capsule review

HP Color LaserJet 3550n

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Laserjet 3550n Laser Printer (16 PPM, 600x600 DPI, Color, 64MB, PC/Mac)

HP Color LaserJet 3550n
Photograph: Rick Rizner

The HP Color LaserJet 3550n is bulky, housed in a gray box whose front curvature adds to its sense of inflated size. Unfortunately this model's girth, and its $999 price tag, don't reflect the components inside, considering it cuts some corners in its networking, processing, and expansion options.

The 3550n lacks its own ethernet port, instead coming with an HP Jetdirect En3700 external print server that plugs into the printer's USB 2.0 port. If you don't need ethernet connectivity, you can buy the cheaper $799 Color LaserJet 3550, which is effectively the same printer without the print server. We found our 3550n easy to hook up to our network at the PC World Test Center, even with the added complexity of its print server. The two-line LCD isn't backlit, which could make it hard to read in low light. When you're not using the display for accessing the menus, it conveniently displays the toner level.

Instead of PCL or PostScript and a built-in processor, the 3550n's driver uses HP's JetReady language and your PC's CPU to render pages. Since today's PCs have very powerful CPUs, borrowing some of those clock cycles to drive a printer is a reasonable way to cut printer manufacturing costs. (We conduct printer speed tests using a Micron PC Millennia 920i with a 2.8-GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor and 512MB of RAM.)

When we put the 3550n through its paces in the lab, its print quality impressed us. The fine text characters could have been more readable if they had been slightly heavier, but they looked sharp and did not bleed together in bold fonts such as Hattenschweller. Some strangely shaped characters puzzled us, such as capital Cs with dot-like artifacts at the top. Our line-art sample looked nice and crisp; even the most closely spaced lines were still distinct when examined under a magnifying glass. The grayscale image had some minor banding, but none of the moiré patterns we usually see, and it showed nice, smooth tonal transitions. Our color photo looked too dark overall, though skin tones appeared natural. In our speed tests, performance was middling: The 3550n was below average for both monochrome (14.8 pages per minute) and color printing (3.9 ppm).

Up to 250 sheets load in the main paper drawer, and the manual bypass tray takes up to 100. The main output bin is on top of the printer, where up to 150 pages can land facedown. A rear output tray folds down at the back to give a straight path for thicker media such as envelopes.

You can add a single 500-sheet drawer for $299, giving a maximum paper capacity of 850 sheets. That's the only expansion option you get, however. A duplexer attachment is not available. Nor can you expand the printer's memory beyond its standard 64MB--with the processing happening on your PC, though, there would be little point in adding more.

The printer comes with two printed documents, a Start guide to explain the basic hardware setup and a Network Installation Guide. We didn't get far with the latter before it referred us to the Jetdirect Administrator's Guide, which was included as a PDF file on the software CD-ROM. The PDF led us through the installation steps quickly and effectively. A more comprehensive Use guide is also included on the CD-ROM, in both Windows Help and PDF formats.

The HP Color LaserJet 3550n delivers decent print quality, especially for black-and-white documents, but the simpler technology doesn't translate into sufficient savings for the owner, and it isn't the fastest of the pack.

Paul Jasper

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Laserjet 3550n Laser Printer (16 PPM, 600x600 DPI, Color, 64MB, PC/Mac)

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