back to article Ten... mono laser printers

Mono laser printers have been available for 30 years and remain the bedrock of most business. From small printers in home offices to large ones in corporate departments, they print most of the commercial correspondence in the country, yet their technical specs have changed little. They are now faster, have higher resolution and …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The first thing I look at in a printer...

    ... is whether it'll do PostScript[tm]. Still. Yes. No mention of that in the article.

    If it doesn't do postscript, the thing is a waste of my time, a hassle, an annoyance. With postscript, it Just Works[tm] with just a few lines in the old /etc/printcap.* It'll work, regardless of your OS or whether the vendor has thought to update their several hundred megabytes big driver package for the latest version of the OS, and you won't have to spread that driver over all possibly quite numerous electronic desktop emulators on the local network. If I want something special, well, I'll take the postscript file and take the postscript tools to it, checking before I print what the output will look like.

    Another point to mention is that laser printers tend to last, or at least the good ones. The old laserjet 4 and 5 series is still going strong and with a bit of trouble you can still find toners for laserjet 2 and 3 series. On the other hand, the toner for that xerox (4050 or so, "workgroup size") we bought years ago as end-of-lease proved to be unobtanium right away. How confident are these manufacturers about providing toners down the road? Or is that not what they're looking to "deliver"?

    And, I'm not really expecting el reg to pick up on this, but another check I make is whether there are hardware maintenance manuals available from the manufacturer's site. I usually obtain a copy and store it somewhere for future reference, but it's nice if years down the road you can still find them. Some manufacturers are very good with this. Others, not so much.

    With most computer hardware, nobody cares (much, most of the time--there are exceptions). With this sort of thing, well, notice how we've gone from 300 to 600 to 1200 dpi, and from a few pages to a score per minute, over a couple decades, but really, if all you need is black and white you'll still be perfectly served with a laser that's horribly outdated by any other standard usually used in the computer industry. And long as it uses postscript, your computer can talk to it too, no sweat**.

    In fact, I prefer older laser printers because their toners don't come chipped to stop working after the vendor approved number of prints delivered, whether it still prints Just Fine or not. *I'll* be the judge of whether the output is still acceptable, thanks.

    * This is also why programs that print stuff shouldn't rely on frameworks this and widget sets that. They should stick to outputting postscript. It's not hard. It's a programming language. You're a programmer. What's your problem?

    ** So maybe you'll need to use a converter of sorts, like from centronics to ethernet. Deal.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You could ...

      Use GhostScript -- the software PS RIP -- I use it with a non-ps laser and its fine. It also just works™.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        No, craiggy. Just no.

        Yes, ghostscript is pretty useful. I use it often enough, too. No, if printing requires adding software, any software*, it fails the Just Works[tm] test. It requires software and that's not acceptable. Even though ghostscript is otherwise indeed pretty useful. It's not good to _require_ it for printing. It's the requirement that's the problem, not the existence of the software. There is a fine line here, and I clearly draw it at requiring the printer itself to be able to understand the postscript.

        This is the first thing I expect, nay demand, in a workhorse printer of the type you look for in laser printers, so if el reg cares they can pick up on it. You don't have to agree, but I do think there was a "woosh" sound over your head just there.

        * Hinted at but left out of the rant is where some software uses GUI widget framework libraries that force the end user to install a certain print spooler (and no other!) if they want printing to work. So because the framework makers want to be nice to lazy devs, the end user, or possibly the end user's admin, gets to ditch his preferred setup for something the framework makers picked. It doesn't matter that their motives were the best, that doesn't matter at all. Even the supposed merits of their pick is quite frankly entirely irrelevant. What matters is the end result: I get to swap system software components around because someone writing a completely unrelated bit of software made a certain choice. That's not why we invented functions, classes, modules, layers, units, processes, chroots, jails, zones, LPARs, and all the other ways to separate this bit of code from that bit of code. It's a similar problem, an ought to be an anathema to anyone with an inkling of understanding of software organisation.

        Printers tend to be their own physical unit, so the separation ought to be pretty clear. While there might be good reasons to do it differently --the external RIP for an offset press, say, quite possibly a unix(-like system) with ghostscript of some sort-- for the basic case I stick to having the thing be a printer that's useful without requiring all sorts of software, and that means the thing has to have postscript support. That is, quite simply, my policy decision. As owner of the hardware I do get to make that choice, yes.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Ok, thanks for the clarification

          I take your point entirely. I love PostScript and used to hand-code it for a living.

          All the same, the thing that makes a PostScript printer PostScript IS the little chip inside which contains the PS interpreter -- as software. In all other respects the actual print engine is exactly the same as a non-ps device.

          Its still all software. The PostScript instructions you are sending directly to the device is software. Even just copying it to the hardware port in a terminal -- still software.

          I don't understand. You were correct -- there was a whizzing sound over my head.

          It wasn't me who downvoted you btw.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            No worries

            Of course it's software. Well, it usually counts as "firmware" if stuck on a chip. But the question is, where does it run? Running GS elsewhere to produce output suitable for the printer means there's a dependency on that other cpu, which I really want to avoid. On unix(-like, etc.) the expectation is that programs wanting to print, output PS. Meaning that all that's needed is spooling and maybe a preamble to turn on the duplexer or pick a tray, something easily hacked into a filter (shell) script.

            I agree with nigel that a well-documented alternative like PCL is preferrable over proprietary not-so-well-documented or proprietary bitmap passing, as the GS backend for the former is far more likely to be there. But given a choice I'll pick PS. Doesn't need GS at all.

            This is entirely non-obvious for windows: It is a quirk of the system that it makes more sense there to tack a shim driver at the end of the GDI subsystem to turn the printer on and off again and pass the host cpu-rendered bitmap inbetween. For penny pinching manufacturers anyway, and provided the printer is attached to the host directly, and as long as GDI and a shim driver for the current OS version are available. In a mixed environment, for network printing, and for future-proofing, I'll still pick PS. Then I know I'll get it to work at least one way.

            And neither was it me that downvoted you.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Once again ...

              Thanks for the clarification. I've been thinking more about your original point and I admit you are in fact quite correct. You've made a series of very valid points which I think more of us need to think about when buying hardware (printers here are a good case in point) without built-in limitations.

      2. BristolBachelor Gold badge


        You can only use GhostScript _IF_ and only _IF_ there is a driver for the funny language that your printer talks. If you cannot talk to the printer with a standard language like PS or PCL, then you are reliant on the manufacturers driver, their desire to support the OSs you use, new OSs not out yet, etc.

        I have an HP colour laserjet. Really nice piece of kit, but only talks it's own language. Wouldn't play with Linux, nor OSx. Nothing I could do about it, GhostScript wouldn't help because only Windows could talk to it. Thankfully drivers eventually got hacked for Linux, and OSx was eventually supported (although some on Lion are reporting problems).

        As far as I am concerned now, a printer has a power socket, ethernet socket and talks PS.

        1. Nigel 11

          PCL / hplip not bad.

          It's not quite that bad. If it's made by HP and supported by (open-source) hplip, I've found that the only remaining question is how easily I can get a sufficiently up-to-date version of hplip integrated with my linux system. And that's not always necessary either.

          PCL is somewhat backwards-compatible. Enough so that in a hurry with a distribution that didn't have hplip up-to-date, printing to an Officejet Pro 8000 (current) worked with the driver for an Officejet Pro K550 (2? 3? models back in time).

          Second-best to Postscript I agree, but if you want a colour-capable printer for under £100 and reasonably low running costs, then HP's Officejet Pro range is well worth a look. Beats many cheap lasers on running cost, and colour almost for free (if you don't go overboard printing photos and blocky graphics).

          The key points are that PCL is open-spec and hplip is open-source.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          No, I know that ...

          But why would anyone buy such a useless device in the first place?

    2. Hatless Pemberty

      Pretty, pretty pictures

      What this person said. A thousand times.

      Take the Samsung ML3710ND. Amazon sells it for £203 (plus £135 for the 10K pages toner cartridge)

      According to Samsung's UK webpage (and Amazon's) the printer supports PS3 emulation but the manual lists the feature under "expand your machine's capacity" plus there is the "Unified Linux Driver" that needs to be installed. What's this shit? The review says nothing on the matter.

      The manual also says that Samsung does not "support" non-Samsung cartridges and Amazon doesn't seem to sell any alternative brands so I'm gonna guess they are chipped.

      I'm so fed up with all this crap.

    3. Pigeon
      Thumb Up

      Hey, you stole my rant

      Agreed. I thought I was the only one who thought that. The industry gangs up against ignorant customers, inventing new things that don't need to be invented.

    4. Homer 1

      HP LaserJet P2055dn

      Can't believe El Reg missed this one.

      200 squid for a 1200dpi, 33ppm mono laser with native PS/PCL support, gigabit networking, memory expansion, and no proprietary drivers needed for Linux.

      I've had mine about a year - runs like a champ.

    5. graeme leggett

      Too true on the LJs

      I've got some legacy software running on Win 3.11 and W95 and their printers (5L and 6MP) are still going strong.

      The 5L/6Ls may actually have about the same footprint as a modern laser but at least they manged to make them look like they didn't.

  2. Paul Crawford Silver badge


    Come on, this is a tech web site and a lot of us want to know if they will work with Mac & Linux properly, and not just Windows.

    What exactly did you test them with?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      certainly works on Linux (well I've got the 2030 and its fine).

    2. Jad
      Thumb Up


      Epson are always Linux friendly ... or pick a PostScript printer.

      Lexmark e350n is available online for under £100 with Postscript (and no hassles)

  3. eviljeff

    Dell 1130 available cheaper

    Ebuyer do it for £40. It may not be the best laser printer but it was the cheapest I could find.

    1. Marvin the Martian


      Article mentions that for example the Lexmark "can be found at a third of the quoted price", and says that all except the Dell "can usually be found much cheaper online" than the manufacturer's list price.

      So bravo for finding one of the ten cheaper than list price.

  4. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Bedrock of business?

    Its the 21stC there's no need to kill trees with out of date documents.


      Greasey fingers are just the beginning

      > Its the 21stC there's no need to kill trees with out of date documents.

      I would rather get a bit of dead tree wet or covered with extra virgin olive oil than some overpriced consumer electronics device.

    2. Mike007

      Indeed, the "Email" printer compares very nicely at an upfront cost of £0 and 0p/page ongoing cost, no need to ever refill toner, and perfect quality with full colour support it beats everything in this list - not to mention it takes less time for the postman to lose, i mean deliver it :)

    3. CADmonkey

      Ah - the paper free office,,,,

      When an ipad can display an A0 (16 x A4) page at 1:1, and survive 6 months at the sharp end of a building site, I'll buy one. Probably 2, as the first one would get nicked as soon as your back was turned. Until then, paper and blu-tac get the job done.

      Paper isn't broken, and has yet to completely replace vellum.

  5. Joe Montana

    Old printers

    Rather than buying a new, but incredibly lowend printer.. I'd rather buy an old LaserJet...

    I bought a laserjet 4200 a few weeks ago for 60 quid, not especially modern but it seems to beat all of these printers hands down, it supports postscript, duplex, ethernet and came with a toner that is apparently good for 10,000 more sheets (20,000 when full).

    And as someone else pointed out, being a postscript printer i can be sure that it will work with everything, and that it will continue to be supported by new systems going forwards. Also since these printers are so abundant in offices around the world, i can be pretty sure toner will be readily available for a long time to come.

    And to echo someone else's comment, i would never consider buying a printer which didn't support postscript, and considering how cheap the necessary hardware to implement a postscript interpreter is these days i really don't get why any printers are still being made without it.

  6. AJ MacLeod

    Not that I care, but some of those designs take me right back to the 90s! I agree that an indication of postscript / PCL capabilities and/or Apple / *nix support would make this kind of review much more useful.

  7. eBusiness

    Paper cost saving

    "It also has an Eco button in front of its 16 x 2 LCD display, which saves three quarters of your paper costs"

    That is nothing short of impressive, I mean, saving power and toner can be hard, but making a printer eat less paper while producing the same prints must have taken some true ingenuity.

    1. Michael Souris

      Save paper... printing 2-Up or 4-Up and / or duplexing.

    2. BristolBachelor Gold badge


      Read the article again.

      It doesn't save paper. It makes your paper cost less. God I'd use the button allllll the time. Similarly I want a button to make my petrol cost less.

  8. Richard 33

    HP LaserJet 5M

    I got a refurb HP LaserJet 5M for £80 including next day delivery. There are places you can get it cheaper.

    This is an HP printer built to last. It has an ethernet port, native PostScript, and you cram in up to 66MB (sic) of RAM for almost nothing assuming you can find old 72 pin DIMMs at a boot sale.

    Refurb toner cartridges are also cheap as chips, giving it an unbeatable price per page.

    Very simple to configure with a static IPv4 address, and the output (though obviously only mono) looks brilliant.

    1. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit
      Thumb Up

      5si here with added duplex. Never had much joy with non genuine cartridges myself and genuine ones seem to have just gone out of production so I'll probably have to upgrade in a year or two when the current toner stock runs out. It'll certainly be another HP and quite likely an 8550 which will be popping out of the rental chain in their thousands around then.

    2. Z80

      Our 5M was manufactured in 1996 according to the label on the back and it's still going strong. It's only fairly recently been demoted to lesser duties due to its slow speed compared to the new stuff.

      It's outlasted several far more recent purchases - it seems they really don't make them like they used to.

  9. David Given

    Is Postscript support really an issue these days? Don't all sensible operating systems automatically render Postscript to whatever wacky format the printer supports behind the scenes?

    I bought a Konica Minolta PP1400W several years ago for 50 UKP. It's cheap, not very fast, but works beautifully --- I've never had to replace the toner cartridge (I think I'm only on my second ream of paper). I plugged it into my Ubuntu system, it was autodetected and Just Worked. I *think* it's PCL, but given that I can print PDF, Postscript, plain text, etc, all with lpr, is it really important?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Hmno, looks like no native postscript

      Though it's easier to find printers that do, there's still a large body of printers that just don't do postscript. Mostly the lower end, ment for the home, variety. Like, well, yours.

      The folks at ubuntu do a pretty job at automating and hiding complexity and all that--as long as you follow their railroad*. So I think you'll find you're not using plain old lpr, but more something like CUPS with foomatic scriptery and ghostscript with the min12xxw output driver for the conversion. You have, in fact, a winprinter. Look for the tell-tale "GDI" in the specs.

      For some folks (like, well, er, uh, oh, me.) having a printer that doesn't need to borrow a brain from a nearby desktop is indeed important, for quite a few reasons large and small, long and short term. You lucked out in your printer install as even the back-end was just available through your software installer, and if not, well, how often do you install a printer, a computer?

      If you don't do it just for yourself or just the old home situation, it quickly becomes quite a different story. I could detail but, well, enough about it already. Part of being a troubleshooter. There's nothing wrong with your setup working fine for you, but it's not what I want. Been there, done that, didn't even get a t-shirt. I don't want a printer that needs software running elsewhere before it can do its thing. I want postscript. That is all.

      * If you don't, then less so, of course. I have had need to toy with that a bit.

    2. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      @David Given

      "Don't all sensible operating systems automatically render Postscript to whatever wacky format the printer supports behind the scenes?"

      Have you thought about that statement?

      Just how do you do that if the manufacturer is not willing to supply documentation for the whacky format? It is all very well to assume all printers have a Windows driver, but for what versions of windows? And what about a Mac driver? Or Linux?

      That is why I asked about compatibility, and why the other comment about postscript is so relevant - it works and is OS-independent.

  10. Anonymous Coward


    If you have less than 100 sovs to spend my money is always on the Brother units. We've had loads of them and they last for years and years, It's one thing reviewing these printers and looking at the specs on paper, but in in the real word the Brother's seem to be king.

  11. ScottME

    Another vote for an old LaserJet

    I bought a lightly-used HP LaserJet 6MP off eBay for £50. That was five years ago, and I'm still on only the second toner cartridge - they cost ~£30 and last at least 15K pages. OK, it doesn't do automatic duplex (but you can re-feed the paper!) and I had to invest another £20 in a s/h JetDirect network adapter but I reckon you can't do much better. It'll be a sad day when mine turns up its toes, but on its performance so far I think it might just outlast me!

  12. cpage

    HP - good printers, bad sales strategy

    I've had an HP1000 printer for several years, which has been very reliable, and non-HP cartridges are fairly cheap. But I'm going to have to replace it soon because HP have chosen not to release drivers for Windows Vista or Win7, so when my last Win-XP computer goes, so will the printer (since the PC is used to do the rendering, it simply won't work without a specific driver).

    This is obviously a ploy by HP to force me to replace a perfectly good working printer with another one bought from them. I take strong exception to this, so, despite having used lots of HP laser printers over the years with generally good experiences, the next one I buy will be from any company except HP.

  13. Swoop

    Envelope printing

    Ah, but will any of them print on DL (220mm x 110mm) self-seal envelopes without rucking them? The MD's PA is forever complaining about this, and I have tried many makes and models but without success, despite the specs saying acceptable media types include envelopes.

    And yes, I have suggested she use window envelopes, but apparently these do not look "professional" enough.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Depends on the envelopes.

      Envelopes that in fact aren't fit for laser printing were my first thought, but of course it might also be the printer. Maybe look at the rollers? See if the envelopes run properly on the envelope path? See if there isn't a paper path available that runs as straight as possible? Mine can send things out the top or out the back; the latter takes more room but causes less trouble for printing odd things like, oh, envelopes, or heavy stock.

      Alternatives? Envelopes that don't mind the heat, which might mean old-style gummed (get a small postage sponge type thing), non-gummed (glue stick, tape), or self-sealing explicitly made to work with a laser printer, like those whachamacallit double flap jobs. Or maybe an inkjet printer though "modern" ones will cost you more ink in that "cleaning" action each time it starts than in printing a few envelopes.

      Or a small label printer to produce addressing stickers.

      Thinking about it, windowed envelopes also means being careful nothing else besides the address is visible, including with a bit of nudging. So I deleted the rest of the comment and decided for her situation envelopes without windows are just peachy.

      1. Swoop

        Thanks AC

        Yeah, we tried various different types of envelope to no avail. I guess a printer with a straight-through paper path is probably the way to go.

  14. Simon B

    Toner yields?

    I'd have liked to see the yield and cost of an EOM toner cartridge (and drum), as my research always showed what appeared to be a good printer was let down by low yield toners. Just my opinion, but an interesting read none the less.

  15. The Unexpected Bill

    Laser Printers

    The Dell printer looks so much like a Samsung laser printer because it probably *is* a Samsung laser printer. If you look at the driver files, you will probably find that they are thinly disguised, with the version information for each giving away the truth. Likewise with the self test page if it's got one.

    While on the subject, Samsung has some very credible low cost laser printers, and while I have no experience with anything newer than a 2006 model, their drivers were quite good for Windows and Macintosh systems. (It's also been my experience that while Samsung did "chip" some of their toner cartridges, they will usually continue to work until they really are empty.)

    HP's low cost laser printers aren't too bad mechanically, but someone at HP seems inclined to turn their print drivers into a complicated mess. Even the low end LaserJets were free of this scourge for a while, but I fear it has spread to them as well.

    Although not the subject of the review, a used laser printer is worth considering for some...especially if it's an older HP LaserJet series machine. They run almost forever on cheap supplies and usually only ask that you put in a new set of rollers and pick pads every few ten thousands of pages you run through one. A LaserJet III probably isn't a reasonable suggestion for anything other than very basic printing needs and is likely to have a lot of miles on it now anyway, but a LaserJet 5, 6 or 4050/4100 is a pretty reasonable bet.

  16. Michael Souris

    Samsung ML3710ND is £169 + VAT at Printerbase, and currently Samsung will give you £130 cashback or 5 years warretny on this printer - which must make it the best value as well as the Editor's choice?

    I bought 2, both with 1/2 price additional paper tray, stunning output quality.

  17. Christian Berger

    The issue about Postscript

    It's actually quite simple, if you have a Postscript printer, it supports at least one open standard, Postscript. It's also likely they support other standards like PCL.

    I have a non-Postscript printer. This means every time I want to get it running, I need to install some obscure piece of software which is not shipped with the distribution.

    So Postscript is more a symptom of good printers and less a feature you actually want to use.

    As for old printers, at my parent's place we have an old HP Laserjet 4 from 1992. It still works fine and the toner can be bought at any larger office supply store.

  18. Gordon861

    Cheap Laser

    I'm still running a cheap Samsung ML-1200 from years ago, and know a number of people also running these old lasers. The latest model is available for less than £50 online now.

  19. Fotis Zafeiropoulos

    What about TCO?

    Who cares how much they cost to buy? What about the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)?

    How many pages will the printer produce during its expected lifetime? For how many of these the toner is more expensive than the printer itself? How many models require the change of a developer unit after a few hundred thousand pages at the price of a small second hand car?

    Rant rant rant rant rant!!!!!!!

    Ranting is good on Monday morning!


  20. SpottedCow

    Connectivity for the Samsung ML3710ND?

    I read several times just to confirm my eyesight wasn't letting me down --does the Samsung have network connectivity, or is it just USB?

    Even on a small level, having a network port is a plus for me --it allows me to have a printer on the home network that can easily be shared by my desktop, the one I built for the missus, and our laptops, without having a system dedicated to sharing the printer out. In my case though, I usually just rebuild something someone else retired, since the cartridges on a slightly older system (e.g., HP Laserjet 2100/2200/2300) can be found inexpensively, as can basic kit such as print rollers. All the service manuals are relatively easy to find in PDF form as well.

  21. Loyal Commenter

    Not quite sure where you got £340 from

    For that Samsung printer? I can find it for £220 with £130 cash back (!) from a well-known online electronics retailer.

    If it's anywhere near as sturdy as the old Samsung ML-4500 I have creaking away under my desk, I'd say it seems to be a bargain.

    Oh, and you also seem to forget to mention that this particular printer has a duplexing unit., Samsung also do several cheap and reliable printers in the sub-£100 category, and a couple of full colour ones too. As far as I can see, these all support Postscript and PCL, I certainly never had any trouble getting the ML-4500 working under Linux, even with a USB to parallel cable adapter (yes it is old enough to still use a parallel interface).

This topic is closed for new posts.