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Brother HL-5040 review: Brother HL-5040

Brother HL-5040

Kristina Blachere
5 min read
Brother's HL-5040 is the successor to CNET's former Editors' Choice Brother HL-1440 and the sub-$300, entry-level unit in Brother's latest line of small/home-office laser printers. With its add-on paper trays, enhanced expandability options, and faster print speeds, the HL-5040 is a great improvement over the HL-1440 and a solid choice for SOHO users. However, recent small-office lasers such as the Minolta PagePro 1250E offer more office-friendly features and expandability for the same price. Like the HL-1440 before it, the Brother HL-5040 is somewhat boxy-looking. But when compared with ugly-duckling-styled lasers such as the Minolta PagePro 1250E (which have paper trays sticking out all over), the solid box seems to be a sensible, functional design for an office. All the HL-5040's paper trays tuck neatly into the printer body and out of the way.

Boxy chassis.

Both USB and parallel ports.

Setting up the Brother HL-5040, which is both Mac and PC compatible and has USB and parallel-port connections (no cables), is pleasantly easy. A handy quick-start pamphlet walks you through installation, and an included CD features a wealth of Flash videos that cover plugging in the printer, loading paper, and clearing paper jams, as well as a number of maintenance tips. The CD also contains an information-filled user guide and links to Brother's Web site, with news and tech-support information.
Compared with that of competing SOHO lasers, the Brother HL-5040's feature set falls slightly short of our expectations. It has a 250-sheet input tray and a single-sheet manual-bypass tray for printing on heavier paper and envelopes, and you can add a 250-sheet input tray for $200 extra. However, the identically priced Minolta PagePro 1250E offers a 500-sheet add-on tray for less money, a face-up output tray, and an attachment for copying and scanning, as well as more print languages (the Brother has only PCL 6 emulation). The HL-5040 is networkable via a 10/100 BaseT Ethernet print server ($180).

Manual-feed paper tray.

Uncomplicated controls.

If you already know you'll need an office laser with more features, you may want to check out the two higher-end models in this line. The HL-5050 comes with 16MB of memory (to the HL-5040's 8MB), greater paper capacity, and PostScript 3 emulation, while the HL-5070N offers all this, along with built-in networking. Prices are $349 and $499, respectively.
The Brother HL-5040's print drivers' main screen is organized into three basic tabs: Basic, Advanced, and Support. Basic lets you set parameters such as paper size and source, Advanced contains a jumble of tabs for everything from adjusting print quality to manual duplexing to setting the sleep time, and Support links to Brother's Web site, as well as to test pages for printer settings and fonts. The drivers are a little cluttered and clumsy, but they're easy enough to navigate and understand.
Should your printer experience a printing error, such as a paper jam or low toner levels, you can use the drivers to cue up an animated Flash tutorial called the Interactive Help window and fix those problems.
The HL-5040 did quite well on our speed tests. Its 12.5 pages per minute (ppm) on graphics matched the performance of the $1,000, large-business-oriented Xerox Phaser 4400N, and with 13.9ppm on text, it was faster than any other laser printers in the $300 price range.
Print quality was uneven overall, though perfectly adequate for the average office's printing needs. While text printed out crisp and clear (as with most laser printers), it looked a little light and spidery--especially as the font sizes got smaller--so it won a good rather than an excellent rating from our jury. The HL-5040's graphics looked a bit disappointing, too. Though the printer created accurate and detailed line drawings, and the photo elements of our test document showed fairly good contrast, the Brother HL-5040 had considerable trouble with the shading and gradient elements of our document. The dark ends showed no difference between 90 and 100 percent saturation, the light ends showed no difference between 5 percent shading and pure white, and there was marked vertical banding throughout the gradient element.
The HL-5040's ink consumption is in line with that of other laser printers. According to Brother's claims, a $66 toner cartridge will yield 3,300 pages (which works out to about 2 cents per page), and a $90 high-yield cartridge will print 6,500 pages (which works out to a low 1.3 cents per page).
Laser printer speed
Pages per minute; longer bars indicate better performance
Xerox Phaser 4400N
Brother HL-5040
Minolta PagePro 1250E
Samsung ML-1430
Laser printer quality
Poor   ••Fair   •••Good   ••••Excellent
 Printer Text Graphics
 Brother HL-5040 ••• ••
 Minolta PagePro 1250E •••• •••
 Samsung ML-1430 •••• •••
 Xerox Phaser 4400N ••• •••

The Brother HL-5040 comes with a one-year warranty, the industry standard for laser printers. The coverage can be extended one year for $60 or two years for $70. Phone tech support is available seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET.
Brother's Web site hosts drivers, manuals, troubleshooting FAQs, a customer education center that offers in-depth information about networking and managing your printer, and links to purchase consumables and add-ons. If you click the Contact Us tab of the support center, the site asks more specific questions about your reason for contacting Brother. Based on your answer, Brother's resources will point you to FAQs or recall notices, or it supplies an e-mail form, as well as a phone or fax-back tech-support number.
Unfortunately, the first time we called Brother's tech support with a simple test problem, we were informed by a recording that they were experiencing a high volume of calls and were unable to answer us just then (apparently, Monday is a particularly busy day). However, when we tried back on a Wednesday, we received the same message about the high call volume and the evils of Mondays. We were then similarly cut off without even being placed on hold. Don't plan on turning to Brother for real-time phone support.

Brother HL-5040

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 6Performance 7Support 5