Sunday, November 9, 2008

Brother HL-1020 Laser

Product Review: Brother HL-1020 Laser Printer: An adequate device with a huge power-bill.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: At home, buy two printers: A black-and-white laser for day-to-day work and yell at the kids when they print in color. Nothing has changed except now, after 10 years, our venerable HP Laser 1100 has mercifully run out of toner.

The 1100 is an attractive and well-engineered device that I've written about before but all mechanical things, especially ones this old, are allowed to have problems. The page-separator pads need replacing (again) and the pickup rollers and fuser are having some issues. I bought the printer used and while I've known it, I've bought three $60 toner cartridges. We got 5 years out of the first cartridge, 3 out of the second... you can see where this is trending. This must have something to do with children. They say it cost about $600,000 to raise a kid; a quarter of that must be ink, toner and paper.

In any case, it was just a few short months ago, in this very space, I whimpered about the inkjet running out of ink and how it seemed cheaper to buy a new printer, which I did. Could I do the same with the laser? It was hard, but I succeeded. After much shopping, I found Staples had a Brother HL-2040 Laser printer, regularly $120, on sale for $80 plus a $20 rebate, bringing the total cost to $60 (by the time you read this, the rebate will be over but the sale price should still around).

I know; it doesn't seem right but I bought a new printer, with toner, for the cost of toner. What a tough spot for a printer manufacturer to be in. They are forced to sell printers at a loss in the hopes of getting your consumable business and the ink is higher than it should be. If any of them tried to raise the price of the printers (and lower the consumables), they'd be out of business in a week because consumers only notice the initial price and everyone else would undercut them in a heart-beat.

To accelerate my next toner purchase, the new printer came with a "Starter" cartridge, which is only 1/2 full. This seems unethical, but it was well advertised and I knew what I was getting into. Until recently, HP used to do this same thing but now I believe they ship full cartridges. But, me, the stupid consumer, willingly perpetuated the fraud. [Update: Since this article was written, I finally had to replace the original toner: I managed 11 months on the original half-size toner. The replacement toner was, as expected, $60.]

The new HL-2040 has a 250-paper-tray (compared to the 50-page-tray on the 1100). It prints at 20 pages per minute (compared to 8), at 600dpi (vs 300 dpi), and has 8MB of Ram (vs 1MB). The printer has both LPT and USB ports. Of course, all newer printers have these specs, but I have to admit this is a nice change.

The new printer is not without problems. First, it is noisier than the HP 1100. The sound isn't horrible but I would call it insistent. Secondly, it uses a *lot* more power. The Brother draws an amazing 450 watts while the HP 1100 drew 170 watts. Other, newer HP models draw 250 watts. At home the printer overloaded the power-strip it was originally plugged into, forcing a move to a new location on the same circuit. Even with this change, when ever I print, the lights flicker and rolling blackouts are seen across the valley. Ideally, the printer would be on a separate circuit from the other equipment in the room but this isn't feasible.

These two issues cloud my opinion of the printer. If I were doing this again, and had the luxury of waiting, I might opt for an HP 1020 printer (which is vaguely comparable to the Brother); but the going price is $180; I've heard it sometimes goes on sale for $120. In both cases, the price is considerably higher than what I paid, making the Brother hard to ignore.

Now, with nearly a year's use on the printer, I can say it performed adequately. I won't claim to be in love with it, mainly because of the power. Literally, the lights flicker in the house when it prints.

Related Keyliner Articles:
Getting more life out of a Brother Toner Cartridge
Brother HL-2170w Printer Review

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