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Four Entry-Level Monochrome Laser Printers, Reviewed

HP LaserJet Pro M401dne

The HP LaserJet Pro M401dne tries to be a higher-end printer than it really is, leading to some successes and some failures, depending on the test.

HP LaserJet Pro M401dne

Right away, the M401dne is the most difficult printer to set up. While every competing model requires only that you attach a USB cable, the HP wants you to start by spinning up an installation CD. This initiates a rather lengthy process where the computer and printer talk to each other for a few minutes, and it includes the installation of HP's update app that requires accepting a license agreement. It also asks for permission to send printing data back to HP, which can thankfully be denied; we see no reason anyone would want to share that information.

The payoff for going through those extra steps is a more robust interface for monitoring the M401dne's status. In fact, the LaserJet Pro is the only printer that automatically displays a status window on the host machine any time a document is printed. This pop-up lets you know how much of a print job is complete, toner level, and any error messages that need to be conveyed along the way (like an empty paper tray).

HP Pop-Up Window

In terms of speed, the M401dne holds its own in our text printing test, finishing the 30-page workload in exactly one minute. That text looks fantastic on paper, too. Letters are crisp and well-formed. Even scrutinized through a photo loupe, the printer's output is pretty much perfect. All of the printers in today's story do well with text. Even so, HP's is noticeably better.

The wheels come off when we try printing the 30-page graphical document, though. We've seen this before, but it's been a few years. The workload we're using is huge, including almost 60 MB of content. If a printer doesn't have enough memory, errors can happen. And that's exactly what we saw from the M401dne, which simply refused to finish printing the document.

HP Error Message

I did manage to get all 30 pages from the M401dne after a reboot. It had to stop several times along the way though, with delays that lasted over a minute as the printer crunched our test document one page at a time. By the time the last page was done, 5:50 had passed.

The output was quite good, second only to Dell in quality (and not by much). HP does particularly well with darker images and placing letters over graphics.

The M401dne also offers robust security, including the ability to set up a password-protected embedded Web server, SSL certification management, a firewall, and an access control list to prevent unauthorized users from sending documents to the printer or accessing other peoples' print jobs.

If all you ever need to do is print text securely, then HP's LaserJet Pro M401dne is a great choice. But if graphics play into your decision, the M401dne isn't your best choice.