Printer manufacturers and magazine writers frequently refer to laserprinters as “personal”, “office”, “network”, or “departmental”. Here’s a concise summary of what those designators really mean. “Personal” laser printers are relatively inexpensive printers intended for ruse by one person. They’re small, so that they can fit on a desk with other computer equipment and peripherals. And they’re usually quiet, so you won’t have to shout on the phone while they’re operating. Duplex printing isn’t an option on personal lasers – it would make them too large.

Most personal lasers have on parallel port, though some have a serial port too. Typically, they come with a single, 100-sheet input tray that can be used for both auto and manual feed. (Some models offer an optional second tray that installs underneath the printer.) For single-person use, personal lasers don’t need to be fast – they top out around 6 pages per minute. Nor are they designed for volume output; duty-cycle ratings range from 5,000 to 10,000 pages per month.

“Office” or “desktop” lasers are larger than personal printers, but not so large that they won’t fit on a desk with a computer. These printers are “network capable”, designed to work for a small group of people (10 maximum), printing at speeds between 8 and 16 pages per minute, with duty-cycle ratings up to 35,000 pages per month. Most desktop printers don’t come with duplexing capability, although some models offer an add-on external duplexer meant for occasional use only. Higher-speed desktop printers are sometimes sold as “workgroup” printers, but they lack the job-separation capabilities of a higher-end printer and require more attention than a true network machine.

Desktop printers offer more accessories than personal lasers, so as to handle a greater variety of media sizes and applications. Most come with a 250-sheet, letter-size paper tray and a separate manual-feed tray for other sizes and weights of paper. Often, they have both a parallel and a serial port, which can run simultaneously. They offer a variety of connectivity options and come with expansion slots for mutli-user communications cards or network interface cards.

“Network” lasers offer print speeds from 17 to 32+ pages per minute and monthly duty-cycle ratings from 50,000 to 100,000 pages per month. The slower, less-rugged machines in this category are called “workgroup” printers, while the faster ones are know as “departmental” printers.

Network machines are large enough to require their own space. With optional add-ons, such as multiple feed trays and multi-bin output trays, departmental printers become large enough to demand their own rooms.

Network printers are designed to be versatile, offering more input and output options, handling a wider range of media sizes and types, and offering more connectivity options. Standard input tray will hold between 1,500 and 3,000 sheets. What you won’t find is a manual-feed tray – a manual feed could interrupt other users’ print jobs. Duplexing is still an add-on option with a workgroup printer, while departmental printers have duplexing built in. Both types ship with larger amounts of RAM memory (4MB to 12MB) and may have a built-in hard disk (or offer an optional one) that minimizes printing time by storing fonts, forms and macros right at the printer.

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