Samsung CLP-500 Review

by Eric Grevstad

Samsung, known for nifty, thrifty monochrome lasers, has a few surprises up its sleeve with its first four-color model — faster and quieter operation and more paper capacity than the competition for $699.

Samsung Electronics America jockeys with Konica Minolta (nee Minolta-QMS) for supremacy in the under-$200 monochrome laser printer category. So what's Samsung been doing on the sidelines the last couple of years while its rival, chased by HP and others, sets the pace in the under-$1,000 color laser market?

Getting warmed up, obviously. At $699, the Korean giant's first color laser printer — the CLP-500 — bears the same list price as the Konica Minolta Magicolor 2300W we tested last May. (To be sure, it doesn't match the latter's current $200 rebate offer, though we've already seen a few online vendors discounting the Samsung to $640 or $650.)

But the Samsung is faster than the Magicolor — rated at 5 pages per minute for color and 21 ppm for letter-sized black and white. It's quieter. It has more onboard memory — 64MB expandable to 192MB, versus 32MB not expandable — and paper capacity, with a 250-sheet bottom cassette plus 100-sheet fold-down auxiliary tray plus optional second cassette.

And it prints on both sides of the page, with the automatic duplexing that's rare on monochrome, let alone color, lasers in this price range (and a $400 option for the 2300W) as standard equipment. The CLP-500 isn't flawless — we think its consumable and per-page costs, while cheap compared to desktop inkjets', are a bit steep compared to more heavy-duty color lasers' — but it's a landmark bargain and a tempting small-office or workgroup solution.

It Won't Drown Out a Conversation
To be sure, the CLP-500 cuts some of the same corners as its competitors in the economy-color-laser class — most obviously, it's not optimized for sharing, with parallel and USB 2.0 ports but no network interface. If you don't want to designate your PC as the office print server, an Ethernet-equipped model CLP-500N is $850; if you have a WiFi-equipped notebook, a wireless network adapter for the printer is $250.

Also like its peers, the Samsung — though smaller than the color lasers of a few years ago — is an ungainly giant compared to today's petite inkjet printers, a desk-hogging 20 inches wide, 18.5 inches deep, and 16 inches high. We're not too macho to admit we did a little huffing and puffing when wrestling the CLP-500 out of its crate; loaded with toner cartridges and imaging unit, it weighs 77.2 pounds.

But while it's probably too bulky to put on your desktop instead of a nearby stand or table, the CLP-500 is, impressively, not too loud to put near your telephone. Any color laser loops color pages through four passes to affix cyan, magenta, yellow, and black toner to the paper; most do it by rotating a carousel of toner cartridges successively into printing position, an audible cycle with the Magicolor 2300W and a thunking, clunking racket with the HP Color LaserJet 1500N we tested eight months ago.

But Samsung's engineers, not to mention its crackerjack Marketing Acronym Team, created what the company calls a Non-Orbiting Noiseless Optic Imaging System (NO NOIS) engine that uses a larger imaging drum and fixed toner cartridges — the cartridges are rectangular or slab-shaped units which slide into a stack of four slots at the printer's left side. The result, while not silent, is indeed the quietest color laser we've listened to — some whir from the cooling fan, muffled thuds from the drivetrain, and occasional whine from a paper roller, but nothing intrusive or obnoxious.

Aside from brute-strength considerations, setup is straightforward, if not super-simple: You open the left-side door, then press a button to open the top lid, then rip through a half-dozen black plastic bags and cardboard covers to open and install the imaging unit, transfer belt, and quartet of toner cartridges. The imaging drum slid into place easily; the transfer belt took a little twiddling, just enough for us to start worrying about the setup pamphlet's stern "Do Not Leave Components Exposed To Light For More Than a Minute" warnings, before finding its niche; and the toners all found their slots on our first or second try.

That leads us to the consumable-cost gripes we mentioned: The CLP-500's black toner cartridge is rated for an estimated 7,000 pages and priced at $100, with the cyan, magenta, and yellow cartridges rated for 5,000 pages and costing $120 apiece.

However, as with Samsung's and some other monochrome lasers, the toner cartridges you'll find in the box are less than half full — rated for 1,500 color and 2,000 black pages — to help the company hit that tantalizingly low purchase price. Suffice it to say this isn't one of our favorite printer-vendor tricks.

Inkjets? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Inkjets
Similarly, while the printer boasts a rated duty cycle of up to 35,000 pages per month, we suspect Samsung's estimated printing costs — 2.09 cents per black and 11.26 cents per color page — will soar for owners who come anywhere near such high volumes. The company measures estimated consumable lives in images, such as 3,000 images before it's time to replace the preinstalled waste toner tank behind the front panel (about $20), but a full-color page counts as four images — i.e., 750 pages for the waste tank, or 12,500 pages apiece for the imaging unit and transfer belt.

And once you get into a high-five-figure page count, the detailed owner's manual (provided as an Adobe Acrobat file rather than printed volume) admits that you're getting into replacement parts — like a fuser unit and transfer roller (50,000 pages each) or pick-up roller (150,000 pages) — recommended for service-technician rather than owner or user installation. In other words, while the CLP-500 will crank out thousands of color pages for far less (and in less time) than a desktop inkjet, heavy-duty office settings will find it heading toward the disposable-inkjet paradox, where it becomes cheaper to buy another printer than to keep replacing cartridges or parts.

Just One Jam
Still, while we doubt its cost-effectiveness for a company that produces thousands of pages per day, the Samsung fills a nifty niche if you need a few hundred PowerPoint handouts or marketing-flyer pages each day.

One reason why is its friendly paper handling: For legal-sized pages, you'll have to fold down the 100-sheet (or 30-transparency or 10-envelope) multipurpose tray at the right, but letter or A4 sheets get an honest-to-goodness, photocopier-style 250-sheet drawer at the bottom. A 500-sheet second drawer that fits beneath the printer is a $300 option.

Duplex printing is as easy as checking a box in the supplied software driver — which also offers a decent variety of booklet and watermark printing options — and watching with a smile as each page, three-quarters ejected onto the face-down, 250-sheet output stack atop the printer, is suddenly sucked back in for printing the flip side.

We were bemused to see that even the last sheet of duplex jobs with an odd number of pages — i.e., no need to print the other side — got the back-and-forth treatment, retract-and-respool treatment, but we experienced only one paper jam during dual-sided and none during one-sided printing in our tests. (A somewhat small and squinty LCD menu and control buttons adorn the front panel, but we found ourselves relying on the software driver, except for occasionally pushing buttons to cancel a job in progress or order a configuration and consumable-page-count status printout.)

Nor did duplex printing add too much time to our stopwatch tests — 20 pages of black Microsoft Word text which took 1 minute and 52 seconds to print on 20 sheets took 2 minutes and 38 seconds on both sides of 10 sheets. (For the record, the former 20-page Word job was the only one of our benchmarks in which the 21/5-ppm Samsung was actually a few seconds slower than the 20/4-ppm Konica Minolta.)

Samsung's driver lets you specify 600 dpi or "1,200 dpi class" resolution for graphics jobs; the latter yielded a minute improvement in image quality, but slowed printing more than we thought it worth, considering that even the 600-dpi versions were impressively sharp and free of banding in solid-color areas, even using cheap copier paper. (Respective 600 versus 1,200 dpi times were 28 versus 38 seconds for our one-page Word business letter with color company logo, and 1 minute and 36 seconds versus 3 minutes and 39 seconds for a six-page Adobe Acrobat document.)

Six full-page PowerPoint slides appeared in a swift 1 minute and 41 seconds for slides with a white background, 2 minutes and 12 seconds for their dark-blue-backdrop siblings. Our 55-page Acrobat manual took just under 13 minutes in the more than adequate 600-dpi mode — and, in a surprising quirk, a few seconds less than that with duplex printing.

Neither the CLP-500 nor any color laser is suited for printing photos for display (or compatible with photo or other coated paper stock), but judging by our 8 by 10-inch digital camera images — which took an average of 88 and 102 seconds in 600 and 1,200 dpi mode, respectively — the Samsung is as dazzling a candidate for newsletters with photo images as for reports with charts and graphs. Its output was, well, laser-sharp and vividly colorful, nicer than that of last year's Konica Minolta and HP review units.

Again, we suspect the Samsung would fall short as a high-volume producer in a professional print shop. But as a single solution for both workhorse text and color reports in a business office, it's hard to imagine something better — and it would be churlish for us to deny it the year's first five-star review rating. This is one loan unit we'll hate to send back to the vendor, and not only because we don't look forward to lifting it back into the box.

Adapted from HardwareCentral.com.

This article was originally published on Monday Jan 26th 2004
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