From the Kenosha News on 4-30-06

Buy the multi-function device that meets your needs

At home, we had been talking for a while about the need for a fax machine and copier. I finally purchased an “all-in-one” or multi-function device (MFD). All MFDs provide some or all of the following functions: printing from computer, copying, scanning to computer, sending and receiving fax, fax to/from computer.

When selecting the right device for you, first determine which of those functions you need. All-in-one prices can start well below $100, especially if you don’t need the fax feature. In my case, faxing and copying were the most important features, with computer printing being somewhat secondary.

Second, decide if you want a laser-based unit or an inkjet-based one. A laser-based MFD will cost more to buy but will be cheaper to operate since the toner cartridges will be replaced much less often. Laser units usually only print in black since color laser printing is still very expensive. An inkjet-based unit will be less expensive to buy, but it will require new ink cartridges more often, and the price of each cartridge is often 25% of the cost of the device!

Next, define what you need to do with each feature. For printing, do you need photo-quality printing or just something basic? I don’t print out photo-quality pictures, so an average resolution is fine for us. I did choose an inkjet-based unit, however, since I want to be able to print and copy in color and since the inkjet units cost less up front. Higher-end units can often do duplexing (double-sided printing) if that is a feature you’re looking for.

For scanning and copying, decide what kinds of items you’ll be scanning or copying. If you need to copy from books or copy smaller or thicker items like passports, cards, tickets, etc., then you need a flat bed unit that has the glass plate to place your materials on. This type of unit will cost more than a sheet feed unit that can only copy or scan normal sized sheets of paper. What file formats will your scanner scan into? The Lexmark 4200 we purchased can scan pictures or “read” in text using OCR (optical character recognition.)

Faxing is pretty straightforward, but if you don’t have a dedicated phone line for your fax, read carefully how to set it up so it won’t answer regular phone calls before you do!

If you want to use your device with a Macintosh, make sure that it’s Mac-compatible. After we got our Lexmark home, research revealed that there are no Mac OS drivers for it. This isn’t a big problem since we have mostly Windows computers, but Mac compatibility would have been helpful.

When determining which brand buy, ask around how happy your friends have been with similar units. My recent experience with Lexmark has been very good, but someone else I talked to has had better experience with HP. Finally, when selecting the exact unit, read the box carefully. I looked at an HP unit that was just $10 more than the Lexmark I bought, but the color ink cartridge was sold separately – for about $25! Look for warranty information; some units come with warranties as short as 90 days.

By Carol Sabbar from the Kenosha News on 4-30-06