Playing Fast and Loose with Printer Specs

By M. David Stone  |  Posted 2008-03-03 Print this article Print

Here are some specs to be wary of and others you should ask about, even though manufacturers tend to skip them.

Choosing the right printer is hard enough when you have all the information you need. It gets harder when manufacturers tout printer specifications that don't tell you what you need to know. Here are some specs to be wary of and others you should ask about, even though manufacturers tend to skip them.

Laser Speeds

PPM (pages per minute) speed claims for lasers are close to the actual speed for printing simple text files at reasonably high quality. But for more complex images, such as intricate graphics, a slow printer engine with a fast processor can beat a fast printer engine with a slow processor.

Ink Jet Speeds

If you take the claimed speeds for ink jets seriously, you'd have to conclude that most ink jets are as fast as or faster than most desktop lasers. They aren't. Claimed speeds for ink jets are based on draft modes you wouldn't want to use very often, and even for those draft modes, the claimed speeds are faster than you'll see in real-world use.

Duplexing Speed: A Missing Spec

Most manufacturers conveniently leave out a rated speed for duplexing, because most printers can't print images on both sides of the page without slowing down significantly. If you print in duplex a lot, it's worth finding out the speed for duplexing as well.


M. David Stone is an award-winning freelance writer and computer industry consultant with special areas of expertise in imaging technologies (including printers, monitors, large-screen displays, projectors, scanners, and digital cameras), storage (both magnetic and optical), and word processing. His 25 years of experience in writing about science and technology includes a nearly 20-year concentration on PC hardware and software. He also has a proven track record of making technical issues easy for non-technical readers to understand, while holding the interest of more knowledgeable readers. Writing credits include eight computer-related books, major contributions to four others, and more than 2,000 articles in national and worldwide computer and general interest publications. His two most recent books are The Underground Guide to Color Printers (Addison-Wesley, 1996) and Troubleshooting Your PC, (Microsoft Press, 2000, with co-author Alfred Poor).

Much of David's current writing is for PC Magazine, where he has been a frequent contributor since 1983 and a contributing editor since 1987. His work includes feature articles, special projects, reviews, and both hardware and software solutions for PC Magazine's Solutions columns. He also contributes to other magazines, including Wired. As Computers Editor at Science Digest from 1984 until the magazine stopped publication, he wrote both a monthly column and additional articles. His newspaper column on computers appeared in the Newark Star Ledger from 1995 through 1997.

Non-computer-related work includes the Project Data Book for NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (written for GE's Astro-Space Division), and magazine articles and AV productions on subjects ranging from cosmology to ape language experiments. David also develops and writes testing scripts for leading computer magazines, including PC Magazine's PC Labs. His scripts have covered a wide range of subjects, including computers, scanners, printers, modems, word processors, fax modems, and communications software. He lives just outside of New York City, and considers himself a New Yorker at heart.


Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel