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Round-up: the best MFD is...

Every office needs an MFD, but which offers you the best quality while saving on costs? ZDNet Australia investigates.
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Written by Michael Palamountain on

ZDNet Round-up

The best MFD is...

In today's office, the dedicated photocopier can be replaced with the multifunction printer or multifunction device (MFP/MFD). There is really little point in filling two corners of the office with a great hulking printing device when one will do. A modern MFD can do anything a traditional photocopier can do and more.

Get started:
  1. Introduction

    What's out there, and what do I need?

  2. How we test

    The methodology of the madness

The last word:
  1. Results

    A look at each printer's performance

  2. Verdict

    Who reigns supreme in the printer space?

The contenders:
  1. Brother MFC-9840CDW

    A large desktop machine that features auto-duplexing, wireless connectivity and simultaneous multitasking.

  2. HP CM3530fs

    The HP has excellent colour controls, with each colour component adjustable for intensity of highlights, mid-tones and shadows.

  3. Kyocera TASKalfa 250ci

    The Kyocera stands on its own cabinet, and contains two 500-sheet trays.

  4. Lexmark X736de

    This is a tall, desk-mounted MFD and is easily identifiable thanks to its tiered document feeder.

  5. Fuji Xerox Phaser 8560MFP

    Decked out with optional trays, this Fuji Xerox printer has a capacity of 1675 sheets.

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(Credit: HP)

Introduction

Take the time to think about your needs by creating a wish list. The sooner you know what you need, the easier it is to refine your choices.

Do you need to copy or scan multi-page documents? Do you need automatic collating and stapling of documents? How many pages is the office likely to print each month? Does everyone need access to a colour printer? Is direct printing from USB required? How about wireless printing? Is automatic double-sided scanning and printing a must?

Buyers should also look closely at the available administrative options available with each machine. We all know that colour toner is expensive for example, so a good MFD will allow administrators to limit who can print in colour. Data security is another important access issue - particularly if taking advantage of on-board document storage. Consider what capacity the printer has for data encryption and disk wiping. Long print runs can also tie up a machine for long periods; priority printing allows important tasks to interrupt these time-consuming tasks.

Other useful features to keep in mind when selecting an MFD include finishers with the capacity to staple, hole punch and fold documents. Personal address books and copy settings can also be useful too.

Chances are your wishes can be met - provided that the budget allows it!

Given the huge range of features in a modern MFD it was not practical to cover all aspects of these devices in this review. Therefore, Enex TestLab decided to concentrate on print and copy quality, speed, ease of use and running costs.

Invitations were sent out to seven vendors for participation in this review: Brother, Canon, HP, Kyocera, Lexmark, Ricoh and FujiXerox. Of these, Canon and Ricoh were unable to supply a product in time for the review. Each vendor was asked to supply a corporate-level MFD solution with the following minimum criteria:

  • Minimum page speed of 20 A4 colour pages per minute
  • Paper handling of 500 sheets
  • The ability to expand to at least 1500 sheets

Brother MFC-9840CDW

The Brother MFC-9840CDW is a large desktop machine, which features auto-duplexing, wireless connectivity and simultaneous multitasking.

Brother MFC-9840CDW

The Brother MFC-9840CDW (Credit: Brother)

Multitasking allows this MFD to send a fax and print documents at the same time. The standard paper tray takes up to 250 pages, while an optional second tray allows for an additional 500 pages. Printing directly from and scanning directly to USB is available, with JPG and PDF being the supported formats.

Software set-up was straightforward. The user interface on the MFD is a basic button driven affair, with simple feedback provided via a simple 2.8-inch monochrome LCD screen. Up to 40 speed dials are available. Those familiar with other Brother devices will find the set-up very familiar.

Sadly, out of all the MFDs tested in this feature, the Brother MFC-9840CDW was the poorest performer in terms of output quality. Prints were pale and patchy, with red patches apparent in greyscales. Otherwise, contrast control and handling of fine detail were reasonably good.

Even the modest claim of speeds up to 20 pages per minute (ppm) appears to have been a bit much for this printer. Under test it achieved no more than 17.4ppm. The average speed for a document containing text, images and colour was 12.8ppm. Photo printing speed was a little above average at 1.8ppm for a single page.

Don't abandon all hope for Brother — we've seen good and bad from this company over the years and this can apply to other vendors too. In another recent printer survey by Enex a single vendor placed last and second in a field of 10 machines.

Priced at $1599 the MFC-9840CDW is easily the cheapest machine in this line-up, with a basic one-year warranty that can be extended to three years. However, to the budget conscious, this machine is not recommended due to the poor colour quality and above-average ongoing consumable prices.

The good
  • Inexpensive
  • Wireless networking
  • USB port for direct
    scanning and printing
The bad
  • Poor image quality
  • Modest print and copy speeds
  • Not the cheapest to run

The bottom lineThe poor print quality does not justify the low price.

HP CM3530fs

Another desktop model, the CM3530fs has excellent colour controls. Each colour component can be adjusted for intensity for highlights, mid-tones and shadows.

HP CM3530fs

The HP CM3530fs (Credit: HP)

The HP CM3530fs has a standard paper tray that takes up to 250 pages, a 100-sheet multi-purpose tray and an optional second tray, which allows for an additional 500 pages. The automatic document feeder combined with automatic duplex printing makes double-sided copying a breeze and also has a built-in stapler.

The screen is a very wide formatted 8-inch touchscreen, which is arranged in such a way that the users can focus on the right options at all times, allowing detailed control over jobs. Unfortunately, this printer does not support direct scanning and printing, but this might also reduce queues at the machine. The fax is monochrome only.

In terms of quality, the CM3530fs was the best performer. Although at times images were a little too dark and greyscales were inclined to be grainy. Colour mixing was excellent and there was little sign of the warm tones often seen in CMY toner combinations and other greyscales. Indeed, the greyscales were completely free of inaccurate colour. Fine lines were reproduced very cleanly with little sign of moire patterns and other dithering issues.

The machine proved HP's claims of 30ppm for monochrome text printing. In addition, the CM3530fs had the second highest average print speed and the highest photo print speed of all machines tested (copy speeds were average).

While the stated price of $5399 is less than that of the Kyocera and Xerox machines, it should be remembered that those machines come with cabinets containing additional paper drawers. Expect to pay more for consumables, however. The standard warranty for this MFD is two years with on-site, next-business-day service. Service plans up to five years duration are also available.

The good
  • Excellent image quality
  • Fast printing
  • Very easy to use
The bad
  • Not the cheapest to run
  • No USB port for direct printing
  • No wireless connectivity

The bottom lineThis machine is a breeze to use and produces fabulous results.

Kyocera TASKalfa 250ci

The intimidating TASKalfa stands on its own cabinet, containing two 500-sheet trays and optional expansion for up to 4000-sheet capacity.

Kyocera TASKalfa 250ci

The Kyocera TASKalfa 250ci (Credit: Kyocera)

Standard features include auto-duplexing and A3 paper handling. A broad range of additional features are available, such as the 1000- or 3000-page finishing units and a fax kit. This machine supports network scanning to a variety of file formats, and scan to email.

The huge 8.5-inch colour touchscreen provides simple and easy access to its myriad of functions, although despite the touchscreen technology it still has a lot of buttons. Both the automatic document feeder and the printer support double-sided page handling, so it is easy to save time, money and the environment. The Kyocera also supports direct printing from USB and files can be stored locally on the printer's on-board hard drive.

Kyocera is proving that value for money does not have to mean poor quality. While image quality was not spectacular, it was above average. In certain situations, excessive cyan, yellow and magenta toner were observed. Skin tones and photos were generally good, but CMY regions were a little warm and small fonts showed rough edges.

A peak print speed of 26ppm was measured — the manufacturer's claim is 25ppm. The average print speed, however, was a disappointing 10ppm, the lowest recorded. Photo print speeds were also lower than the other vendors. Oddly enough, though, the Kyocera copied text and photo documents faster than any other machine. This suggests that the machine is preparing paper before scanning is complete.

Upfront this machine is relatively expensive at $11,680, but this does include plenty of paper drawers and its own wheeled cabinet. In addition, the price of consumables is very low compared to all but the Xerox machine. Kyocera did not provide a warranty period; the vendor chooses to charge an ongoing maintenance charge instead, which obviates the need to purchase additional consumables other than toner.

The good
  • Good image quality
  • Fast copying
  • Cheap to run
The bad
  • Printing can be slow
  • Initial cost is high
  • No wireless connectivity

The bottom lineThe Kyocera is a fair performer and runs on the smell of an empty toner cartridge.

Lexmark X736de

Lexmark's tall, desk-mounted X736de should be identifiable anywhere thanks to its tiered document feeder.

Lexmark X736de

The Lexmark X736de (Credit: Lexmark)

This printer boasts a 7-inch colour touchscreen and "priority printing", which allows important jobs to seamlessly interrupt long print jobs. Colour mixing is adjusted automatically to account for current temperature and humidity. The Lexmark's trays have a maximum combined capacity of 3200 sheets with optional trays included. Wireless connectivity can be added for an additional cost.

The touchscreen reduces the number of physical buttons required and focuses one's attention on the task at hand. The user interface is intuitive and further supplemented by help files right there at the coal face. PictBridge support is present.

Second best in terms of image quality, the Lexmark produces excellent skin tones and colour gradients. This was the only machine besides the HP to produce truly grey greyscales. CMY gradients, however, were too warm and images were inclined to be a little too pale. Blues tended to be a little too purple. Fine lines were very well done and while handling of fine text was good, complex borders between colours really made this machine struggle.

The Lexmark was easily the fastest in this line-up for printing, but remarkably it was the slowest when it came to copying. This suggested that there is a lot of time wasted between scanning and printing stages. It is likely that processing the data as a large image is the key issue here as this machine was also relatively slow when printing photos.

As supplied, the Lexmark costs $4893.90. With cabinet and optional 2000- and 550-sheet paper drawers the overall cost rises to $7739.60. The warranty is two years (extendable to three years) with on-site, next-business-day service.

The good
  • Very good image quality
  • Reasonable pricing
  • Fastest in review for
    printing
The bad
  • Not the cheapest to run
  • Slowest in review for copying
  • Printing a little pale by default

The bottom lineIf you can't get the HP, then look for one of these.

Fuji Xerox Phaser 8560MFP

Decked out with optional trays, this Fuji Xerox printer has a capacity of 1675 sheets.

Fuji Xerox Phaser 8560MFP

The Fuji Xerox Phaser 8560MFP (Credit: Fuji Xerox)

A novel feature of this model is the solid toner blocks, which obviate the need to replace expensive and potentially messy cartridges.

The small 3-inch monochrome LCD screen is supplemented with rows of LED indicators marking out settings such as quality and contrast, and is simple to use. Features include network faxing, scanning and multitasking. There is no direct USB printing or scanning functionality.

Images displayed some streaking as well as significant graininess. CMY wasn't bad, but subject to excessive yellow in the lighter shades. Meanwhile, blues tended to be a little too purple, but despite this, greyscales and colour scales were mostly coloured quite accurately. Fine lines were often overly dark and indistinct, and small fonts were rough around the edges and appeared to display some unwanted colour in black text. Skin tones were good and colours generally were above average for smoothness and quality.

Copy speeds were reasonable — second best after the Kyocera, but print speeds were quite slow. Xerox claims a peak print speed of 30 pages per minute, but the observed speed was only half this. The most likely explanation for this is the existence of a faster "draft mode", more typical of inkjet devices. All machines were tested on default settings for the peak print speed test.

The good
  • Inexpensive to run
  • Compact storage
    of spare toner
  • Fax included
  • Clean, easy toner replacement
The bad
  • Poor image quality
  • Lower than expected print speeds
  • Control panel could be better

The bottom lineRelatively inexpensive to run, but print quality is disappointing.

  Print speed Copy speed (seconds)
Printer Claimed peak (ppm) Observed peak b&w (ppm) Avg colour (ppm) A4 colour photo print speed (seconds) Text b&w Colour photo
Brother 20.0 17.4 12.8 1.8 12.8 15.6
HP 30.0 30.0 22.9 2.2 10.1 10.5
Kyocera 25.0 26.0 10.1 0.9 5.6 9.1
Lexmark 33.0 33.4 27.3 2.0 13.0 16.5
Fuji Xerox 30.0 15.0 14.0 1.3 8.4 9.9

Print quality

The HP CM3530fs was clearly the best performer in terms of image quality overall, but the Lexmark X736de wasn't far behind. The Brother, and to a lesser extent the Fuji Xerox, machines were disappointing performers. The Brother was poor overall, while the Xerox fell down with detailed photos and, surprisingly, with small fonts.

  Print quality (score/10) Copy quality (score/10) Overall (score/60)
Printer Fonts Lines/gradients Colours Photo Skin tones Photo Overall
Brother 7.5 4.0 4.0 3.0 4.0 4.5 27.0
HP 8.0 7.5 8.0 8.0 6.5 8.0 46.0
Kyocera 6.5 6.5 7.0 7.0 7.0 7.0 41.0
Lexmark 7.0 8.0 7.5 6.5 7.0 7.5 43.5
Fuji Xerox 5.0 7.0 7.5 6.5 7.0 5.0 38.0

Running costs

Printing costs vary dramatically between the five products. Kyocera and Fuji Xerox are far cheaper to run than the other three machines. Kyocera takes the prize here overall as it even makes the Fuji Xerox look wasteful when it comes to black toner.

Though it should be noted that these results are based on a literature survey of vendor claims and recommended retail pricing. Enex TestLab knows from experience that Kyocera does tend to have very good running costs. The low Fuji Xerox costing, however, reflects the novel solid-toner refills that require no changing of toner cartridges.

Printer Black toner (¢/page) Colour toner (¢/page) Other consumables (¢/page)
Brother 2.96 19.16 2.26
HP 4.12 21.48 0.00
Kyocera 0.39 4.54 N/A, dependent on service costs
Lexmark 3.69 25.24 1.40
Fuji Xerox 0.72 5.05 0.68

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