Review: Brother HL-3170CDW LED Printer

Brother HL-3170CDW (May 14th, 2013)

MacNN Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: Brother

Price: $280

The Good

  • Quiet
  • Flexible connectivity
  • Duplex printing

The Bad

  • Subpar photo quality
  • Large footprint

We've mentioned before that we are far from a paperless society. For now, at least, there are tasks that require a piece of paper for confirmation, proof of purchase, or a litany of other needs. Laser printers have existed since the first practical commercial model in 1984 and have been known for excellent text quality. One name present in printing for years at this point is Brother -- the lineage grew this year with the LED Brother HL-3170CDW color printer with duplexer. Electronista has been living with one for a few months now.





From a technological standpoint, the printer is intended for workgroups, with speeds of up to 23 pages per minute in color and black and white. Printer resolution maxes out at 600x2400DPI in both color and black and white. Duplex paper handling is managed with a 250-sheet input tray, with a fold-down one-sheet multipurpose tray. The network printer uses 802.11n Wi-Fi, USB direct connection, Ethernet 10/100 base-T, and is an AirPrint-compatible printer. Drivers exist for Windows XP and up, OS X 10.5 and up, some varieties of Linux, Google Cloud Print, and the aforementioned AirPrint capability.

At 9.5 inches high, 16.1 inches wide, and 18.3 inches deep the printer does occupy a fair amount of desktop real estate. The 39 pound weight only matters on initial unpack, but is worth noting.

The experience out of the box was as easy a printer setup as we have experienced in some time. A fold-out sheet of paper on the top clearly illustrated the "pull-tabs" to release the preinstalled full-size toner cartridges as well as the drum. The printer was installed on by way of an ethernet cable, to a network of mixed-OS machines, with Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, OS X 10.6, OS X 10.8, and a handful of devices with AirPrint functionality. All devices and OSes tested printed with no issues across the network

A 10-page test document of all text with approximately 8 percent print density was used for testing, and printed on all tested devices and operating systems. On all combinations, the first page spat out of the printer after about 11 seconds, with follow-on pages coming about every 5 seconds. Duplexing the print added no time to the test. A 300DPI 5-inch by 7-inch photograph was dumped in the print tray after about 21 seconds. At first glance, these numbers seem significantly lower than advertised, but in actuality, they compare fairly to other printers in the class with a similar speed rating. Generally, the "up to" rating on a printer is for a straight text dump with fonts embedded in the printer. When we did this, the speed rating on the text copied out of the PDF hit about 18 pages per minute with no speed hit for color printing.

Color laser or LED printers aren't generally intended for photos, for whatever the reason. The HL-3170CDW isn't an exception to this general rule. Photos printed tended to be a little murky, with some minor registration issues, but issues nonetheless. However, professional-style graphics like presentations and the like are more than passable. We printed a batch of Electronista business cards with the single-color logo and were pleased with the results, and noted no registration errors like in the photo print. This printer is best used for spot color, mainly oriented towards businesses uses, rather than high-resolution pictures of the kids.

Users generally need multiple printers for multiple uses. Some printers excel at text, others at presentation graphics, and yet others at photos. The Brother HL-3170CDW is a good printer with good text and presentation graphic quality, but narrowly avoids true greatness only with its photo quality being average. The printer is fast for its class, doesn't brutally reek of ozone and aerosolized toner like some models, and won't sound like a Victorian-era factory pounding away at its assigned task while churning out a job. The duplexing capability is a great addition to keep paper waste down, boosting the printer in our eyes just a bit more.

by Mike Wuerthele


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