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Dell 1600n review: Dell 1600n

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The Good Affordable; good print and scan quality; easy to use; includes Ethernet interface.

The Bad Can't fax or scan over a network; inconvenient for faxing from a PC.

The Bottom Line The Dell 1600n multifunction laser printer mixes single-user and small-office capabilities to one's complete satisfaction.

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

Review summary

The Dell 1600n multifunction is a vendor-rated 22ppm monochrome laser printer. It combines a 50-page automatic document feeder with a flatbed scanner to function as a walk-up copier and fax machine. But this product is full of paradoxes. It's small enough for a crowded home office but lacks features an individual user would want. The built-in Ethernet interface lets the 1600n operate as a shared printer, but when deployed over a network, no one can use its color scanning capability. Still the Dell 1600n costs less than either the Brother MFC-8440 or the Hewlett-Packard LaserJet 3030. While it performed well in CNET's tests and impressed us with its overall print and scan quality, most home users won't need the Ethernet capabilities, and office users probably won't need the walk-up capabilities, making it hard for us to recommend it for either scenario. The Dell 1600n design shows a mix of good ideas and some carelessness. Over all, the glossy silver and black machine measures 18 inches wide by 16 deep and stands 18 inches high; it weighs a manageable 34 pounds. It also has deep, strong handholds in just the right places for picking it up. Due to its small, letter-size-only scanner glass, the 1600n takes an attractive, symmetrical form instead of the mushroom profile of other multifunction printers with a legal-size scanner glass. As with most fax-capable multifunction printers, the control panel is arrayed along a ledge just under the scanner glass.

Below the recessed main print-output slot is a single-envelope and single-sheet feed, which doubles as the access door to the combination toner cartridge/imaging drum. The Dell 1600n comes with a 3,000-page toner cartridge that costs $70 to replace, which the vendor estimates will cost you a reasonable 2.3 cents per page; Dell also sells a 5,000-page unit for $80, which the vendor estimates will be a more efficient 1.6 cents per page.

As for the good and bad design ideas together, you can slip the scanner lid completely out of its hinges and set it aside to make room on the glass for scanning large and odd-size documents, which is a good thing that most multifunction printers equipped with an automatic document feed (ADF) don't allow. However, the power cord connecting the ADF to the main unit is permanently attached and a bit too short for the lid to rest comfortably on your desk, so you'll have to improvise a support. And to add memory, you open a door on the left side to expose a memory slot, which avoids disassembling the case and exposing the controller. The 1600n's power switch is on the back, where you might have to grope for it.

Dell provides 1600n drivers and software for Windows 95 and later but none for Linux or the Mac OS. The Windows installation was a breeze: we connected a cable (not supplied) to the USB 2.0 port, inserted the driver CD when asked, and clicked OK a few times. Despite our reservations about the Dell 1600n's appropriateness for individual users, we found it useful when attached to a single PC. For one thing, the walk-up copy and fax features are easy to operate, thanks to the control panel and menus. We do wish the two-line LCD were backlit, however.

On the control panel, Dell separated and clearly labeled the buttons for each function, and the hierarchical menus displayed on the LCD follow logical paths. As a result, we quickly got the hang of entering speed-dial addresses--which can include symbols such as apostrophes and ampersands in their names--and reducing two or four originals onto one page (n-up copies).

The 1600n's main paper tray holds 250 sheets, and you can stack it on top of a second 250-sheet tray that costs $100, which is inexpensive as paper-handling equipment goes. It comes with 32MB of memory, which is plenty for an individual, but an office, with more complicated print demands, might need more; a Dell-labeled 32MB DIMM costs $30, and a 64MB DIMM costs $40.

Dell's software shows the split-personality nature of the device. The 1600n's printer settings utility on the PC includes a fax address book that synchronizes with fax addresses created on the control panel--a feature we normally consider essential on a multifunction printer. But to send a fax from your PC, you have to use Windows' fax driver because Dell's software doesn't do that. Unfortunately, the Windows fax software won't read Dell's clever standalone address book. Dell also provides PaperPort 9.0, a versatile, simple PC document-archiving database.

When you install the Dell 1600n on an Ethernet network, it activates an embedded Web server that lets you observe the printer's status in a browser from a remote PC. However, the network capabilities fall short of some multifunction printers' we've seen that can send and deliver faxes across the network as well as send scans over the network. The Dell can't do these things. In CNET Labs' test, the Dell 1600n multifunction printer (MFP) performed competently, scoring fast print and scan speeds without sacrificing image quality.

Print performance
On monochrome print tests, the Dell 1600n churned out 14.7 pages per minute (ppm) of text. By comparison, this score was a little slower than that of the fastest MFP we've seen in text printing, the Brother MFP-8220, which printed text at 16.2ppm. The Dell 1600n, however, was faster at printing graphics than plain text. At 15.7ppm, it was, by a small margin, the fastest graphics printer among the MFPs we've tested.

The Dell neither impressed nor disappointed us with its print quality. Our text and graphic documents showed good detail and were generally sharp. All samples were well inked--not too dark, not too bright. However, we also found that the text was sometimes hairy and with slight banding on the graphics.

Scan and copy performance
The printer did very well at scanning. It averaged 3.1ppm for grayscale documents and 6.2ppm for color documents. It also copied at about 6.2ppm. These are all among the fastest speeds on our chart.

In most multifunction printers, the scanning function is considered secondary and that also goes for the scan quality. The Dell 1600n is different. In our tests, it not only scanned quickly but also produced nearly the best-quality color scans quality we've ever seen, not just among multifunction printers, but among scanners in general. The scan image matched the target document perfectly with great color matching and sharp detail. The grayscale scans were also very good, though not as impressive as the color scans because of a little dullness on the graphical patterns.

The Dell 1600n was tested at the factory default settings, which you can adjust to improve the output and performance. Learn more about how CNET Labs tests printers.

Performance analysis written by CNET Labs project leader Dong Van Ngo.

Laser multifunction performance (pages per min.)  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Black text speed  
Black graphics speed  
Color scan speed  
Grayscale speed  
Copy speed  
Brother MFC-8440
Dell 1600n
HP LaserJet 3030

Print and scan quality performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Text quality  
Graphics quality  
Color scan quality  
Grayscale quality  
Dell 1600n
HP LaserJet 3030
Brother MFC-8440
Dell covers the 1600n with lifetime 24/7 toll-free telephone support and a one-year warranty. For an extra $80, you can extend the warranty to two years, an extra $118 nets you three years, and an extra $198 gets you four years of coverage. Warranty coverage includes prepaid shipping and a replacement unit while yours is in for repair.

Dell's Web site normally provides e-mail access to tech support, driver and documentation downloads, problem-solving discussion forums, and FAQs. Unfortunately, little of that was operational while we tested the Dell 1600n, more than a month after the printer started shipping. The information found within the printed documentation and an onscreen manual in a help file format is especially useful for the early stages; but more sophisticated features are not adequately explained.

Dell now offers to pay shipping and recycling costs for the obsolete printer your 1600n is replacing--a good incentive to keep toxic junk out of landfills.

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