Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
12/19/2005
11:00 AM
David  DeJean
David DeJean
Commentary
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Rumor Patrol: High Cost Of Consumables?

Last week I ran a review on this page of two color laser printers aimed at small and medium-sized businesses. The reviewer liked the low price and "commendable feature set" of the HP Color LaserJet 2600n (although he liked the Lexmark C522n a little better overall). A reader liked the look of the LaserJet, too, until he found a link to a rant about its consumables costs on the Web. He wrote a note that finally reached me, and I spran

Last week I ran a review on this page of two color laser printers aimed at small and medium-sized businesses. The reviewer liked the low price and "commendable feature set" of the HP Color LaserJet 2600n (although he liked the Lexmark C522n a little better overall). A reader liked the look of the LaserJet, too, until he found a link to a rant about its consumables costs on the Web. He wrote a note that finally reached me, and I sprang to attention, tail straight and ears alert. I've been critical of the high cost of printing consumables, and of HP's in particular. But this time, a little research shows that HP may be more sinned against than sinning . . . but only slightly.John Gammel, who says he's a retired IT guy in the Minneapolis area, responded to the review by forwarding text that turned out to be a reader-written review of the HP printer by an anonymous reviewer who called himself angust63. The review documented in detail how angust63's small company had bought an HP 2600n, and used it very successfully for about 2,000 pages' worth -- pretty much the specified life of the black toner cartridge. Problem was, even though the three color cartridges had been used much less, the printer wouldn't operate until they were changed, too. "We had an HP rep inspect our 'consumed' color cartridges," wrote angust63, "and he confirmed that they contained about 80 percent of their original volume!"

His conclusion: "It seems HP has engineered computer chips into each cartridge complete with their own unique serial numbers. Once the chip calculates how many pages have been printed, it sends a message that the cartridge has been 'consumed.' There is no manual tuning, no calibration of toner used per page, no way for the operator to force the printer to continue printing. . . . HP is forcing the consumer to replace cartridges after a fixed period of time whether they need to be replaced or not."

Make your blood boil? Well, I should say! My first hit on the text came from Google, a link to www.dealtime.co.uk, a British comparison shopping site. I read angust63's post in full and was ready to send up nastygram for HP right then and there.

But the anonymous nature of the post made me pause. This is one of the problems with the Web. You really cannot tell who you can trust. The irate Mr. angust63 might be a nefarious competitor of HP's, or some sort of crazed cyberstalker. They're out there, trust me, even if you don't have one in your family. Or he could be the kind of screw-up EVERYBODY has in their family -- the relative who can't get the printer to print because they thought if it was connected to the PC it didn't have to be plugged in.

So I looked a little beyond angust63's post. It had originally been posted to eOpinions.com. It turns out Dealtime.co.uk is the British counterpart of Dealtime.com, a U.S. comparison shopping site that is in turn part of Shopping.com, which also operates eOpinions.com, a site that describes itself as "a premier consumer reviews platform on the Web and a reliable source for valuable consumer insight." (This whole pyramid of self-referencing validation is owned by eBay.)

eOpinion.com offers five reviews of the HP LaserJet 2600n. I saw angust63's screed, headlined "Jekyll and Hyde Printer," and opened the next review under it, by boeingman1, headlined "Great Printer." It contained the following paragraph:

Contrary to the other poster, who may have not read the directions, there is an override feature for the toner. Everytime you print a page, no matter if it is color or b/w each toner deducts a page from its original estimated page left count. Black starts with 2500 pages and color cartridges are 2000. The computer chip in them simply allows the computer to keep track of the number of prints. If the machine thinks you should run out and there is still plenty of toner left there are simple instructions to input an override directly on the printer so that you can keep using your cartridge until it is really empty. There is no accurate way to determine the exact amount of toner you have left.

Darn! Just when I was getting good and ready to spit bile at HP, it turns out my star witness is a garden variety numbskull who hadn't read the directions. Pardon me while I go kick the cat around the family room.

Of course, HP doesn't get off the hook completely, because the company is apparently harboring a garden variety numbskull of its own -- the rep who didn't know enough about the printer to solve the customer's problem.

And I know it doesn't end here. Printer consumables prices are still too high, and I'll have HP to kick around some more in the future. But I'm going to have to send John Gammel a note that says the HP LaserJet 2600n came out of my little investigation looking better than his source did. I am glad I checked. I wonder how often people don't?

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