The Lexmark Inc. C792de colour laser printer ($1599 as of October 12, 2010) is one of the better workgroup printers we’ve tested to date. It isn’t quite as fast or as economical as the Dell (Nasdaq: DELL) 5130cdn, but it is much better equipped than the Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) Colour LaserJet Enterprise CP4025dn.
Measuring 22.3 by 20.2 by 20.3 inches and weighing 110 pounds, the hulking C792de is ready for just about anything. It comes with a 1.2GHz processor; its memory is expandable from 512MB standard to 1.5GB maximum. Paper handling includes automatic duplexing (two-sided printing), a 550-sheet input drawer, and a 100-sheet multipurpose feeder, as well as a 500-sheet top output bin. Add-ons abound, from 550-sheet drawers ($349 each) and a 2000-sheet high-capacity feeder ($899) to stacking, stapling, and other finishing options. The printer even has room to add a hard drive. The monthly maximum duty cycle is 150,000 pages, though Lexmark recommends working within 2500 to 17,000 pages. Connections are the usual USB and Ethernet. The standard warranty lasts one year; extensions up to five years range from $329 to $1149.
The 4.3-inch colour LCD touchscreen on the printer’s front control panel seemed occasionally slow to respond, but otherwise it made menu navigation very easy. You can customize the background or create a recurring slideshow, but the display’s most compelling purpose is to be a flexible interface for enhanced printer features such as forms on demand or programmable routines–it’s a far cry from the classic monochrome, text-only display with curt or inscrutable messages. The control panel also sports a USB drive port and an alphanumeric keypad.
The C792de was a top performer in our tests. Printing monochrome pages–mostly plain text, with a few simple grayscale graphics–the printer averaged a fast 22.7 pages per minute on the PC and 19.4 ppm on the Mac. On the PC, it printed snapshot-size photos on letter-size plain paper at a rate of 4.2 ppm, and at 2.2 ppm on glossy stock–both peppy times. The larger, more complex full-page photo that we print using the Mac emerged at 0.8 ppm, a decent speed.
Print quality is among the best we’ve seen from a colour laser. At the default 2400-by-600-dpi resolution, photos looked nearly as flawless as text, with very few rough spots and mostly true colors; flesh tones were a little orangey sometimes, and we spotted occasional oversaturation in other areas. At the maximum true resolution of 1200 by 1200 dpi, everything looked even better. This is a printer that could handle finer graphics work, let alone your everyday pie charts and spot colour.
Usually the printers that cost more to purchase offer cheaper ongoing toner costs in exchange. The C792de strays from that trend, though not too far. It ships with an 8500-page black cartridge and 11,000-page cyan, magenta, and yellow cartridges. The costs for its standard-size 6000-page replacements are average: $189 for black (3.1 cents per page) and $286 for each colour (4.8 cents per colour per page). A page with all four colours would cost 17.4 cents. The higher-yield costs are much better: The 20,000-page cartridges include a $298 black (1.5 cents per page) and $515 colours (2.6 cents per colour, per page), making for a four-color page that costs 9.2 cents. However, the HP Colour LaserJet Enterprise CP4025dn’s sole set of toners cost nearly the same as C792de’s high-yield supplies, and Dell’s 5130cdn offers far better pricing on all counts.
Lexmark’s C792de is a formidable contender among workgroup printers, with performance and features to spare. Only the middling toner prices seem uncompetitive.