Lexmark T420d Printer Review: Both Sides Now

By Eric Grevstad | Posted February 18, 2003
Do you need to print 10 or 20 pages a day? Enjoy your inkjet printer, and don't bother reading this review. Do you need to print hundreds or even one or two thousand pages a day, want them in a hurry, and crave the convenience of printing on both sides of a page? Lexmark says, "Bring it on" — and bring a check for $649 for its new T420d laser printer.

Good-quality color inkjets are dirt cheap nowadays, but businesses that demand high-volume, high-speed, supersharp text printing still demand a monochrome laser printer. Corporate offices, of course, rely on ultra-fast, over-$1,500 network printers, while home office workers can find cute little lasers for $199. That leaves a midrange market that's easy to overlook, but that makes sense for a lot of small offices and corporate workgroups — and where the new Lexmark fits in, with automatic duplex (two-sided) printing as its extra-value attraction.

Under-$300 lasers like Brother's HL-1440 and Minolta-QMS' PagePro 1250W produce 10 to 17 pages per minute, with duty cycles of 10,000 to 15,000 pages per month. The T420d boasts serious speed at 22 ppm and marathon stamina at 50,000 pages per month.

Your boss likes the HP brand? Lexmark begs to point out that the LaserJet 2200 is slower — 19 ppm — and costs $100 more — $749 for the 2200d model with duplex printing. It also comes with less memory than the Lexmark — 8MB expandable to 72MB, versus 16MB expandable to 272MB.

To be fair, the LaserJet offers sharper resolution — 1,200 by 1,200 dpi, while the T420d is a 600 by 600 dpi printer with what Lexmark calls "1,200 Image Quality" dot placement for photos. We printed images at both the 1200 IQ and 600 dpi settings and could rarely, barely see a difference (and frankly, think full-page- rather than small-illustration-size photos from any monochrome laser look murky and unappealing anyway). More important, 600 by 600 dpi is fine for the black text that's a monochrome laser's mission in life.

We think the Lexmark T420d will tempt a lot of office workers at $649, though the desirable, networkable T420dn model with Ethernet print server is a tad pricey at $1,099. That's not a complaint with Lexmark alone, but with all printer manufacturers who charge a $400-plus premium for installing a server card when external print servers start at $150.

At 16 by 17 by 10 inches and about 30 pounds, the USB- and parallel-port-equipped T420d isn't much larger than many desktop personal printers, though (as usual) we vote for printer-stand rather than desktop placement — printing is a bit too noisy to have right next to you (and Lexmark urges you to leave three inches of ventilation space to the right of the printer, where its cooling fan makes a warm breeze).

Setup is simple, with effortless, drop-in toner-cartridge loading; the unit comes with a 5,000-page cartridge, with both 5,000- and 10,000-page replacements available (for $128 and $222, respectively). Lexmark's "Prebate" program lowers those prices (to $99 and $193, respectively) if you agree to ship empty cartridges back to the company and steer clear of printer vendors' greatest horror — low-cost, third-party refills. Using the 10,000-page Prebate cartridge, Lexmark calculates a low cost per page of 1.93 cents, a fraction under the 1.98 cents of HP's LaserJet 2200.

Able To Empty Its Paper Tray in 12 Minutes
The T420d has a 250-sheet, pull-out paper tray in its base; unless you flip down the face-up output tray at the rear, pages do a U-turn inside the printer and are ejected face down (Page 1 of a multipage document on top) into a 150-sheet tray — well, not a tray so much as resting on top of the printer with a hinged flap to prop them up. The top-panel status lights and controls — consisting only of Continue (after manual feed or paper reloading) and Cancel buttons — are almost idiot-proof.

For such a high-speed, heavy-duty printer, we think having to refill a 250-sheet input tray multiple times daily will soon become a chore, although a Lexmark representative told us that many customers insist on the low (10-inch) profile in order to fit the printer under shelves or point-of-sale cabinet drawers. You can load another 100 sheets by folding down a multipurpose tray, also used for manual-feed jobs or envelopes, at the front, or invest in a second 250-sheet ($163) or 500-sheet ($216) drawer that fits underneath the unit.

Lexmark's software driver earns points for clearly depicting the printer, complete with little arrows that indicate which paper source you've selected (if other than automatic), and offering a good variety of N-up (thumbnail) and booklet printing and graphics adjustments (low to high toner darkness, contrast, and dithering).

We had a minor stumble when first installing the driver on our Win 2000 desktop — clicking the setup CD's "install driver" option worked fine, adding the T420d to Control Panel's Printers window and everything, but then the Add New Hardware wizard rediscovered and tried to reinstall the printer at every startup. More careful setup, following the instructions offered elsewhere on the CD, fixed the problem.

Its default toner darkness was a shade light for our liking, but the Lexmark's print quality (on cheap copier paper) was faultless — solid blacks, smooth banner headlines, and crisp text as small as 6 points. As for speed, the laser came within an ace of matching its 22-ppm and 10-seconds-to-first-page advertisements: Using Microsoft Word, a one-page business letter appeared in 11 seconds, with five- and 20-page documents taking 24 and 67 seconds respectively. A 55-page software manual in Adobe Acrobat PDF format printed in 2 minutes and 44 seconds.

The Flip Side
Even more impressive, almost addictive, is the duplexing capability available as easily as clicking either a "long edge" or "short edge" button (indicating your binding or stapling plans) in the driver: Printed (face-down) pages are ejected halfway into the catch tray, then sucked back in, only to reappear with the flip side neatly printed.

Not only does duplexing save paper and permit more natural reading of multipage documents, it slows printing less than you'd expect (that is, double-sided jobs take less than twice as long as single-sided ones). The 20-page Word document that took 1 minute 7 seconds with blank backs took just 1 minute 49 seconds to print on 10 sheets, while the 55-page Acrobat file that took 2 minutes and 44 seconds in normal mode took 4 minutes 52 seconds in duplex. The process was totally painless, free of paper jams, and produced great, professional-looking reports and booklets.

Any 22-ppm, 50,000-page-monthly-duty-cycle laser printer will be overkill for light-duty home- or small-office settings. But if your monochrome hard-copy demands justify a serious, corporate-class laser, the Lexmark T420d is not only fast, sturdy, and compact, but its two-sided printing can save a tree — or at least save some of your office-supply budget.

Adapted from HardwareCentral.

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