Brother HL-2170W: wireless laser printer on a budget
Feb 21, 2010 (Updated Apr 12, 2010)
Review by theuerkorn
Rated a Very Helpful Review
User Rating: Excellent
Ease of Use:
Pros:Compact, wireless, easy to use, good print quality, low cost, fast
Cons:No double sided print, toner yield, tray capacity, drum life and cost, 8W standby
The Bottom Line: Great wireless laser printer for the budget minded, as long as it's for light duty only.
While not everything has to be wireless, and it's really not always the best solution either, printers have been sheltered as they're typically not mobile. Nevertheless, who says the printer has to be next to the computer, or even more so, the computer has to be stationary when printing. Laptops are powerful enough to full-fill most daily tasks and the convenience of being mobile throughout the house (via wireless router) is a great advantage over the traditional desktop. Time for printers to keep up ...
Recommend this product?
Installation: [*****] While the HL-2170W supports both USB and Ethernet (LAN) connectivity, it was the wireless connection I bought this for to begin with. For initial setup, it's required to connect the printer via Ethernet cable either to the router or directly to the computer. However, if your router has a button for automatic setup you can skip the cable and let the router and printer automatically connect. Anyway, I chose the cable and plugged the printer directly into my laptop, installed the driver and setup software, and then ran the configuration. Brother included a dedicated Windows 7 disc, which I used and the setup utility worked without a flaw on my Win7 x64 laptop. Once the printer driver is installed, the network tool sets up the wireless connection (connection details) and the printer is ready.
Connection: [****-] There is a USB port and an Ethernet port for either way to connect. Both methods rely on a direct connection to a computer (desktop or printer server), while LAN can also be shared by multiple computers when connected to a router. WLAN, on the other hand, requires a wireless router as the computer does not directly connect to the printer. (No access point.) That's something not easily visible on the box, but you need to have a wireless network with access point (router) to use the printer. However, most households probably already use a router for providing internet access to laptops and desktops alike. The WLAN supports B and G standards, but not the new N standard. That's rather a formality regarding speed, but can be limiting the placement of the printer relative to the router. (The G standard reaches about 25 ft in my home through 2 (dry) walls, while N covers the whole house.)
Laser Engine: [****-] The HL-2170 is foremost a basic laser printer with 600 dpi resolution that can be interpolated to 600x2400 dpi HQ mode, of which the latter helps to improve shading but for actual resolution it's still a 600 dpi engine good enough for business graphics with no aspirations to be any form of photo printer. Rated at 12,000 standard pages of drum life time, it's basically a light duty printer for home and some office use. (The included toner cartridge is rated at 1,000 pages which sounds a lot more than it is and effectively ran empty after less than 300 pages. Replacements are available for 1,500 and 2,600 pages respectively.) Overall print quality and black level are good to very good and certainly well withing the price segment of under $200. A minor surprise is the relatively short life of the most expensive "consumable": the drum lasts only 12,000 pages and is rated for light duty of 250 to 2000 pages per month.
Paper Tray: [***--] For a model with a fully integrated letter sized paper tray, the HL-2170W is very compact and even holds up to 250 pages. However that's half the number of pages in the typical pack and a bit of the convenience goes away by having to store the second half somewhere else. Other than that, the tray sports the typical adjustments for letter-sized and smaller paper, and a individual paper feeder (bypass) isn't missing either. However, the latter requires to manually feed the paper (i.e. envelope) and hold it until it's securely grabbed by the feeder since the fold-out tray is very short. The tray is rated for paper weights from 16 - 28 lb, while the fold-out tray can process 16 lb to 43 lb (i.e. envelopes) since it doesn't have to pull the paper around a tight "corner".
Interface: [***--] Aside from three status LEDs (Toner, Drum, Error) and a large blue lit Go button which doubles as a Ready LED, there is no other interface be it in the form of displays or buttons. Hence, one has to use the included status monitor tool for error messages (i.e. once the Error LED lights up). The toner usage remains a mystery both ways, as the monitor only displays normal status (i.e. Ready or Sleep) or mentioned error messages. Make sure to keep the manual handy to decipher the 14 status states expressed by 4 LEDs. (i.e. Drum Error has the Drum LED and the Error LED blinking while the others are off, and Toner low is expressed by a blinking Toner LED while solid light of the same indicator means it's empty) Overall, the LEDs are intuitive enough once you familiarized yourself with the table.
Future Proof?: The generous 32 MByte of memory is going to be plenty for most users. There is no option to add more memory if needed and there are also no additional paper tray options for more capacity or simply variety. None of this is expected in this class and a compact housing more important anyway.
Daily Use: [***--] The Brother HL-2170W is fairly low maintenance and even in network mode spends it's idle time in sleep mode to save energy. Brother makes no claims in the included documentation as to how low this energy state goes, online there are three energy states listed 8W/80W/460W. It wakes up within seconds and spits out the first page in under 30 seconds. In fact, a quick text page was complete within 16 seconds including the time to wireless transmit and the printer to wake-up. (Brother rates the first page time at under 10 seconds.) Extensive graphics may take longer. Using 24lb paper, I didn't have a paper jam just yet but have not run through a full paper tray either. Compared to inkjet printers, the laser is very economic and a replacement cartridge even costs less than a set of ink. Of course it's only monochromatic and basically for text prints and basic graphics only. The noise level of the printer is fairly low with 30dB when ready and up to 51dB when printing. In standby there is no audible feedback from the printer and only the dimly lit Blue button shows it's active.
Budget: [***--] When it comes to saving money, the HL-2170W provides an energy-miser sleep mode and a toner saving mode to extend the life cycle of the cartridge (at the expense of the achievable Black level). That's typically called a Draft modus for most other manufacturers. Sleep mode is rated at 8W which isn't all that low by modern standards, but significantly less than the 80W when ready or even 460W when printing. Of course the device itself is fairly inexpensive right now and toner replacement cartridges are relatively affordable as well. Toner: TN330 (1,500 pages) = $50, TN360 (2,600 pages) = $70. This may sound like a lot, but is very affordable relative to a $120 ink set for much less printing (but of course in color) of my Epson R1900 photo printer. However, the rated yield appears to be a bit optimistic, judging from the starter toner to reach only 1/3 of the rated pages. A bid unexpected might be the drum replacement unit (12,000 pages) for a whopping $115! As prices are right now, one gets the whole printer for less and that includes a toner and a drum unit! One might consider the printer to be a disposable asset. Not exactly a Green philosophy.
Overall: [****-] The HL-2170W is currently available for under $100 (down from a $149 MSRP) and is one of the cheapest entry level laser printers available, especially with a laser engine rated at 23 ppm. Unlike the HP in this price range, the Brother provides a fully integrated paper tray and wireless connectivity. Of course, entry level models are minimized to bare functionality and light duty, but the benefits of wireless printing at a fairly low initial price are strong arguments in favor of the Brother. However, replacement cost can be significant enough to better consider a more durable product instead if you plan to use you printer frequently (more than 500 pages per month).
© 2010, theuerkorn
Amount Paid (US$): 85
Operating System: Windows and Macintosh
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