Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hardware review: the Brother HL -4070CDW

Model: HL 4070 CDW
Colours: 4: black, magenta, cyan, yellow
Rated speed: 21 pages per minute black or colour
Features: automatic duplexing, wireless connectivity

It’s nice to have a color laser printer at my disposal for printing some custom business cards when I need them, promotional materials, and all sorts of proposals, reports, even letters. Commercial printers have been pointing out the advantages of colour in all kinds of documents for years—colour sells.

I tried Brother’s HL 4070 CDW colour laser printer starting early in the year and overall am please with the results. It’s an excellent choice for a small office that needs colour output.

Setting up the printer
If you can afford it, a laser printer has a lot of advantages over an inkjet printer for the office: although the purchase price is higher (computer dealers basically give them away—why not? They’ll recoup the cost many times over with ink cartridges), the cost per page is far less. Laser toner cartridges produce far more pages than inkjet cartridges do, so you don’t have to keep running out to buy more ink all the time.

Beyond those, Brother’s HL-4070CDW “personal” colour laser printer makes for an excellent choice for a workgroup or small office. It’s relatively compact for a four-colour laser printer, measuring just 18.5 inches by 12 inches by 16 inches high. Bulky, but not much bigger than my first Apple LaserWriter Plus back in the 80s. In addition to quick four-colour printing, it offers two-sided printing (duplexing) and wireless connection—at least, that’s what Brother says.
As you might expect, the unit is pretty heavy: 29 kilograms, or over 64 pounds. It was a big load for the courier that delivered it to my office.
The initial set-up was time-consuming and ultimately unsuccessful. Sure, the printer comes with USB, parallel, Ethernet and WiFi connections. I initially moved away my little inkjet all-in-one printer and put the laser printer there. Connecting to my desktop—a Macintosh G4—was simple through USB. Plug it in, and there it is. I had to install drivers using the included CD-ROM, but that was nothing out of the ordinary. But setting up the wireless connection was frustrating. More on that below.

What’s good about the printer
Initial results were quite pleasing. The first thing I noticed is that the printer is fast. The first page of a document arrived in the paper tray in 85 seconds; following pages from the same documents came out as fast as the drum could roll over. That’s far different from an inkjet printer, where you wait as each line gets inked, one after the other.

The results were good: high-quality, consistent coverage in colour images. The colours weren’t quite as bright as with an inkjet printer, but that’s to be expected from toners. Still, they were even and sharp, and registration was perfect.

The printer is also very reliable—in all the time that I used it, with all the different paper grades, it never had a paper jam.
Also, this printer offers two-sided printing, which can be handy and saves paper.

The only real problem I encountered with the HL4070-CDW was in connecting it to my LAN. Connecting to a host computer via USB was as simple as it sounds, and connecting via wired Ethernet to the router was easy, too—deceptively so.

But what initially excited me about this printer was the WiFi connection. “What an advantage for the small office or workgroup, and especially the small or home office: no need to run unsightly wires around the baseboards. Just plunk the printer down anywhere and go!”

Alas, it just didn’t work out. I followed the instructions for connecting to the wireless network meticulously and repeatedly, to no avail. I tried it with a Macintosh as well as an IBM computer running Windows XP. Still no luck. I called Brother, and had a marketing and a tech guy on the line talking me through it. They even sent new drivers.

And it wasn’t easy: configuring the network connectivity on the printer involves selecting from a menu on a three-line LCD screen, using four buttons (up, down, left, right). I tried entering my network’s password (try selecting a 26-digit code by hitting the “right” button nine times for 9, then Entering, seven times for 7, Enter, and so on). Still didn’t work. I even turned off the security protection on my network, but that didn’t work, either. The Brother people replaced the printer with another unit in case there was a hardware problem, but even that didn’t solve the problem. To this day, I have not been able to connect the computer to the HL 4070 CDW wirelessly.

Luckily, I had a long Ethernet cable, so I was able to connect the printer to my network router from the spot in the office where it was convenient. Since that point, I’ve had great service from the machine.

What I Think
The Brother HL 4070 CDW offers good response, reliability, versatility and quality for under $500. Yes, it’s lot more money than an inkjet printer, but for a small workgroup or small office with more than one person producing a volume of documents that need colour, the Brother HL 4070 CDW is a good value.