Dell 3330dn monochrome laser

The Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) 3330dn monochrome laser printer may not look exceptional, with its compact footprint, low price ($599 as of April 5, 2010), and rather basic feature set. But it offers impressive speed and print quality, plus plenty of connectivity and other ways to grow. It would be a good choice for a busy small or medium-size workgroup.

The 3330dn blew through our formal PCWorld Labs tests almost as quickly as did the Lexmark E460dn, which it closely resembles. It printed plain-text pages at a swift 23.8 pages per minute, and it handled a variety of colour graphics at a good average speed of 7.5 ppm. As often happens, the printer ran slower when connected to a Mac, turning in page rates of 18 ppm for plain text, and 4.3 ppm for a document with mixed text and colour graphics (printed as grayscale). Text quality was perfect, but graphics quality was marred by noticeable banding and a limited mid-range of grays that made round objects and shadowy areas look too dark or too flat.

The printer’s monthly duty cycle of 80,000 pages indicates that Dell built it for high-volume use. The 3330dn is a jack of all connections, too: You may attach it directly to a computer or NAS box via USB; to your local network via Ethernet; or even to an old-school print server via its parallel port. If you need more than the standard 64MB of DDR2-SDRAM memory, a side panel opens for easy access to the upgrade slot. Dell sells modules ranging in capacity from 128MB to 512MB; the latter costs $120. From the front, you can pull a handle to unfold a 50-sheet multipurpose tray, or you can open the entire front panel to reveal the printer’s toner cartridge bay (a side button unlocks the panel). Automatic duplexing is a great paper-saving feature. A rear fold-out straight paper path handles envelopes and other thick media easily. But for a printer this fast, the 250-sheet standard input tray and 150-sheet output tray seem unduly small. You can add a 550-sheet input tray for $100.

The front control panel is very easy to use, and the four-line, monochrome LCD display sports a refreshingly large typeface. The extensive on-printer controls include a numeric keypad–convenient for entering numbers such as a static IP address. The onboard menu is laid out logically, and you don’t have to drill down far to find the most common functions. Messages suffer from excessively technical jargon only in the networking section.

The 3330dn ships with a standard-capacity, 7,000-page toner cartridge that, when purchased separately, costs $160 (or 2.3 cents per page). A high-capacity, 14,000-page cartridge is available for $215 (which works out to 1.5 cents per page). These affordable prices reflect a promise to return the empties to Dell; nonreturnable cartridges cost $220 and $300, respectively. The drum has a 30,000-page life and costs $35 to replace.

The Dell 3330dn would be a great workhorse monochrome laser for a small or medium-size workgroup. You might need to upgrade the paper capacity from the get-go, but the printer’s low toner costs will keep your budget on track.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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