Back to Basics!

Everything you need to choose the right printer

Back to Basics!

Monochrome Laser Printers for Inexpensive Output

Sometimes all you need is a good fast inexpensive printer. No color. No scanning. Just a good monochrome (black & white) printer that doesn’t cost much to buy or to use.

If you are looking for color & scanning, take a look at HP Inkjet Comparison for more information about HP Inkjet printer options, as of March 2019.

As with any other category of printer, there are a LOT of choices. To keep it simple, let’s look at the usual top manufacturers – Brother and Hewlett Packard, and to make sure that you have all the features you will likely need:

  • Wired Networking (to connect directly to a router)
  • WiFi Networking (when a direct connection isn’t practical)
  • Duplex Printing (to save paper)
  • Laser Printing (still generally much faster than an inkjet and toner costs much lower than most inkjets)
  • PCL built-in (no “GDI” printers – which is a topic for another time, but trust me on this one)
  • No scanning/copying (this doesn’t have to cost a lot extra, but if you really don’t need these features then better to avoid them – a broken scanner will often mean you can’t print, even though the printer itself is OK).
  • Printer Cost $250 or less.

With those parameters, we have 5 printers to choose from:

Brother HL-L2370DW

Cost: $99.25

Speed: 36 pages/minute

Included Toner: 700 pages

Toner Cartridge: TN770 4,500 pages $112.49

Brother HL-L5200DW

Cost: $167

Speed: 42 pages/minute

Included Toner: 3,000 pages

Toner Cartridge: TN850 8,000 pages $106.99

Brother HL-L6200DW

Cost: $199.99

Speed: 48 pages/minute

Included Toner: 3,000 pages

Toner Cartridge: TN880 12,000 pages $122.90

HP M203dw

Cost: $117.99

Speed: 30 pages/minute

Included Toner: 1,000 pages

Toner Cartridge: CF230X 3,500 pages $100.89

HP M402dw

Cost: $249.99

Speed: 40 pages/minute

Included Toner: 3,100 pages

Toner Cartridge: CF226X 9,000 pages $216.89

So how do you decide? Some users will have specific criteria of paper tray capacity (all of these printers can hold at least 250 pages), speed (all are rated at 30 pages/minute or more, though duplex printing and graphics may slow things down) or other factors. But for most people shopping in the < $250 printer marketplace, Total Cost of Ownership is one of the most important factors.

Consider 3 possibilities:

  • 100 pages/month – low usage
  • 250 pages/month – medium usage
  • 1,000 pages/month – high usage

and to keep it simple, we’ll look at a 2 year product lifetime. Any of these printers should last considerably longer, but a one-year warranty is included on all of these printers and, at < $250 for a new printer, out-of-warranty repairs just don’t pay.

All costs are based on typical prices of the largest OEM toner cartridges available for each printer.

Printer Low Usage TCO Medium Usage TCO High Usage TCO
Brother HL-L2370DW $ 211.74 $ 324.23 $ 774.19
Brother HL-L5200DW $ 167.00 $ 273.99 $ 487.97
Brother HL-L6200DW $ 199.99 $ 322.89 $ 445.79
HP M203dw $ 218.88 $ 319.77 $ 824.22
HP M402dw $ 249.99 $ 466.88 $ 900.66

And the winner is…

The Brother HL-L5200DW and HL-L6200DW are clear winners. Even at the lowest usage, the Brother HL-L5200DW costs less than the HL-L2370DW and HP M203dw because the included toner lasts “forever”. When you get to higher usage, these printers keep costs down thanks to better toner cartridge pricing.

Wait a minute, don’t Brother printers also need drums that really increase the cost? Yes, they do. In fact, the HL-L2370DW needs a drum in our high usage scenario, which adds another $ 98.48. But that doesn’t matter because that printer isn’t the one to get at low, medium or high usage. In addition, HP has now started to split drums from toner cartridges on some printers as well. The drum included in the M203dw is rated for 23,000 pages, so in our high usage scenario that would add another $88.89. But again, that really doesn’t matter because the M203dw simply isn’t the machine to get for high usage. The M203dw comes in second place with medium usage, and then the drum just isn’t a concern at all.

The printer business is no longer about the “best” price on a printer. It is about the best total cost of ownership. If the TCO is the same for different printers, you may as well get the most features for your money.