Selecting the Right MFPs for SMBs

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Multifunction printers for small and midsize businesses have improved greatly in quality, performance and price. Channel Insider looks at five leading MFPs that cost less than $1,000 to see which one gives solution providers and their customers the biggest bang for their printing buck.

Multifunction printers are no longer the lumbering, low-quality behemoths they were just a couple of years ago. These devices have evolved into practical network printer workstations capable of acceptable scanning resolutions, document management, and color or monochrome printing.

Virtually every respectable printer vendor has an MFP in its portfolio. In fact, the MFP market is littered with devices with widely varying feature sets, prices, print and scanning speeds, and resolutions. All this creates a dilemma for solution providers and their customers. Luckily, for business purposes, it becomes easy to thin the heard and focus on what will work and what won't.

Whether it's for a single user or for a department of dozens, there are many must-have capabilities that a MFP needs to be a serious contender. With prices dropping and technology improving, there’s no excuse to use anything other than a color laser MFP. Ink-jets are too problematic and expensive to operate, while monochromes just don’t cut it. Networking is another requirement; the days of parallel and USB cables are over, and business users need to share these devices.

Businesses also shouldn't settle for low-quality scanning and copying. The color laser print engines of today's MFPs are capable of high-quality output; why waste that capability with an inferior scanner and copy processing? A good MFP should also use single-pass technology for color printing, instead of the four-pass technology of the past, and the unit should offer several paper-handling options, from duplexing to envelopes to legal-size paper.

For smaller offices, size does matter. The smaller the MFP footprint, the more desktop real estate is available for the user.

Finally, any worthy MFP should support remote management. Without local IT personnel, remote management becomes even more important if a solution provider or corporate IT admin needs to keep tabs on the printer or troubleshoot a problem.

The last criterion narrows the field considerably, but there’s one more element we can use: price. For the smaller workgroup, $999 should be the ceiling. Believe it or not, a grand buys a lot of MFP, and solution providers will have no problem finding a good device under that price cap.

Channel Insider’s short list for these criteria came down to the following:

  • Hewlett-Packard Color LaserJet CM2320FXi MFP
  • Konica Minolta 4690MF
  • Samsung CLX 6210FX
  • Xerox Phaser 6128MFP
  • Lexmark x560n
  • Brother MFC9840

All of these printers have their pros and cons, making selecting the ideal MFP an exercise in research. Comparing features, performance and serviceability is the best way to get started in narrowing down a choice.

The price leader in the group is Xerox's new offering, Phaser 6128MFP. At just $599, the Phaser offers a lot of bang for the buck, but it does cut some corners to contain the price. For example, duplex printing is done manually. Also, the included cartridges only have a page count yield of 2,100 pages. The unit does feature single-pass technology and an unobstructed paper path, which should offer years of jam-free service.

Market leader HP tackles the color laser MFP market with its LaserJet CM2320FXi MFP, an $899 unit that covers the feature landscape quite well. While not the fastest or the best resolution MFP among the bunch, the HP name carries a great deal of weight in the printer market, and name recognition can be worth its weight in gold among end users.

Samsung pushes the compact size of its CLX 6310FX as a main selling point, as well as the unit's high resolution. But with an average price tag above $900, the CLX 6310FX is expensive for what it offers compared with other MFPs.

Brother, on the other hand, prices the MFC9840 at a reasonable $699. Not quite the bargain that Xerox offers, but the MFC9840 does throw in a duplexer and a good 21 pages per minute. Ink cartridge yields are on the low side, so upfront savings may be offset by consumable costs over time.

Lexmark and Konica Minolta come in at just under the $1,000 mark, and both offer impressive monthly duty cycles, as well as fast print and startup times. Designed for larger work groups, both units can hold a great deal of paper and offer higher page yields than competitors. Konica Minolta edges out Lexmark in the value arena, simply because Konica Minolta throws in a page duplexer.

Picking a must-have unit from this group is a difficult chore, as there are numerous minor subfeatures that can tilt the scales one way or the other. That said, for those looking for the biggest bang for the buck, it's pretty hard to beat Xerox's offering. If it's not about price, then it's pretty hard to beat the Lexmark offering, as long as you budget another $129 for a duplexer. HP does make a strong showing here, and the company's name offers a lot of collateral, which should keep HP partners in the game.

Frank Ohlhorst Frank J. Ohlhorst is the Executive Technology Editor for eWeek Channel Insider and brings with him over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology field.He began his career as a network administrator and applications program in the private sector for two years before joining a computer consulting firm as a programmer analyst. In 1988 Frank founded a computer consulting company, which specialized in network design, implementation, and support, along with custom accounting applications developed in a variety of programming languages.In 1991, Frank took a position with the United States Department of Energy as a Network Manager for multiple DOE Area Offices with locations at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), FermiLAB and the Ames Area Office (AMESAO). Frank's duties included managing the site networks, associated staff and the inter-network links between the area offices. He also served at the Computer Security Officer (CSO) for multiple DOE sites. Frank joined CMP Technology's Channel group in 1999 as a Technical Editor assigned to the CRN Test Center, within a year, Frank became the Senior Technical Editor, and was responsible for designing product testing methodologies, assigning product reviews, roundups and bakeoffs to the CRN Test Center staff.In 2003, Frank was named Technology Editor of CRN. In that capacity, he ensured that CRN maintained a clearer focus on technology and increased the integration of the Test Center's review content into both CRN's print and web properties. He also contributed to Netseminar's, hosted sessions at CMP's Xchange Channel trade shows and helped to develop new methods of content delivery, Such as CRN-TV.In September of 2004, Frank became the Director of the CRN Test Center and was charged with increasing the Test Center's contributions to CMP's Channel Web online presence and CMP's latest monthly publication, Digital Connect, a magazine geared towards the home integrator. He also continued to contribute to CMP's Netseminar series, Xchange events, industry conferences and CRN-TV.In January of 2007, CMP Launched CRNtech, a monthly publication focused on technology for the channel, with a mailed audience of 70,000 qualified readers. Frank was instrumental in the development and design of CRNTech and was the editorial director of the publication as well as its primary contributor. He also maintained the edit calendar, and hosted quarterly CRNTech Live events.In June 2007, Frank was named Senior Technology Analyst and became responsible for the technical focus and edit calendars of all the Channel Group's publications, including CRN, CRNTech, and VARBusiness, along with the Channel Group's specialized publications Solutions Inc., Government VAR, TechBuilder and various custom publications. Frank joined Ziff Davis Enterprise in September of 2007 and focuses on creating editorial content geared towards the purveyors of Information Technology products and services. Frank writes comparative reviews, channel analysis pieces and participates in many of Ziff Davis Enterprise's tradeshows and webinars. He has received several awards for his writing and editing, including back to back best review of the year awards, and a president's award for CRN-TV. Frank speaks at many industry conferences, is a contributor to several IT Books, holds several records for online hits and has several industry certifications, including Novell's CNE, Microsoft's MCP.Frank can be reached at frank.ohlhorst@ziffdavisenterprise.com

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