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Ultra low-end, direct connect colour laser printers not easy to choose between

Issue #0934/1 – While most businesses, and many homes, find a network interface to be desirable in a colour laser printer, there is still a market for direct-connect USB printers and the industry continues to produce them at give-away prices that belies the true cost of printing. Available for as little as €109, a colour laser printer may seem to be the most attractive option for colour printing, especially perhaps for those printing very few pages – but beware the Total Cost. We look at sub €200 (inc. tax) colour laser printers to find out how they stack up for features and cost.

For this selection, we’ve taken only the lowest-priced printer from each manufacturer, as long as its median price in Germany is less than €200. Note that prices do vary in different countries and some additional products may be available at comparable prices in some countries – for instance, Konica Minolta’s magicolor 1650EN is available for as little as £109 in the UK, and with a median price of £122, but has a median price of €249 in Germany. In addition, there may be other products from the same manufacturers that fall within the selected price range but have been excluded as not being the lowest-priced model from the manufacturer.

Konica Minolta magicolor 1600wKonica Minolta
magicolor 1600w,
available for as little as €95

So, we find seven products within a price band from a miniscule €109 up to €176 (Median prices in Germany), and with a lowest price of €95, at which point there is a significant gap up to the next competitor. But perhaps the most notable factor in the grouping, demonstrating that prices are still being pushed down by the developing technology and market forces, is that four of the seven machines are now built on single-pass technology rather than four-pass technology. This has interesting implications on print speed because, while the single-pass machines will print in colour significantly faster than the four-pass machines, at 8, 12 or even 16 ppm, when it comes to printing in black they tend to be slower, at 12 or 16 ppm compared to the 16, 19 or 20 ppm available from the four-pass machines.

Hardware Purchase

Ultra Low-End Colour Laser Printers

No text this cell
Single
pass
Single
pass
Four
pass
Four
pass
Single
pass
Four
pass
Single
pass
No text this cell
Printer hardware technology
Ricoh SP C220NRicoh SP C220N

Standing out in the group is the Ricoh SP C220N for two reasons. Firstly, it is a single-pass machine with 16/16ppm print speeds, making it the fastest ultra low-end colour printer on the market. Secondly, it is network-ready when most of the others are only networkable by buying a more expensive model and, thirdly, it has a decent paper input capacity of 250 sheets. Yes, the C220N is the most expensive printer in the group to buy but only by a very small margin and the benefits of speed, networkability and paper capacity more than justify this cost.

Where it cannot compete in a cost/features scenario is against Konica Minolts’s magicolor 1600w, not because the magicolor has a high specification but simply because its price is so low that it could almost be a stocking-filler for Christmas – at €109!!

Xerox Phaser 6125nXerox Phaser 6125n

Following close behind Ricoh’s SP C220N is Xerox’s Phaser 6125n, which is also network-ready as a base model, is also single-pass technology and also has a 250-sheet paper capacity, albeit with a slightly slower 12ppm colour print speed. But, the lower hardware purchase price reflects this slight difference even though this printer is the most durable in the group with the highest duty cycle, rated for a maximum of 40,000 pages in a month. In fact, the Phaser 6125n actually has a purchase price right on the average – which, considering the ultra low-price of the magicolor, puts it in the position of being exceptional value for money at purchase!

Apart from the Konica Minolta, it is only in the Samsung CLP-310/315 that we find a lower purchase price than on the Phaser. Here we actually find the slowest printer of all and one with a very low paper capacity, at only 150 sheets. In fact, given the comparison of specifications, this printer should probably be priced lower than the magicolor! There are two other printers, Canon LBP5050 and Hewlett-Packard Colour LaserJet CP1215, with this pitiful 150-sheet capacity that is more reminiscent of a home inkjet printer than a work-related colour laser printer!

Canon LBP550 & HP CP1215Canon i-SENSYS LBP550 &
Hewlett-Packard Colour LaserJet CP1215

What is interesting about these two printers (sharing a Canon-built engine) is that Canon has targeted a very compact design, taking the carriage-type toner/drum configuration used by Brother in its colour laser printers to reduce the height of the printer. This should have allowed a bigger paper tray to be used but it seems that Canon has gone for small size above all else, hence the very low-capacity paper tray.

Backing up a moment to focus on specification, all of these printers are host-based with USB 2.0 interfaces.

Major differences are outlined in the table below but one nice feature of four of the devices is that the manufacturer has made manual duplexing available through the driver. These four are Hewlett-Packard’s CP1215, Ricoh’s SP C220N, Samsung’s CLP-310/315 and Xerox’s Phaser 6125n.

Canon i-SENSYS LBP5050 Print speed
Network
Paper input
Supplies
Shipping supplies
Duty cycle
12/8 ppm
(network version available)
150 sheets
K – 2,300 pages; C, M, Y – 1,500 pages
K, C, M, Y – 800 pages
Max 25K pages per month
Hewlett-Packard
Colour LaserJet CP1215
Print speed
Network
Paper input
Supplies
Shipping supplies
Duty cycle
12/8 ppm
(network version available)
150 sheets
K – 2,200 pages; C, M, Y – 1,400 pages
K, C, M, Y – 750 pages
Max 25K pages per month
Konica Minolta
magicolor 1600w
Print speed
Network
Paper input
Supplies
Shipping supplies
 
Duty cycle
20/5 ppm
(network version available)
200 sheets
K, C, M, Y – 2,500 pages
K, C, M, Y – 500 pages
Drum – 45,000 mono, 11,250 colour pages
Not quoted
Oki C110 Print speed
Network
Paper input
Supplies
Shipping supplies
 
Duty cycle
19/5 ppm
(network version available)
200 sheets
K, C, M, Y – 2,500 pages
K, C, M, Y – 500 pages
Drum – 45,000 mono, 11,250 colour pages
Average 250 pages per month
Ricoh SP C220N Print speed
Network
Paper input
Supplies
Shipping supplies
Duty cycle
16/16 ppm
10/100
250 sheets
K, C, M, Y – 2,000 pages
K, C, M, Y – 1,000 pages
Max 30K pages per month
Samsung CLP-310/315 Print speed
Network
Paper input
Supplies
Shipping supplies
 
Duty cycle
16/4 ppm
(network version available)
150 sheets
K – 1,500 pages; C, M, Y – 1,000 pages
K, C, M, Y – 700 pages
Drum – 24,000 mono, 6,000 colour pages
Max 20K pages per month
Xerox Phaser 6125n Print speed
Network
Paper input
Supplies
Shipping supplies
Duty cycle
16/12 ppm
10/100
250 sheets
K – 2,000 pages; C, M, Y – 1,000 pages
K, C, M, Y – 500 pages
Max 40K pages per month

One thing that is immediately notable from this table is that manufacturers are putting as little toner in the starter cartridges as they possibly can to force a supplies purchase just a soon as possible. The lowest capacity toners provide only 500 pages but most of these printers have starter cartridges worth 750 pages or less. Only Ricoh’s SP C220N reaches the 1,000-page level.

Thankfully, five of the seven will accept high capacity black toner cartridges that are rated at 2,000 pages or more (2,500 being the maximum), while only three have colour cartridges rated at this level – Konica Minolta, Oki and Ricoh.

Because of the low page count expected of a printer in this class, even relatively small differences in the low hardware purchase prices tends to have a considerable effect on Total Cost of Printing.

Samsung CLP-310Samsung CLP-310

This is particularly noticeable on Samsung’s CLP-310/315 models, where high nominal colour CPP, and very high nominal mono CPP, translate into a reasonable long-term CPP because of the machine’s low purchase price. Likewise, Konica Minolta’s relatively high nominal CPPs translate into the lowest Cost of Printing because of that extraordinarily low hardware purchase price – but, only at 250 pages per month.

Ricoh’s SP C220N fairs rather will at this point because it not only has high capacity toners, which offer a perfectly acceptable nominal CPP in both mono and colour, but it ships with starter toners rated at 1,000 pages per month. This is double that of several printers and means that toner interventions will be relatively infrequent.

Total Cost of Printing

Ultra Low-End Colour Laser Printers


Note that for this level of machine, the mixed mono/colour CPP over three years shown in the accompanying table is calculated on the basis of 250 pages per month; 70% pages in mono and 30% pages in colour; is based on the use of maximum capacity supplies; takes into account any standard, or starter, supplies shipped with the device; and also includes the cost of purchase. All prices are Median Street Price with tax, sourced in Germany.

With the lowest nominal CPPs in the group by a fairly large margin, Canon’s i-SENSYS LBP5050 only just loses out to the magicolor on overall Total Cost of Printing by a tiny amount at 250 pages per month.

Oki C110Oki C110

What we do need to note specifically with this range of printers though, is that relative positioning, where long-term CPP is concerned, is very volatile. Take a look at the chart below and note just how much place-swapping occurs over the range of page counts included. This volatility is caused by the expected low volumes involved and the necessity to replace expensive toner cartridges at different page counts, depending on the yield of the cartridges and the yield of starter cartridges shipped from the factory.

In practice, because the chart shows actual-out-of-pocket expenditure, if a printer has just experienced a toner replacement, the out-of-pocket expenditure, and therefore the Cost Per Page, will be higher than it is for a printer that is due for a toner change – after which the position probably reverses.

Total Cost of Printing

Ultra Low-End Colour Laser Printers


There is no printer that is consistently most cost-effective and no printer that is consistently most expensive. The closest we get to either of those situations is Canon’s i-SENSYS LBP5050. This machine has very low nominal CPPs for both mono and colour printing so, even though its hardware purchase price is at the high end, as long as the page count is high enough (over about 175 pages per month) the LBP5050 is found with the lowest long-term CPP. It does not rank as the lowest-cost printer at the lowest page counts because of that high purchase price but at some points on the page count scale, it is significantly less costly to run than its nearest competitors (as much as 17%).

Overall then, none of these printers can really be described as being ‘low cost’, as we would expect from the low-end colour laser category. Interestingly though, Samsung’s CLP-310/315 models are amazing value for money at the very low end of the usage scale, simply because no colour cartridges would need changing over three years at 50 pages per month (30% of pages being printed in colour).

Konica Minolta’s magicolor 1600w would also display the same low cost if print volume dropped just 4 pages per month to 46 pages per month (as would Oki’s C110 and Xerox’s Phaser 6125n)! The reason for the difference is these printers ship starter cartridges with only 500 pages-worth of toner whereas Samsung ships 700 pages-worth (colour toners). From then on, the high capacity Konica Minolta toners are more than double the price of Samsung’s relatively low-yield cartridges.

This position makes it difficult to make a clear choice. We have the Canon, with a Total Cost of Printing that is generally low within the group but also a low specification, at one end of the scale or the Ricoh, with a high purchase price and relatively high Cost of Printing at times but also a high specification, at the other end of the scale. Of those in the middle ground, it is the Xerox Phaser 6125n that offers a good balance of high specification and reasonable Total Cost of Printing. But, if a user is anticipating very low usage, the Samsung is also a perfect choice.

On balance, it is probably Ricoh’s SP C220n that offers the best balance of high specification and cost efficiency.

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