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-- by Deborah Wong
As the SOHO market continues its search for the ultimate multifunction device, Brother hopes to narrow the choice with the MFC-4550. The latest addition to Brother's line of Laser Multi-Function Centers, the MFC-4550 is a five-in-one multifunction unit. It works as a 14.4Kbps laser fax, 600x600-dot-per-inch laser printer, 6-page-per-minute laser copier and 400x400dpi scanner with PC fax capabilities.
Setting up the machine was simple with the abundance of easy-to-follow documentation provided by Brother. Weighing only 18.8 pounds, the MFC-4550 measures 9.9 by 15.1 by 17.8 inches, making it easy to remove from the box.
The device includes the Multi-Function Link PRO software that expands the unit's capabilities, allowing you to connect it to a personal computer and use it as a PC fax, scanner and printer. The functions run in the background, keeping your computer free for other tasks.
The MFC-4550 lets you fax directly from a Windows application on your PC without printing first, and it can route incoming faxes right to your PC. For manual faxing, the MFC-4550 holds 30 pages in its autodocument feeder and transmits through a 14.4Kbps modem. Automatic dialing for 60 recipients can be a convenient feature, but you must program names and addresses without alphabet keys. The same goes for programming an automatic cover sheet. Keep it short or it'll likely take quite some time to complete. The handset rests on the left side of the machine, which needs only one phone line for connection.
Laser printing and copying on the MFC-4550 produced excellent output. At 6ppm, all copies printed were exceptional at every resolution (fine, superfine and photo). The unit holds 200 sheets of legal or letter paper and accepted my test copies without a problem; its straight paper path technology efficiently handled a variety of paper stock. The MFC-4550 can also print on 3-by-5-inch cards and envelopes, and has reducing and enlarging ratios that range from 50 to 200 percent.
With the scan features, you can scan text, logos, line art and business graphics at up to 8ppm at 400x400dpi interpolated resolution.
The MFC-4550 brings with it the dilemma common to multifunction machines. Although you can save money and desktop space by buying one, the machine can lose all functions if one aspect fails.
It gets the job done, but the Brother MFC-4550 can't compete with our Recommended List's Canon MultiPASS C2500, which offers a color printer and still costs $200 less.