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Sub-$1,000 color laser printers such as the and the Samsung CLP-500 are storming the market, but a $2,099 (as of November 2004) machine such as the Lexmark C762n might be a better choice for a fast-paced office that requires complicated paper handling and wants to track printing per employee or account. It's better to pay more up front for a powerful machine if you can't afford to skimp on such functions in the long run. You can also customize the C762n with Lexmark's wide assortment of paper-handling options for printing envelopes or long jobs. Against other midrange printers we've tested, the Lexmark C762n printed color the fastest and yielded especially attractive text quality. We found only minor details to criticize, but be prepared to pay the price if you want a color laser printer with such sophisticated features. For $600 less, consider the Lexmark C760n, which supports an optional duplexer and a 500-sheet paper tray but not the C762n's other paper-handling options. The Lexmark C762n looks deceptively simple. Its two-tone gray-plastic shell bulges slightly across the front and the top, with the control panel at the crest. The printer is remarkably compact for a color laser built around a horizontal single-pass engine, which processes one color at a time. Still, this machine is too bulky for small work spaces. At 20 inches high by 24 inches wide and 18 inches deep, it weighs more than 100 pounds and for no sensible reason has handgrips on only one side, which turns moving the machine into a workout. You'll find the power switch on the back wall of the C762n, where it's easy to reach if you're familiar with it but no fun to grope for if you don't.
The control panel's two-line LCD lacks backlighting, which may force you to squint to read in poor light. But it's easy to navigate, thanks to a clear menu hierarchy and well-designed buttons. Six menu buttons line the narrow strip under the LCD--four for moving sideways and up and down through the menus and two for increasing or decreasing option values. The menus include basics such as a quick view of toner levels. They also let you set network configurations and correct colors.
On the C762n's right side, two doors expose possible paper-jam sites and the printer's fuser. The 100-page auxiliary tray on the left side saves space by opening at a 20-degree angle rather than lying flat. But to adjust the tray's sticky paper-width guide, we had to open it completely; you'll need to give the C762n room on both sides. The printer's front wall flips up to expose paper-jam sites and the four combination toner/drum cartridges. The cartridges smoothly slide straight in and out of the machine; a thumb-pull on the front edge and a strap along the top makes them easy to grab. A few flaps on the printer's shell are for adding paper-handling options such as the sorter stapler.
If you want to expand the printer's default 128MB of memory, you can access the DIMM expansion slot by unscrewing the metal sheet on the back wall of the machine. The printer supports up to a whopping 640MB--double the max of the earlier --which should keep your Photoshop-wielding graphics department happy. But Lexmark charges an audacious $1,259 for a 256MB DIMM, so buy your memory elsewhere. For $535, you can plug in a 20GB hard drive to store fonts and reusable documents such as forms. Other slots on the controller support flash-memory cards that make it possible to print bar codes or encrypt documents stored on the printer.In CNET Labs' tests of the Lexmark C762n, setup with Windows XP was a breeze. We just popped the installer CD into the PC connected to the machine, let it run automatically, clicked OK a few times, then plugged in the USB cable.
You'll probably connect to your office network via the Lexmark C762n's Ethernet interface, which should be just as smooth. Once you install Lexmark's driver on your print server and enter the printer's IP address on the C762n's control panel, clients will see the printer and can grab its driver with a couple of clicks.
The Lexmark C762n's driver comes with color-print permissions that you can set so that users have to enter a password before printing in color. This prevents long-term toner waste. The account-tracking feature is useful for law offices and accounting firms that want to assign print jobs to their clients' bills. Among its sophisticated features, this printer's driver lets you reduce multiple pages and print them on one sheet, blow up a page into a multipage poster complete with crop marks, and control color-matching and density settings. The Print And Hold feature lets you send a document to the printer and examine one copy before releasing the whole job; alternately, it can hold the document until you enter a password. And through Lexmark's MarkVision network printer-management software, your office network guru can monitor and fine-tune network operations.
The Lexmark C762n's support for high-end add-ons leads to its high cost. The basic model ships with a 100-sheet auxiliary tray and a 500-sheet main tray, but if your budget allows, you can add enough paper-handling equipment to bury the printer itself. An external duplexer that rests under the main tray costs $549, a second 500-sheet feeder costs $411, and a 2,000-sheet feeder costs a whopping $1,249. Lexmark also sells a $399 envelope drawer, a $226 output expander that adds 650 pages to the 250-page main output tray, and a five-bin mailbox that separates users' jobs. For comparison, a 525-sheet add-on for thecosts $399; a duplexer for it runs $319. A 530-sheet tray for the costs $550, and a duplexer costs a frightening $999.
Two other add-ons accommodate exotic media such as banners. A $499 tray that slips into grooves in the auxiliary tray feeds 8.5-by-36-inch banner paper. The auxiliary tray can feed the occasional sheet of Lexmark's outdoor media, but if you plan to use that a lot, Lexmark recommends dedicating a $411.25 tray to it. The polyester media costs $80 for a pack of 100 letter-size sheets. Plain-paper banners cost $27.95 for a pack of 50.
We've duly warned you that Lexmark's extras don't come cheap. On the other hand, toner and other replaceables are modestly priced. The printer ships with 6,000-page starter cartridges, but if you replace them with the 15,000-page models and return the empties to Lexmark, black toner will run a cheap 1.1 cents per page and color about 8.6 cents per page. That compares well to the 1.9 cents per black page and 12.1 cents per color page of theQuality and the 2.1 cents for black and 9.6 cents for color of the .
CNET's print-quality jury liked what the Lexmark C762n produced, especially its ordinary text, which was black but not heavy and appeared evenly weighted in different fonts and sizes. In case you're printing complicated contracts loaded with fine print, you'll be glad to know that the C762n's tiniest type sizes are legible. Color text was bright and nearly neon, but it was pale in places, with some fading at the very tops and bottoms of letters.