A Printer Worth the Price

By Eric Grevstad | Posted May 05, 2006

Did somebody at Xerox not get the memo? Color laser printers, once rare deals at under $1,000, are now mainstream inkjet alternatives readily found for $400 or less, with some manufacturers and retailers hawking entry-level models for $299. So is Xerox aiming too high by putting a $449 price tag (officially $499 with a discount deal through May 31, 2006) on its Phaser 6120?

Well, Xerox will tell you that the 6120 aims higher than its rivals — although it's lighter and smaller than some, it's a color laser suited for small offices or workgroups instead of a single-user desktop. Both a USB 2.0 connector and 10/100Mbps Ethernet support come standard. So does an old-fashioned parallel port for legacy lovers, though notebook nomads will have to buy a third-party Wi-Fi adapter.

Unlike the lowest-priced lasers, which are Windows-only devices that borrow your PC's CPU power to process pages, the Phaser 6120 is a full-fledged, 300MHz printer with 128MB of memory (expandable to 640MB). It's compatible with Mac OS 9.2 and X and Linux as well as Windows 98, Me, NT 4, 2000, Server 2003 and XP.

In fact, the Xerox can even pitch in to produce proofs and comps in a print shop or graphics studio, thanks to PostScript 3 as well as PCL 6 support and a software driver sophisticated enough to handle Pantone color simulations and a choice of popular color spaces.

Another unusual feature is the corporate-printer option of an internal hard disk ($299 for 20GB) for such functions as job collating; saving a confidential print job for password-secured printing later; or printing one copy of a document for proofing before producing the rest.

Other notable options include an automatic duplexer for double-sided printing ($399 including an extra 128MB of RAM) and a 500-sheet drawer ($299) to bolster the Phaser's 200-sheet input tray. Of course, by the time you've added every option, you could and should have bought a faster, heavier-duty printer to begin with, but its features and upgrade path might earn the Xerox a spot on an IT manager's authorized-buy list that's otherwise closed to under-$500 printers.

Not Too Big, Not Too Quiet
A handsome blue-and-white box, the Phaser 6120 has a 16- by 17.5-inch footprint and stands 13.5 inches high. That's compact enough to join your keyboard, mouse and monitor on your desk, but only if you don't use your phone — the printer's whine, whir and thunk make it best appreciated at a distance.

No color laser printer is a lightweight, but the Phaser is relatively luggable, or at least lift-out-of-its-box-able, at 45 pounds. Setup is also relatively easy, since the printer's cyan, magenta, yellow and black toner cartridges are pre-installed: You remove the usual dozen pieces of shipping tape, yank a couple of strings to remove some plastic spacers, snap the paper tray into place, and you're good to go.


Xerox Phaser 6120

The tray holds up to 200 sheets of letter- or legal-sized media, which you can replace with a short stack of envelopes or transparencies. There's no feed slot for single sheets or envelopes.

Fast Color, Faster Black and White
Speaking of the pre-installed toner cartridges, the magenta, cyan and yellow cartridges are Xerox's 1,500-page parts (replacements $66 apiece) rather than the 4,500-page cartridges you'll later buy as better values ($140 each). The black cartridge is a full 4,500-page part (replacement $79).

Another consumable component, the imaging unit, is rated for up to 20,000 black or 10,000 color pages; presumably you'll print a mix of both and land somewhere in between before needing a replacement ($156). Xerox earns a thumbs-up for posting a list of costs per page on its Web site; they range from 2.5 cents for monochrome to 12.7 cents for typical text-with-color-charts to 25 cents for nearly full-color pages.

You shouldn't confuse the Phaser 6120 color laser with the spiffy solid-ink technology of Xerox's Phaser 8400 and 8500 series. Nor does it use the one-pass design of competitors like HP's Color LaserJet 2600N or 1600. Instead, its classic four-pass technology loops a page through the printer four times to apply the four toner colors.

That means slow color printing (rated at five pages per minute), but fast black-and-white work (an advertised 20 ppm) for routine correspondence and reports. The 6120 lived up to its rated speed by chugging through our 20-page monochrome Microsoft Word document in one minute and 11 seconds, one of the fastest times we've recorded, versus two minutes and 37 seconds for the HP 2600N.

The Phaser was also a match for other lasers when printing our one-page business letter with spot-color company logo — its time of 23 seconds was just a second behind the Color LaserJet 2600N and a second ahead of the Konica Minolta Magicolor 2300DL, though its solid-ink sibling the Phaser 8400 trounced all three.

By contrast, the 6120 finished near the back of the pack when it came to six full-page PowerPoint slides, either with light or dark backgrounds (two and almost four minutes, respectively). And while close to some contenders such as the 2300DL, it badly trailed newer models with our 55-page text-and-color-graphics Adobe Acrobat file (11 minutes and 28 seconds).

Not Too Shabby
But Xerox has one more card to play: While neither its 600-dpi print engine nor its default arrangement of dots for sharper "2,400 enhanced" or equivalent printouts is unique, the Phaser's print quality is at the head of its class.

When we printed our first document, a Web page on cheap copier paper, we almost mistook it for inkjet output. That's a compliment, since inkjet resolution and photo reproduction usually exceeds color laser.

No, you wouldn't choose the 6120 over a high-grade inkjet for 8- by 10-inch digital-photo prints (which it produced in an average one minute and 18 seconds), but — especially when given decent multipurpose paper instead of copier fodder — it has nothing to apologize for, whether printing sharp, tiny text; rich, solid colors; or crisp newsletter illustrations and images. Xerox's software driver's extensive array of options — everything from booklet to watermark to scaled-for-different-media printing — also deserves kudos.

As long as you're prepared to tolerate the wait that comes with four- rather than one-pass color printing, the Phaser 6120 easily justifies its one-step-above-rock-bottom price. When we found ourselves stretching for complaints other than the lack of a separate envelope or special-media feed, we realized we had a winner on our hands.

Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.

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