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Brother MFC-9700 review: Brother MFC-9700

Brother MFC-9700

Jeffrey Fuchs

See full bio
6 min read

The Brother MFC-9700 looks exactly like a beige-gray stack of home-office appliances. At the core is a flatbed scanner with a laser printer on the bottom and an automatic document feeder (ADF) on the top. The MFC-9700 is 19.5 inches wide by 18 inches deep by 16.8 inches high--large compared to a standalone printer but average size for a multifunction device. The 9700's main control panel angles down from the scanner lid at a comfortable fingertip height. The control panel is a simple affair, with a number keypad and fax buttons on the left side and print, copy, and scan buttons on the right.


Brother MFC-9700

The Good

Fast, good-quality text printing.

The Bad

Expensive; lackluster design; poor scan quality; tiny control-panel LCD.

The Bottom Line

A small home office with light faxing, scanning, and copying needs could make do with this product.
Review summary
The Brother MFC-9700 is a no-frills, laser-based multifunction that prints, copies, scans, and faxes. While it is convenient to have all of these functions in one device, the scanning and faxing are weaker than we'd expect for the price. Given the low cost of inkjet multifunction printers these days, smart shoppers should consider their options, including the HP OfficeJet 6110.

The printer's main paper tray lies at the base of the unit. Just above the base is a bypass slot for hand-feeding envelopes, legal-size paper, or heavy media directly into the printer.

The printed quick-setup guide lets you set up the MFC-9700 to print, copy, or scan without a computer in a few minutes. On some laser printers, installing the drum unit and the toner cartridge can be tricky; with the MFC-9700, you simply open the main front panel and slide the drum assembly straight into the printer. Once this is done, release the scanner lock, fill the main paper cassette tray, and plug the unit into a power source. You're now ready to scan or print from digital camera media or install the PC software and work from your desktop.

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The MFC-9700's tiny LCD makes it hard to scroll through the device's menus.

Setting up the MFC-9700 for faxing, however, will take longer. That's because users must work with the machine's tiny (7/16-inch-by-2-inch) LCD on the unit's main control panel to program fax-mode settings, as well as customize print and copy operations. Brother provides helpful prompts within the menu selections on the one-line-by-16-character LCD screen; however, watching it bounce from the active setting to a help message and back again only creates more confusion. Mercifully, there is a menu-selection table in the manual, and once programmed, most of the settings should not change. Yet some day-to-day tasks, such as searching for speed-dial numbers, do require the tiny LCD.

Software installation, on the other hand, is a breeze. Once you locate your particular operating system on the quick-setup guide (Windows 95 through XP and Mac OS 8.5 through 10.1), the installation CD prompts you the rest of the way.

The Brother MFC-9700's features are straightforward. The laser printer comes with 8MB of memory, with no expansion possible, and prints black documents at resolutions of up to 600 dots per inch (dpi). Its main paper tray hold an adequate 250 sheets of regular paper. You can add another 250-sheet tray, but it'll cost a you whopping $250 plus shipping. The printer driver provides almost no options; users can pick only Portrait or Landscape orientation and forward or reverse page order.

Aside from the 50-sheet automatic document feeder (ADF), the features included with the flatbed scanner are also basic. You can scan in color as well as monochrome, but you can render only 24-bit color for export or 400dpi grayscale documents. With included software ScanSoft PaperPort, freshly scanned documents may be dragged into various software programs for viewing or further manipulation. For example, a scanned document or brochure dragged onto a Microsoft Word icon activates Textbridge, optical character recognition (OCR) software that "reads" the document and reproduces it as a Word file. This process can be further simplified by double-clicking the ScanDirect icon and selecting the destination application before scanning. Once the scan finishes, the image is sent automatically to the selected application. Likewise, faxes may be sent straight from the scanner.

Fax transmission with the MFC-9700 is underpowered by a minimal 14.4Kbps fax modem. The rest of the faxing features are nice, including the ability to fax up to 50 sheets directly from the ADF, along with broadcast faxing (sending the same fax to multiple numbers) and the capacity to store up to eight fax or phone numbers in a one-touch-dial location. The software installation lets you choose to use Microsoft's XP fax driver, but most XP users will probably prefer to use Brother's PC fax driver, which bypasses the tiny LCD on the MFC-9700's control panel.

The MFC-9700 offers a short list of copying skills, including stacking or collating up to 99 pages. Single copies can be reproduced easily by putting them on the scanner platen or running them through the ADF.

The Brother MFC-9700 performed better at text than graphics in CNET Labs' tests. Its 13.25 page-per-minute (ppm) text-printing time was slightly faster than that of its sibling, the MFC-8420, and it was noticeably better than the Minolta-QMS PagePro 1250W's 12.5ppm and the Samsung ML-1710's 12.3ppm. But the tables were turned while printing graphics: the MFC-9700 clocked just 8.5ppm, a page slower than the MFC-8420 and significantly slower than the PagePro 1250W and the ML-1710.

Print quality tended to follow the speed results. Text printed on plain copier paper looked crisp and precise in both small and italicized fonts. Only a slight faintness--a less than truly black density--kept the text from earning our highest rating. Graphics lost points for banding, a noticeable jaggedness along diagonal borders, and a failure to render subtle tones of gray. The MFC-9700's printer drivers do not provide any way to adjust contrast levels or reduce banding or other irregularities.

The MFC's scanning speeds were nimble, reproducing a color photograph in just more than half a minute and a mixed text/graphics/black-and-white-photograph document in a little more than fifteen seconds. Unfortunately, the grayscale scan's quality was poor and indistinct, featuring large, overly dark areas devoid of detail and blotchy places containing what looked like a bunch of disorganized pixels. Color-scan quality was fair, showing good color matching but failing to reproduce details with any kind of crisp authority. Such middling quality might be acceptable (barely) in a bargain-basement scanner, but it's hard to swallow when it's stacked on top of a decent laser printer in an expensive device such as the MFC-9700.

Laser printer speed (personal and workgroup)
Pages per minute (Longer bars indicate better performance)

Brother MFC-9700
Brother MFC-8420
Minolta-QMS 1250W
Samsung ML-1450

Laser printer quality
Poor   ••Fair   •••Good   ••••Excellent
 Printer  Text  Graphics
 Brother MFC-9700 ••• ••
 Brother MFC-8420 ••• ••
 Minolta-QMS 1250W ••• ••
 Samsung ML-1450 •••• •••

Brother backs the MFC-9700 with an industry-standard (but still too short) one-year warranty covering materials and workmanship. Other elements of the unit, such as the print drum, are covered for only 90 days.

The printed manual offers a 12-page "Troubleshooting and routine maintenance" section that provides solutions to common problems, such as paper jams and software snafus. For more serious problems, owners can call Brother's customer-service staff Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET. A Brother technician answered our call within three minutes and resolved our query pleasantly a couple of minutes later.

As another option for commonly asked technical questions, Brother's customer service provides a 24/7 fax-back system. Voice prompts on how to use the system are available in the United States at 800/521-2846 and 800/681-9838 in Canada.

Brother's online support site also provides a range of help options, driver downloads, and solutions to common problems.


Brother MFC-9700

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 7Support 7
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