At a Glance
Light graphics is the only weak spot in this solid performer, which delivers nice speed and text quality at a low price.
The $150 (as of 2/2/06) Brother HL-2040 laser printer would fit comfortably in an office that's tight on space and on budget. Its footprint is slightly larger than that of similarly priced models, but it looks more like a scaled-down professional laser printer than a souped-up personal printer. For instance, a proper paper drawer built into the base of the printer can hold up to 250 sheets of paper.
A manual bypass slot lets you print on different paper, such as letterhead or legal-size sheets, or on thicker media, such as envelopes (which you can't load into the main paper drawer). This approach is fine for occasional use, but it does require you to feed items one at a time, so printing a thousand envelopes for a mass mailing wouldn't be fun. If you expect your print demands to grow over time, bear in mind that the HL-2040 lacks any upgrade options for additional paper trays or double-sided printing. Heavy users need to be wary of the HL-2040's consumables costs, too. Its $60 toner cartridges may seem reasonably priced, but they yield only 2500 pages (according to Brother's estimates). Counting the $115 cost of changing the printer's drum assembly every 12,000 pages, you'll pay about 3.4 cents per page. A larger sibling, the HL-2070N ($200 as of 2/2/06), is essentially the same small-office laser as the Brother HL-2040, but it adds an ethernet port, 8MB of additional memory (for a total of 16MB), and PCL support.
The HL-2040's control panel has a ready light, three warning LEDs, and a single Go button for operations such as waking the printer from sleep mode, clearing an error condition, or canceling the current print job. This range of options may seem simple, but the software driver gives you all the control you need from your PC. Like other low-cost printers that depend on Windows for processing, this one leaves the rendering of your pages to Windows' Graphical Display Interface (the same operating system layer that lays out your screen), but it still achieved very good performance scores in our tests. It printed text pages at a speedy 16.6 pages per minute, and its output rate of 10.1 ppm for graphics is above average for a small-office printer, too.
At its default settings, the HL-2040's text quality is perfectly adequate for everyday use. In our tests, I saw some fuzziness in the finest characters and jagged edges on diagonals, but closely spaced bold characters (which challenge so many lasers) remained separate. Line art was too grainy for my liking, and our grayscale image suffered from a blown-out appearance, in which dark areas became too dark and highlights washed out completely.
The HL-2040's printed Quick Setup Guide isn't colorful, but it explains the installation process efficiently. The chart on the front cover guides you through the options, but you'll need to ignore choices that apply only to other Brother printers in the same price range. A full User's Guide is included in PDF format on the software CD-ROM.
: If your have for quantity and quality are modest, the Brother HL-2040's sticker price will make it at home on your desk.