You Can Afford a Quality, Networked Color Laser Printer

By Eric Grevstad | Posted May 05, 2004

The Lexmark C510n may not be built around the latest laser color printer engine, but what it lacks in that particular technology the C510n more than makes up for it in affordable pricing, networking capabilities and quality output.

The fully office-and- network ready C510n comes with the magic $999 price tag, 128MB of onboard memory and both 10/100Mbps Ethernet and USB 2.0 ports, instead of the stripped-down personal version with just 64MB, USB, and parallel (that's the C510, at $699). It's a great choice if you expect to spend a good chunk of the Lexmark's 35,000-page monthly duty cycle on bread-and-butter, black-and-white text jobs: The C510n cranked out a 20-page Microsoft Word test document in a sizzling 53 seconds, thoroughly competitive with monochrome laser printers and anywhere from 40 seconds to over a minute -- quicker than many other color competitors.

The C510n's output looks great with crisp black text, bright colors, and eye-pleasing quality on every page. Like other printers in its class, the C510n becomes somewhat less economical if you order a few options or indulge its appetite for color consumables, but it's worth a look from anyone shopping for a color printer.

Big and Boisterous
Don't plan on moving the C510n yourself -- it's too big for one person to move easily -- weighing in at 67 pounds. And though its 19.5 by 16.5-inch footprint might be tempted you to find room on your desk instead of down the hall, we advise against that. It's too just loud to keep near your phone -- the thumps and bumps of the engine during printing aren't so bad, but the steady whir of its cooling fan passes the threshold from white noise to annoyance, at least until its power-saver shutoff kicks in after 15 minutes of inactivity -- by default -- though you can specify a shorter interval.

Both the C510n and C510 models stand just over 15 inches high, though we wish they were slightly taller so you wouldn't need to refill them as often -- the pull-out paper drawer in the printer's base holds just 250 letter-sized sheets instead of a full 500-sheet ream. A deluxe model C510dtn ($1,999) has a second, 530-sheet drawer beneath the main tray and an automatic duplexer for double-sided printing; two options available separately for $399 and $599, respectively. A legal-sized replacement for the 250-sheet letter tray costs $129. Lexmark also offers an external 802.11b wireless network adapter for $199.

Set it Up
Once you've wrestled the Lexmark out of the box, the setup is relatively simple. The printer ships with its four slab-shaped toner cartridges -- sized somewhere between hardcover books and VHS tapes -- installed. Open the front panel, remove a piece of foam packing, then remove, pull packing material from, and reinsert each cartridge in the stack. Next, you close the front and open the top to unwrap and insert the photodeveloper unit, which drops into place vertically. As long as you have to take them out anyway, we're not sure we see the point of shipping the cartridges inside the printer: We were mildly uneasy to find some spilled toner inside our test unit, either from jostling during shipment or possibly a previous reviewer. Some paper towels took care of the smudges, although we had to take everything out and clean more thoroughly, focusing on the delicate and well-hidden printhead lens, when we saw vertical stripes or defects in our first printouts.

The Cost of Consumables
Like many of its competitors, alas, Lexmark earns a sincere jeer for shipping the C510n with penny-pinching, half-full starter cartridges, so buyers will get only 1,500 pages before having to shell out for replacements. Regular cyan, magenta, and yellow toners ($99 each) are rated for 3,000 pages and the regular black toner ($99) for 5,000; more frugal investors can get high-yield toner cartridges rated for 6,600 pages for cyan, magenta, and yellow ($176 each) and 10,000 for black ($125). Other maintenance items include the photodeveloper cartridge, its estimated life is 10,000 color pages (40,000 images) before you'll need a $212 replacement; the waste toner bottle ($6), that needs to be disposed of and replaced every 3,000 pages; and the fuser unit, rated for some 51,000 pages ($230). Adding and multiplying all of the above gives us a slapdash estimate of 12 cents per page for color printing, which is a bit more costly than some competitors, but not the worst. For more precise cost estimates, try using the coverage-estimate mode, a cool, nerdy feature accessible from the front-panel LCD menu: Before you print a zillion copies of a given job, you can print one that appears with toner-coverage numbers superimposed on each page, so instead of using the generic cartridge-life guess of 5 percent, you'll know that a particular page has, say, less than 2 percent coverage of cyan, 3 percent each of magenta and black, and 6 percent of yellow.

Color-conscious print shops will appreciate that Lexmark provides software drivers with both PostScript 3 and PCL 6 emulation with automatic or manual (display or vivid sRGB) color handling. Its watermark and N-up printing options are merely adequate, but networked offices will be delighted by its job-handling options -- including, given sufficient printer memory, the ability to delay a job until the operator physically reaches the C510n to push a control-panel button (or, for confidential jobs, a specified passcode sequence of buttons), and to await a proofreader's OK between printing the first copy of a job and the rest.

Immediate Gratification
The C510n also performs well when using its USB connection rather than the network-interface. A one-page Word business letter with spot-color letterhead logo appeared in a prompt 20 seconds. Six full-page PowerPoint slides with white backgrounds took 1 minute and 5 seconds, though a similar sextet with solid dark backgrounds took more than three times as long (three minutes and 32 seconds). A 55-page Adobe Acrobat manual, however, was ready in less than 9 minutes, and 8 by 10-inch digital-camera prints averaged only 47 seconds each. A few solid-color areas showed traces of banding, but not obviously or obnoxiously so, and photo images -- Lexmark boasts that it tweaked its 600-dpi engine for "2,400 Image Quality" -- were sharp and bright. Text, as mentioned, was both truly black and easily readable down to 5 (well, 6) points.

Should you check out the C510n? Definitely. Its shallow paper tray, noisy fan, and extra penny or two per page initially swayed us toward giving the Lexmark a merely laudable four-star rather than one of our rare five-star reviews, but its speed, quality, and Ethernet interface for a price that some rivals single-user models tip it into five-star territory.

Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.

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