Dell M5200n

SAN FRANCISCO (10/08/2003) - WHAT'S HOT: The Dell Inc. M5200n's US$999 price tag makes this one of the least expensive lasers printers boasting corporate amenities. The M5200n is essentially a relabeled Lexmark T630n, so we weren't surprised that it's fast--we clocked it printing text at a fiery 22.9 pages per minute. The M5200n produced top-quality black text, and it fared well on narrow parallel lines; it even managed to print adequate gray-scale photos--a tough challenge for monochrome lasers--even though the pics weren't exactly attractive. It comes with built-in ethernet and a 500-sheet paper tray, as well as a 100-sheet auxiliary tray, so your office can keep both plain paper and letterhead loaded. The control panel's LCD has hierarchical menus, and its clearly labeled buttons always correspond to choices in the menu commands. Operating the printer is easy, but if you get lost, the thorough though somewhat rambling printed and on-screen documentation offer guidance. Dell's driver includes some useful features for end users, such as a print-and-hold setting that lets you store a confidential job in the printer's memory until you're ready to collect the output. For system administrators, the driver has an account-tracking feature and a tool for configuring driver settings and distributing them to users.

WHAT'S NOT: Dell's cryptic instructions for network installation prompted us to set the printer up in an unorthodox manner. Consequently, the M5200n was very slow in our first round of tests. Recognizing that those results were inconsistent with the performance of its Lexmark twin, we reconfigured the network setup and retested, giving us much better results. Another complaint: The driver shows you duplexing and booklet-printing settings, but they're disabled unless you install the optional duplexer. We think Dell should have allowed for the occasional manual job. Also, the driver supports watermarks and overlays, but only users with sysadmin privileges can create them, which means either your sysadmin will be overwhelmed with busywork or your end users will have too much control over the printer.

WHAT ELSE: Dell sells a full suite of optional equipment to expand the M5200n's paper-handling capabilities, including a $249 duplexer, a $229 envelope feeder, and a 500-sheet feeder that costs $229 and can be stacked four-high to boost total paper capacity to 2600 sheets. Dell's estimated price per page for toner is modest, ranging from 1.05 cents per page to 1.41 cents per page, depending on which cartridge you buy.

UPSHOT: If your business needs high-throughput printing, the M5200n would be a good fit.

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