- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Right now, $299.99 will get you Hewlett Packard Co.’s LaserJet Pro 100 MFP 175nw printer, a networkable color laser printer that is smaller than many previous incarnations, and at 35.5 pounds a lighter unit than many others. You can find this bargain at Staples or at Best Buy. Order directly from HP and expect to pay $50 more.

Forgive the repetition, but I remember one stop at a local nonprofit, early in my brief tech management career, where the head honcho was determined to get a laser printer for his correspondence, come you-know-what or high water. Get one we did, networkable to the special computer system used there, for about $4,000 of said nonprofit’s money. Back then, during President Reagan’s second term, lasers were quite something.

It’s not the ‘80s anymore, and today, lasers can come very cheap (for monochrome) or disguised as office document systems, what used to be called copiers. If you work in a large enough office, you’re probably on a network to which the document system is attached. Find the right software driver, set the proper connection and you can print on a “laser” the size of a small refrigerator. Besides, the hike from your cubicle is good exercise.

So who needs a $300 laser, even if the name is HP, since so many laser printing functions and features are just a network connection away? And if you really, really want a laser on your desk, is this model, which debuted in July, the one for you?

It depends. The LaserJet Pro 100 MFP 175nw is a nice machine, with HP’s usually excellent print quality, but it doesn’t set my heart aflutter. If you hit the manufacturer’s stated “duty cycle” of about 950 pages a month, you can expect to spend about $50 every six weeks for a new monochrome toner cartridge, which adds up to about $450 a year. The cyan, magenta and yellow toner cartridges, at almost $56 each, are rated to last for 1,000 pages, and your replacement rate will depend on how much color printing you do. If there are plenty of yellow logos on your documents, get ready to pay. If you replace each color three times a year, that will add $506 or so to your toner bill, for a grand total of $956 in cartridges, plus tax.

In the first year of use, then, you could spend about $1,200 for the printer and replacement toner cartridges. It would appear that, with this laser printer, HP has done what so many on the inkjet side have done for years: offer a nice unit with a low price and make it up on the consumables, the old “razors and blades” strategy.

But alternatives exist, including many small business inkjet printers that offer quality virtually indistinguishable from a laser, with more modest consumables costs. Purchase one of these - even an HP model - and pair it with a super-low price monochrome laser, and you may end up ahead of the game.

Should your heart be fixed on having a laser, I would suggest some serious thinking before signing up for this one. As mentioned, the consumables costs could come back to bite you if you’re a heavy-duty user.

Also, setup was a bit daunting for a Macintosh user, which I am. There is no installer for the LaserJet software that supports Apple’s latest release of OS X, nicknamed “Lion.” So you get to do this via Apple’s operating system, and while it’s relatively simple via a USB cable, it becomes a bit more demanding if you want to do things wirelessly. At least I found that using my Verizon FiOS wireless router and the LaserJet Pro 100. Things may get easier moving forward, but the install is more daunting than it should be.

Looking for duplex, or two-sided printing? Get ready to do it manually; there’s no auto-duplexing here. That’s another negative in my book. Competing inkjet printers offer this as standard.

Scanning a document? On the Mac, do it in Apple’s Preview.app; the LaserJet100 and Adobe Acrobat Pro X don’t get along.

HP remains an industry leader in quality, construction and reliability. This particular model may well find a lot of fans out there, but I was expecting a bit more out of this small package. That I didn’t find it is a disappointment and a challenge to keep looking.

Email mkellner@washingtontimes.com.