The Brother HL-2170W laser monochrome printer provides a viable alternative to the bottomless money pit that has become today's inkjet printer. Modern photo, tricolor, and high capacity ink cartridges can cost anywhere between $20 to $100 per refill, so multiply that by your volume of prints and try not to balk at the true cost of owning an inkjet. As an alternative, supplementing a printer set up with an inexpensive black and white laser printer can cut costs in home offices that tend to cycle through black cartridges with text-only documents. Although it's not without its shortcomings, such as cripplingly poor quality graphics prints, the Brother HL-2170W balances out with speedy text printing and 802.11b/g wireless functionality for just $150. We'd certainly recommend it as a secondary text-only printer if you already have a photo inkjet and have a little extra change to throw around.
The HL-2170W has the same overall size and design as the HL-2140 ($129.99) but adds 32MB of onboard memory and an 802.11b/g wireless interface for an additional $20, boosting the total price to $150. As far as laser printers go, this little guy is more David than a Goliath at 6.7 inches tall and 14.5 inches wide and weighs just fifteen pounds. Designwise, it's unassuming and finished in the same matte grey found on most cubicle walls and the original Nintendo Gameboy.
The front lip folds down to reveal the toner port and like most laser printers, the paper tray is located on the face of the unit and can be fully removed from the body for refills. If you're the average home user, you probably won't need to refill too often considering the printer can hold 250 sheets of standard 8.5 inch by 11 inch paper. Also, there is a manual feed paper slot handles an assortment of different paper sizes including Letter, Legal, Executive, A4, A5, A6, B5, B6, and envelopes. We printed more than 150 sheets of paper during our lab testing and never experienced a paper jam or even the slightest delay.
The control panel is just as simple as the body of the HL-2170W itself, including one large all-inclusive "Go" button (error recovery, wake-up, job cancel, wireless on/off, manual feed) and three small LEDs for toner, drum, and error status. Other than that, this printer has few other features to brag about. The Brother HL-2170W isn't the prettiest pup in the show, designed with utility, not fashion, in mind. Design nerds will probably be more satisfied with the glossy finish and atypical footprint of the Samsung ML-1630.
As we mentioned, the HL-2170W includes 32MB of internal memory, which allow you to queue more documents at one time and generally speed up the whole printing process. The Brother HL-2170W also comes with three options for connecting to your computer: USB 2.0, 10/100 Base-TX Ethernet, and wireless 802.11 b/g. Most monochrome laser printers don't come with same breadth of connection options. The printer is also Mac, Windows, and even Linux compatible.
Connecting the printer to our wireless network gave us a significant amount of trouble, but we were eventually able to connect it to our wireless router, an older D-Link DI-624. Brother's software walk-through gives you two options for installing the driver using either a wired or wireless setup--we went straight for the wireless option. Unfortunately, it turns out that if you choose this option, the device will attempt to set up an ad-hoc network with your router to initiate the pairing. Because of that, we decided to deal with wires--at least for the duration of the installation--so that we wouldn't have to change the settings on our network preferences. We plugged in a network cable to the router and the printer and were surprised at how easy it was establish a wired connection and remotely configure the printer for wireless connectivity from there. The printer also supports SecureEasySetup, Wi-Fi Protected Setup, and AOSS, which automates the process even further if you have a compatible access point.
We're slightly disappointed that the HL-2170W cannot autoduplex, meaning it can't print automatically on both sides of a piece of paper. While we wouldn't normally expect this feature in a modestly priced device, we find it slightly ironic that a printer flaunting Energy Star compliance is lacking the potential to literally cut paper consumption in half. At the same time, autoduplexers add bulk to the back of the device and are typically an added bonus on $250+ printers, such as the Samsung ML-3051ND, so it makes sense that this one wouldn't include it.
In our lab tests, the Brother HL-2170W emerged as one of the front-runners in terms of speed, shooting out an impressive 17.48 pages of black text per minute. Compare this with other similarly priced lasers below and you'll find that the Brother is fastest on most counts. In addition, printers usually need an average of four seconds to process a job before the actual printing begins, but the HL-2170W began to spool paper and print with only 2 seconds of lag time.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Of course, speed isn't everything and quality should never be sacrificed to quantity. The HL-2170w performed well in our text quality tests; the samples we printed on standard 20-pound paper with the quality set to "best" were evenly dark with clear fonts all the way down to two-point Times New Roman. The individual letters were also free from line breaks and fuzzy edges. The graphics sample, however, didn't produce equally positive results. The gradient steps were so abrupt that a severe checkered pattern appeared where the printer obviously couldn't handle the transitions. The small photos we printed appeared fuzzy in the shadow regions in addition to the overall digitized effects. Finally, the HL-2170W also failed our 12-step shading test. Harsh banding quickly appeared at the 40 percent shading mark and continued to get worse as the percentage increased.
Overall, this printer would make the most sense as a secondary, text-only printer to save money on paper and ink in the end, but PowerPoint presentations, photos, and graphics-heavy newsletters should be saved for a robust inkjet printer with multiple color cartridges and a nozzle that can handle precise detail. All-in-one printers are another practical alternative if space saving is a factor.
According to Brother, each standard toner cartridge will yield approximately 1,500 pages. Three cents per page is relatively high for a laser jet printer, but still significantly less than it would cost to replace an inkjet cartridge with the same frequency. Brother also offers a "high yield" toner cartridge that yields 2,600 pages at a slightly cheaper two cents per page. The combination toner and drum unit included in the box is a "starter" package that only yields a reported 1,000 pages.
Service and Support
Brother stands by all of their monochrome laser printers with a one year Express Exchange limited warranty in addition to offering a toll-free customer service number for trouble-shooting information. Customers can also visit the Web site for driver downloads, FAQs, and comprehensive support center.