The Dell Laser Printer 3100cn has all the advantages of the similar Dell 3000cn (which topped our color laser printer chart for months), including a reasonable price, strong performance, and good image quality. But the newer model has a couple of advantages. First, it comes with a 250-sheet paper drawer as standard equipment, making it even more of a bargain at $499. Adding that same paper capacity to the $399 3000cn cost $180.
Second, Dell throws in large-capacity toner cartridges, each rated for 4000 pages, in place of the 2000-page cartridges that came with the 3000cn. Replacement cartridges cost $45 for black and $95 for each of the three colors. Those prices should make the 3100cn economical to run. The unit's estimated cost (1.5 cents per monochrome page) is lower than that of any other printer on our chart. You can stretch costs further by buying the cartridges in packs of four from Dell's Web site.
In addition to the 250-sheet main paper drawer, the 3100cn has a 150-sheet tray located behind a door that folds down from the front; this tray doubles as the multipurpose feeder. You can add another 250-sheet drawer for $180, or take the paper capacity up to 900 sheets by adding a $230 500-sheet drawer. The optional duplexer sells for a reasonable $300. The 3100cn supports both PCL (Printer Control Language) and PostScript emulations. With a footprint of about 17 by 17 inches, it takes up little desktop space, but it can grow quite tall as you add paper drawers to the bottom of the unit.
Like the 3000cn, the 3100cn's black-and-white printing was superb. Text looked crisp and was neither overly heavy nor too light. Even small fonts were easy to read. Line art looked almost perfect, and our grayscale test photograph displayed sharp details and smooth tonal transitions. Graphics output appeared accurate, though a little light. Like all the other models we tested, the 3100cn didn't blow us away with the quality of its glossy photos. Colors lacked saturation and details seemed a bit grainy.
In our tests, text printed at a speedy 17.8 pages per minute. Only a few other models can beat that. At 3.4 ppm, the 3100cn's color graphics printing lags behind some of the new color lasers we've tested, such as the Oki C5800Ldn, which cranks out pages at 6.1 ppm.