Dell A940 All-In-One Inkjet Printer

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Bloatware and Mail-Order Inks

Mar 20, 2007 (Updated Mar 20, 2007)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Very Good

  • Ease of Use:
  • Paper Handling:

Pros:Inexpensive initial investment, fast, good printouts for office use

Cons:Ugly photos, mail-order inks, buggy bloatware drivers (can't share very well)

The Bottom Line: If everything else sounds good to you but the ink issue, get the Dell's twin (Lexmark X5150) instead.


One of our departments has a Dell A940 AIO printer. I can only guess that AIO means "all-in-one", as this is a color scanner, printer, and copier. The USB is the only method of connection and it has no faxing capability.
1
The Dell A940 AIO is the twin brother of the Lexmark X5150. It's pretty much a rebranded Lexmark. The ink cartridges are the same, except Dell has a different top (notches). In fact, you modify the Lexmark cartridges; they will fit and print on the Dell machine. However, there are some problems with this method (described later).

It cost us $140 for the printer itself, and looks like a good value for a multi-function unit. However, if you value the ease of administration (custom installation, easy troubleshooting, etc) and you are the techie for said organization; you best steer away from "cheap" and go for "robust".


Installation
Installing the A940 for single use is easy enough. Plug in the USB cable from the printer to the PC and insert the CD and just install everything it asks you to. However, when trying to share the printer, I found that you must allow every printout on the host computer whenever someone from a different computer tries to print.

You end up with a lot of bloat software, and unfortunately, even if you are experienced and would like to install the bare minimum drivers, it will not allow you to do so. I was thinking it was the bloatware that was causing my problems, and tried to do a clean install by just pointing to the .INF file when it asks for drivers. However, all this does was install the scanner drivers.

There is no way to install the printer portion of it unless you run the SETUP.EXE file, which installs the rest of the bloat. And what is worse - there are no new drivers to address this issue. Even now (March 2007), the drivers are in version 1.0 from Dell's website (and is currently dated 2003).

Thus far, we have not found a way around the problem where the user at the host computer must always allow every printout to go through when someone else tries to print from another computer (printer share).


In Use
The performance of the A940 is respectable. It does not make you wait for long for black and white print outs, and color (though longer) is bearable. In text printing, I was able to calculate 5.5 pages per minute, which is not bad for a budget ink-jet all-in-one. Color photo (full page) was calculated at around 2 pages per minute, which is still pretty good.

However, I can't help but think the only reason why it was relatively quick with photos is that it rushed the print job to sacrifice quality. There is a lot of banding in both black/gray and color gradients. The darkest colors come out a smidge brighter on paper. The overall print quality is pretty good for basic office use, but photos on plain paper looks pretty bland and does not "pop". Web pages with mixed photos, graphics and text look very good, however. This has been true of all Lexmark inks.

Text looks very good, though. It is dark enough to mistake it for a laser printout. Even 4 point fonts are legible. It is apparent that the Dell A940 was meant mostly for web-page print outs, Word documents, and pie charts/graphs.

The input and output trays (100 sheets in, 50 sheets out) feel like they may break with extended use. If you have kids, you best keep this printer out of their reach. They are pretty much light plastic with tabs holding them in place. But with such a small capacity, it is more suited for a home office. Only 2 users are sharing the unit we are using, which is perfectly suited (if it wasn't for the dumb software - read above regarding installation).

Scanning looks pretty good, though. Not sure how you can compare a hard copy with a soft copy. Black-and-white scans and photos came out clear and bright (maybe brighter than the original). You can zoom in and see fine details on paper (even the grain). Photos were nice and sharp, while color and black/white gradients were reproduced very well. I was pleasantly surprised at the results.

Copies were a mixed bag. Using direct copying on the printer's control panel, black/white copies of text was very good. Text was sharp and readable. Gray-scale lost a few details on the edges and gradients, where hard lines were well defined. Color is where it did the worst, with each copy having a slight greenish cast. It's not very noticeable unless you compare the original with the copy, however.


Ordering Ink
Because this is a Dell printer (though based off a Lexmark printer), you must go through Dell to purchase ink cartridges. However, the owner of the printer did manage to purchase Lexmark print cartridges and modified it to fit into the A940 - and it works! Unfortunately, this modification means cutting a piece of the plastic top, which leaves a hole on top. The ink dried up quicker because of this hole, which means you are getting less than your money's worth (and Lexmark ink cartridges are not cheap!). You are better off buying from Dell (and keep at least another spare in case the one you are using runs out). When you end up using the spare cartridge, it is time to order another one from Dell to replace the spare so you always have at least one (order more if you are paranoid).

Because the department that owns the printer pays for ink cartridges (not my department, which is IT), I have no idea what the cost of ink is from Dell. I can only imagine it not being any lower than Lexmark's asking price of $35 for black and $40 for color.

UPDATE: Per their department accountant, the ink prices are $30 for black and $35 for color. So $5 cheaper than Lexmark's own brand. Also, they say that it lasts about a month and a half with their current use pattern (around 3-10 pages a day).


Conclusion
Overall, I would not recommend the Dell A940 AIO multi-function printer to anyone. Needing to go through Dell to buy ink cartridges in itself is a turn-off for most users. After-all, when you run out of ink in when you need it most, you can't just run out to your local store to purchase them. Instead, ordering through Dell means at least waiting overnight (if you pay dearly for overnight shipping of course). The cost of a cheap $140 multi-function printer really adds up, then!

However, the rest of the printer seems fine. If you wish to just print office documents (and have no need to share), you are better off getting the Lexmark X5150 instead, which is the exact same printer.

For this particular Dell printer, though, I would have to say no.


Recommend this product? No


Amount Paid (US$): 140
Operating System: Windows


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