Thursday, May 6, 2010

HP Vivera Ink Promotion

Commentary and some math: HP Vivera Ink Costs

When ever I need to print on my HP D7160-series color inkjet printer, it is invariably out of ink. The printer is only occasionally used and because of this, it always goes into a cleaning cycle. I suspect this wastes most of the ink. Naturally, today I needed to buy ink for a project.

HP's normal 02 "Combo-pack" of Vivera inks, with 5 color ink cartridges, no black, sells for $49. This price never varies.

However, I've noticed my local office-supply store has a special is a combo-pack (5 color ink cartridges, no black) plus 150 4x6 sheets of photo paper for $39.

At first glance, this is quite the deal. Notice HP does not say "free" 150 sheets of photo-paper. This combo-pack, not illustrated here, has a +150 logo on the bottom-right corner of the box and some text on the side.


The Deal:

It turns out the amount of ink in the cartridges is different. In the +150 package, the ink cartridges have an expected capacity of 150 photos while the regular cartridges print 220 photos (actual yield varies). This information is on the back panel, but it is not obvious and you must compare between the two packages to understand the difference.

Doing the math, it is nearly a wash, after noting HP sells 150 sheets of 4x6 for $10:

(This assumes you are printing photos. If you are printing white copier paper, then the 150-sheets would do nothing for you and the ink cost would be 32% higher.)

Additional information:

These printers use 6 individual ink cartridges -- a desirable feature -- which gives better print quality and you only need to replace the empty color rather than an entire combo-cartridge when one goes dry.

HP sells apparently three different sizes of color ink cartridges (not including the black, which are physically larger). The color cartridges are the same size and shape, regardless of capacity:
  • Half-size (shipped with new printers and promotions)
  • Standard
  • XL Size (only in the primary colors)
Each color has slightly different page counts, based on statistical printing averages.

Standard Sizes:
Black - 660 pages $20
Cyan – 400 pages $11
Magenta – 370 pages $11
Yellow – 500 pages $11
Light Cyan – 240 pages $11
Photo Magenta – 240 pages $11

Double-Sized XL:
XL – Cyan – 600 pages $15
XL – Magenta – 535 pages $15
XL – Yellow – 750 pages $15

Half-Sizes:
(Not sold individually)

A full set of ink cartridges, including black, will cost about $80.00.

Best Buy / Cheapest:

Buying ink in a combo pack works out to be $9.80 per cartridge (vs $11), but seldom do you need all of the colors at the same time. However, in the long run, it evens out and you will save $1.20 per cartridge. But you must use the ink before it expires (each cartridge has a micro-chip and the cartridges know how old it is. They quit working if aged (2 years?); HP insists this ensures the highest-quality output.).

Notice there is little cost-per-page benefit in buying the XL cartridges over the standard sizes (0.28 vs 0.30 per average page).

Best Practices:

If you do a moderate amount of printing, buy a black-and-white laser printer for your normal day-to-day printing and use the color when you need it; this is especially true if you have school-age children. A low-end laser is about $220 and will pay for itself when compared to ink. This is what I do.

But, if you seldom print color, the inkjet becomes even more expensive. The long-times between print jobs means the printer spends most of its ink in cleaning cycles and page-counts go in the toilet. This is also apparently what I do.

If you can, take the images to a local full-service camera store and print at the self-serve kiosk. These prints will be cheaper than at home and you will be able to print larger prints.

I've not tried mail-order printing or refilled ink cartridges; I would like to hear your comments on this.

Savings at Office Supply Stores.

Ink must be a good markup. I buy from Staples Office Supply, where members (free to join), get a 10% discount and a (10%) quarterly rebate on all purchases. Old cartridges can be turned in for recycling, earning another $3.00 credit/rebate (starting June, 2010 - $2.00). The rebates arrive quarterly as a Staples-only-check; use it to buy paper. Other office stores may have similar programs.

Conclusions:

If you print a lot of color, inkjet printing is very expensive.
If you print just occasionally, ink jet printing has many hidden costs and it is even more expensive.
Moderate printing is also expensive.

Related article: Unhappy InkJet Printers

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Memory Upgrade from Crucial

Commentary: RAM Upgrades for Windows 7; how to install memory and ordering from Crucial.com (Micron).

Synopsis:
  • I like using Crucial.com; easy-to-use website
  • Buy the same-speed RAM as your older chips
  • No need to buy the fastest RAM unless you are replacing all chips
  • No need to go hog-wild and max-out the capacity



When I bought my Gateway FX 530s, in early 2007, RAM was expensive enough to warrant a second look. At that time, you could buy Vista systems with 1G, 2G and 3G of RAM -- I chose the middle of the road, and soon that 2G was considered the minimum.

If you mainly surf and email, 2G is adequate. Even on my machine, where I normally run 100-page word processing documents, databases, a compiler and a photo-editor all at the same time, I've never noticed a memory problem or excessive paging. As busy as my machine is, it typically hovers around 45% memory utilization. In other words, 2G was (and is) fine.


With the advent of x64 Windows 7, machines can now take advantage of far more memory than x32 vista or XP -- and now 6G-machines are common. But this is more memory than most people need (at least for the time being) and that 6G is still relatively expensive, adding several hundred dollars to a machine's cost.

My belief is this: When you need that much RAM, operating systems will have changed and you will want a faster computer anyway. When you buy that faster computer, 8G will be the base-model, with a 12G upgrade option. Don't bother spending a premium on memory now; wait until you actually need it (the same goes with top-of-the-line hard disks and video cards).



However, this week I was fixing a friend's XP computer and I noticed it only had 512MB of RAM. Even for XP, that is a little weak. I decided to order more RAM for my machine and I could re-cycle some of my old memory into her computer. In the end, I went from 2G to 3G and she jumped to 1.5G; it was a win-win for both of us.

I ordered the memory from Crucial.com (Micron), and as always, their site is a pleasure to use. Pick your machine, and it recommends the proper RAM:

(click for larger view; click Back to return)

By default, the site offers the fastest and most dense RAM your system can hold. Naturally, this is the most expensive and is vaguely deceiving. Don't let the initial price scare you. Ignore this first recommendation and click "See all compatible parts". In the new list, you will find smaller chips and slower speeds. Aim low.



In my case, I could choose 2GB DDR2 PC2-8500 or the slower 1GB DDR2 PC2-5300 chips. Since I was keeping 1G of my older memory, and it was a slower speed, I chose the slower chip. If you mix fast and slow chips in the same machine, the faster memory has to slow down to match the slower speed, so nothing is gained. According to Tom's Hardware.com memory tests, there is only a few percent differences between the two speeds and most people would be hard-pressed to see the difference.

Even if I hoped to buy a newer, faster computer in the near future, I wouldn't be able to move this new RAM to the new computer because, like all new computers, they use a different (and faster) type of RAM. This has been true since the dawn of Personal Computers.

Installing

On a late Monday night, 11:30PM, I placed an online order for 2x 1GB DIMMs. The chips arrived 36 hours later by second day air. The irony is they shipped from Meridian, Idaho and I live in Boise, a mere 7 miles away.

When installing the new memory chips, always install in pairs, which means always buy two matching sticks. On my machine, I pulled two of my four 512MB chips and replaced them with two 1GB chips, keeping matched sets in the same "bank." Most motherboards now color-code the DIMM slots to remind you of this.


(Your motherboard may look different)

When installing DIMMS, press the white levers down to remove the old chips. Then slip the new DIMM memory stick into the slot, orienting it so the bottom-edge notch is aligned with the notch in the memory-bank (the chip only fits one way). Once the module is in the slot, press firmly (very firmly) on one corner; press until you feel it "Snap;" then press firmly on the other end. The white levers automatically pop-up and lock into place. It takes about 1 minute to do this.

I noticed that Staples Office Supply only charges $39.00 to install RAM. If you can open the case and press two white levers, you can do this yourself and save enough money for a nice dinner. Installing RAM is easy; the hard part is buying it. Crucial's website solves that problem and they guarantee it will work in your machine. Do it yourself.

RESULTS

Total cost for two 2G DIMMS was $65, and for that price, I jumped from (2-gig at 45% utilization) to (3G at 35% utilization). This was a relatively minor upgrade, but my friend got a monumental jump from 1/2G to 1.5G.

The upgrade from 2G to 3G is nice; but it would have been nice to jump to 4 -- but with no compelling reason, and because I was watching the costs, I stayed at 3. Since I had to buy RAM anyway (for the other computer), I piggy-backed on the order. If I ever need that extra Gig of Ram, I'll toss the remaining two 512MB sticks and buy two more DIMMS for the same price (or lower, by then).

All-in-all, ordering from Crucial is a good experience. After getting past the initial sticker-shock, and realizing they were showing the fastest and densest chips first, I found reasonable prices.