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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.