Lexmark C544dn

Lexmark's C544dn is a compact color laser printer that supports emulated PostScript 3 as well as PCL 6 (Printer Command Language 6). Aimed at small to mid-sized businesses, this US$499 printer can connect via 10/100 Ethernet or USB 2.0. It features paper-saving automatic duplexing for printing two-sided documents and a PictBridge-enabled USB port on the front for printing images from a flash drive or supported digital camera.

The C544dn features what has to be the easiest toner replacement scheme we've seen. A side panel opens up and the four separate cartridges (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) easily pop in and out, more like ink-jet cartridges than typical toner cartridge.

To encourage use of genuine Lexmark consumables, Lexmark has a free rewards program that guarantees that the price of the toner cartridges will never go up (though the company may stop selling these toner cartridges if it decides to discontinues service support for this printer) and that you'll receive a free high-yield cartridge for every ten you return. Free replacement imaging kits and free shipping are included. If you decide not to join the rewards program, you can still purchase toner from Lexmark, but at a higher price than if you buy them through the program.

After I set up the printer and connected it to our office network, the C544dn showed up as a Bonjour printer and I was able to print using the generic PostScript printer driver. Installing Lexmark's driver gives you access to more features and more specific color controls.

The printer takes a few minutes to calibrate itself when powering up and after being idle for a long period of time. The printer's press materials say that it can print up to 25 pages per minute, and our times weren't that far off, getting about 20 pages per minute when printing Word documents in the printer's 1,200-by-600 dpi mode. Timed results from our Photoshop and PDF document tests, which require more processing time, were in line with competing laser printers.

Double-sided printing helps save paper and reduces waste, but it's no time saver. The C544dn uses a "peek-a-boo" duplex method: one side of a sheet is printed and the paper exits the printer, only to be pulled back into the printer for printing on the other side. Using the double-sided printing mode takes about 75 percent longer than printing the same document in single-sided mode.

Our tests showed that C544dn's output was of very high quality. Printed at 1,200 dpi, our graphics tests showed that the printer was able to reproduce fine curved lines and smooth gradients. Text, even at tiny sizes, was clean and legible, earning the C544dn a Superior rating from our panel. Photographic prints looked very good, with pleasing color and plenty of detail.

The C544dn is Energy Star compliant and offers a toner-saving mode good for printing drafts, and a quiet mode that lowers the operating volume by a few decibels--handy if the printer is sitting on or near someone's desk. The printer comes with a 250-sheet input tray, and an optional 550-page input tray is available for $199.

Macworld's buying advice

With its great-looking output, small form factor, and dollar-saving toner program, Lexmark's C544dn is a good fit for a small to medium-sized workgroup looking to add color to presentations and brochures.

[James Galbraith is Macworld's lab director.]

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