The Do-It-Alls

Published Date
01 - Mar - 2006
| Last Updated
01 - Mar - 2006
The Do-It-Alls
Most offices-big or small-still rely heavily on paper documents rather than soft copies: the "paperless office" is a phrase that is almost out of vogue. And as a result, printers, scanners, copiers and fax machines are still an essential part of offices.

Now, why are MFDs as popular as they are? There are many answers, the main one being their considerably lower prices as compared to the combined prices of standalone components. A second reason is the small desktop footprint. Third, the adoption of MFDs in an office makes for fewer machines, and therefore lower maintenance costs.

MFDs also increase the efficiency of the workforce by reducing the need to go back and forth between machines.

Within the MFD segment, we must ask, why laser MFDs? Well, laser MFDs are considerably more expensive than their inkjet counterparts, but offer much superior print quality. They require lower maintenance, and running costs, too, are much lower. The cost per print is much lower than that of inkjets; this is especially true with small and medium businesses where the workload consists of a moderately large volume of prints each month.

To help you decide on a laser MFD, we present here a mini-shootout of monochrome laser MFDs available in the Indian market. Mono laser MFDs are expensive and are not targeted at home users, but rather at the SoHo and SMB segments.

The mono MFDs we received for this shootout came from Canon, Lexmark, Samsung, Sharp and Xerox. These were the Canon MF 3110, Lexmark X215, Samsung SCX-4100, SCX-4521F and SF-565P, Xerox WorkCentre PE220, and the Sharp AM-400. Of these, the Sharp AM-400 belonged in a different class-it is copier-based, whereas the rest are printer-based. We therefore didn't directly compare it with the others.
As always, ours isn't the final word, but this comparison should definitely help you decide on an MFD-assuming, of course, that you've already decided that it's a mono laser MFD you want to go with.


A higher dpi (dots per inch) means better image quality and hence sharper output, which is good for graphics-heavy documents or those with small fonts. The Canon MF 3110 supports the highest printer optical resolution of 1200 x 600 dpi, while the others were mostly at 600 x 600 dpi. The Samsung SF-565P had the lowest print resolution of 300 x 300 dpi; Samsung is targeting the Office Automation market, and this MFD is specifically targeted at replacing a fax machine-hence the lower dpi.

Paper Capacity
All the MFDs we tested have input paper tray capacities of 250 sheets except for the Samsung SCX-4521F and Xerox WorkCentre PE220, whose input tray capacity is only 150 sheets. The Lexmark and Samsung SF-565P boasted of the highest output tray capacities of 150 sheets each, while the Canon MF3110 had a capacity of 60; the rest had output trays that held only 50 sheets.

Duplex Printing
Dual-sided printing wasn't featured in any of the MFDs we tested this time round, which is surprising, since it is important for both the SoHo and SMB segments - it facilitates easy printing of booklets and such. Duplex printing also saves on paper, and is therefore more environment-friendly.

Duty Cycles
The Canon MF 3110 has the highest printer duty cycle-15,000 prints per month-whereas most of the others have a duty cycle of 10,000. The Samsung SF-565P has the lowest duty cycle-4,200-which is still all right for an MFD that aims at replacing a fax machine.

Optical Resolution

A higher scan resolution means you can better extract the finer details from an image or document. The Canon MF3110 supports the highest optical scan resolution-1200 x 600 dpi-higher than all the rest, which only support 600 x 600. Its interpolated scan resolution is also higher than the rest.

The optical resolution of a printer or scanner refers to the real hardware capabilities of the device, defining the fineness at which it can print or scan. Interpolated Resolution is the software-enhanced resolution of the device, and the figure is always misleading-don't go by it.

Scanner Type
The Canon MF3110 and Samsung SCX-4100 have flatbed scanners, and the Samsung SF-565P have only a sheet-fed scanner. The rest have both types of scanners.

A flatbed scanner has a moving scanning head that scans a document placed on the glass plate, whereas in a sheet-fed scanner, the document moves past a stationary scanning head. The paper cannot move past the scanner head as fast as the scanning head can move parallel to the paper. As a result, flatbed scanners are faster than sheet-fed scanners.

Documents are likely to get stuck or crumpled in a sheet-fed scanner if not placed in proper alignment with the paper guide. An advantage, though, with sheet-fed scanners is that they are more compact.

The Canon MF3110 and Samsung SCX-4100 are the only MFDs without an automatic document feeder (ADF).

Canon MF3110

An ADF is important because it allows you to place a stack of papers to be scanned-the MFD proceeds to scan and/or copy until it reaches the end of the stack. This means time savings, and that human intervention is minimised.

How We Tested 
Our test bed comprised a Pentium 4 3.2 GHz processor plugged onto an MSI 875P Neo FISR2 motherboard with 1 GB of Corsair 400 MHz DDR RAM, a Gigabyte nVidia GeForce FX 5950 graphics card, and a 250 GB 7200 rpm SATA Maxtor hard disk.
The system was powered by an Antec NeoPower 480 W power supply. We used Windows XP with SP1 as the OS, and the system was loaded with the latest chipset and graphics drivers.
We also installed the USB patch for XP, and connected the devices on the USB 2.0 port for optimal performance. We used 100 g/sm paper from Berga (A4 size) for printing.


Various features such as the duty cycle, input and output tray capacity, input buffer, maximum print resolution supported and so on were rated. For the scanner, the maximum scan resolution, bit depth, scanner type, ADF presence and capacity, etc., were noted.
In the copier and fax aspect, the ability to work as a standalone device, the maximum number of copies in multi-copy mode, memory for storing fax pages, etc. were noted.


We tested performance on two parameters-speed and quality. Since MFDs consist of at least three basic parts-the printer, scanner, and the copier-we tested their performance as below.
Printer speed and quality test: We used a text document to test the raw print speeds of the printer. The quality settings used were Normal and Best. To test their ability to handle various aspects of a regular document, we created a combi-document with black text interspersed with graphs and images. We clocked the time it took the printers to print this document in Normal and Best quality modes, and analysed the print quality.
Scanner speed and quality test: We tested the scanners for speed using an average of five previews of an A4 size image. This was done when the scanner was fresh out of the box, so as to incorporate the warm-up time. Scanners with a higher warm-up time didn't fare as well. We also tested the warmed-up scanners to negate any possibility that a scanner might scan faster than the others once warmed up. We imported the same A4 size image at 150 dpi and 600 dpi, in Adobe Photoshop CS, and scanned a full text document in B&W mode at 200 dpi. The scanner then underwent a test to determine its colour-differentiating abilities-we used a Kodak IT8 card with different shades of colour, each a little different from the preceding one. Next, we tested the resolution card to figure actual scanning capabilities by checking for its native resolutions. We scanned the card at 300 dpi at threshold colour depth to see how many boxes it could differentiate in between the lines. Finally, we did an OCR test to check the scanner's ability to differentiate light and dark areas. A print article was scanned into ABBYY FineReader Pro 8.0 PE, and verified for wrongly-interpreted letters in the software. We then gave a percentile value to the devices.
Copier: We copied a text document in black and white and rated the MFDs on the speed and quality of the printouts.

How the awards are given
The scores from features, performance and price are given weightages suitable to the category. An overall score out of 100 is then calculated. The product that scores the highest here is adjudged the Digit Best Buy Gold winner for the product category. The second-highest scorer gets the Digit Best Buy Silver award.
WIA Compliancy
The Samsung SCX-4521F and Xerox WorkCentre PE220 are Windows Imaging Architecture (WIA)-compliant. WIA compliancy means that the device enjoys native support in Windows XP-which recognises such devices as soon as you plug them in, and don't need to install any drivers. You can then use the Scanner and Camera Wizard to easily transfer scanned images to your PC-you can also manipulate the images before transferring them.

Sharp AM-400 
The Sharp AM-400 is a 4-in-1 solution for SoHos and SMBs. It provides copying, faxing, printing and scanning functionalities in a single package. What makes this multifunctional device different from the rest in this comparison test is the fact that it is based on the copier engine.
Being copier-based, it comes with not just a single toner cartridge, but also a drum. The advantage of having a separate toner and drum is that if one of them is exhausted, you need to replace only that one, so overall running cost is reduced as compared to printer-based solutions, where the toner has to be discarded and replaced. In addition to this, the duty cycle and print speeds are also very high, making for a lower cost per page. On the downside, copier-based MFDs are somewhat more expensive than their printer-based counterparts.
Coming back to the Sharp AM-400, it has an optical print and scan resolution of 600 x 600 dpi, which is just fine for the small business segment, where one does not need a very high degree of image accuracy in scanning. The input tray accommodates 250 sheets; it is augmented by a 50-sheet capacity bypass feed. The output tray is also very large-it holds 250 sheets.

The drum duty cycle is 20,000, whereas the toner duty cycle is 3,000.
The flatbed and sheet-fed 24-bit colour scanner can scan papers of up to Legal size. The ADF tray, with a 20-sheet capacity, is useful to automatically scan a stack of documents.
The scanner features the TWAIN as well as the WIA interfaces. The AM-400 supports Super G3 high-speed fax at 33.6 kbps. The copier can reduce and enlarge up to 99 copies in continuous mode.
TWAIN is an interface that was designed to provide a universal public standard to link applications and image acquisition devices such as cameras, scanners and the like.
The print speed of this MFD was found to be a bit slower than that of the others in our test, but print quality was on par with the best. The scanner was faster than the others we tested. Copying was slow, with the first copy of the warmed-up device taking 20 seconds.
The build quality of the AM-400 is rugged, but the removable output paper tray cannot be firmly anchored into the MFD.
The device can connect to the PC via USB 2.0 as well as the parallel port interfaces. It weighs just 12.7 kg, and is 47.5 cm wide and 42 cm deep, which is pretty small for a copier-based MFD. Power consumption is rated at 870 W.
We reckon the Sharp AM-400 is a good buy for small and medium businesses. The price of Rs. 33,500 also seems to be justified.

Since we only tested mono MFDs, copying, naturally, was limited to greyscale. All the MFDs had similar features-standalone copying, reduce and enlarge, and up to 99 copies in multiple copying mode. 99 copies is normally more than enough for a SoHo.

General Considerations

The Samsung SF-565P is the only model to sport a handset. This makes it a telefax-a telephone-cum-fax, so you can make telephone calls using the same machine. The Canon MF 3110 and the Samsung SCX-4100 do not have a fax unit inbuilt.

The 4 MB of fax memory on the Lexmark X215 makes it possible to receive and store a larger number of fax messages when the machine runs out of paper. Broadcasting and Scheduled Faxing are standard on all the MFDs in this test. Broadcasting allows you to send a fax to a group of numbers in the phonebook memory. Scheduled Faxing allows you to send a fax at a specified time.

Miscellaneous Features
Physical Considerations

Weighing in at 13.6 kg and measuring 47 x 41.9 x 43.2 cm, the Lexmark X215 has the largest dimensions while also being the heaviest. The Samsung SF-565P is the lightest and also the most compact amongst the MFDs with the fax feature. The SF-565P has a compact and sleek appearance, and is well suited for small offices due to its considerably smaller footprint.

Lexmark X215

We found the overall build quality of the Lexmark X215 to be very rugged; the build quality of the Samsung SCX-4521F and Xerox PE220, too, is commendable.

Interface And Memory
Barring the Canon MF 3110, which features only the USB 2.0 interface-all the other MFDs in this test have the USB 2.0 as well as the parallel interfaces.

Download PDF file of MFDs

While USB is the norm today, a parallel port interface is important when connecting to the old PCs that many offices still use.

One really good thing about the Canon MF3110 is its huge 64 MB of memory, which makes sure heavy documents are printed without using the PC's hard drive as the spooler, which slows down the process. The other printers are not in the league of the Canon MF3110 when it comes to memory; the closest any came was the Lexmark X215, with 16 MB.
Drivers, Manuals, OS Support
All the MFDs come with the drivers you'll need, as well as Quick Start Guides. Manuals in PDF format were also provided on the CDs that came bundled.

While Lexmark and Canon support only Windows, Xerox supports Windows as well as Linux and Macintosh.

Printing Languages
Almost all the MFDs, with the exception of the Lexmark, support the SPL (Samsung Printer Language) or CARPS (Canon Advanced Raster Printing System) printing languages. When the printer part of the MFD supports a printing language, it harnesses the power of the computer during printing; hence, the more powerful the computer, the better the printing performance will be.

OCR Applications
MFDs often come with an OCR application bundled. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software is used to scan a printed text document and convert it to text formats understandable to the PC, such as MS Word or PDF. The Xerox WorkCentre PE220 comes with ABBYY FineReader 6.0, which is one of the best OCR software available. The Canon MF3110 comes with OmniPage, and the Samsung SCX-4521F comes with ReadIris Pro 9.

Warm-up Time

The warm-up time of an MFD indicates how soon it gets ready to print after it is switched on. Every time the printer goes into power saving mode, it will take some time to warm up, and that's why the warm up time is generally considered an important parameter.
The Canon MF 3110 is the quickest at warming up-it takes just six seconds, way better than the rest. The Samsung SF-565P and the Lexmark X215 are the slowest-they take 22 and 20 seconds respectively.

Print Quality And Speeds
In the first text print test, most of the MFDs fared almost equally well. The slowest was the Lexmark X215. The results of the combi-document test, too, were almost the same across all the MFDs.

Where print quality is concerned, the Samsung SCX-4521F and Xerox WorkCentre PE220 were found to produce crisp prints. This was also evident in the combi-document printouts, where these scored the highest in the concentric circles patterns test. In the minimum readable text test, the Lexmark X215 and Samsung SCX-4521F were the low scorers: they were only able to print 5-point text legibly at normal quality.

At best quality, almost all the MFDs printed 3-point text legibly, except for the Canon MF3110, which could manage only 4-point text. In general, most of the MFDs in this test are capable of excellent quality prints when set to best quality.


Taking just eight seconds to scan our text document, the Samsung SCX-4521F emerged as the fastest scanner. The Samsung SF-565P logged the lowest average preview scan times of just 10 seconds. This was, of course, because of its lower dpi and also because it scans only in monochrome.

Samsung SCX-4100
The Canon MF 3110 was the fastest of the lot in our photo test-it clocked an amazing 61.5 seconds to scan our photograph at 600 dpi. The next-best timing was a distant 209 seconds by the Xerox WorkCentre PE220. The Lexmark X215 and Samsung SCX-4100 were the slowest, at 407 and 408 seconds respectively. We couldn't include the Samsung SF-565P in our photo test, since it only supports monochrome mode.

When it came to quality, the Canon MF 3110 and the Xerox PE220 were neck-to-neck at the top, with almost equal scores in tests such as the IT8 card test. The Lexmark X215 scored the lowest in the IT8 card test, and it was able to distinguish only 17 of the 22 boxes in the tonal deviation test.

Most of the MFDs fared well in our OCR test, which measures the degree to which the scanner part of the MFD can distinguish dark areas from light, which is what is required if the OCR software is to do its job well. The exceptions here were the Samsung SCX-4100 and SCX-4521F, which recognised two and three letters wrongly, respectively. This may not seem much, but the figure will rise if the volume of OCR scanning is high.

Samsung SCX-4521F

The copier test was once again jointly won by the Samsung SCX-4521F and Xerox PE220, which posted the lowest copy times and the best quality. The Samsung SF-565P was the slowest of the lot, because it only had a sheet-fed scanner which is inherently slower.

The Digit Awards Go To…
The Samsung SCX-4521 came with a decent software bundle, performed extremely well, and also scored well in the features department. In terms of print and scan quality, it was better than the Xerox. The lower price tag of Rs 21,990 was also a deciding factor, and we awarded the Samsung SCX-4521 the Digit Best Buy Gold for monochrome laser MFDs.
Looking at the rather high Rs 26,500 price tag, we didn't think the Xerox PE220 would win an award. But considerably higher scores in the features department, a good software bundle, and very good performance fetched the Xerox WorkCentre PE220 the Digit Best Buy Silver award in this category.

So Where Do We Go From Here?
MFDs have been traditionally known to perform not as well as standalone products. Also, if one part of an MFD goes defunct, the entire unit ceases to work, this is especially true in cases such as when a scanner ceases working, the fax and copier do not work or if the printer has a problem, the copier also cannot work. But with advances in technology and improvements in design, the chances of components going out of order have been reduced.

We are set to see a lot of exciting innovations in the laser MFD segment in the next few years. LEP (liquid electro-photographic) technology, which is used in high-end digital printing presses, has the potential to revolutionise office and home printing alike.

Other innovations such as printing over wireless are already on their way to market.

Xerox Workcentre PE220

With the use of Wi-Fi gaining popularity in offices, Wi-Fi-capable MFDs will be the devices to look for in the near future. Direct printing from cell phones is another possibility that is being explored.

Quite a few innovations are underway in the field of multifunction copiers. Some already have CPUs, RAM and hard drives! Certain technologies, such as Canon's Multifunctional Embedded Application Platform (MEAP) J2ME Java-based technology, enables customised business applications to be created and installed on the device. These can be easily controlled via the MFD user interface. As an example, using a MEAP application installed on a device, a bank could "train" the device
to differentiate between a home loan, personal loan and credit card application, and where to electronically route the scanned paperwork for processing and approval. Such technologies will help future-proof the multifunction copier.

While it does not seem likely-even by a long shot-that the prices of laser MFDs will drop to levels comparable to those of inkjet MFDs, they are sure to plummet.

Manufacturers are certainly doing their bit in reducing sizes, and some are already almost as small as inkjet MFDs.

With dropping prices, colour laser MFDs, which as of now are too expensive for the SoHo and SMB segments, may make an entry the next time round.


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