atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#120: Printing in the 21st Century (finally)

Well, at long last my printing technology has caught up with the rest of my technological menagerie. I got a new printer today, a Brother HL-2040 to replace the Brother HL-8e I've been using since the mid-1990s.

OfficeMax has them on sale for $80, which is a great price for a 20-ppm laser printer.

I originally got the HL-8e for several reasons:

1) It used Canon's SX print engine, which I'm an expert at repairing.
2) It was a good deal; I traded a hard drive and $150 for it.
3) My last printer, an Epson RX-80 F/T vintage 1984, had had its tractor feeds literally held together with rubber bands for at least five years, and I needed something that printed more nicely than "draft" quality.
4) Just about any other printer that I could have bought new at the time would have been slower and less durable.

I'm not replacing the HL-8e because it's broken; I'm replacing it because it's HUGE and it's a power hog. The fuser draws 600 watts whenever it turns on, and it turns on nearly every time it prints a page. The UPS screeches and the lights dim when I switch the printer on, and the lights flicker periodically whenever the printer is idling because the fuser has to be kept hot.

Ideally, it prints around 8 pages per minute--at least, the Canon SX engine is rated at that speed--but in practical terms it never really prints much of anything that fast. And it takes time for the thing to spin up when you send it a page.

The last three repairs that I made to the thing were fuser units and AC power modules. I've put three AC power modules into that printer since I've owned it, because I can't leave it on when I'm not using it. It draws too much power and the lights flicker, which annoys me. So I turn it on, print, and shut it off, which is just death for electronics. And the AC power module is what switches the fuser unit on and off, so it's doubly bad; when you first switch the printer on, it has to switch nearly 10 amps of current. Once the printer has powered up it only has to deal with around 5.5 amps, whenever the fuser is switched on or off, so the old adage about electronics lasting longer if you leave them on is true, at least in this case.

The new printer is supposed to print 20 pages per minute. My first print job garnered 9.1 actual pages per minute, but to be fair the document contained several pages with graphics, which (obviously) slows down printing a bit. And it starts printing very quickly, too.

But the real advantage--besides those of speed and power efficiency--is that it prints graphics very nicely. It's got a resolution of about 1200 DPI, which is 16x the resolution of the old printer. It could only manage 300 DPI.

Well, the box says it has a maximum resolution of 2400x600, and refers to "HQ1200 resolution". I have no idea what any of that means; it's marketing gobbeldygook, and the quick reference quide has no "specifications" page to tell me what the actual resolution is. So I suppose that my claim of "1200 DPI" is probably close enough, anyway. The pictures are just beautiful, anyway.

The printer has a separate toner and drum unit. I've never been too happy with that kind of system, but it probably doesn't matter all that much in the long run. The toner cart--good for 2,500 pages--costs $64 at OfficeMax, but it came with a "starter toner cartridge" which is supposedly good for 1,500 pages. (Pages are rated at 5% coverage, which is approximately what you get when you have an 8.5x11" page with 1" margins and nothing but text in the printing area.) I have no idea what a drum unit costs. Probably $80--wouldn't that be ironic? Wait until the printer goes on sale again and just buy a new one....

Well, of late the printer industry is following the Gilette business model: sell the basic unit as cheap as is feasible and make your money on cartridges. It's why Lexmark tried to sue a company which was making ink cartridges which were compatible with Lexmark printers--the competition was eating into Lexmark's profits.

The same is probably true of this machine. I know that, for a while, it was almost cheaper to buy a new printer than it was to buy fresh ink cartridges, but I don't know anyone who actually did that.

So right now it's on, and the lights aren't flickering, and the presence of the big old HL-8e does not loom large on my right shoulder any more.

Maybe someday my kids will come across her and fire her up to see if she works. My bet is, she will.

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