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Introduction

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Laser printers are still the mainstay of office printing and a good few are based in homes and home-offices too. It's easy to see why, as their combination of speed and high image quality makes them ideal for day-to-day printed communications.

Laser printers come in all shapes and sizes from the strictly personal, one-per-desk unit costing around £100, to a full departmental printer with all the sorters, collators and bins an enterprise needs, which can stretch into many thousands of pounds. This targets laser printers in the entry level small-office market, all priced under £300. All these units are intended for individuals or small workgroups.

Most are intended for local connection, but some include or have optional network interfaces so they can be shared between several people. Some have duplexers fitted to allow printing on both sides of the paper in one operation, and most have the option for extra paper trays.

Having two paper trays on a printer not only increases the time it can go without refilling, but also offers the opportunity for different paper types, perhaps plain paper in one tray and letterheads in another.

Why go laser?

So, what are the advantages of a personal or small workgroup laser printer over its ink-jet cousin? There are several obvious ones and a couple of others which you may not have considered. Laser printers are considerably cheaper to run, with typical page costs of two or three pence. By comparison, inkjet print costs, even without colour, will typically set you back two to three times as much.

Laser prints are also considerably quicker than inkjets. Even with recent improvements in inkjet print speed, using longer heads to print a wider swathe across the page, the laser printer’s key advantage is that it prints a page at a time, rather than a strip. All the printers in this review can get close to 20 pages per minute.

Laser printers need less attention, with toner lasting for between 2,500 and 7,500 pages and drums typically from 20,000 pages to the lifetime of the printer. In a busy environment this lack of hassle can be a big bonus.

Less obvious advantages include light and water fastness. Laser print toner is sealed into the nap of the paper using heat and pressure, while some inkjets still use dye-based inks, which smear when wet and fade in strong sunlight. Although inkjet technology is advancing to remove both these shortcomings, laser print is still currently the more permanent of the two printing methods.

There's no reason, of course, apart from cost, why you shouldn't have both a laser printer and in inkjet in your office. The laser printer can take the bulk of the everyday jobs, producing fast and clean, black on white documents. The inkjet comes into its own where colour is essential, as it’s still considerably cheaper to buy a colour inkjet than a colour laser.

So here are eight small workgroup laser printers from all the major printer manufacturers. We ran them through our rigorous suite of bench tests and came up with winners based on feature sets, performance and running costs.

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