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Cheap Laser Printers Buying Guide

The two best cheap laser printers are single-function models that easily meet performance expectations: the Brother HL-5450DN (starting at $135) is a fast-printing, feature-rich machine and the Dell B1160w (starting at $67) is a very low-priced laser printer that includes wireless support. Our next favorite cheap laser printer is the no-frills Canon ImageClass MF3010 (starting at $89), which hits the mark for affordable multifunctionality (print, copy, and scan).

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Multifunction Printers and Paper Shredders
If you're interested in a budget color laser printer, you'll need to step outside the Cheapism zone. One that caught our attention is the Samsung CLP-415NW (starting at $216) for its strong performance -- color prints in particular -- and attractive price. Thanks to the current state of technology and its implementation, we didn't find any low-priced laser printers that should be completely ignored.

Aside from the best cheap laser printers on our list, we found a handful of other entry-level models worth mentioning. Dell's B1260dn (starting at $150) is slightly slower than other printers we researched but boasts a large paper tray that's a boon for users who print often and/or long documents. Canon's ImageClass LBP6000 (starting at $77), designed for personal use rather than for sharing, is quite cheap and does its job well. Samsung's SCX-3405FW (starting at $160 new; $90 refurbished) is a multifunction laser printer that's just beyond our price ceiling but is small and sports lots of features.

"Mono" laser printers have two performance characteristics that users care about: output quality and print speed. Laser printers have a sterling reputation for printing sharp, dark text, but budget models' success at printing graphics or black and white images doesn't quite compare. Print speed, measured in pages per minute (ppm), is impressive, even in the entry-level segment, especially when stacked against the inkjet competition. We occasionally ran into some griping by reviewers about toner costs, but most users readily acknowledge that cartridges for cheap monochrome laser printers last longer and are far less costly than cartridges for color models.

The features on budget lasers are fairly standard but vary in their specifics, so sweat the details when shopping. The first order of business concerns connectivity; that is, how you plan to connect printer to computer. Some of the best cheap laser printers support Wi-Fi; some models have an Ethernet port and may also offer wireless support; and others have only a USB 2.0 connection. If the printer will be shared, choose a laser with Wi-Fi and/or Ethernet connectivity. Other related connectivity options debuting in this price segment are printing from the cloud and/or from mobile devices, two functionalities that up the convenience factor.

Next, check specs for printer memory; more is better than less, especially when you need to print several documents in a row or jobs that hog memory. This specification varies from model to model; some cheap laser printers contain as little as 2MB of RAM and others sport 64MB or more. The resolution on cheap laser printers is fairly standard, typically maxing out at 600 x 600 dpi (dots per inch) or 1200 x 1200 dpi; multifunction models may have scanners with resolutions that are considerably higher. Laser output of text doesn't require particularly high resolution, but graphics and images reproduced in black and white appear much sharper at higher resolutions.

The paper handling capacity of a budget laser printer also merits consideration. Most in the Cheapism price range have an input capacity of 150 sheets, but some can take up to 250 sheets. As for media types, the models we looked at are pretty flexible -- all accommodate commonly-used paper sizes and some combination of labels, envelopes, transparencies, and paper types (bond, letter, legal, cardstock, etc.).

Review continues below

One potential drawback -- some models currently available do not support Windows 8. Regardless, this crop of laser printers doesn't take up lots of space, which means you can set one almost anywhere.

by Michael Sweet (Google+ Profile)

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