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Lexmark E323

This is the only printer on test to be finished in shiny black, which may or may not fit in with your décor. Styling aside, the Lexmark E323 also has one of the simplest paper paths of any printer tested here. A near vertical 150 sheet paper input hopper at the rear feeds paper through the printer to an output tray at the same angle set nearer the front. A multi-purpose paper tray for envelopes and special media is fitted to the front of the input hopper and an optional 250 sheet extra tray can be fitted underneath.

The sloping top surface offers two buttons and six indicators, adding a general-purpose error indicator and one telling you to press the Continue button after paper jams, to the more traditional low toner, load paper and paper jam lights. At the rear are sockets for USB 2.0 and parallel connections. There's a fully networkable E323N model available too.

A combined drum and toner cartridge is available in two capacities and slots in easily under the printer's top cover. A cover at the front folds down to help recover from any paper jams, and although we experienced no jams, we did see a paper misfeed, when two sheets fed through at once.

Again, installation is not a difficult process, as all you need to do is connect the cable and run the supplied CD. As well as drivers for the printer, a copy of Lexmark's network printer control software is supplied, though this isn't quite up to the slick standards of MarkVision, the company's heavyweight network printer utility.

The printer driver supports multi-page impositions, overlays and watermarks, providing you with plenty of control over the way your printouts look. Although Lexmark claims a top 1,200dpi print quality, the E323 is only physically capable of half this resolution.

Considering that Lexmark claims a top speed of 20ppm, a test time of over 1 minute 23 seconds for our 20 page document is around 35 per cent out. This is largely due to a prolonged warm-up period of up to 21 seconds, nearly twice as long as the Lexmark quoted time. The other tests gave times close to the competition with the five-page text and graphics document printing in just 25 seconds and the five by three inch photo, at 600dpi, completing in 14 seconds.

Print quality was good throughout, with fine text still showing dense black and graphics showing some smooth grey scales. The greyscale photo had unfortunate banding in the area of sky, but was generally well-defined.

Since the print driver offers the option to duplex print, we though for a minute this was an undocumented feature. In fact, it pops up on-screen instructions for manual duplexing. That would have been OK, if the mini-video instructions hadn’t shown the paper being taken straight from the output tray and put back in the input tray. Do this and all the second sides will be printed upside down. Under test, we also saw a paper misfeed while manually duplexing.

The two drum and toner cartridges available for the E323 have page yields of 3,000 and 6,000 pages at five per cent cover. With typical prices of £88 and £116, respectively, this gives a cost per page of 3.5p for the low yield cartridge, dropping to 2.5p for the high yield one. These costs put the printer at the high end of the group for cost of ownership.

Verdict

Although there's little to complain about with the Lexmark E323, there's also little in the way of features or performance to make it stand out from others at around the same price.

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