Four Entry-Level Monochrome Laser Printers, Reviewed

We're increasingly encouraged to go digital, whether it's from the energy company sending out electronic statements or insurance shipping off little PDF explanations of benefits. There always seems to be a point in the communications exchange where hard copies are still necessary. Even if you send in your taxes electronically, you almost certainly take home a fat print-out of the forms for your own records, right? Printing is where the rubber meets the road in a number of professions, and we expect printers to remain valuable peripherals for many years to come.

As such, we thought we'd take a group of printers for a spin around the block to determine which one delivers the most value, the best image quality, and the quickest performance.

Enthusiasts sink a lot of time into picking the right motherboard, processor, and graphics card. Similarly, there are a lot of printers to choose from. From the outside, though, the boxes all look pretty much the same. Even after you get them unwrapped, it's hard to tell which one will serve you best. When you're talking about entry-level equipment, there are typically two options: inkjet-based and low-cost laser printers.

Although inkjet technology is older, it still has its uses, particularly when you're talking about color inkjet printers that can reproduce amazing-looking graphics. Most photo printers are inkjets, and the right ones create output rivaling those professionally developed from film. Inkjets are usually less expensive, and when you factor in sales and rebates, it's not uncommon to find solid choices priced under $100. However, that low procurement cost hides substantial expenses down the road. While most printers include a starter inkjet cartridge to get you going, after 100 pages or so, you'll have to buy another one. And that's where inkjet printers get expensive. There's a reason many stores keep their refills locked up behind glass. Black cartridges might cost $50 or more. Color is even more, which could mean doubling the cost of your printer not long after you buy it. Some models force you to use that company's ink by placing little sensors in the cartridge. If you try to load the printer with anything else, it won't work. That's for your own protection, so they say. Print out another couple hundred pages, and it's time to replace the cartridges again.

In contrast, laser printers cost more initially. Some entry-level units sell for $400, though we've seen prices come down significantly. In fact, one of the printers we're reviewing sells for less than $150. Toner cartridges last a lot longer; many are rated for 5000 or even 10,000 pages before they have to be swapped out. And the cartridges aren't obscenely expensive on a per-page basis, ranging anywhere from $50 to $300, often including free recycling.

Do the math. For entry-level printing, business graphics, and putting letters onto paper, laser printers are a better bet for most folks. That's why, for this first piece, we're focusing on entry-level monochrome laser printers. They're the best bet for high quality at an affordable price. They also include certain advanced features like eco-friendly options, automatic duplexing, and even print security.


Dell B2160dnBrother HL-6180dwHP LaserJet Pro M401dneXerox WorkCentre 3320/DNI
Type
Monochrome Laser Printer
Monochrome Laser PrinterMonochrome Laser PrinterMonochrome Laser Printer
Dimensions
13.7" W x 13.31" H x 7.76" D
14.6" W x 15.1" H x 11.3" D
14.35" W x 14.49" H x 10.53" D
14.4" W x 14.5" H x 10.1" D
Weight
15.87 lb.
25.4 lb.
23.5 lb.
21.80 lb.
Print Speed
28 ppm (A4)
42 ppm
35 ppm
37 ppm
Resolution
1200 x 1200 dpi (Max)
1200 x 1200 dpi (Max)1200 x 1200 dpi (Max)1200 x 1200 dpi (Max)
Max. Duty Cycle (Mo.)
20,000 pages
100,000 pages
50,000 pages
80,000 pages
Paper Input
250-sheet cassette
500-sheet input
50-sheet multi-purpose
250-sheet input
50-sheet multi-purpose
250 sheets
50-sheet bypass tray
Processor
ARM11 (533 MHz)
400 MHz
800 MHz
600 MHz
Memory
64 MB
128 MB
256 MB
128 MB
Expansion
None
Optional 500-sheet tray
None
Optional 520-sheet tray
Maximum Paper Output
150 sheets
500 sheets
150 sheets
150 sheets
Duplex
Automatic duplexer
Automatic duplexer
Automatic duplexerAutomatic duplexer
Interfaces
USB 2.0
10/100 Mb/s Ethernet
USB 2.0
10/100/1000 Mb/s Ethernet
802.11b/g/n
USB 2.0
10/100/1000 Mb/s Ethernet
USB 2.0
10/100/1000 MB/s Ethernet
Wi-Fi
Language
SPL, PCL6
Host-based XPS
PCL6, BR-Script3
IBM Proprinter, Epson FX
PCL5e, PCL6, Direct PDF
HP Postscript Level 3
PCL5e, PCL6
HP Postscript Level 3
Warranty
One year
One year
One year
One year
Price
$140
$300
$350
$400

The printers in this review had thousands of pages put through them. At various points in our stress test, pages were examined for artifacts, a reduction in quality compared to the first page, or any other misprint. In addition, the printers were tested and timed to see how quickly they could output a 30-page all-text document and a 30-page graphics-laden file. That latter benchmark employs text placed around, under, and through the pictures in order to gauge how well the printers interpret and display that data. Finally, extra features (like the eco-friendly- and security-oriented stuff) were exampled.

The four units we gathered all fall under $400 and include Dell's B1260dn, Brother's HL-6180, HP's LaserJet Pro M401dne, Xerox's WorkCentre 3320/DNI.

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64 comments
    Your comment
  • 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.
    0
  • 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!
    6
  • 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.
    1
  • 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.
    4
  • Sername
    Don't know if you've noticed the Dell and Xerox have identical looking driver graphical interfaces. Most likely both are rebranded Samsungs.
    4
  • 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
  • iknowhowtofixit
    I love Brother laser printers. I have an MFC series laser printer that is 6 years old and just won't die. It fell about 8 feet on a moving truck and survived that 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.
    -1