Print for less

A new all-in-one laser printer from Samsung


(FSB Online) -- Modern ink jet printers are both cheap and fabulous - how often do you see that combination? Canon (Charts)'s Pixma iP6700D lists for a measly $179 and essentially puts a fully functioning photo lab on your desk. And the HP (Charts, Fortune 500) Photosmart C7180 delivers a wireless printer, scanner and fax for just $399.

Now for the bad news: ink jet cartridges cost a fortune. A full set of replacement cartridges for the HP, for example, lists at $81 from HP.com. And depending on usage, it might only produce a several hundred prints. So cost per page can easily hit the 20-cent range. Ouch!

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Samsung CLX-3160FN

That's why laser printers remain the weapon of choice for even the most modest small businesses. Laser printers cost more up front but are far cheaper to run: Cost per page averages around a penny or even less.

And laser printers are getting cheaper. The Okidata C6100 series, for example, offers a small office workhorse with good-looking prints and built-in double side printing, for a starting price of $944.

Multi-function laser printers packed with sophisticated networking and scanning feature are now hitting the low end of the market. I've spent the last month or so testing Samsung's new entry-level all-in-one, the CLX-3160FN (about $550 retail).

Overall, the CLX offers decent print quality at reasonable speeds for a great price. But there are many rough edges to this unit, which highlight the challenges a small business will face trying to squeeze the most love from their printing dollar.

Heavy duty

The CLX is one of the lighter multi-function laser printers out there, but it still clocks in at 45 pounds - manhandling this brute into the office and out of its box will easily replace your daily workout.

The unit is finished in an elegant, we-are-serious-about-our-business shade of gray. The document handler, control panel, speed dials and (smallish) display are well laid out and ready to use. Connecting to a single PC was fast and easy: In about 20 minutes I was printing, scanning and faxing.

The CLX heats up from a standing start and prints in about 30 seconds. You can expect about 15 pages per minute - about average for laser these days. And quality, while not pristine, is more than good enough for most businesses that don't sell graphics or design.

A full set of replacement cartridges runs $350 (you get one $80 black-and-white cartridge plus three $90 color units). But you can expect thousands upon thousands of prints from each set. The average cost per page is about a penny.

Network angst

So far, so good. But Samsung (Charts) brought the pain when I tried to install the CLX on my office network via the printer's Ethernet jack. The printer requires an available port on a router or hub and access to several crucial bits of networking information, including - get ready to channel your inner geek here - domain name servers, local internet addresses, mail server information and access codes to your office router. And you can only change the machine's settings via a Web-based control application that runs from a PC on your local network.

Inexcusably, the enclosed manual provides little guidance on networking the unit. You either figure it out on own, get on the phone with Samsung support as I did, or hire a nerd to do it for you. A Samsung spokesperson acknowledged that the manual was less than clear and said that that the company was developing automated systems to simplify the networking process on future devices.

Bottom line

The CLX offers great value for basic printing, faxing and office work. But you need considerable networking experience to configure scan-to-email and other advanced features on your own.  Top of page

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.