Brother HL-5140 review: Brother HL-5140

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MSRP: $479.99

The Good Fast; compact design; expandable memory and network options; good text quality.

The Bad Mediocre graphics quality.

The Bottom Line The Brother HL-5140 is an affordable laser printer that will grow with your small business or home office.

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7.5 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8
  • Support 7


The Brother HL-5140 replaces the HL-5040 as Brother's top less-than-$300 personal laser printer. The Brother HL-5140 features the same square design, connectivity, and upgrade options as the Brother HL-5040, but it prints much faster, thanks in part to more onboard memory. If a sharp-looking design is important to you, you should check out the snazzy, all-black Lexmark E321 instead. However, if looks don't matter and speed and expandability do, the Brother HL-5140 is the better choice for your small business or home office. The Brother HL-5140 laser printer is a nondescript, square-shape, putty-color laser printer that occupies very little desk space. Measuring 15 by 15 by 10 inches, (W, D, H), the 23-pound Brother HL-5140 will squeeze into even the most crowded work area without attracting attention.

Starting at the top, the Brother HL-5140 personal laser printer features a 150-sheet output tray and a control panel, which consists of four lights and two plastic buttons. The lights indicate the toner, drum, and paper status. The two buttons are Job Cancel, for stopping a print job, and Go, for awakening the printer from sleep or for continuing a print job following a paper jam or another error. We like the ease of use provided by the Brother HL-5140's control panel.

The middle of the printer is home to the toner cartridge, which rests underneath the output bin and just inside the front panel. An alternative-media feed-tray door has been built into the front panel as well. Envelopes, heavy bond paper, and the like can be fed straight through the printer without bending. This seems like the best approach, as we've not seen as many paper jams with Brother products as we have with other vendors' products.

The Brother HL-5140's bottom layer is the 250-sheet main paper tray. You can add a 250-sheet paper tray for an additional $200, a price that practically doubles the cost of the printer.

The Brother HL-5140 ships with 16MB of memory onboard and the ability to add more, up to 144MB maximum. While Brother doesn't sell memory, SD-RAM for the HL-5140 is available from third-party vendors in sizes ranging from 16MB to 128MB. A quick search revealed prices ranging from $21 to $43 for a 32MB module and from $51 to $86 for a 128MB module. Standalone users will not need to upgrade, but those running a small network will require the addition to handle larger print jobs.

Networking options for the Brother HL-5140 include the Brother NC-2100p 10/100 Base T external Ethernet print server or the NC-2200w 802.11b wireless print server, both available from Brother. The NC-2100p costs $179.99, but pricing has yet to be determined for the NC-2200w. Or you can forego the Brother HL-5140 options altogether and purchase the slightly bulked-up and already network-compatible Brother HL-5170N, which lists for $399 from Brother. Those running small networks may prefer the HL-5170N.

It's an easy process to set up the Brother HL-5140, from loading the software and drivers to installing the print drum and the toner. The printed quick-setup guide and additional software-based help options are available should you experience difficulties during the setup process or afterward while printing.

In CNET Labs' tests, the Brother HL-5140 proved itself a very fast laser printer with uneven print quality. At 16.5 pages per minute (ppm) monochrome, the Brother HL-5140 is faster than its predecessor, the Brother HL-5040, at 13.5ppm. It's also quicker than more-expensive laser printers, such as the Lexmark E321, which clocked in at 15.1ppm, and much faster than the Dell P1500 at 12.9ppm. The Brother HL-5140 also printed our mixed text and graphics document at 16ppm, twice the Dell P1500's rate of 8ppm.

However, the Brother HL-5140 displayed mixed results in CNET Labs' quality tests. We saw flawless text, with easy-to-read and well-outlined characters even down into 2-point font sizes, in both plain text and italics. Had the text been a bit darker, it would have been rated excellent instead of very good.

In our graphics test, however, the Brother HL-5140 scored only fair. The printer introduced flaws such as horizontal and vertical banding in the gradients. It also wrongly reproduced deep shadows in the photographic part of our test document.

Click here to learn more about how CNET Labs tests printers.

Laser printer speed
Pages per minute; longer bars indicate better performance
Brother HL-5140
Lexmark E321
Brother HL-5040

Laser printer quality
•Poor   ••Fair   •••Good   ••••Excellent
 Printer Text Graphics
 Dell Personal Laser Printer P1500 ••• ••
 Brother HL-5040 ••• ••
 Brother HL-5140 ••• ••
 Lexmark E321 •• ••

The Brother HL-5140 comes backed by an industry-standard, one-year limited warranty. Brother offers toll-free tech support every day from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET for those under warranty. An additional year of warranty is available for $59.99. We experienced wait times of 15 to 17 minutes when we called technical support. Once connected, Brother's technicians answered our sample questions courteously and accurately.

The Brother HL-5140 comes with a helpful quick-setup guide (a cross between a setup poster and a user manual), with a complete description of the HL-5140's many parts; an overview of the control panel's functions; and instructions for installing toner, paper, and drivers. Brother's Interactive Help, a file that installs itself on your hard drive with the print drivers, is easy to find via a desktop shortcut; desktop help icons are becoming common with printer vendors these days. Interactive Help contains troubleshooting topics--from toner replacement and paper jams to image defects--described in text or demonstrated via Macromedia Flash movie tutorials. Another helpful tool is Dr. Diagnostics, a diagnostics program included with the print drivers that creates a printer assessment and sends the results directly to a Brother service center.

On Brother's Web site, under the Brother Solutions Center, the Brother HL-5140 printer also has its own page. There you will find drivers, manuals, troubleshooting guides, and a comprehensive and frequently updated list of FAQs.