HP, Lexmark and Sharp Color A4 MFPs Put to the Test A Look at How They Compete on Paper

<p><i>By <a href="http://www.buyerslab.com/news/viewarticle.asp?article=70715">Marlene Orr</a>, Senior Printer Analyst, November 8, 2010</i></p> <p>In the past month or so, HP, Lexmark and Sharp have announced letter/legal-size (A4) color models in the all-important 40- to 50-ppm speed range. Targeted to mid-size and large workgroups, these models are designed for users who don’t need ledger-size (A3) output, but still want the robust functionality of a traditional MFP. While certainly priced lower than A3 color models in this speed range, these new offerings don’t skimp on features. The Lexmark and Sharp models are currently in BLI’s lab for testing and test reports will be available in the coming months, while the HP model is scheduled to arrive in late November.&#160; Here’s a sneak preview of how these models stack up.</p> <p>Size Matters: Packing A3 Functionality into an A4 Footprint</p> <p>Clearly, the A3 and A4 MFP categories have been converging since HP’s introduction of the game-changing 4345 MFP series in late 2004, with HP claiming this new category of product would “turn the copier industry on its head.” While its impact may not have been that drastic, the industry has certainly taken notice, and so have customers, realizing that traditional A3 copiers are not the only MFP options available. This A4 trend continues upward as smaller footprints, faster speeds, lower price tags and advanced functionality have allowed letter/legal-size, or “printer-based,” products to gain traction as viable replacements for single-function printers and, to a much lesser extent, older A3 copier-based devices. Each of the three competitors brings something new to the table, with two models replacing key models and the third acting as a new addition to the line.</p> <!--break--> <p>Both the <a href="http://www.buyerslab.com/bliq/product/showSpecItem.asp?type=4&amp;spec=5... Color LaserJet CM4540 MFP</b></a> and <a href="http://www.buyerslab.com/bliq/product/showSpecItem.asp?type=4&amp;spec=5... X792de</b></a> series replace the current flagship color A4 model for their respective companies, offering significantly faster speeds, more memory and higher maximum paper capacities. The HP model now includes standard hard-drive encryption, while the Lexmark X792de is the first color A4 model to offer a finisher with hole punching. Sharp’s new <a href="http://www.buyerslab.com/bliq/product/showSpecItem.asp?type=4&amp;spec=5... is said to offer nearly identical performance to the sister MX-C401, but incorporates a dual-path document feeder (traditional C-path, plus a straight path to allow scanning of cards and thick stocks through the document feeder) and a pull-out QWERTY keyboard. </p> <p>Faster Speeds Mean Better Productivity...Or Do They?</p> <p>At first glance, the Lexmark should clearly be the winner in terms of productivity, right? With a rated speed of 50 ppm in black and color, the X792de should deliver much faster output than the 40-ppm MX-C402SC and the 42-ppm Color LaserJet CM4540, but rated speed is only part of the story. </p> <p>Generally a manufacturer’s rated speed is a good indicator of how an MFP will handle large print or copy jobs, once the device has had time to get up to engine speed. All MFPs take time to get up to full rated engine speed, so this might not be the best measure of a unit’s performance in the real world, where users typically print or copy only a handful of pages. For shorter print and copy jobs, first-print or first-copy time is a better way to predict performance. So while the Sharp MX-C402SC has the slowest rated speed at 40 ppm in black and color, it offers the fastest rated first-copy times (at 6.5 seconds in black and 8.5 seconds in color). In comparison, the HP CM4540 has a first-copy time of 9.5 seconds in black and color, while the Lexmark X792de has the slowest first-copy times of 13 seconds in black—twice that of the Sharp model—and 15 seconds in color. </p> <p>While looking at specs is a good starting point to predict performance, manufacturers generally use simple text documents to determine these numbers. In real-world office environments, MFPs have to contend with network traffic and complex document types. In the coming months, BLI will subject all three models to its battery of productivity tests, including its real-world job stream test, which simulates the type of print traffic found in a typical workgroup environment by sending a mix of different document types to the device at once. Some models process the jobs quickly and seamlessly, while others choke on the more complex PowerPoint or PDF documents. Stay tuned to find out how HP, Lexmark and Sharp handle the stresses of this and the many other rigorous tests in BLI’s lab. </p> <p>This article was originally posted on <a href="http://www.buyerslab.com/news/viewarticle.asp?article=70715">Buyer’s Laboratory</a>.</p>