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Dell 2135cn Colour Laser MFP

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The 2135cn from Dell is a colour laser multifunction printer(MFP) with network support. While the 2135cn is a mixed bag in terms of quality and performance, it comes at a reasonable price.

Test Procedure
When assessing a printer we consider the print speed, print quality, ease of use, and construction. Being an MFP we will also consider copying/scanning quality and usability.

Speed: standard documents are used to assess the peak machine speed (printing plain, monochrome text at 5 per cent coverage) and also the average machine speed (documents containing images and a variety of fonts and colours) in both colour and monochrome mode. Duplex copying speed is also measured where auto-duplexing is present.

Quality: standard files are printed and assessed against standard hard copies used in all Enex TestLab printer testing. Text, graphics and photos are assessed for quality of colour, contrast, graduated shades/hues, line fineness and positioning, and also handling of colour boundaries.

Ease of use: we judge the usability of the product, including quality of documentation and menu function.

Design and Features
Big and black, the 2135cn serves as an office printer, scanner fax and copier. Dell claims a range of benefits from this machine beginning with the obvious one of having to deal with only one machine instead of four.

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It is a fairly large machine, but despite the bulk of this 30kg beast it is not too troublesome to lift onto a bench. The maximum duty cycle is about 40,000 pages — about two hours solid work each business day. The paper drawer stores a maximum of 250 sheets.

Set-up gives rise to a couple of concerns — at least one of which might be accounted for by the exuberant security features of Windows Vista. Among the tools installed for the printer is an updating service. The system was assessed and new firmware was automatically installed in the printer — sadly this spoiled the network connection to the computer and it was necessary to create a new connection (manually). Secondly, the printer auto-detect failed during installation and it was necessary to type in the IP address.

Management benefits include the ability to configure and check printer status remotely through a web interface. Aside from the web interface, FTP and email communications facilitate data transfers and messaging. The printer can automatically warn the administrator of low toner levels.

A common problem with systems that are supposedly easy to manage is arranging the initial configuration that allows such management systems to operate. Scanning via the network requires setting up share folders accessible to both printer and users — it would, perhaps, be easier in a smallish office just to assign one computer a local connection to the MFP and do all the scanning from there.

The printed Owner's Manual and electronic Users' Manual both include clear text in terms of grammar, but sometimes lack of information can cause frustration. For example, when giving instructions for scanning, the Owner's Manual does not explicitly state that it is meant only for a USB connected scenario (a note further on suggests that users on a network should consult the electronic manual).

Dell claims fast warm-up times and this cannot be argued. Apparently the use of very fine toner grains allow less energy to be expended heating the particles. This results in finer pixel quality and reductions in both time and money — and additionally benefits the environment. Indeed, the 2135cn is 25 per cent more energy efficient than conventional lasers according to Energy Star.

The basic 128MB of memory is expandable to 384MB. This might be advisable if a lot of high resolution graphics are being printed. When we printed a full page A4 photo at 600dpi a memory error was observed; no problem arose at 300dpi.

Verdict
The 2135cn has very good colour reproduction. While reds can be a little too orange there is otherwise little to complain about in this area. CMY combinations are remarkably close to grey, with only the slightest warmness with lighter shades; generally printers produce very brown shading scales in this test. Handling of difficult contrasts is also very well handled.

Dither patterns are apparent at times — particularly at sharp edges around greys. Coloured or grey text in particular can suffer in this regard. Complex colour boundaries are also not handled well and unwanted blending can form coloured shadows around some objects. Monochrome lines are always very sharp and clean. There is little sign of even mild streaking in colour swathes and gradients.

The modest claim of 16 pages per minute (ppm) in draft mode was confirmed with a score of 16.3ppm in monochrome being measured. Print speeds at normal mode measured for monochrome was 13.4ppm and 10.2ppm for colour. Such modest speeds along with sometimes doubtful dithering spoil many of the benefits this machine has to offer.

Usability is generally fine, although network scanning requires a bit more work to arrange — as is usually the case. Menus and manuals are good, but not brilliant. The menu mostly indicates what keys can be used for making selections, but not in all cases which can lead to a moment of confusion.

The base price for the unit is AU$699 including delivery, which isn't bad. Unfortunately, running costs are less exciting with toner usage working out to be just over 4 cents per page for black and white printing (5 per cent coverage). Many other printers manage to achieve around 3 cents.

The basic warranty is for 12 months and includes next business day on-site service. Additional service options are available and warranties can be extended up to a terrific five years. Cartridge and printer recycling services are also available.

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