Dell’s Colorful, Affordable MFP

If you’re like most small business owners, you initially handled your hard-copy needs with an ink jet printer, a low-cost fax machine and frequent trips to the local copy shop. Perhaps since then you’ve added a multifunction printer (MFP) to handle scanning and light copying in-house.

But if your office is approaching 20 people, adding extra printers as you grow is not an effective growth strategy. You wind up with a bunch of different models that likely don’t share consumables, and getting them all networked can be a nightmare. You’re ready for a mid-level solution, like the Dell Multifunction Color Laser Printer 3115cn.

With the 3115cn, you can print legal-sized documents in black-and-white at speeds up to 31 pages per minute (ppm) and color documents at 17ppm—much faster than a typical ink jet can deliver—as well as fax, scan and copy (again, in both monochrome and color). You can easily hook the device to a network for all to share and produce documents in-house that used to go to a service bureau. And at just $899, the 3115cn costs about the same as a small-office color laser printer alone.

A Design That Gets Noticed
For such a utilitarian piece of office equipment, the all-black 3115cn has a certain style. The scanner and document feeder seem to float above the main printer unit, supported by two square posts at the rear. Love it or hate it, it definitely gets attention.

Fortunately, while it looks like it requires assembly, the 3115cn comes as one piece. Unfortunately, that makes for a fairly large, unwieldy packing box that takes two people to carry. The box has integrated handles on each side, and a pictograph showing how to take the MFP out of its box. Once you remove the packaging (there’s a fair amount of tape and tabs to remove), call that colleague (or two) back over to help you lift this 80-pound beast into place. You’ll also need to dedicate a desk or credenza to the 3115cn; it’s too imposing to share your a cubicle.

The included quick-start poster is all you’ll need to get the machine up and running. When you’re ready to delve deeper, there’s a 140-page printed manual covering all the MFP’s features. All told, it took us 40 minutes to unwrap the unit and install the software.

Most offices will use the 3115cn as a networked device, and the included Ethernet cable and networking software makes sharing the MFP a snap. The wizard-driven utility walks you through setting it up on a network, and the software supports the full contingent of network protocols. If you prefer a wireless solution, Dell sells an 802.11b/g Wi-Fi adapter that plugs into the USB port for $79.99 Just one note: If you plan on connecting directly to a host PC, be aware that there is no USB or parallel cable in the box; you have to order one ($25) at time of purchase. For nearly $900, you’d think they could toss in a USB cable.

A Printer at Heart
The 3115cn delivers a host of ideal features for a busy office. A 250-sheet input tray and 150-sheet multipurpose input tray come standard. For more capacity, you can add the optional 550-sheet drawer ($229). An optional duplexer ($199) lets you print two-sided originals, which cuts down on paper use.

The 3115cn also boasts a low cost-per-page when you opt for the high-yield toner cartridges, which deliver around 8,000 pages before they need replacing. Dell claims a typical text page will cost you 1.4 cents in consumables, and a color page (with 15 percent coverage) will cost 9.4 cents. If you are worried about people wasting the color toner, the included ColorTrack software lets you limit (by individual or by workgroup) who can print in color.

There’s also a proof-before-print feature, which prints just one copy of a job so you can check it for errors before printing out a bunch. For private or sensitive documents, the 3115cn also offers secure printing: Send a document to the printer, and it won’t print until you enter a code at the unit’s keypad, so there’s no chance of someone else reading or picking it up.

We were impressed with the 3115cn’s print speed. It delivered a three -page monochrome text document in a fast 17 seconds (not counting the 30-second warm-up time from idle), and a nine-page PowerPoint presentation (printed at high quality) in a minute flat. The printer delivered a five-page PDF brochure (with both text and graphics) in 33 seconds, and a four-megapixel 6-x8-inch photo in just 28 seconds.

Text output quality is very good (as you’d expected from a laser printer), with typical fonts legible even when printed at a four-point size. The background of our PowerPoint presentation printed darker than we would have liked, however, and the 3115cn had trouble with thin curved lines, creating a wavy effect (thin straight lines were fine). On the plus side, color fills were well saturated, and color gradients showed fairly good transition from light to dark. Photo output was also a bit dark and no match for a good ink jet, but fine for business use.

Replace Your Copier
The 3115cn’s decent engine speed and rated 60,000 page-per-month duty cycle will let many offices use the unit as their primary copier. The 50-page ADF (automatic document feeder) lets you stack originals, hit the copy button and walk away. You can make up to 99 copies of an original at once and reduce originals increments down to 50 percent, or enlarge up to 200 percent. There is also a good range of settings to enhance an image or deal with a less-than-stellar original, including the ability to tweak the sharpness and color saturation.

Dell Multifunction Color Laser Printer 3115cn
Eye Catcher: The scan-and-copy bed hovering above the main printer module gives the Dell 3115cn a distinctive look.

In our tests, the 3115cn delivered a one-page copy in about 20 seconds, with good results. Text on copies was crisp and clear, and color graphics showed good color accuracy and detail, though with a bit of graininess.

Faxing and Document Management, Too
Fax-intensive businesses may want to keep a dedicated fax machine, but for most companies, the 3115cn will serve just fine. It features 200 auto-dial settings and 4MB of memory for storing faxes should the paper tray run out. As of this writing the 3115cn supports only monochrome faxing, but a firmware upgrade due in early 2007 will enable color fax capabilities.

The 600-by-600 dpi scanner is fine for document imaging, and you can input documents via the ADF (or by placing them on the scanning bed directly, of course). You can save scanned documents to a network location and save directly to TIFF, JPG or even PDF formats.

Along with the printer driver, the install CD also loads a handy Dell ScanCenter utility, which lets you scan to a variety of applications. Most notable is the included ScanSoft PaperPort Desktop, an entry-level document-management program that helps you categorize, organize and find documents.

One of the downsides to an all-in-one device is that if the unit needs to go out for service, you’ve just lost four key office appliances. Fortunately, Dell’s standard one-year warranty for the 3115cn includes on-site service.

If you are thinking about trading up to a color laser printer, or have outgrown your current solution, the 3115cn is worth a close look. It’s quick and full-featured, and delivers a lot of value for the money.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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