Color Laser Printer Review: Samsung CLP-660ND

Thursday Mar 27th 2008 by Aaron Weiss
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A solid choice for small business, this laser printer offers well-designed form, function and vibrant color at a sub-$800 price.

Not every small business needs a color laser printer, but if yours does, the Samsung CLP-660ND offers the speed and performance you need plus the splash of color that make your print materials -- but not your budget -- pop. From taking it out of the box to features and output quality, the 660ND delivers the goods.

An Easy, Out-of-Box Experience
It's a relief to encounter a product that you can un-box and setup without a chiropractor on speed-dial. While the printer weighs in at nearly 50 pounds, it's basically a well-balanced, 17-inch cube that's easy to set on any flat surface. Generous indentations at the base of the 660 let you lift out of the box without any weird contortions.

Like most hardware, the 660 includes a poster-sized quick install guide which shows a bunch of illustrated steps accompanied by hands and arrows doing cryptic things. The good news is that, if you are as dysfunctional at reading these "mime guides" as I, you don't need it. There is nothing mysterious about setting up the Samsung 600.

Pull open the obvious front door and you expose the cavity for toner cartridges. If you've only used monochrome lasers before, you'll notice that the Samsung 600 actually uses four toner cartridges—yellow, magenta, cyan and black. Each comes in the box separately bagged, and inserting them into their slots is foolproof.

The N Stands for Network
The 660ND model supports both USB 2.0 and Ethernet connections, via side-mounted jacks. With a network connection, the printer defaults to DHCP mode, meaning it will automatically request an IP address from the network.

If your network is non-standard or you would like to assign a static IP to the printer, the LCD control panel on the printer's face lets you adjust network parameters—and many other configuration options—with a simple menu system. It is actually a good idea to assign a static IP to the printer, or else it may not always receive the same address. This could confuse your printer driver or misdirect bookmarks to the printer's Web-based administration pages. In tests, the printer sometimes requested and received a new DHCP IP without even being reset.


Samsung CLP-660ND
The Samsung CLP-660ND color laser combines networking and duplex printing with a small business price tag.

Software Support
Samsung provides a CD with drivers and software for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. Features vary by platform. Both Windows and Mac include Samsung's "Smart Panel," a utility that monitors the state of the printer. It displays toner levels and access to driver and printer settings. Although Smart Panel is not available for Linux machines, it isn't terribly useful for any platform.

The 660ND includes a built-in Web serve, which you can access with any browser on the network. Using the Web interface, you can view toner levels and configure network settings. You can also change print settings including paper type, power save mode and layout.

Samsung's driver for Windows (2000/XP and Vista) is the most full-featured of the lot. Besides the usual print options, it supports poster printing, N-up, fit-to-page, watermark, overlays and more. Most of these special print modes are not available in the Linux driver, and only some are supported in the OS X driver.

The "D" in 660ND stands for duplexing, which allows the printer to automatically print on both sides of each page. It prints on side A, feeds the sheet to the out tray, and then immediately slurps it back in, prints on side B, and then feeds it out again. You can duplex along the long or short sides of a page.

Media Support
Samsung includes a single printer tray with the 660ND, which fits snugly into the printer cube. It supports 250 sheets of paper and includes movable guides to support various paper sizes, including legal. You can add an optional 500-sheet tray, but because there is nowhere to insert it, the second tray is external and connects to the 660ND with a cable.

Because laser printers use a different process than inkjets, there are limitations on the kind of paper you can use in the 660ND. Although it prints color, for example, you cannot print photos to glossy photo paper like you can use in an inkjet for maximum quality prints. (In fact, glossy photo paper will not even feed.) Make no mistake—the 660ND is a color printer, but a business printer, and not intended to compete with quality inkjets for art prints.

You can print envelopes, labels and cardstock using the manual feed tray revealed by opening a flap on the printer's face.

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Print Jobs
In considering a printer's performance, both speed and quality count. When it comes to speed, it is best to consider manufacturer claims as generous estimates. The 660ND has a warm up cycle before it is ready to print the first page after power up or return from sleep. You can configure how long the printer will stay warmed up before returning to sleep, anywhere from five minutes to 2 hours.

Because of this warm up cycle, the first page coming out of sleep or power on can take some time. A full-color page with 100 percent coverage printed in 70 seconds, but the first minute of that was warm up time. Subsequent copies of this page printed in less than ten seconds each.

Printing the 111-page user's manual in PDF format came close to Samsung's rated speed of 25 pages per minute. But applying transformations to the print driver, such as scaling pages and using duplex to save paper, slows the page rate considerably.

You can upgrade the printer's memory to increase the print speed for complex, graphics-heavy documents. The 660ND comes standard with 128MB of DDR1 RAM, which can be expanded to a maximum total of 640MB.

Like other laser printers, the 660 lets you set print quality to draft, normal, or best. In default "normal" mode, black text is crisp and easy to read even at small point sizes.

Of course, the beauty of a color laser printer is, well, color. Here the 660ND does not disappoint. Colors are vibrant and pop on high-quality copy paper. Graphics, charts and illustrations really do look better in color.

Unlike an inkjet printer, the color laser does not print in "bands" and therefore does not suffer from visual banding in large blocks of color. A full-page print in a single color is even in tone across the page. But if you look closely, you will see mild pixilation of solid color blocks. This gives a slightly mottled look to large areas of a single color, but the pixels disappear at a normal viewing distance.

All this really means is that the 660ND, as a color laser, is not a thermal dye printer. Although digital photographs printed on cardstock are more than passable, this kind of printer is designed for office, not studio work.

Consumables
Unfortunately, laser toner does not grow on trees. The 660ND includes four "standard capacity" toner cartridges, rated at 2,500 pages each and using the vendor's standard estimate of five percent coverage. Of course, with a color laser, yield will vary even more widely depending on which colors you use most often.

Unlike a monochrome laser, though, replacing toner on a color laser like the 660ND means replacing four cartridges. The standard capacity cartridges sell for about $85 apiece, while "high yield" cartridges rated for 5,500 pages can be found for about $130, making them a better buy on a cost-per-page basis.

With a rated duty cycle of 80,000 pages per month, the 660ND could—if pushed to its limits—churn through several complete sets of cartridges a month, easily exceeding the cost of the printer itself.

You also need to replace the printer's paper transfer belts, part of the feed mechanism, after 50,000 pages. There are two, one for black, and one for color, and they cost about $175 apiece.

Considering Color
The Samsung 660ND delivers on producing crisp color output in a well-built machine at a small-business friendly price. But the economics of color lasers don't end there, and that's where the pennies can add up. Printing in color is still a luxury for most office needs -- and a potentially expensive one at that.

If your business needs color printing for a lot of jobs, the 660ND delivers business-class functionality with vibrant color.

Aaron Weiss a technology writer, screenwriter and Web development consultant who spends his free time stacking wood for the winter in Upstate New York. His Web site is: bordella.com

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