Dell Laser Printer 3000cn

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Dell Laser Printer 3000cn
Photograph: Rick Rizner

The $449 Dell Laser Printer 3000cn blew away the competition in every tested category of quality, while printing at respectable speeds and achieving high marks for paper handling and usability. All of this from the cheapest color laser in our current test group, no less.

The 3000cn aced our print-quality tests. We liked the weight of the text--neither overly heavy nor too light--and found its crisply defined edges pleasing. Even small fonts were easy to read. Our line-art sample looked almost perfect, with only a little horizontal banding detectable when we examined closely. We saw good color accuracy in photos, although they appeared a little light. And our difficult grayscale photo displayed sharp details and smooth tonal transitions, with only minor moiré effects in clothing, and barely noticeable dithering.

Black-and-white text printed at a speedy 17.9 pages per minute in our performance tests. At 3.4 ppm, the 3000cn's color graphics printing was slightly slower than the average among our current crop of color lasers.

The 3000cn's design initially appears bulky, but its small footprint (about 17 by 17 inches) actually takes up very little desktop space. Contributing to its small size is a standard paper tray holding only 150 sheets; also, you get no manual bypass feeder or rear paper exit. However, you can boost the input capacity to 900 sheets by adding optional paper drawers. An extra 250-sheet drawer costs $180, while the 500-sheet drawer is a good deal at $230. With both stacked beneath it, the printer takes on a towerlike appearance. You can grow it even further with an optional duplexer, reasonably priced at $300.

Judging from the pricing of its consumables, the 3000cn should be economical to run. The printer comes with starter toner cartridges offering a 2000-page rated capacity for black and 1000 pages for color. Dell sells replacement black toner cartridges rated at 4000 pages for $45, while each of the three 2000-page color cartridges costs you $65. Dell says that you'll need to replace the $170 printer drum approximately every 30,000 pages. Based on Dell's estimates of page yields, black-and-white documents cost 1.5 cents per page (similar to Dell's top-rated monochrome Laser Printer 1700), while a color page is 12.5 cents.

Installing the 3000cn on our network at the PC World Test Center using its built-in ethernet port was straightforward, though you can instead choose to use its USB 2.0 or parallel port. The backlit LCD and intuitive menus made configuration simple. During our informal testing the printer ran out of memory while printing one photo sample at its highest settings. Demanding users can upgrade the standard 64MB of memory, all the way up to 576MB. Any Mac users in your office will be disappointed, though, as Dell doesn't provide a Mac driver.

The 3000cn's documentation is unimpressive--the only printed material consists of a setup poster and a quick-reference sheet. The on-screen user guide that comes with the software on CD-ROM could be easier to navigate, too. You have to look to the Dell Web site for the owner manual (which overlaps the user guide a bit in content, but presents the information differently and focuses on setup issues) in PDF format. The printer comes with simple Web-based management tools for tasks such as monitoring toner levels and restricting color printing to authorized users.

High-quality printing at an excellent price makes the Dell Laser Printer 3000cn a great fit for the budget-conscious small office.

Paul Jasper

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