

The photo job was the only time we saw a measurable time or quality difference when using the higher resolution; while it can't make inkjet-style borderless prints (the printable-area margin is 4mm or 0.16 inch), the 2430DL is a surprisingly sharp photo printer. Indeed, print quality in all our tests was first-rate, with no banding in solid-color areas and crisp text even in tiny font sizes.

We found no provision for manual duplexing, but otherwise Konica Minolta's driver provides a businesslike variety of N-up, watermark, and zooming/scaling options as well as tweaks for color brightness and saturation (or grayscale-only printing).

Bottom Line
All told, once you get past the $499-is-really-$648 hurdle of adding memory, the 2430DL is a first-class choice for small, networked offices seeking both a color and black-and-white workhorse. Despite the PictBridge connector, we don't see it as an alternative to a home photo printer — and we suspect businesses using digital-camera shots for newsletters or presentations are more likely to upload and adjust them on the PC rather than pursue direct-from-camera printing. But we like that the Magicolor won't give you oryour wallet a hernia.

Pros:

  • One of the smallest, lightest, and fastest under-$700 color laser printers to date
  • Very good text and graphics quality

Cons:

  • $499 base model doesn't have enough memory for high-resolution graphics
  • The old starter-instead-of-full-toner-cartridges-in-the-box trick

Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.

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