HP Color LaserJet 2500tn review: HP Color LaserJet 2500tn

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MSRP: $1,959.00

The Good Good-quality text and graphics printouts; inexpensive base model; low cost per page; good service and support; Mac and PC compatible.

The Bad Text print speeds are a bit slow compared to those of other lasers; additional paper trays and networking really jack up the price.

The Bottom Line The 2500tn model delivers solid print quality at a low cost per page, and it's well priced for small-business users who need volume color printing.

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

Once upon a time, color laser printers cost so much that most small-office/small-business users couldn't dream of affording such a luxury. Not anymore. These days, a few color lasers cost less than $1,000, making them a legitimate printer choice for buyers on a budget. HP's Color LaserJet 2500 marks the first of these low-cost color lasers that CNET has seen in a while. CNET is reviewing the 2500tn, the networkable model in the product line, which, naturally, costs more. But if you don't need that much printer, the 2500 and the 2500L are virtually the same printer as the 2500tn, only with fewer paper trays and no networking. Otherwise, we're pleased to say that this printer is an excellent option for small-business and corporate users who want fast, inexpensive, and--best of all--good-quality color printing. Gone are the days of boxy, hulking color laser printers--at least at this price point. Indeed, without its third, 500-sheet paper tray, the HP Color LaserJet 2500tn measures only slightly larger than the average network laser printer. The credit for this svelte design goes in part to the printer's space-saving carousel configuration for its toner cartridges, in which each color snaps into what looks like a mill wheel, which then rotates to lay down each color. Like most color lasers, the 2500tn does four-pass printing, meaning that it lays down each color separately and makes four passes over a document. Many color lasers get quite bulky because the toner cartridges sit side by side, adding width or depth to the machine, but the 2500tn's carousel system clusters the cartridges together, saving space.

Four-pass printing lays down each toner color separately.

Uncomplicated controls.

The 2500tn's industrial look is softened by a curved front in a contrasting shade of blue-gray. Add to this a simple control panel with a button to rotate the carousel, a Start button, and a smattering of status lights, and you have a simple, elegantly designed, and relatively compact machine that looks and feels sturdy. Note: With all the paper trays in place, this printer is a tall 20.16 inches.

The HP Color LaserJet 2500tn that we tested represents the top of the HP Color LaserJet 2500 line. All of the printers in the line are both parallel and USB 1.1 compatible (cables not included), have a 300MHz processor, and come with 64MB of RAM that's expandable to 256MB. With the $1,800 2500tn, you also get an integrated HP JetDirect Print Server, which provides 10/100 Ethernet connectivity, a 125-sheet multipurpose/manual-feed tray, and two paper trays that snap onto the bottom of the printer for an input total of 875 sheets--a good package deal for large businesses that anticipate heavy usage.

Small or growing businesses may want to start out with the $900 base model, the Color LaserJet 2500L, which has only the 125-sheet multipurpose tray. The $1,100 2500 model ships with a 250-sheet input tray, and the $1,400 2500n includes the input tray plus a network card. If you're starting small and you intend to build as your needs grow, you can purchase all of these extras later on, though the individual add-ons are more expensive when bought separately.

Pricier models even have Ethernet connectivity.

Extra product trays come with the 2500, the 2500n, and the 2500tn.

When you install the 2500tn's software, it places an icon for the HP Toolbox on your desktop. Click this icon, and you'll bring up a useful, well-organized printer-management interface geared toward businesses and their IT managers. The Toolbox tracks the status of the toner cartridges and the input and output trays, reflecting changes such as the amount of toner and the size and type of media inserted. The Toolbox also lets you change individual color densities and tailor the print modes to particular paper types; for example, you can set the printer to Cardstock or Transparency modes. Using the Toolbox, you can even access an event log and a usage page which track what's going on with the printer, such as any errors that may occur or how often a particular paper tray is being used. Along the left side of the Toolbox interface, the ever-visible link to HP's online Instant Support lets you send printer information, such as the serial number and error conditions, to HP for instantaneous troubleshooting.

When it comes to speed, the HP Color LaserJet 2500tn's performance is somewhat disappointing. It's normal for color lasers to print color much more slowly than they print text. This is because most color lasers do what's called four-pass printing, which means that the print engine makes four passes over a document, laying down each color separately. The 2500tn managed average text color print speeds of 3.44 pages per minute (ppm), which is not much faster than the results from some $250 inkjets that print graphics. The printer did better on black text, averaging 9.9ppm, but we've reviewed sub-$300 monochrome lasers that manage 11ppm and 12ppm, such as the Samsung ML-1430. Even so, the 2500tn's text and text/graphics speeds outstrip those of much older and much more expensive models, such as the Xerox Phaser 6200DP and 860DX.

So with speeds such as this, why would you choose a color laser over an inkjet? Volume, versatility, and print quality, that's why. Sure, the initial purchase price is higher than that of an inkjet, and in the case of the HP 2500tn, replacement toner cartridges cost $83 for black and $100 for each color cartridge. But the cartridges yield 5,000 and 4,000 pages, respectively, which works out to 1.6 cents per page on black toner and 2.5 cents per page when printing color. Compare this to the 20 to 50 cents per page that color printing with an inkjet costs, and the benefits of having a color laser for volume printing become clear. Also, with a color laser--even one that yields only 9.9ppm on text--you get faster, crisper black-text printing than you would with an inkjet.

As for print quality, in the case of the HP Color LaserJet 2500tn, black text looked as clean and sharp as we would expect from a good monochrome laser printer. Color text that was a mixture of the basic cyan, magenta, or yellow tended to look a bit fuzzy and dithered (you could see the individual dots of color in the blend), but the pure-color examples were as sharp as the black text. The 2500tn's color graphics were markedly better than those of some far-pricier color lasers that CNET has reviewed in the not-so-recent past, including the Xerox Phaser 860DX and the Tektronix Phaser 2135DT. In fact, the graphics looked as good as the results from an average-performing inkjet printer. In particular, color matching was very good, shading and gradients showed smooth transitions, and photo and graphic elements were quite crisp and clear, with only slightly visible dithering.

Color laser printer speed   (Pages per minute; longer bars indicate better performance)
HP Color LaserJet 2500tn
Xerox Phaser 6200DP
Xerox Phaser 860DX
Inkjet printer quality
•Poor   ••Fair   •••Good   ••••Excellent
 Printer  Text  Color
 HP Color LaserJet 2500tn ••• •••
 Xerox Phaser 6200DP ••• ••
 Xerox Phaser 860DX •• •••
The Color LaserJet 2500tn comes with a one-year "Return to authorized service center" warranty. Corporate buyers and small businesses for whom a color laser is mission critical may want to upgrade to one of HP's supplementary service agreements that includes onsite visits from HP technicians. HP's toll-free, phone tech support runs 24/7 for the length of the warranty, and our test call yielded a courteous support technician in a few minutes who easily solved our basic test problem.

HP's Web site offers a wealth of additional support options. A tech-support page dedicated to your particular printer includes quick links to download new drivers, setup and configuration help, maintenance tips, manuals and warranty info, and even information about how to recycle used toner cartridges. HP also provides access to discussion groups with fellow users, Web chat with HP support technicians, and free e-mail support.