- Easy to install and manage;
- excellent print quality.
- Larger workgroups may require more performance and media handling capacity.
With its new range of Business Inkjet printers, Hewlett-Packard (HP) is seeking to build on the foundation of the existing HP 2000 family to overcome the perceived limitations of colour inkjet technology when serving networked workgroups.
Colour inkjet printers are widespread in homes and small businesses thanks to their low purchase cost and generally high print quality. However, inkjets are not well represented in larger businesses because they lack the speed and consumable capacity to cope with high print volumes. Also, the host-based architecture used by most inkjets is not suitable for network printing due to the large amount of data traffic involved. As a result, large corporations generally use laser or solid ink printers for their colour output.
The key development in the Business Inkjet range is HPA (High Performance Architecture), which allows the data processing load to be divided between the CPUs in the host PC and the printer. In particular, halftoning and colour matching operations are handled by the printer, while the host PC rasterises the data and sends it to the printer in a highly compressed lossless RGB format. The result is reduced network traffic, faster print speeds and more consistent output quality across printer languages.
The entry-level Business Inkjet 2200 comes with a single 96MHz Motorola ColdFire processor, 8MB of RAM and no choice of driver architecture other than HPA. The 2250 and 2250TN both feature a plug-in card containing a second processor, an extra 16MB of memory plus two PDLs (Page Description Languages) -- PCL 5C and PostScript Level 2. The second on-printer CPU handles the PDL formatting and processing, leaving the first free to deal with image processing and general system functions. The 2250TN, reviewed here, also features a JetDirect 600N internal print server for network connectivity and a second 250-sheet paper tray.
The upgrade path from the £339 (ex. VAT) 2200 through the £499 (ex. VAT) 2250 to the fully featured £789 (ex. VAT) 2250TN is admirably straightforward, thanks to the Business Inkjet's dual EIO (Enhanced Input/Output) slot design. HP's EIO cards use a faster bus (32-bit, 33MHz) than previous products based on the MIO (Modular Input/Output) architecture and can be fitted without opening the printer.
The 2250TN certainly looks businesslike, and its bulk -- 51.2cm wide by 51.7cm deep by 29.1cm high -- makes for an imposing presence on the desktop. Even so, the 2250TN's weight of 14.5kg (with printheads and cartridges fitted) is light compared to a solid ink or colour laser printer. Usefully, there's a two-line, 32-character LCD panel and associated menu navigation buttons for on-site maintenance, configuration and troubleshooting. A big green Resume button and a smaller red Job Cancel button further enhance usability, while the LCD also graphically displays the ink levels in each of the four cartridges.
HP has overhauled the modular ink delivery system for the Business Inkjet range, introducing larger printheads with more nozzles (304 per CMY colour, 912 black) and a wider half-inch printing swath. This makes for faster print speeds, as does the accelerated 36kHz firing rate. The colour inks have been reformulated for improved gamut, lightfastness and colour balance under fading, which means that the new No. 11 colour cartridges are not compatible with earlier HP 2000-series inkjets. However, you can use the existing No. 10 black cartridge.
The cyan, magenta and yellow ink cartridges are rated for 1,750 pages each and the black at 1,400 pages (at 5 per cent coverage); the colour printheads are rated for 24,000 pages and the black for 16,000 pages, again at 5 per cent coverage. The cost per page, given the quoted consumable specifications and prices, is a competitive 7 pence for colour and 2.2p for black-only documents.
HP claims that Business Inkjet 2250TN can process up to 10,000 pages a month without trouble, although if you print that much then you -- or the network manager -- will have to be prepared to change each ink cartridge around six times and refill the paper trays 20 times. The printer handles a wide range of media up to US Legal size (216 by 356mm), including transparencies, cards, envelopes and glossy paper.
The Business Inkjet's 4-picolitre drop size gives HP's image processing technologies-PhotoRET III for colour layering and ColorSmart III for colour optimisation-plenty of scope for enhancing print quality. PhotoRET III controls the way ink drops are layered to create 'solid' (non-halftoned) colour dots, and in the Business Inkjet range there can be up to 20 ink drops per printed dot. Furthermore, each of the CMYK primaries can have up to 8 shades or intensities per dot, the result being a rich palette of non-halftoned colours and smooth gradations between colour tones.
ColorSmart III analyses incoming documents and applies the appropriate algorithms to optimise output quality. The HPA architecture brings several new ColorSmart III features, including colour maps conforming to the new CIECAM97s standard that deliver better skin tones in photographs, Automatic Contrast Enhancement (ACE) that brightens and sharpens otherwise dull images, and SmartFocus that sharpens details in low-resolution images. You can turn off these image enhancements if required. Other tricks in the HPA driver include manual colour sliders for adjusting saturation, brightness and colour tone, while the PCL 5C and PostScript Level 2 drivers provide object-based colour mapping for text, graphics and images within a document.
If the Business InkJet range is to succeed in its target corporate workgroup market, then the networking features have to make life as easy as possible for the system administrator. The JetDirect 600N internal print server provides support for a wide range of network operating systems and protocols, and is straightforward to install. The supplied Web JetAdmin 6.0 management software is a browser-based tool that provides features such as real-time status alerts, asset tracking and utilisation, device discovery and multiple device configuration. For administrators who don't plan to use Web JetAdmin, HP also provides a new, simplified, Install Network Printer wizard.
As far as performance is concerned, the Business InkJet 2250TN is fast for an inkjet. Using the HPA driver and a variety of output types, we recorded 'end of job' print times (from clicking OK in the Print dialog box to the last page exiting from the printer) ranging from 14 to 31 seconds per page (4.3 to 1.9 pages per minute) via a parallel connection. This isn't stunning, however, and whether it's fast enough for more demanding network duties remains to be seen.
Overall, though, the Business Inkjet 2250TN is an impressive printer, and its sub-£1,000 price should tempt many network managers to consider installing an inkjet for the first time. Print quality is extremely good, from simple black and white memos on plain paper to full-colour photographs on expensive glossy media. It's best suited to workgroups of up to 15 users, but beyond that there's a question mark against its speed and media handling capacity.