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Brother MFC-9120CN Color LASER Printer

I have just bought a Brother MFC-9120CN Multi-Function Color LED LASER Printer for a relative. It was a replacement for the Lexmark printer which turned out not to support Linux properly [1].

This printer cost about $545. I bought it from OfficeWorks [2] under their price-matching deal. If you find a better price anywhere else they will beat it by 5%. I went to StaticIce.com.au and found the cheapest online store in Australia that sold the printer and then took the URL of the online store to OfficeWorks on a USB stick. After they verified the price they sold me the printer for 5% less than the online cost plus the delivery cost, which saved my relative a little more than $50.

Craig Sanders had convinced me to choose a LASER printer because the toner doesn’t have a short shelf-life unlike the ink for ink-jet printers. My parents have been using a LASER printer for more than 12 years and each toner cartridge lasts at least 4 years which is a much better result than all the ink-jet printers I’ve supported which tend to regularly need more expensive ink. I guess I’ll find out over the next few years whether this printer lives up to the general reputation of LASER printers in this regard.

The LED printers use LEDs for the LASER light, this apparently makes them more reliable and efficient but means that they tend to have a lower resolution, and often the horizontal and vertical resolutions are not equal. The printer I got is listed as 600*2400dpi resolution but that might end up giving much the same result as a 600*600dpi printer. But 600*600dpi should be good enough for a long time anyway. A4 paper (the standard size for office paper in Australia) is 210*297mm, that is about 8.27*11.69 inches or 4961*7015 pixels at 600dpi. Even if we assume that 10% of the width and height is wasted on margins that would take a 28 megapixel camera to produce a picture that can actually use 600dpi for the most common case where high quality is needed for home use – printing a single photo on an A4 sheet.

The printer ships with 64M of RAM which was not enough to print some pictures that I sent it, it has a slot for a 144pin SO-DIMM (laptop RAM) for memory expansion, it can take one SO-DIMM of up to 512M capacity that is at least PC-100. I’ve got a spare 256M PC-133 memory module that I will install in it, hopefully that will be enough to print pictures. Buying PC-100/PC-133 RAM nowadays probably isn’t going to be easy, particularly not 512M modules as many of the laptops which used PC-100/PC-133 RAM didn’t support that capacity (I believe that my ancient Thinkpads which used such memory didn’t support 512M modules).

The requirement was for a printer that could print photos in reasonable quality, could make photo-copies, and ideally work as a scanner. I got CUPS to talk to it without much effort, I just installed a PPD file from the Brother Solutions Center web site [3] and it just worked. It occurred to me later that I should have tried configuring it before installing the PPD file – maybe the version of CUPS in Debian/Squeeze supports the Brother printer natively.

So the current state of the printer is that it prints documents very well, it doesn’t print photos but that should be solved when I add more RAM, and I just have to try and get scanning to work. Everyone is happy!

The only down-side is that the printer is huge. It takes a lot of desk space to run it (they will need a new desk in their computer room), and when it’s in it’s box it’s much larger than most things that you will normally transport by car.

Update: I’ve installed a 256M PC-133 SO-DIMM and can now print full color pictures. Thanks for Rodney Brown for giving me some Thinkpad parts which included RAM.

7 comments to Brother MFC-9120CN Color LASER Printer

  • nine

    most printer drivers should let you stream an image to them, so you can print pages that require more data than what fit into the onboard memory. Well, most Windows drivers at least, if you’re using Linux I can’t speak to those.

  • The Oxford dictionary has accepted laser as a word now (noting that it was originally an acronym), you don’t need to capitalise it anymore…

  • Sebastian

    Hmm, your calculation is most probably not correct as a pixel on screen doesn’t map 1:1 to a dot on paper (compare e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dots_per_inch ).

  • etbe

    Sebastian: OK, so if it takes 4*4 arrays to make the colors then we only need a 1.75MP camera to drive a 600DPI printer at full capacity. The Wikipedia page about LED Printers describes how they fail to give the expected benefit from the asymmetrical DPI for black and white, but if dithering is necessary for color reproduction then the asymmetrical DPI should really do some good. So if 16 dots are needed for one pixel then a 7MP camera can probably drive the printer to it’s maximum capacity.

    As 10MP cameras are reasonably affordable nowadays and 15MP cameras are dropping in price this seems like a real problem.

    Of course if you crop your pictures before printing them then you will probably end up with few pictures being more than about 80% of the original size when you print them. In which case a 10MP camera would be about as good as you could get without the printer being a bottleneck on reproduction quality.

  • Sam Varghese

    Samsung has a new colour multifunction laser out which I bought for
    a friend for $445 last month. It comes with drivers for Linux, Mac
    and Windows! The set of cartridges that comes with the printer will
    give about 1500 pages, calculating at 5% colour coverage. It has
    a scanner, copier. It is network-ready, small in size and the printing
    is excellent.

  • etbe

    Sam: When I was investigating this matter I seriously considered a Samsung printer – which was probably the same model as the one you bought. I got the impression that it would have less driver support and that it had less features – although the poor quality of the technical information on the web sites made this difficult to determine.

    I’m glad it worked out for you!

  • What about fax in linux? is it supported? can you send and recieve faxes?