Minolta-QMS Magicolor 2300W Review

Weird captions on the box of the Minolta-QMS Magicolor 2300W: “The essentials of imaging … essential as the sun for life … essential as the food for life … essential as the air for life … essential as the water for life.” Note to package designer: Dude, chill out. It’s just a printer.

That said, it’s quite a printer, at quite a price: $699 for an honest-to-Christmas color laser, rated at 16 pages per minute for black and white and 4 ppm for color — like all multi-pass color lasers, it loops each sheet through four passes to apply black, yellow, cyan, and magenta toner — with 1,200 by 600 dpi resolution. It’s faster and more smudge-proof than an inkjet printer, with a higher duty cycle, lower consumable costs, and superior output on cheap, plain paper.

Minolta-QMS is no stranger to pushing color lasers down from $2,000-plus to $1,300 to under $1,000, but the 2300W is something else. For one thing, the W indicates that, like some low-cost monochrome lasers, it’s a Windows-based (95, 98SE, Me, 2000, XP) printer, using the operating system’s own interface instead of a Linux- and Mac-compatible language like PCL or PostScript.

For another, the new model lacks the Ethernet interface of the company’s $799 Magicolor 2300DL — with just USB 1.1 and parallel ports, it’s a luxury for a small-business proprietor or even home-office worker to keep all to him- or herself (or, of course, let networked colleagues share by donating his or her PC as a print server).

Its 32MB of buffer memory can’t be expanded as the 2300DL’s or rival units’ can, and its Naltec N1 processor defers to the PC host in almost everything — the printer didn’t noticeably slow our Pentium III/550 Windows 2000 desktop in testing, but noticeably slowed its output when handling more graphically complex or toner-heavy print jobs.

But, dude, it’s a color laser — one whose 14 by 20-inch footprint (and 15.5-inch height) permit placement on a desktop instead of a separate printer stand; whose rated duty cycle is a healthy 35,000 pages per month (based on a mix of three-quarters black and one-quarter color pages); and whose price is $200 below the lowest-priced 2500L model in the HP Color LaserJet 2500 series we tested last year. It’s even the first printer we’ve tested in years that comes with the toner cartridges and drum already installed, so setup is a 10-minute cinch.

It’s No Lightweight
While the 2300W isn’t the refrigerator-sized leviathan that early color lasers were, it’s a mini-fridge-sized machine that weighs 62 pounds, so you may want help getting it out of the box. Hardware installation consists of removing plenty of packing tape and cardboard, pulling out a long wire that secures the transfer belt during shipping, and snapping a plastic bottle that holds waste toner into place.

One cost-cutting measure is that the Magicolor’s front-panel controls consist of only a couple of status lights and a job-cancel button; a software utility provides both pop-up status messages and maintenance procedures such as changing toner cartridges (there’s no LCD menu or control panel for performing these tasks without the utility). The driver offers a useful handful of fit-to-page, watermark, and N-up (2, 4, 6, 9, or 16 pages per sheet) printing options and color adjustments.

The 2300W doesn’t have a paper drawer so much as a simple slot in its left side for you to insert up to 200 sheets of letter- or legal-sized copier paper or letterhead (11 by 17-inch shoppers must look elsewhere, and full-bleed or borderless printing plans will be thwarted by its 0.16-inch unprintable margin area). It also accepts envelopes, laser-printer labels, and transparencies, but doesn’t need — and in fact can be damaged by — coated inkjet paper. Pages exit face down (collated) on top of the printer. An automatic duplexing unit is a $399 option, but there’s no way to expand input capacity beyond 200 pages.

The Minolta-QMS comes with preinstalled black, cyan, yellow, and magenta toner cartridges rated for 1,500 pages’ use. High-capacity replacement cartridges are rated for approximately 4,500 pages, and cost $79 for black and $119 apiece for color — about a penny per page total. Those consumable costs climb somewhat, however, when you add the need to replace the waste toner bottle ($19; maximum 25,000 pages) and drum cartridge ($149) — the latter’s life is based on its number of rotations, which could theoretically be as many as 45,000 nonstop black pages but is more likely to be as few as 10,000 pages, with one-page jobs causing the most wear.

Smooth Operator
Still, most small offices should find the Magicolor 2300W an economical workhorse — and a good desktop neighbor; the printer is considerably quieter than the thunking, clunking HP Color LaserJet 2500, although its cooling fan can be noticeable (and its top can be quite warm; the device draws a hefty 1,100 watts). Its morning warmup takes some two and a half minutes, but then its first-page-out time shrinks to a fifth of that or less: Our one-page business letter with spot-color company logo and letterhead printed in 33 seconds, the same time required for a five-page, black-text Word document.

Twenty pages of text took 1 minute and 33 seconds, while our six-page Adobe Acrobat document (mixed text and color graphics) took 2 minutes and 10 seconds. Those times roughly equal the Color LaserJet 2500’s, though the Minolta-QMS was faster with our 55-page Acrobat file — just under 16 minutes.

The extra effort of extra graphics or toner processing showed when printing our pair of six-page PowerPoint presentations: The half-dozen slides with white backgrounds and mostly text bullet points appeared in 2 minutes and 8 seconds, while the same number of slides with solid, dark blue backgrounds and more graphics took 4 minutes and 40 seconds. While a color laser and plain paper can’t match the photographic quality of an inkjet with glossy stock, the 2300W did a very nice job with our 8 by 10-inch digital-camera prints, taking 84 seconds for each.

Most important, all our printouts looked terrific, with dark, crisply formed text even in tiny point sizes and clear if not especially vivid color, with virtually no banding visible in brochures, charts, and PowerPoints. Considering it’s an over-$500, clearly share-worthy workgroup printer, the Magicolor 2300W’s unexpandable memory and lack of an Ethernet interface keep it from one of our rare five-star ratings, but small offices should still jump at the chance to get an almost-no-compromises color laser for $699.

Adapted from HardwareCentral.com.

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