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Dell claims a top speed for the 3130cn of 30ppm, printing black text and 25ppm, printing colour. Our five-page text print took 24 seconds, though there's a 15 second warm-up to add to this, if the printer is sleeping. Without the warm-up time, this equates to 12.5ppm, less than half the listed speed. However, when you increase the page count to 20 pages, a print still completes in 52 seconds, giving a speed of 23ppm, not too far off the headline figure.
Our five-page, colour and black print took 24 seconds, giving a colour speed of 12.5ppm, so overall the printer doesn't come that close to its claimed speeds. However the speed it does achieve is adequate for most uses, unless you're running the machine in a very busy workgroup.
Text prints are clean and show little sign of spatter, or jagged edges to circular or diagonal strokes. Colour graphics are very smooth, with no banding and little in the way of dither patterns to distract you. However, some of the colour shades are darker than they should be and registration of black text with coloured backgrounds is not ideal, showing haloes on some characters.
Our test photo print reproduced well, again with very little sign of banding, reasonable levels of foreground detail and good shadow details. Edges are not quite as sharp as with some of the printer's rivals, though.
At first sight, there appear to be quite a few consumables in this machine. When we checked with Dell, though, the fuser, belt unit and separator roller all have service lives of 100,000 pages, so can effectively be considered lifetime components. This leaves the combined drum and toner cartridges and these are available in two capacities, of 3,000 and 4,000 pages for colour and black at standard yield, or 9,000 for each in high yield. Guess which cartridges are supplied with the printer out of the box?
Actually, 3,000 and 4,000 page cartridges are not bad yields these days for a new printer. We used the high-yield cartridges to calculate page costs and came up with figures of 1.84p for black and 6.31p for colour. These figures are both pretty good, when compared with other machines in the same price bracket. Even though it's hard to find Dell's cartridges at many outlets other than Dell, the company hasn't used its market position to the disadvantage of its customers.
This is a perfectly serviceable workgroup colour laser printer for general office use. Although it's a bit on the big and bulky side, there are plenty of larger and more expensive machines offering similar duty cycles. It's easy to service, is reasonably expandable, gives better than average print quality and is cheap to run.