Brother, can you spare a printer-based pun?

I must say, I was pleasantly surprised at the positive response to my last post. Apparently, I am not even close to being alone amongst users who have had printers that, believe it or not, exhibited the Skin Bracer-bedewed reliability of Jack Palance. Some started using their printers back when 640k was all anyone would ever need and hunting wumpuses was a national pastime (not in America, of course—wumpus hunting was the leading participatory sport in New Zealand from 1982 - 1988) until, like Mr. Palance and my ability to write a short sentence, said printers up and snuffed it sometime near the end of W's sequel term.

This week, I'll be embellishing the tale of how I replace my dearly departed Hewlett-Packard LaserJet 6MP. 'Tis a noble tale, full of derring-do and other terms you might hear from RenFesters at Ye Olde Coffeee Shoppe & Tightse Weavinge. Or so I've been told.

Once the 6MP spat its last sheet of 24lb text stock from its drooling maw (okay, it wasn't drooling), I had to rely on an Epson R280 inkjet for all my dead tree-based output. (Mmmm, angry hippies.) Now please join me on our first tangential excursion.

I own the Epson R280 for two simple reasons: 1. It prints on DVDs and CDs. Since I'm constantly hectoring people for work, I need to send out sweet-looking reels of my singing dog spot. Not a joke. 2. The R280 actually replaced an R200 that was out of ink. Yes, folks, I managed to get the R280, which was a refurb, for less than the cost of ink for the R200. And I'm not talking Official Epson Ink Milked from the Ink Cows of Echelon 33B, either. I mean the R280 was cheaper than six new generic carts. [Insert leet-speak term for "huzzah" here.]

Anyway, I knew using the inkjet was not a long-term solution. Unless I wanted to spend a long time working just to pay for more ink. So the search began in earnest—which is harder to located than one might think—for a new laser shark printer. However, my needs, wants and, yes, desires for this printer were a bit different than they were when I bought the 6MP.

First, I wanted built-in Ethernet networking. This was an expensive option on the 6MP when I first bought it. Later in its life, I used a JetDirect print server to go between my router and the printer. Now it was time to finally give up my one remaining parallel port cable.

Second, I wanted an all-in-one. As someone who works from home most of the time, having one machine perform several tasks saves space, both on my floor/desktop and in my assorted hubs and UPS bricks. Sure, I don't fax very much, but when the need arises, it's a real pain to trek over to Kinko's FedEx Kinko's FedEx Office just to send a few pages to some monolithic insurance company that won't accept a PDF.

Third, I didn't just want any AIO printer. I wanted one with duplex printing and duplex scanning via its ADF (which, sadly, stands for automatic document feeder and not automated donut fryer).

Fourth, it had to be Mac compatible. Duh. And one wouldn't think it'd be very hard to achieve this in this day and age. Sigh. More on this later.

Fifth, something I did not need—nor wish to pay for—was color. I've dealt with color lasers in a corporate environment, and they're pretty slick. As long as someone else is paying for the maintenance and consumables. Besides, printing photos is the one area where inkjets really beat the bejeepers out of lasers. And as much as love me a good Skittles-colored pie chart, I didn't need to pay a couple hundred (or much more) for it.

To the intertubes!

You might assume my first inclination would be to look at HP products. Think again, Julio. My first inclination was to play Chain Rxn on Facebook while drinking tepid coffee. Then I searched for HP LaserJet all-in-ones. A search that lasted approximately 43 seconds when I discovered their cheapest option supporting all of my desired features cost about $450 on Amazon. Sure, this was $550 less than I had originally paid for the 6MP, but back then I was single and had nothing to throw money at other than fast cars and loose printers. Sadly, HP was out of the running before I'd even managed to pull a groin.

So the weeks ticked by. I'd look at Canons with a wary eye. Maybe a Brother who felt more like a second cousin. I finally spotted a printer at Staples that looked like it would do me righteous—a Canon imageCLASS MF4370dn with a $110 rebate that knocked its total price down to a tick over $200. Not bad. Assuming it worked. And by using that phrase you can probably guess that it did not.

Apparently, the MF in the MF4370dn stood for something a bit more colorful than "multi-function." Here's how this printer turned into an epic fail and was, thus, returned to its retail purgatory:

  1. Claimed to be a duplex printer and copier. Technically true as far as printing goes. Not so much with the copier. Yes, it would print onto both sides of a copy. What it would not do is scan a two-sided original. Dumb.
  2. Crunchy envelopes. Now, I don't expect any printer that doesn't have straight paper path option to deliver completely wrinkle-free envelopes. But the Canon seemed to have a special origami setting that I just couldn't seem to turn off. Probably because it...
  3. Wasn't 100% Mac-compatible. Sure, it had Mac drivers. Yes, I got it to work over my network. Oh, but if I want to scan something or use PC faxing? Have to connect via the USB cable. Why? It's frickin' data. If you can send it over one cable, you can send it over another.

I know what you're thinking: Didn't you research this model, blog-boy? Yes. Extensively. Unfortunately, I have an innate talent of finding 10,000 reviews of something, but not the four that point out issue specific to me. Such is my curse. Which is still better than leprosy.

Again, weeks passed. The only printer that seemed to fit my needs and, almost, my wallet was the Brother MFC-8860DN. It averaged $400 new, but I saw it on sale quite often. It got great reviews and was reportedly Mac-compatible out of the box. It was also, however, a Brother. Granted, I hadn't exactly kept up with assorted printer manufacturers through the years, but Brother didn't exactly scream "the BMW of printers" to me. But then, I was also on a Toyota budget. Hmmm.

Then I saw a refurb for $280 shipped. SOLD!

I've now had this not-exactly-lithesome plastibeast for about three weeks. I must say, ez very nice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up. All functions work over Ethernet (well, at least the ones I've used so far). The ADF scans both sides. I can use Acrobat 9 Pro for OCR. And it prints quickly enough for my needs.

Couple of caveats: It's not Leopard-compatible out of the box. It does include a Mac drivers CD, but only for 10.4 and earlier. Brother does, at least, include a slip of paper telling you to go online for 10.5 drivers. Of course, I'd already downloaded said drivers before finding that bit of info. Second, the first-page print-time is a little sluggish. I don't personally mind it, but if you insist on being able to reach for your printout five seconds after clicking PRINT, this printer won't cut it. And if you think the scanner on this thing will replace a decent dedicated scanner, it won't. But it's good enough for non-photography based work. However, I have not yet attempted a paper moon. Lastly, dainty it ain't. Thirty-seven pounds. Indeed. At least if your place gets broken into, they won't take the printer.

Will the 8860dn last a dozen years like my 6MP? I doubt it. After all, I have kids now. And kids are quite ingenious when it comes to finding places to hide their grilled cheese.



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