Color laser multifunctions aren't just for corporate offices anymore. New budget color laser multifunctions, such as the Epson AcuLaser CX11, are designed to fit the needs and the budgets of small offices. The Epson AcuLaser CX11 series is the third color laser multifunction to cost less than $1,000. While this multitasking printer faces stiff competition, at $799 ($699 for the CX11N model, which lacks an automatic document feeder (ADF) and faxing), it's the most affordable yet. We tested the CX11NF, which can copy, print, and scan in color. It can also fax and comes Ethernet ready. Rivals, such as the , the HP Color LaserJet 2840, and the Oki C5510n, all cost more and offer similar features, but their manufacturers have more experience in color laser and high-end multifunctions. Epson, on the other hand, is known largely for its polished photographic inkjets, and its effort with the CX11--its first laser printer sold in the United States--makes some missteps. For example, the CX11NF lacks common fax capabilities, the control-panel menus could be simpler, and the print and copy quality doesn't live up to what we expect from Epson. On the other hand, this office all-in-one performs quickly, especially when printing and copying black text.
The Epson AcuLaser CX11NF looks bulky but practical. This 26-inch-tall system provides a wide gap for storing pages so that you can reach prints without scraping your knuckles. Despite its size--17 inches wide by 18 inches deep--the 73-pound multifunction is easier than most others to pick up and carry, in part because of its built-in handgrips along the edges.
The CX11NF doesn't hold much paper: only 180 pages. A plastic flap protects sheets from dust but forces legal-size pages to flop over the edge. Busy workgroups should invest an extra $322 in the 500-sheet optional tray. By comparison, the and the have main and auxiliary trays that together hold 375 sheets--but they don't have optional add-on trays. The Epson CX11NF also lets you expand the 128MB of memory--sufficient for most tasks--to 576MB to serve heavy network traffic. Just open the controller with a screwdriver and pop the extra RAM into the empty slot.
The CX11NF's 50-page automatic document feeder can send letter- or legal-size documents across the 24-bit, 600dpi scanner. The scanner lid doesn't come off to make room for books, unlike the lid of the less costly AcuLaser CX11N, which lacks the automatic document feeder (ADF).
The CX11NF has a multipass engine, which makes color prints pass through the printer once per color. This means that toner cartridges plug in to slots on a circular carousel, which you must rotate using the control panel--a bit more hassle than sliding toner in and out of a single-pass printer.
Unlike the HP Color LaserJet 2840, the Epson CX11NF lacks slots for camera cards; Epson likely recognizes that laser printers don't make the best photo printers.
The Epson AcuLaser CX11NF packs in printing, scanning, paper faxing, and multipage photocopying in both color and grayscale. The control panel is well laid out, and its backlit LCD is legible even in the dark. One set of buttons switches between copy, fax, and scan modes, another navigates menu items, and the third is a numeric keypad. But in an odd penny-pinching measure, Epson made the right-arrow button double awkwardly as the Enter button.
Though the Epson AcuLaser CX11NF lacks built-in double-sided printing, its print driver makes it easy to print duplex jobs manually. The driver also allows n-up printing and watermarks, and it can collate multiple copies (which its photocopier can't do). The driver even displays how full your toner tanks are and can automatically order supplies online from Epson as they run out.
Epson's copious software bundle works for Mac and Windows PCs, unlike that of the Windows-only Canon MF 8170c. You get utilities for making and correcting scans, managing photos, and scanning business cards. You also get document templates and an OCR utility, which converts scanned text pages into live text and stores their images in a database.
Another convenient AcuLaser CX11NF feature is network scanning. If you set up shared folders on your network, they appear on the Epson control panel so that you can pick which folder will receive your scans.
Faxing is the CX11NF's weakest area. It fails to offer scheduled send, broadcast, fax-forward, or PIN-protect features. And unlike the competing HP Color LaserJet 2840 and the Canon ImageClass MF8170c, this Epson can't send digital faxes. Nor does it let you build a fax address book by entering names on the control panel. Instead, an inconvenient, Windows-only utility can create an address book on your computer; you then upload the address book to the AcuLaser's flash memory.
The Epson AcuLaser CX11NF's 25-pages-per-minute (ppm) engine zipped through plain black text. When CNET ran benchmarks over a USB connection, the AcuLaser churned out text at 18.4ppm--almost five pages faster than the comparable . This Epson also printed grayscale pages at an impressive 19.1ppm--nearly six pages faster than the Oki. However, performance on color printing dropped off, likely due to the engine's multipass design. Still, the AcuLaser beat the and the . Fortunately, unlike many other carousel-based printers, the CX11NF is mostly free of annoying clank and rattle as it cycles through the colors. It made black photocopies at a workgroup-friendly 5.2ppm.
Because the CX11NF uses a multipass engine, color pages pass through the imaging components four times--once for each color--so color printing takes longer than grayscale printing. According to Epson's figures, a page of black text uses 1.9 cents' worth of supplies, and a color page uses 10.1 cents' worth; throw in the other consumables for an estimated 3.1 cents per black page and 12.9 cents for color, which ranks on the average to high end for a color laser printer.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Copy||Grayscale scan||Color scan||Color graphics||Black text|
Some aspects of the Epson AcuLaser CX11NF's prints disappointed us, particularly the grayish look of its plain black text, which was blurry at small sizes. Color text looked clean but low contrast. Color graphics retained sharp detail and accurate color, which makes us think the CX11NF would better fit offices that intend to print more graphics than business letters. The AcuLaser's scan quality bested that of its prints; scans of color photos had nice shading and sharp detail, while the detailed grayscale scans preserved a wide range of shades. Photocopies preserved good detail and smooth textures, though they tended to lose lighter shades; color copies looked oversaturated and too dark but would suffice for internal use.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Grayscale scan||Color scan||Color graphics||Black text|
The Epson AcuLaser CX11NF provides industry-average support with a one-year onsite warranty. Live tech support for the duration of the warranty is available weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT, but you pay toll telephone charges. Epson also provides free support by e-mail. By comparison, the , the , and the offer 24/7 toll-free support. However, Canon's warranty includes onsite service. Unfortunately, Epson doesn't offer an optional warranty extension. You can replace most of the components that wear out periodically, but replacing any of the four developers (specified to last 100,000 pages) requires a service call, which can add up to $60 to the $164 price tag. The Epson AcuLaser CX11NF ships with three printed manuals: a clear, thorough setup guide, a wide-ranging but shallow user guide, and a manual that covers the fax features well. The company's Web site provides a place to e-mail tech support and download the manuals and the drivers.