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The Dell 2150cdn color laser printer looks like a business bargain. Its low $400 (as of February 25, 2011) purchase price buys you good performance and some expandability. Higher-volume offices should note, however, that the 2150cdn’s toner costs range from just average to expensive.
Dark, sharp-edged, and monolithic, the 2150cdn has a no-nonsense look that reflects its features. Standard paper handling includes a 250-sheet paper cassette, a manual-feed slot, a 150-sheet top output bin, and automatic duplexing (two-sided printing). Dell sells an optional second 250-sheet paper cassette for $150. The printer comes with 256MB of RAM (upgradable to 768MB) and carries a one-year warranty. Toner cartridges are easy to reach via a side panel, and the entire front of the printer folds down for easy access to paper jams (with removal of the drum). The control panel‘s two-line LCD and small cluster of buttons are simple to use, and the LCD’s messages, while curt, are only occasionally confusing.
The 2150cdn provides middling speed. In tests, plain-text pages printed at 15.1 pages per minute on the PC and 13.7 ppm on the Mac. A half-page photo on the PC printed at 2.8 ppm at default settings and 1.24 ppm at finer settings. A full-page, high-resolution photo printed on the Mac exited at an underwhelming 0.8 ppm.
Although we liked the output quality from the 2150cdn, we had to work hard to achieve it. Our test model suffered color-registration problems: The colors weren’t lining up, resulting in fuzzy or off-kilter images. The printer’s own automated registration-adjustment tool was unable to correct the issue. Several tedious rounds with the manual registration controls were necessary to set things right. (Notably, we ran into the same issue with the nearly identical Xerox Phaser 6500DN.) Once we tweaked the settings, color graphics looked realistic and mostly crisp, with just a little fuzziness in finer details. Text was nearly impeccable.
Workgroups considering the 2150cdn should note that two sizes of toner cartridges are available. The standard-size, 1200-page cartridges are very expensive: The $60 black cartridge comes to 5 cents per page, while each $80 color (cyan, magenta, yellow) is 6.7 cents per page. A four-color page would cost 25 cents. The high-yield cartridges include a $100, 3000-page black (3.3 cents per page) and $99, 2500-page colors (4 cents apiece per page), which work out to 15.3 cents for a four-color page. These prices are about average.
The Dell 2150cdn offers a decent serving of workgroup-printing capabilities for a temptingly low purchase price. You won’t get a break on the toner pricing, unfortunately. A model in about the same price range, with cheaper consumables, is the Brother HL-4570CDW.