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6/96 Reviews: HP LaserJet 5M

Complete listing of June 1996 reviews

Laser Is LAN's Best Friend

By Lori L. Bloomer

One of the most overused words in the computer industry is "compatible." Some manufacturers claim their products to be "compatible with" just about anything-provided you spring for several hundred dollars' worth of add-ons or accessories.

The HP LaserJet 5M is about as compatible as an affordable workhorse workgroup printer gets. Right off the assembly line, it's already equipped with support for all major network operating systems, along with Plug-and-Play support for Ethernet 10BaseT (via a JetDirect card), BNC and LocalTalk hardware. Its chassis is crammed with 6MB of RAM (expandable to 52MB), support for PostScript Level 2 and an Intel RISC processor running at 33MHz to help make your print jobs painless.

The LaserJet 5M features a design formatter that works with the RISC processor, plus a new application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) that handles scaling and half-toning printed images. This one-two punch of print processing allows the unit to produce better, cleaner images without sacrificing speed.

All LaserJet 5-family printers use HP Memory Enhancement Technology, which effectively doubles the printer's memory when combined with the new PCL 6 control language. The 5M also offers compatibility with the PostScript-compatible Memory Booster technology from Adobe.

On the topic of memory, the flash-memory option now included in the LaserJet 5 series allows you to permanently store frequently used forms, fonts and even signatures in 2MB or 4MB memory modules.

When you uncrate this baby, you need to connect just two cables-power and connector. The connector can hook into one of several ports on the back of the machine: ECP parallel, serial, serial infrared or JetDirect Ethernet. The IR port allows for wireless printing, which is a beautiful thing in this day of multiple connections.

After you choose your port, plug in the LaserJet 5M, turn it on and fire up your PC. Once Windows 95 boots, you can install the drivers. You'll find nine install diskettes (including drivers for Windows 95, Win3.1x, NT, OS/2, DOS, Macintosh and UNIX) and three small but thorough manuals. When you insert the first of these diskettes and go to Start/Settings/Printers, you can choose a standard setup that is backward-compatible with earlier LaserJet models, or enhanced support that allows you to maximize the efficiency of your 5M.

You can also install PostScript support at this point-35 Type 1 fonts are resident in the printer and another 75 are included in the diskettes in the box, in addition to the 110 TrueType fonts that come standard with all HP LaserJet 5 models. Once you install all your options, you don't even need to reboot-the unit is ready when you are.

The included JetAdmin software integrates neatly with your OS, meaning that when you want to reset printer options, you'll see the familiar interface for printer settings, not a proprietary window.

The HP's EnergyStar compliance means that its power demand can range from 300 watts to a measly 22 watts in PowerSave mode. Penny-pinchers will also be thrilled to know that the LaserJet 5M has an Economode that will save you 20 percent on per-page costs. There's also a print-duplexing option that lets you save on paper by printing on both sides.

I tried torture-testing the LaserJet 5M's 12-page-per-minute, 600x600-dot-per-inch engine on my ECP-equipped machine. I printed graphics-heavy documents, photograph printouts, and mixtures of various graphics and text. What I found was that the 12ppm speed held fast, except when the unit tackled the most demanding documents-and even those took, at most, 10 seconds a page. Once the hard copy was in hand, another pleasant surprise was in store-the output was gorgeous, sharp and very clean.

PCL 6-HP's new standard for better, faster printing-improves on its predecessor, PCL 5e, by offering faster graphics printing, shorter return-to-application times, and high-quality shading as well as up to 256 gray levels. It also provides better font synthesis to allow WYSIWYG output, plus a shorter, more compact instruction set that reduces the amount of memory required to print images, making the jobs faster and more efficient.

Even the little details weren't left behind in HP's design: The new front control panel is simplified and intuitive, the "job cancel" button lets you end a printing mistake before it eats up your last sheet of letterhead, and the paper level indicator gives you fair warning when you're about to run out.

Universal compatibility, up to 256 levels of gray, PCL 6 support and a duty cycle of 35,000 pages per month combine to make the LaserJet 5M a hard worker whose efficiency can't be beat.

Info File
HP LaserJet 5M
Pros: Setup; print quality; compatibility
Cons: Size; weight
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1x, NT, OS/2, DOS, Macintosh,UNIX, NetWare
Hewlett-Packard Co.
WinMag Box Score 4.5
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