At first glance, Lexmark's E321 looks like a cosmetic upgrade of Lexmark's E320, a zippy 1,200-dots-per-inch (dpi) personal laser printer we liked when it first shipped in 2001. The E321 offers the same resolution (600dpi by default; 1,200dpi maximum), but is significantly faster, able to crank out letter-size pages at 20 pages per minute (ppm). Lexmark also added 8MB of memory. But while the E321 is a generous and speedy low-cost printer, it's also noisy and produces mediocre output. Home users might find this $299 personal laser a good deal, but small-office users should look elsewhere.
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These silver control panel buttons rattle while you're printing.
But some design flaws became evident as soon as we fired up the E321. The silver control panel buttons are loose and rattle while printing. The printer also hums while at rest, and whines during and after printing. It's loud enough to be distracting in a small office. Also, if you do upgrade from the E320, you'll need to buy new toner cartridges; the old ones are not compatible with the E321.
The input slot holds about 150 sheets of 20-pound paper, and the output tray holds 100 sheets--both average for a personal laser printer. Even in the damp spring of 2003, in an office where heavy-duty printers were suffering humidity-related moist paper jams, we did not encounter any significant paper feed problems with the E321. For heavier paper stocks that curl after printing, simply snap down a door at the front of the printer to create an almost completely straight paper path.
One of the two units we tested malfunctioned after shipping between test locations. A roller worked its way loose in transit and would not seat properly afterwards. Support calls revealed the likely cause: We did not ship the printer with a toner cartridge installed--something we don't do to avoid toner spillage. Most people will never run into this problem, but we still regard it as a minor design flaw.
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Extra onboard RAM speeds up jobs from either the USB or parallel port.
The E321 has the standard USB and parallel connectors; neither cable is included in the box. Lexmark also offers several external Ethernet networking options for this model. The step-up model, the Lexmark E323, includes an internal network printing option, as well as a faster processor and twice the memory, though it costs several hundred dollars more.
Unlike so many budget-priced printers today, the E321 works with Mac operating systems (8.6 to OS X) and Windows (95/98/NT 4.0/2000 Professional and Server/XP Home and Professional). The E321 is a speedy printer. At the default resolution setting of 600dpi, the E321 spat out CNET's test pages at a rate of 15ppm, with all-graphical pages trailing only slightly at 13ppm. This beats the , for example, and is plenty fast enough for sharing among small workgroups, although you would need to setup an external print server or PC-based printer sharing, since this model doesn't offer internal network printing. (The step-up Lexmark E323 does offer this option.)
If it's quick, the E321 is also dirty. We rank its text and graphics quality as merely fair. On typical text pages with 12-point fonts, the quality is acceptable. But with serif fonts, such as Times New Roman, the small point sizes were not as legible as on printouts from the . Graphics tended to suffer slight banding with light or dark streaks, and midtone shadows tended to blur together.
If you print only line art and regular text sizes, none of these shortcomings should bother you. But try the small print or to incorporate shades of gray into your documents, and the image-quality flaws become more evident.
Laser printer speed (personal and workgroup) (Pages per minute)
Online, the Lexmark site features a searchable knowledge base, but information about the E321 is pretty thin. The printer FAQs and knowledge base entries at press time numbered fewer than 10 items, and most of these are recycled entries from the E320.