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Dell 1230c Color Laser Printer

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At a Glance
  • Dell 1230c

Dell's new 1230c Color Laser Printer is a study in extremes. It is extremely inexpensive, and extremely small. As color lasers go, however, it's also extremely disappointing.

The 1230c's speed is nothing special, but at least Dell is up front about it. The 1230c's plain-text printing speed of 16.9 pages per minute (ppm) essentially matches what Dell claims it can do (17 ppm). The 1230c's top graphics speed of 2.4 ppm comes closer than most to the vendor's claim (in this case, 4 ppm).

If the speed is reliable, the print quality is not. Any laser can print crisp text, as the 1230c does. But a color laser should be able to print graphics and maybe a photo. In the 1230c's case, even simple images like a pie chart showed distracting background patterns (called moiré). Anything more complex, like a photo, suffered even more, looking grainy and sometimes mottled.

The 1230c's design has its own problems. The control panel is inscrutable. A cluster of LEDs are labeled with icons whose meaning is not obvious. The LEDs light or flash in combinations understandable only through the documentation--which is unclear: For instance, two adjacent LEDs are both called the Status LED. If you figure out which one really is which, you still have to determine whether it's blinking slowly or quickly (each means something different). If other LEDs join in, it gets more complicated. The primary function of the printer's single button is to stop or cancel, but sometimes it also functions as "continue" or "go." Its icon label (a triangle within a circle) will not clarify matters. The printer's input tray takes all media types (such as 150 sheets of plain paper), but it gets flimsier (and sticks out the front more) as you extend it to accommodate, say, legal-size media.

The panel looming above the 100-sheet top output tray also is unusual. It actually opens up the paper path in case of a jam. Dell says space constraints prevented this piece from fitting within the printer's shell, so it was designed more like a shelf, with a shiny, textured surface to ward off scratches if you put something on it. While thoughtful, I'm not sure it's a good idea to encourage users to stack things on top of their printer.

The 1230c's final and worst extreme is its toner pricing. The machine ships with starter-size supplies: a 1000-page black (K) cartridge, and 700-page cyan (C), magenta (M), and yellow (Y) cartridges. Replacements are expensive: A 1500-page black cartridge costs $55 or about 4 cents per page, while each 1000-page color cartridge costs $50 (5 cents per page). A page with all four colors would cost 19 cents.

Dell's 1230c puts a color laser within reach of most budgets. But for the same amount of money, you could buy an awfully nice inkjet printer that would probably please you more (and be no more expensive to supply).

--Melissa Riofrio

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At a Glance
  • This supercheap color laser is best suited for home-office use at low volume, nothing too complex.


    • Very inexpensive
    • Very compact


    • Grainy graphics quality, expensive toner
    • Flimsy construction
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