by July 7, 2000 0 comments

If you’re looking for a shared printer for a group of PCs,
you could either take a personal printer, attach it to a PC, and share it across
the network; or you could buy a network printer. A network printer is connected
to the network. That is, it has a built-in network card, which you can plug into
a network socket.

If you choose the first option, you could go in for a
personal laser or an inkjet. However, both are low-volume printers and can’t
handle the workload of a large group. If you choose to buy a network printer,
your only option is a laser printer.

Color or monochrome?
Color lasers have finally come of age, and are available
without having to spend a fortune. But does that mean that you should go for
color lasers only? Not yet. Color printing on lasers is quite costly, and you
could end up with hefty toner bills. So who needs color lasers on the network?
Those who need to impress others with their printouts, such as advertising
agencies, consultants, and the like. For the rest of us, monochrome is still the
way to go.

Why network ready?
Once set up, a network-ready printer can be accessed by
anyone on the network by installing the drivers. Network printers can also be
administered over the network–that is, the network administrator could,
without physically going to the printer, set and lock print options such as dpi
and paper size, and also limit who can use the printer and who can’t. Most
network printers can be given an IP address. If your network doesn’t run
TCP/IP (in today’s Internet age, that would be really strange), you need to
check whether the printer supports the protocol your network is running.
Incidentally, most network printers today support all popular network protocols.

How fast?
There are two considerations here, actually three. The first
is, how fast does it print? This is taken to be the ppm (pages per minute)
rating. But ppm is measured as the average time taken per page for printing
multiple copies of the same page. A printer normally takes more time to print
out the first copy. Since most of your printing is likely to be fresh pages, you
need to look at the time taken to print the first page. The third is the
printer’s ability to handle large files with huge graphics. To be able to
handle larger files, you need more RAM.

It’s easy to say that you should buy the fastest printer
you can find, but unfortunately, speed doesn’t come cheap. We suggest that you
consider your organization’s needs before fixing the speed you want. For
example, for a workgroup of about 10-20 people, a 20-ppm printer should be fine.

While you can improve the printer’s ability to handle large
files, you can’t increase its rated speed.

A network printer could be operational for anywhere from
three to six years. What you buy today has to stand you in good stead for that
long. So, can you in any way future-proof your printer? Earlier on, we’d
talked of adding more RAM to the printer. Some printers take specially-made RAM,
which can be costlier. Many others take normal SDRAM DIMMS, the same ones that
fit into your PC. Some printers can take a hard disk, to which you can download
fonts and so on.

What about accessories?
Another thing you may need to consider is the accessories
your printer can handle. You can add accessories such as a duplexer for printing
on both sides of the paper (thereby saving paper), and more paper trays to
increase the quantity of paper that can be stored. If many departments use the
same printer, you could consider a multi-bin unit, and they could each have
their own output bin, which separates their printouts. However, not all printers
support all these options.

How costly?
Printer prices have really come down, but more than the base
price of the printer, you need to look at the cost of consumables–mostly
toner. A good thing is to calculate the price of toner cartridge per 1,000
pages. So, if the cartridge costs Rs 5,000 and prints 10,000 pages, the price
per 1,000 pages is Rs 500. And printers have more consumables than just toner,
the photo conductor unit in some printers, for example. You need to read the
fine print to find out their useful life and cost of replacement.

Sachin Makhija

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