Dell, IBM ship competing laser printers

Dell Computer this week makes its first venture into the printer market, releasing a line of printers developed with Lexmark and going up against some established players.

Dell's new printers include personal, business, and workgroup models. The company announced last fall it would expand into the printer business.

Among the new business printers, its new S2500n workgroup laser runs smack up against IBM's very similar Infoprint 1222dn. Both are based on Lexmark's T420d and have identical control panels and produce 600-dpi resolution. Their paper-handling capabilities are similar, and both use some Lexmark software.

The only obvious difference is appearance: IBM dresses the Infoprint 1222dn in an unobtrusive off-white material, while Dell's S2500n follows the flashy black-and-silver design scheme of the company's notebooks. The other key difference is price. Dell charges US$499 for the base printer to IBM's US$712. Some options are available from both vendors.

Hands-On Overview

The two printers produce virtually indistinguishable output. Both print near-perfect text--heavy, black and crisp--in either PCL or PostScript. Both also print gray-scale photographs with the same moderate degree of rough, dotty textures and slight horizontal banding. That's about par with other monochrome laser printers, which generally produce great text but have a hard time translating the color and shading of photos into black-and white-dots.

The PC World Test Center in the US did not formally benchmark the Dell S2500n or IBM 1222dn (and has not tested the Lexmark T420d). But in casual use, the printers output text about as fast as other printers with print-engine specifications in the same 22-page-per-minute range.

Both units are smallish and slab-shaped--about 10 inches high, 16 inches wide, and 17 inches deep. The toner cartridge and drum assembly slide in effortlessly through a door in the front, though we found removal a bit hard to do without scraping a knuckle.

A back door drops to permit card stock, labels, and other easily damaged media to exit in a straight line instead of going through the 180-degree curve of the main paper path. The on-board control panel has no LCD, so if you need to operate the printer's internal menus, be ready for some complicated sequences of button-pushing and flashing lights; fortunately, the PCL or PostScript drivers on your Windows or Linux system can do almost everything--such as inserting separator sheets between print jobs--that the menus can do.

A Few Differences

Although the Dell and IBM models have the same core, they also have a few distinguishing characteristics.

IBM's printer includes an internal duplexer--a mechanism that can print on both sides of a page--as standard equipment; Dell doesn't offer duplexing capability even as an option. The duplexer's presence or absence has a downstream impact on other paper-handling options.

Both vendors sell the printer with a 250-sheet built-in tray and a 100-sheet auxiliary tray. Beyond that, however, the IBM can take only one additional paper tray--either a 250-sheet or a 500-sheet one; the Dell can take one of each. So the choice may come down to the type of printing you do--whether you want to print double-sided documents, or keep more paper types or capacity online.

The other key consideration is price. Dell's base price is US$499 and IBM's is US$712. Dell charges US$839 for a unit equipped with a 10/100 Ethernet NIC, while IBM's price tag is US$1181--but remember that IBM's prices include a duplexer. In other words, Dell charges US$340 to add the NIC and IBM charges US$469.

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