Four Entry-Level Monochrome Laser Printers, Reviewed

Brother HL-6180DW

The Brother HL-6180DW is the easiest printer to setup. It's also the hands-down fastest in our round-up when we run our text and graphics benchmarks. Priced at a respectable $300, it offers a lot of nice extras for not a lot of money.

Brother HL-6180DWBrother HL-6180DW

Although we tested all four printers using a USB 2.0 connection, Brother's HL-6180DW really wanted to connect to a wireless network. In fact, that's the first thing you're asked for when you power-up. I went ahead and completed that step, just to see how well it'd work. In no time, the HL-6180DW was available to anyone on our network, wirelessly. 

Configuring a printer to work like this is easy outside of a dedicated office, since no Ethernet or USB cable is required. Find somewhere with accessible power and the HL-6180DW can be ready to go in less than a minute. I also happened to have a Brother scanner on the network, and found that the interface between those devices was seamless as well. Naturally, wireless connectivity makes the Brother HL-6180DW a good choice for those with less technical acumen.

This printer's availability is thankfully balanced by secure printing, a feature normally only found on higher-end units. An authorized user can designate any print job as secure. That user then assigns a numeric password or PIN to the task. They can even change the name of the job to obfuscate its true purpose. Thereafter, the job is sent to the printer, but not processed until the same user selects it from the local LCD menu and enters the proper code. Only when the right person is standing in front of Brother's HL-6180DW is the data released. This is a nice feature if confidential material needs to be printed over a shared network connection.

Bother Secure ModeBother Secure Mode

Once the printer is up and running, its most admirable strength is speed. The HL-6180DW is blazingly fast. It flew through our 30-page all-text benchmark in just 49 seconds, with the first page out just eight seconds after the job was sent. Adding graphics to the document didn't slow Brother's submission down much. Even with our large pictures and detailed renderings of text over graphics, the workload only took an additional second. It finished in an impressive 50 seconds.

Exceptional performance carries over to duplex printing as well. This is functionality that all four contenders offer, but not at Brother's speed. In order to print on both sides of a sheet of paper, these entry-level offerings output to one side of the page, come close to dumping the sheet into the return tray, but then reverse the print engine, sucking the paper back in. Then, the opposite side is printed on the paper before it's placed into the return area. I was expecting this to double print times, and indeed it came close. The HL-6180DW took 1:39 to print the 30-page graphical test file with data on both sides of the paper. This collapsed the output to just 15 pages, which is a nice savings if you can work with double-sided prints. We were so impressed with the speed that we made a short movie to showcase it. 

Brother HL-6180DW

In terms of quality, the Brother does acceptably with text. In more than 1000 pages, I never saw any output that was misprinted or smudged. Unfortunately, graphics is another story entirely; the HL-6180DW is the worst of the group. Dark images especially tend to get muddled. That's not a big deal for business-oriented diagrams, but you wouldn't want to use the Brother for monochrome photos. Typically that's not an issue you'd hold against an entry-level laser printer. However, with other units in our round-up faring well, it bears mention here.

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63 comments
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  • blackmagnum
    Perfect timing for the office upgrade. These laser printers definitely offer better printout/ price ratio compared to ink jets.
    3
  • phate1337
    Hey, I recommend you try and get your hands on a low end Kyocera desktop printer. as an engineer that has worked on many many brands of printers, scanners and photocopiers, the most reliable by far has to be Kyocera for desktop A4 Mono printers.
    1
  • cypeq
    For regular desktop printing (that's their goal) any would do, they all well... print, your only guideline should be prints per month, if you want proper durability of device.
    1
  • Achoo22
    The Dell sometimes goes on sale - I've seen it drop well below $100 in the past, including free shipping. I've used lots of devices from Brother in the past, and their drivers tend to be among the worst in the business in terms of stability and OS support. When Windows 9/Ubuntu Next/Plan9/whatever comes out, don't be shocked if you're without print services for a while. Being able to hold a whole ream of paper at once is pretty awesome, though, and means an awful lot more in practice than shaving a few seconds off of a print job.
    -1
  • Someone Somewhere
    Would be nice if you'd posted the toner cartridge sizes and costs, too. Many budget lasers come with cartridges only in the ~700 page range, which is better than an inkjet but still relatively small.
    6
  • XGrabMyY
    My favorite entry level laser printer is by far the 2270DW by Brother. I can buy 6000 page yield cartridges for about 12.50USD, and they last for that long. It is unreal how much value you get for a 90-120USD printer (I spent about 90 to a 100 for each of my two) and they duplex and have wireless printing - super easy to setup AND Brother even supports Windows 8/8.1 RT. You really can't ask for anything better!
    5
  • amk-aka-Phantom
    As a sysadmin with dozens of Ubuntu systems under control, the choice is easy. HP, because it's the only thing that's decently supported :D (And use 3rd party cartridges to avoid being ripped off by HP)
    4
  • Someone Somewhere
    Printing works fine on both my Brother and HP network printers, on Ubuntu and Windows. Never had driver issues with either.
    2
  • bloody llama
    The article doesn't mention anything about longevity or ease of repair on these printers. I understand that it is somewhat outside the scope of a simple review, but my experience with laser printers has lead me to believe that the brother printers last much longer and are much easier to repair over the long haul. Try letting an office of real estate agents abuse one for a decade and that gets real important.
    1
  • vaughn2k
    In the Philippines, we have this Brother Printer HL-1110 (http://welcome.brother.com/ph-en/products-services/printers/hl-1110.tab1.html), costs U$67.0 and can print 21ppm. ;)
    0
  • Someone Somewhere
    No networking and manual duplexing only. I'd give it a miss.
    0
  • ram1009
    Try Samsung.
    2
  • Onus
    I've had a Brother 2070N for 7-8 years. Although I'm not sure I've printed more than 2K-3K sheets in all that time, I'm still on the original cartridge. It has been trouble-free otherwise. It sleeps peacefully most of the time, but wakes right up when I or my wife print to it over our LAN.
    1
  • The original Derfman
    This article is missing the one thing I would like to know in my budget printing needs. Cost over time. Please, next time you do printer reviews... add this.
    3
  • Sername
    Don't know if you've noticed the Dell and Xerox have identical looking driver graphical interfaces. Most likely both are rebranded Samsungs.
    3
  • Onus
    HP has made it to my personal "Do Not Buy" list. They have forgotten that they are first and foremost a printer company. In my managed work environment, the HP Universal [Failure] drivers are constantly being stepped on, and must be manually deleted and reloaded each time. I choose not to contend with that sort of driver nonsense on my own time too.
    -1
  • The Black Laser
    I recently purchased a Brother HL-2280DW, which is a wireless multifunction laser printer and I couldn't be happier. Plus, it was like 100 bucks. Total no brainer.
    2
  • odoketa
    I have the Brother 5250DN, which is basically an older version of this printer, with a wired connection. It's been a solid workhorse for five years now.
    1
  • gypsydan
    I finding you did not mention. I understand Brother does not allow you to refill their toner cartridges. Do the other mfg's allow cartridge refills? I HAD used Brother for years, but no longer.
    0
  • Onus
    Although I haven't used it yet, I bought a Rosewill toner for my HL-2070N, and I might have paid $47 for it. For the initial cartridge to have lasted through half a dozen reams seems pretty good to me.
    0