At a Glance
The Lexmark C524n gives small offices an attractive mix of paper-handling options and reasonably good print quality for a moderate price of $699. It offers an extra paper tray and delivered better printing than did its budget-priced sibling, the C522n, which we reviewed in December 2005.
The C524n costs $200 more than that model, and it has a slightly larger, 17.3-by-22.2-inch footprint. However, it has the same vertical design as the C522n, and provides easy access to its stacked toner cartridges from a fold-down front door.
The main paper drawer can holds 250 sheets of legal-size (or smaller) paper. The C524n replaces the C522n's single-sheet manual slot with a proper 100-sheet multipurpose tray that folds down from the front of the paper drawer. However, the drawer still protrudes a couple of inches at the rear of the printer, unprotected from dust. High-volume offices can add a 500-sheet paper drawer for $299, raising the total paper capacity to 850 sheets. You can't add a duplexer; for that feature, you'll need to step up to the $999 C524dn, which comes with double-sided printing built in.
The C524n has a faster processor than the C522n, but its presence didn't translate into faster text printing in our tests. The C524n printed text at 14.2 pages per minute--about the same as the C522n, but slower than competing models from Dell, HP, and Oki. Color graphics did see a speed boost, however, to a relatively speedy 4.9 ppm.
The faster processor seemed to improve print quality. Text looked dark and crisp, though some characters showed jagged diagonal edges. Line art scored well despite occasional vertical banding. Laser printers usually don't handle our grayscale photograph well, but the C524n excelled, earning a score of Superior. Color graphics printed on plain paper showed narrow horizontal and vertical banding, and some blown-out highlights. On glossy laser printer paper, color rendering was mediocre, showing banding with a grainy, woven effect and flat, washed-out colors. Lexmark ships the C524n with 1500-page starter toner cartridges. Replacement cartridges rated at 8000 pages for black ($161) and 5000 pages for each color ($155) are available. Maintenance includes replacing the $115 drum every 20,000 pages, an $8 waste toner pack every 30,000 pages, and the $229 fuser and $279 transfer belt every 120,000 pages. Those factors help put the estimated per-page costs at 2.6 cents for black-and-white and 12.3 cents for color.
The C524n supports PCL6 and PostScript drivers. It hooked up easily to our test ethernet network. Though its four-line LCD makes configuration easy, its lack of backlighting makes it difficult to read if the printer is located in a darkened corner of the office. We liked this model in general, but it's a little pricey for what you get.