- Review Price: £469.00
The dear departed Douglas Adams once stated that printer manufacturers such as Xerox aren’t in the business of selling printers, but instead they are in the business of selling toner cartridges, which means that they, incidentally, first have to sell you a printer.
Well, Samsung illustrates this point nicely with its CLP-500 colour laser printer that retails for less than £500 including VAT. The four starter toner cartridges are rated at 2,000 sheets K and 1,500 sheets for CMY, and then you need to head for the shops and buy a new set of cartridges which will cost you £340 inc VAT. The new toner cartridges are rated 7,000 pages for black and 5,000 pages for CMY but even so, ouch.
Hit 50,000 pages of use and you’ll be fitting a new belt transfer unit at £100 and a new OPC drum at £135, raising costs to 7p per page if you do lots of colour printing. While we’re on the subject of cost, this model isn’t network enabled. The CLP-500N will cost you £600 inc VAT and for the extra money you get a 10/100 BaseT network adapter. If you want to upgrade the CLP-500 that we’re testing here to be network ready, the 10/100 BaseT card costs £194 inc VAT, so you may as well go the whole hog and spend £234 for a network adapter that also includes WiFi.
It’s a strange fact that we’re still willing to pay a fortune for proprietary upgrades and extras, but it seems absurd that the network feature adds so much to the cost of a printer when these sorts of controllers are effectively free of charge on most motherboards.
If you feel the need to perform an upgrade, a hatch on the back of the printer hides a metal cover, and under that is the connection point for a network adapter as well as a memory expansion slot. Given the cost of upgrades, it comes as a surprise that Samsung includes duplex as a basic feature and doesn’t charge a premium for that too.
We found the CLP-500 quick and easy to unpack and set up, although there is a surprising amount of assembly work required. Once we had unpacked the box we had to insert the four toner trays in the left hand side, and then drop the imaging unit and transfer belt in the top of the printer. Everything is usefully colour coded, however initially we managed to only lock one of the two belt transfer unit levers and the printer reported a specific error message on the LCD display. After we fixed the problem the error message persisted until we cycled the power.
Installing the printer on our Windows XP PC using USB 2.0 was quick and simple, but we were annoyed to see that Samsung doesn’t include a cable with this Parallel and USB 2.0 printer to get you up and running. Granted different offices require different cabling, but surely a five metre USB 2.0 cable would cost Samsung peanuts.
We were almost ready to test the CLP-500, but the printer drivers installed the printer to LPT1, instead of the USB port. Once we had corrected this issue the test print rattled off and we were ready.
Our first test of 5% coverage mono printing started well enough, but almost immediately the printer jammed. This was the only jam that we suffered but it was educational as you have to effectively gut the printer to clear the jam. The top cover cannot be opened on its own. Instead you have to open the left cover, pull the K toner cartridge out a couple of inches, and then you can open the top cover, giving you access to the transfer belt unit. Once that is out of the way you can fish out the errant sheet of paper. The whole process takes about a minute from start to finish, but it seems a little involved. Having said that, jammed paper has nowhere to hide once you open the printer up, so the design of the CLP-500 has both pros and cons.
We ran our text tests on the standard print quality setting of 600dpi, although we also carried out one photo printing test using the 1,200dpi ‘best quality’ setting. Unlike inkjet photo printers, a colour laser printer is likely to spend its working life churning out pages of mono text and coloured handouts, such as PowerPoint presentations. The colour has to look good and eye catching but photo-realism isn’t really the priority. To that extent the Samsung did a surprisingly good job in all our tests.
We started with 50 pages of 5% coverage mono text. The first page dropped after 17 seconds, and the test completed after three minutes and five seconds with a noticeable pause in printing at page nine. That’s an average of 16ppm, compared to the claimed figure of 20ppm.
Mixed output includes mono screen grabs and grey scales, but no colour. This time the first page dropped after 16 seconds and 50 pages took four minutes 22 seconds to complete. Once again there was a pause in printing which we timed at over a minute, and that dropped the average to a little over 11ppm.
Next we printed 50 pages of an Acrobat PDF which was mostly mono and grey scales, but it also included small colour images. The first page took 27 seconds, with all 50 pages taking eight minutes and 35 seconds, averaging just under 6ppm.
Colour output is more tricky to measure as there are so many different ways that companies can choose to use it. We ran off some PowerPoint slides with bright coloured backgrounds, which we timed at a little over 3ppm, and finally we ran off two A4 photos. At 600dpi the first photo took 27 seconds and at 1,200dpi the second photo took 46 seconds.
In all cases the quality of the mono text was as good as we could ask for, with crisp clear edges, but of course this quality really ought to be inherent in any modern laser printer. We had rather mixed views on the quality of the colour prints. There is no doubt that the 1,200dpi output looked better than 600dpi, but even so it wasn’t perfect. The issue was colour control and the way that the pixels were dithered. Individually each page was perfectly acceptable, but if you compared the printed output to the original image you could usually spot differences. We feel this would be OK for the vast majority of office printing, but if you intend to print out colour samples or swatches we doubt the CLP-500 is the printer for you.
Our single biggest reservation is the high cost of running this printer if you expect to print many pages each month, particularly if you use colour. On the other hand, if you want a colour laser printer with a low initial price and you don’t have a heavy duty cycle then the Samsung CLP-500 could be just what you need.
Score in detail
Print Speed 7
Print Quality 7