The Good Fast color and monochrome printing; true PostScript and PCL emulation.
The Bad Expensive paper trays and duplexer options; starter toner supply runs out quickly.
The Bottom Line Although expandability can be expensive, the Lexmark C510 is a nearly perfect sub-$1,000 color laser printer for small businesses.
Lexmark C510 - printer - color - laser
With the Lexmark C510 series, Lexmark enters the quickly growing sub-$1,000 color laser market. (The network model, the Lexmark C510n, costs about $1,000, while the base model sells for $300 less.) But Lexmark adds its own special sauce: an emphasis on fast monochrome text. Better yet, the C510 offers true PostScript and PCL (printer control language) emulation, so color presentations look exactly as intended. Unfortunately, other practical options, such as additional paper trays and an automatic duplexer, are expensive. Still, for any small business wanting a solid monochrome workgroup laser and with color printing needs, the Lexmark C510 is a wise investment. We reviewed the Lexmark C510n, which comes with a 250-sheet paper tray, a 500MHz processor, 128MB of memory, a USB port, and a built-in Ethernet 10/100 network adapter--features sufficient for many small to midsize businesses. A wireless 802.11b print server is available for $199. Weighing a somewhat heavy 67 pounds, the C510n measures 19.5 inches by 16.5 inches by 15.2 inches (W, D, H), an average size for a workgroup printer these days. Also in the same product line, the base model Lexmark C510 comes with only 64MB of memory and a USB or parallel port, while the higher-end Lexmark C510dtn has 128MB of memory, a built-in Ethernet 10/100 network adapter, an automatic duplexer, and an additional 530-sheet paper tray (for a total of 780 sheets).
On the C510n, a spacious 250-sheet output tray tops off the printer. In the middle, the four toner cartridges reside behind the front panel. Each cartridge locks into a stackable tray that's almost foolproof to load; closing the front door pushes each cartridge into its locked position. Unfortunately, the Lexmark C510n ships with skimpy, 1,500-sheet starter cartridges, so you'll have to buy more toner right away. The individual 3,000-sheet color cartridge costs $99, but a better deal is the high-yield 6,600 sheet cartridge available for $176. The photo-developer cartridge and fuser unit, which thankfully, don't have to be replaced often, are located behind the toner cartridges, and replacements cost $230 and $212, respectively.
At the bottom of the unit lives a 250-sheet paper tray, which is small for all but a home office or an individual user. An additional 250-sheet drawer costs a reasonable $149; however, a more practical 530-sheet drawer costs nearly half the price of the printer itself: $399. Another expensive yet very practical option is the automatic duplexer for two-sided printing, priced at $599. Plain paper sheets follow a C-shaped paper path, and in our informal testing, we experienced no paper jams. There is also a straight-through path for card stock, envelopes, and transparencies through the base of the front panel.
In the box, you get the printed Quick Reference card, the Clear Jams Quick Reference card, and the fairly thorough Reference Guide. The CD-ROM includes additional help publications concerning print quality. Perhaps the Lexmark C510n's best feature is its coverage estimator, which automatically calculates the amount of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black toner used to print a given image and displays those figures on the printed sheet. This is helpful when factoring the individual cost per page of a given color document if you plan to print multiple copies of that page later. For example, after using the coverage estimator, say that a given image uses 12 percent cyan, 8 percent magenta, 6 percent yellow, and 3 percent black. By knowing the cost of the standard 6,000-sheet color and 10,000-sheet black toner cartridges, you could calculate the net cost of each printed copy to be 15 cents per page.
Unlike most bargain color laser printers we've seen recently, the Lexmark C510n uses true PostScript 3 and PCL 6 emulations. This means that the exact fonts and colors you design on your desktop will render correctly on the printed page. The Lexmark C510n also lets you control within the print driver the amount of individual color applied to a print job, useful when correcting for skin tone and other subtleties in photos without the need for photo-editing software.
The print drivers shipped with the Lexmark C510n are compatible with Windows, Mac, Linux, Novell, Sun, and AS/400 operating systems. Within individual driver tabs, you'll find a plethora of useful options, including individual printer account tracking, watermarks, printer status, and PostScript or PCL language identification. Among the many statistics provided by the Lexmark C510n drivers are the number of monochrome and color pages; the number of PCL 5, PCL 6, and PostScript jobs; the number of cartridges of toner used; remaining capacity; and number of pages by type of media, such as plain, transparency, and card stock. That's probably more information than most individuals will need, but businesses might find such information useful.
Lexmark also offers several add-on, application-specific options such as a &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Elexmark%2Ecom%2FUS%2Fsolutions%2Fbarcode%2Ehtml">bar code-generating card for $399; an &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Elexmark%2Ecom%2Fnetworking%2FIQsimm%2Ehtml">ImageQuick card, which imports common graphic file formats without a driver, for $319; and a PrintCryption card, which encrypts print jobs for added security, for $249. These add-on cards allow you to print, in conjunction with specialized software, secure bar-coded product labels and photo ID cards. The Lexmark C510n is our fast monochrome-printing champion among affordable color laser printers. In CNET Labs tests, the C510n pumped out up to 19.2 pages per minute (ppm) of monochrome text and 17.4ppm of monochrome graphics, respectively. That's almost twice as fast as the 10.6ppm text and 10.7ppm graphics or the 8.7ppm for both text and graphics.
In tests of color printing, the Lexmark C510n's score was also impressive. While most color lasers output around 4ppm for color documents, the Lexmark managed 6.8ppm for color text and 6.3ppm for color graphics. That's a little slower than the HP Color LaserJet 3500 at 7.2ppm text and 8.6ppm graphics, but the Lexmark C510n takes a wide lead over the Minolta QMS Magicolor 2300DL's 4.1ppm text and 3.5ppm graphics.
The Lexmark C510n was, however, inconsistent in print quality. On monochrome documents, the text was too dark, so the small fonts sometimes bled together. On monchrome graphics, the shapes were too light, while the images were dotty and a little washed out, as if the printer were about to run out of ink.
On the other hand, the Lexmark C510n performed well where it counts: color printing. Our jury was happy with the sharpness and cleanliness of the color text, although the printer seemed to interpret tints of red and purple slightly differently than the colors in our original. In color graphics quality tests, we found a little banding here and there, but overall, the prints had very good image quality, even comparable to that produced by a photo inkjet.
Following CNET Labs' standard procedures, we tested the printer at the default settings of the software driver. When we adjusted the driver to counter the problems mentioned above, the print quality improved in all areas. Click here to learn more about how CNET Labs tests printers.
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