by May 5, 2003 0 comments



Are you tired of running between the printer, photocopier and fax machine in your office? Or, do you find that somebody walks away with your prints because you were late in picking them up? Or, that important fax you were expecting didn’t reach correctly the first time, so you had to make another trip to the fax machine when it was resent? The problem in smaller offices or home offices is exactly the opposite because you’re always fighting to find space for all of them. Then, of course, there are the hassles of managing all of them. The digital world offered a solution to these woes by introducing MFDs, or Multi-Function Devices, which could perform some or all these functions from a single unit. Besides saving space, which would otherwise have been taken up by separate devices, MFDs also unclutter your tables from all those separate wires dangling out of different equipment. There’s a single cable that connects to a PC, and a power cord for the unit itself. The other benefit is ease of use. It is so much easier to make copies from an MFD, rather than copying a document into the PC first and then printing it. With an MFD, you can easily make copies without even using the PC. Plus, if the MFD has fax capability, what else do you want? 

HP OfficeJet 6110

The options
Today there’s a range of MFDs, right from personal units, which can replace that printer sitting next to your PC, to high-end powerhouses that can handle large volumes of documents in a large company. MFDs come in two flavors: color inkjet printer based and monochrome laser printer based. While Inkjets are meant for homes, small office or professional photo printing, lasers are more for high volume users in large offices and workgroups. For scanning, these have either a flatbed scanner or a roller scanner. In a flatbed scanner there is a glass plate over which the document is kept. In the latter case, the paper passes through a roller and is scanned while it passes. For making multiple copies of a document all these devices have an option, wherein the paper is scanned once in the memory of the device and multiple copies of it can be printed through that memory.

The paper is not scanned for each copy as in typical photocopying machines. Coming to fax, there are MFDs that can send color faxes, too, instead of simple monochrome ones. But, for that you need a color fax device on both ends. 

How to choose 
This discussion of convenience and ease of use leads to another important question, that of cost. The range of MFDs starts from about 

Rs 10,000 for small personal models to several lakh rupees for the high-end models. Another issue is whether buying all these devices separately is a cheaper option than buying all of them together. The answer depends on your usage and specific requirements. In some cases, buying separate devices may be cheaper but then you can always pay a little extra for the added convenience and the hip hop of an incredible all-in-one device. Another important factor is the cost and life of consumables, like ink cartridges, print heads and toner.

There are some features that are present in some devices and not in others. An ADF or Automatic Document Feeder lets you feed multiple input documents, to be scanned or copied, together and processed automatically one by one without manual intervention. So, if you have 50 documents to be copied, just put them in the ADF and the device will take them one by one, making copies of each, all at a press of a button. That is convenience! A duplexer lets automatic printing on both sides of the paper, without which you have to manually reverse the paper once its one side is printed. The capacity of the paper holder is also important, which ranges from about 50 sheets to several hundreds of sheets. These features are meant for office users where high volume printing is done. But there are features, which are quintessential for personal use. Flash memory card slots, built on the MFD, can read different types of memory cards from your digital camera. Just take your shots, place the card in your MFD, and either print the photographs directly or transfer it to your PC. These slots are helpful for people who need to print digitally stored photographs, like in homes, professional photo labs, advertising agencies, design studios. Some MFDs also have a telephone handset, which lets them work as a telephone, and you don’t need a separate instrument for that. All MFDs come with a control panel containing various function buttons and most of them also have a small LCD screen where you can see the various options and status of the device. 

Canon MPC 200

What we checked out
We bring to you 23 MFDs, starting from the very basic models to high-end enterprise level machines. Eleven of these are high-end MFDs, which we checked out at their respective vendors’ demo centers. The remaining 12 were tested at PCQ Labs for their printing, scanning, copying and faxing functions. Out of these, seven were suitable for small offices or personal use, and we looked for the one providing best value for money. The remaining five were more suitable for small to medium workgroups, either independent or part of a large organization. Here each MFD was meant for a different application or market, so no single unit has been pointed out as being the best.

Printing: Here we tested their monochrome and color (where available) printing speed and quality. For monochrome speed we printed multiple copies of a text document using Microsoft Word to get the average pages per minute. For color speed, we printed a full-page color image on photo paper (A4 size) using Adobe Photoshop. Here all inkjet printer-based MFDs took more than a minute or two to print. We looked at the quality and finish of the image. We also checked the printouts for quality of line-art and monochrome graphics. 

Scanning: We scanned a full page of monochrome text and a full-page color graphic and measured the time taken for each.

The scan resolution was kept 300×300 dpi for consistency. The scan time consisted of both preview and final scan, wherever the preview scan was supported. 

Copying and Faxing: Here, we tested with the same documents as used for printing, with the difference being that the input was the scanner, and not the PC. Here all MFDs with fax capabilities took an average of 30 secs to send single page faxes, and those with ADF units took 8-14 secs /page to fax multi-page documents. We used our internal EPABX line for faxing to ensure a consistent line condition. 

Anoop Mangla

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