Get the best deal on the best MFP for a small business

This all-in-one routinely goes on sale. Here's when you should pull the trigger -- and why.

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The Dell E525w may not be pretty, but there's no other all-in-one color laser that delivers as much bang for the buck.

Dell

No self-respecting business should be using an inkjet printer. Okay, there might be a few exceptions, like if you need to crank out wide-format documents or glossy photos. For everyday output, however, you gotta go laser. And if you're getting a printer, it's a no-brainer to get one that also scans, copies and faxes.

Alas, it's hard to find a color multi-function laser priced below $300. And don't forget consumables: a new set of four toner cartridges might run you a whopping $150 or more.

Have no fear: I've got you covered. The printer you want is the Dell E525w. It's not perfect, but it packs in most of the features a small biz is likely to need, and there's nothing that comes close in terms of bang for the buck.

How much buck? Dell currently sells it for $199, though I often see a lot of price fluctuation -- in both directions. Sometimes I find it selling it for closer to the $329.99 list price. However, Staples frequently puts it on sale for $125-130. It's currently $179.99, which is not a bad deal at all, but if you're not in a rush, wait for the next sale.

When will that happen, and how can you track it? Obviously you don't want to be checking Staples' site every day -- and maybe another store will have an even better deal, who knows? -- so use a price-tracker.

I'm partial to DealNews and Slickdeals; both let you specify the parameters (though all you really need is the name of the product), and both can send you instant notifications when the price hits a certain threshold.

Why is the latter important? In my experience, whenever Staples runs a sale on the E525w, it sells out quickly -- usually within a couple hours. So if you decide it's the printer for you, be ready to pounce when you get the alert.

Is it the printer for you? I've owned an E525w for the better part of a year, and here's what I like about it (in addition to the rock-bottom price):

  • In addition to WPS 2.0 and WiFi Direct, it supports both AirPrint and Google Cloud Print, so you can print from your phones and tablets.
  • There's a Secure Print feature that keeps documents in memory until the owner comes along and punches in a password. Smart.
  • Replacement toner is cheap: You can get a full set of compatible third-party cartridges for as little as $40. And I've never run into that inkjet b.s. where the printer won't accept a non-branded cartridge.

Here's what I don't like:

  • It's a big, ugly thing, all corners and bulk.
  • The ADF is limited to just 15 sheets, and the paper tray holds just 150. That's not ideal for an office that does a lot of scanning and printing.
  • It doesn't support double-sided printing, though I do like the "ID Copy" feature that lets you put both sides on an ID card on the same side of a page.
  • Every now and again it fails to wake up for a print job. Not sure if that's a Windows issue, a driver issue, a firmware issue or some mixture of the three. But it's aggravating.

Did I mention you can often find this thing for as low as $125? At that price I can overlook the ugly, the frequent paper-tray restocking and so on. (I never need double-sided prints, either.)

As I said, it may not be the perfect SMB all-in-one, but for the price, there's simply no better option.

Agree? Disagree? You know what to do. (Oh, you don't? Leave a comment, that's what.)