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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.

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.

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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.)

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