Networked colour multifunctional printers (MFPs) that scan, copy and (sometimes) fax as well as print are available from the likes of Canon, Ricoh, Konica Minolta, Xerox, Toshiba, HP and Sharp, whose new MX range could give its market share a boost. These brand-new designs offer impressive-looking levels of functionality, performance, image quality, manageability and security.
Intended for medium- to low-volume 'general office' duties, the MX range -- which uses a single-pass laser engine -- kicks off with four models: the 23ppm (colour and mono) MX-2300N, 27ppm MX-2700N, 35ppm MX-3501N and the 35ppm colour/45ppm mono MX-4501. Prices range from £9,995 (ex. VAT) for the 2300N to £16,395 (ex. VAT) for the 4501N -- the two faster models will be available from the end of February, while the 2300N and 2700N are on sale now from Sharp dealers. Higher-volume MX-series models are expected to be added later this year.
Sharp's 600-by-600dpi A3 laser engine for the MX range is notable for its use of a new toner technology (about which the company is currently being distinctly secretive) that uses finer particles than existing products, puts less toner on the page and comes in a smaller, more recyclable, cartridge. There is also a new longer-life OPC drum, rated at 100,000 pages compared to 50,000 for Sharp's existing laser engines.
The MX series' network printer functionality includes 10/100 Ethernet and USB 2.0 interfaces, a duplex unit, PCL 6/5c support (with optional PostScript 3 emulation), direct printing from USB memory devices, direct printing of networked or email-attached PDF, TIFF or JPEG files, an internal hard disk (40GB or 80GB) and a network tandem function whereby two units can be linked on the network to double the throughput for large print jobs. Paper capacity is 1,100 sheets as standard, rising to an impressive 5,600 with all the optional add-ons in place. Job-finishing options allow printed documents to be stapled, saddle-stitched or hole-punched.
The MX series MFPs come with a 100-sheet reversing single-pass feeder that can handle double-sided documents automatically; also taken care of automatically when copying are different paper sizes and mixed colour/black-and-white documents. There are plenty of network scanning features, including sending scanned documents in various file formats (TIFF, PDF, encrypted PDF and JPEG) to a PC desktop, email, FTP server, network folder or USB memory stick. Fax functionality is an optional add-on that supports the transmission of double-sided faxes up to A3 in size. You can check incoming faxes and print only those your need, and send faxes direct from your PC without first printing the document.
Management & security
Network administrators will want to keep close tabs on document management hubs such as the MX-series MFPs, and Sharp provides plenty of control via a Web-based management tool. Groups can be set up with different levels of access to the machine's functions -- no colour printing, for example, or only so many colour prints per month; user access can be controlled using IDs and passwords entered via the control panel's touchscreen (see below) -- user authentication can also happen over the network. A Secure Network Card provides a firewall and network port/protocol management, while data communication between networked PCs and the MFP is secured using SSL (Secure Socket Layer) encryption. An optional Data Security Kit automatically encrypts all data held on the hard disk or internal memory, or erases it after use.
Sharp's Printer Administration Utility allows for remote management via a standard Web browser, and the MFP's firmware can be updated and the device rebooted over the network. Finally, Sharp provides tools for creating custom network applications and control-panel applets that can automate specific MFP-related workflows and business processes.
Stay tuned for a hands-on review of one of the MX-series models in the coming weeks.