The Dell M5200n is about the standard size for a workgroup laser printer, measuring 17.2 inches wide by 20.2 inches deep by 16 inches high and weighing 45 pounds. It sports a curved belly that breaks up the monotony of its otherwise cubic shape; its black and gunmetal-gray plastics match Dell's PC color scheme. One USB and one Ethernet port are built into the back of the printer (cables are not included). A single-line LCD command center built into the front of the printer lets you manage the resolution and the toner levels, select the printer language, and access the network menu.
The M5200n's paper handling is functional, but the parts feel a bit flimsy. A 500-sheet input tray rests in the the printer's base, while the output rests on top. A front panel opens to reveal a multipurpose tray for letterhead, envelopes, and thicker media. Its extendable plastic guide feels thin enough to break easily. For heavier papers, a rear door opens to create a straight-through paper path.
Installing the printer via CD on our test system running Windows XP proved seamless. We recommend consulting the user guide, which walks you through the slightly more complex network installation. The M5200n is compatible with several iterations of Novell and Linux, as well as with Windows 98, 2000, NT, and XP. The M5200n supports PostScript 3 and also emulates the PCL6e and PCL5 print languages.
The base model of the Dell M5200n comes with an ample, 500-sheet paper tray and a generous 64MB of RAM--but this is only the beginning. Via Dell's Web site, you can upgrade the RAM to as high as 320MB. You can also order add-ons, such as a $229 dedicated envelope feeder (capacity 85), a $249 duplexing unit that clips on to the back of the printer, extra 250- and 500-sheet paper trays ($75 and $89), or 250- and 500-sheet paper drawers ($179 and $229). When fully tricked out, the printer has an incredible 2,600-sheet input capacity.
The Dell M5200n's software interface is simple and businesslike. For example, select Preferences, and you'll see the usual array of tabs, including Setup for the orientation and number of copies; Paper for choosing the size; Graphic to adjust the resolution, the contrast, and the dithering; and two management-oriented tabs giving job status and diagnostic information about the printer. A nice extra is the handy summary strip along the right edge of the dialog box, which displays any changes you've made to your printing preferences. Another clever if self-serving touch: a Dell Printer Supplies icon on your desktop, which offers quick links for ordering toner and extra paper trays via phone or the Internet.
The Dell M5200n performed competently in CNET Labs' tests. It printed text at 19.3 pages per minute (ppm)--much less than the vendor-rated engine speed of 35ppm, and slower than the HP LaserJet 4200's 24.2ppm, but slightly above average compared to other lasers in its class. The Dell surpasses the HP printing graphics, averaging 10.7ppm to the HP's slothful 7.7ppm. Numbers aside, the Dell M5200n should be plenty fast for ordinary workgroup usage.
The Dell M5200n's text quality is good and appears laser-crisp at a cursory glance. However, upon close scrutiny, we noticed some uneven toner distribution and a bit of fuzziness around the edges of individual letters, especially with italic fonts. Graphics are also good, with nice, even shading and a decent level of detail in photo and graphical elements and line drawings.
|Laser printer speed (personal and workgroup) (Longer bars indicate better performance)|
|Note: Pages per minute.|
|Laser printer quality|
When it comes to service and support, Dell's offerings are nearly on a par with those of corporate printing giant HP. The M5200n's standard package includes a one-year warranty with next-business-day onsite service, access to Dell's 24/7 phone support, and a wealth of Web-based tech-support options, such as e-mail support, a searchable knowledge base, downloadable drivers, and community forums for discussions with other users.
It's also easy to upgrade your service and support options when you buy your printer. Options include extending the warranty to three years ($199) or four ($349). Buying the three-year Gold Technical Support package ($89) gives you access to a separate 24/7, dedicated technical-support service, which, according to Dell, is more responsive.
What you don't get from Dell, however, is access to interactive, IT-oriented support through the printer software. For example, HP's workgroup printers include the HP Toolbox, which creates an Internet link between your printer and HP Instant Support. This link sends real-time information about your printer to HP for on-the-spot diagnoses; it also offers dynamic Web resources for troubleshooting. If an issue arises that you can't resolve by yourself or with a phone call, you'll have to wait for the technician to show up; depending on your service package, this could take between 4 and 24 hours.