Saturday, September 18, 2010

Brother HL-2170W Laser Printer - Review

Review: Non-technical Review comparing Brother printers with HP along with a cost-benefit decision on buying a new toner cartridge versus a whole new printer.

Brother makes good quality, inexpensive printers that do exactly what they are supposed to do. However, like all other manufacturers, the consumables are expensive. I've often found it makes more sense to buy a new printer and as you read this article, you will see this was my recent decision. I am pleased with the new HL-2170W printer.

Two years ago I bought a Brother HL-2040 laser printer (Keyliner reviewed here), and after a couple of toner cartridges, it ran dry. Once again, I was faced with this bizarre decision: A new cartridge cost $70 -- a new printer, with a toner cartridge, costs $70 to $100 depending on the model. Granted, the new printer's toner cartridge is an "introductory" cartridge and only prints 1,000 pages, but for me, this is still 9 months of printing and it gives me a chance to upgrade.

Faults with the Original

The original Brother 2040 printer did not come with a network card. This meant I had to share the printer on a Windows peer-to-peer network and the main computer had to be on before the other laptops in the house could print.

Because of the power requirements on the old Brother printer (480 watts), I vowed to never buy one like that again (previous review). What I discovered is most brands use this much power and all will cause issues with a household circuit.

Finally, one last consideration: Although I'm nowhere near the 10,000 page duty cycle, there are other consumables to worry about. The fuser assembly, pickup-rollers, gears, and the built-in power supply are all a concern. If you are reaching these limits, buy another printer rather than incur the obscene costs for other replacement parts. These are all reasons to choose a new printer.

Comparing Other Printers

Between HP and Brother, the Brother printers always seemed a better buy.

Brother had three different printers within a $70 to $150 price range (HL-2040, HL-2170W, HL-5340D - all on sale). HP started at $150 and went to $300 for similar models.

The only printer HP had that was price-competitive had numerous problems. It does not have a real paper-tray, and what it does have, it only holds 150 sheets.

Although wireless, the HP was only wireless and it did not have an RJ45 wired-jack. It is nice to have both options because a wired connection is always better than wireless. Additionally, the HP prints at 600dpi, which is less than the similarly priced Brother printers (1200dpi) and it only comes with 8MB of RAM, instead of 32.

But most importantly, this HP printers has a minuscule toner cartridge, which is more expensive (by page-count) than all other vendors. On the plus-side, this printer drew 380 watts, but this was not enough to sway my decision.

Moving to the more expensive HP printers, ones with comparable form-factors to the Brother printers, the feature-set was on-par but HP's prices were consistently and noticeably more expensive at each category. For all of these reasons, I bought a Brother printer again.

The Decision

If your old printer is approaching a 10,000 page duty cycle (apx. 7 toner cartridges), buy a new printer rather than risk a failed drum or fuser roller. If your older printer lacks features that you would like (such as a network connection, speed or memory), you might as well buy a new printer rather than replacing an empty toner cartridge -- providing you can get the printer on sale. If you can stay within the brand, keep the old printer and toner for spare parts.

See this Keyliner article on how to extend the life of your Brother toner cartridge. This article also discusses a trick to extend the drum-counter life. And even though I have not tried re-filling toner cartridges myself, I intend to the next time it is empty; Brother cartridges are extremely easy to refill.

If you have more than one computer, then all printers should be network aware. In my case, upgrading with a network wireless/wired connection made sense. I ended up with a less-complicated printing environment. However, if you only have one computer, and have no intention on buying a second machine, then you could save money, buying a non-networked printer, but this is probably short-sighted.


Normally Brother Printers are priced about $50 less than comparable other brands. But when they are on sale, as they are this month (2010.09), the decision is almost painless. has most Brother printers on sale through the end of the month.

The HL-2170w, which is my recommended printer for home and small office users, is regularly $150 but on sale for $100. The non-networked HL-2040 is $70. also sells "refurbished" printers for $30 less on their website, with free delivery. Most of these printers are probably nearly-new and were returned by customers for various reasons. Because the box was opened, they can't be sold as new. Consider this as an option if you can wait a week on the shipment.

Related articles:
Brother 2040 Review
Extending the life of a Brother toner cartridge by 1,000 pages
Setting up a Brother Printer on Wireless

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