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Brother HL 2040 Laser Printer Review

The Brother HL-2040 is an inexpensive, fast, noncolor laser printer for a home or sole-proprietor business. It's decent at printing text, so-so at graphics, and quick at both. As with the similarly priced Samsung ML-1740, what you see is what you get: a nonexpandable 250 sheets of paper capacity and 8MB of RAM. On the plus side, the HL-2040 works with operating systems from Windows 95 through XP and with Macintosh OS 9.1, 9.2, OS X 10.2.4, or higher. It also has a speedy 96MHz processor, plus both a parallel and a USB 2.0 port. By contrast, the Samsung ML-1740 snubs Macs, and it sports a slower USB 1.1 port with only a 66MHz processor.

One of the smallest laser printers we've seen, the Brother HL-2040 is lightweight, with two-tone dark and light gray plastic making it more attractive than the traditional putty color scheme. It stands just 6.5 inches tall, 14.6 inches wide, and 14.2 inches deep and weighs less than 17 pounds loaded with toner and paper. Its main paper tray holds letter- or legal-size paper. You feed envelopes, card stock, transparencies, and label sheets one by one into the manual feed slot in front. On top, you'll find a 100-sheet output tray, tilted to hold the pages on top, next to the control panel.

Controls are ultrasimple: just a round, blue Go button and four LEDs labeled Toner, Drum, Paper, and Ready. The lights flash or glow red, yellow, and green and convey quite a bit of information, such as low toner warnings and error messages. Luckily, setting up the HL-2040 is easy. In the printed quick-setup guide, instructions are well laid out and easy to follow; there's also a user manual and a flash movie guide on CD-ROM.

Unfortunately, the HL-2040 ships with a starter toner cartridge rated to last a mere 1,500 text pages. You'll get an estimated 2,500 pages out of a regular, $60 toner cartridge, which brings the cost per page of text to 2.4 cents, about average for a modest laser printer.

The Brother HL-2040 lacks built-in networking capabilities. To push the envelope, you can buy external networking add-ons such as the $180 NC-2100p print server, or the $250 NC-2200W wireless print server. But to network, you'll save money going with the $199 Brother HL-2070N, which has 8MB of RAM more and comes with a built-in Ethernet card.

In CNET Labs' speed tests, the HL-2040 nimbly printed 16.5ppm (pages per minute) of text and was almost as fast at graphics, a mite over 16ppm--impressive numbers for a $150 laser and faster than the Samsung ML-1740.

The HL-2040's text prints were good in our tests, although more charcoal than black. Still, the letters were legible and sharp enough for everyday business documents, forms, and letters. Graphics, however, looked only fair; the printer failed to differentiate between dark shades of gray, which blended into black. The output also suffered from vertical banding in horizontal gradients, and a blotchy sheen showed up where pure black should have been.

The Brother HL-2040 comes with a standard one-year limited warranty on parts and labor. If your HL-2040 proves to be defective within one year from the date of purchase, Brother will replace it and pay the shipping costs. Toll-free technical support is available for the life of the printer--an impressive amount of time--Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET.

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