Finding fault, finding virtue

One victim of the on-and-off technology goblin that’s been haunting us was the scanner portion of my four-year-old Epson all-in-one. The printer was fine; the scanner was fried. That’s now an old story. I was able to return unused supplies still in sealed packaging and a colleague (for a few more hours) took the printer off my hands for a mutually agreeable price ($0).

And, based on technology magazine reviews and our expected needs, I purchased a Canon Pixma MP610 all-in-one–an oddly difficult-to-find model (the award-winning model is the MP600, but it’s been replaced by the MP610, which I’m simply assuming is nearly identical). It specced out as fast, capable, and had duplex printing capabilities–something I really wanted. (I’d talked to my wife about the desirability of adding a high-speed duplexing laser printer, but wasn’t really wild about having two printers or spending the money.)

Got the all-in-one home, set it up (painless), tried it out: Noisy scanning-head return, a little squeaky on startup, excellent print quality–visibly better even at the low-quality “fast” setting than the Epson–and, indeed, pretty fast, whether at “fast” or normal.

Until I tried duplex printing. At which point it slowed down a lot–to somewhere between two and four sides a minute, instead of the 9-11 full text pages a minute of single-sided printing.

So, I concluded, you can get fast printing or duplex printing–but you can’t get fast duplex printing. Too bad, but I can live with it.

Then, a couple of days later, it struck me. See below the fold.

I have a sleek, small (about half as tall as the Epson) scanner/printer/copier that does a sensationally good job in all three uses. It cost less than $200. It’s not fussy. The text print quality on cheapo copy paper is better than I remember getting from lasers.

Oh, and it duplexes. Automatically. Which you just couldn’t do on an inexpensive printer two years ago.

This is a wonderment. The story isn’t that duplex printing is slow–which, it turns out, is deliberate: the “text ink” doesn’t dry quite instantaneously, so the process allows five or six seconds for one side to dry before printing the other side. The story is that duplex printing works, even with cheapo copy paper, and yields excellent results.

Oh, and given that ink jet printers have traditionally been “ink delivery systems,” going through large quantities of expensive supplies at several times the per-page cost of laser printing, there’s another new development: A standard for defining per-page costs. The first group review of printers claiming to meet that standard (including the MP600, which uses the same ink) found that they do indeed meet it. And this one’s per-page cost for monochrome text is 2.7 cents a page–about 0.7 cents a page more than typical laser costs.

Let’s see. Now that I’ll be doing all my printing on that printer, including blog posts I want to save for use in C&I, I’ll probably print, oh, 500 text pages a month. A fast duplexing laser printer would cost maybe $300, maybe more. At a per-page differential of $3.50 a month, it’s highly unlikely that such a printer would ever be cost-effective.

So there’s the story: Lots of remarkable virtues, mostly simply not available at a reasonable price four or even two years ago.

One of those virtues isn’t quite as snazzy as it might be. Big whoop. If I’m doing big duplex jobs, I can always do it the way I did on the Epson: Print odd pages, reinsert the output stack, print even pages.

I’ve been doing a few slightly negative posts lately. I thought a more positive one was in order. Here it is…with the moral that even an upbeat guy like me can occasionally focus on minor faults when they should be focusing on major virtues.

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