Sunday, June 24, 2012

Brother All-In-One MFC-9970 CDW review

My aging  HP 2550 laser color printer was about to give up its ghost so I decided to look for a replacement. I print an average of 15 pages a week and some of these on glossy paper or card stock. Since an added scanner and copier would be nice, I went looking for an all-in-one. Eventually I settled on the Brother MFC-9970 CDW, mainly because the runner up, the HP 1415 had too many bad reviews on Amazon and was also reported to have lengthy self check fits.
The 9970 combines laser color printing duplex or mono, black-and-white or color copying, fax and scanner. The end result of these functions (I have not checked out the fax) are adequate. The installation is quite another story.

I thought of going through all the travails that I went through installing this all in one printer, but I think nobody will care about my whining and so I'll skip all that. Suffice to say it was not easy from the get go.

Knowing what I know now, I can set up the 9970 wirelessly in a breeze as I can now avoid the pitfalls.
After running the initial setup as described in the included Quickstart guide, I would:
  • turn off the automatic IP address and set a static one using the printer controls
  • connect to the wireless access point
  • download the software package that includes the latest drivers
  • install that and provide the static IP when asked for when setting up the wireless connection
  • run the software package from the included installation CD to get the Paperport optional software
  • be extra careful when opening the MP (Multipurpose) tray door

I will say a word on this MP tray. It is all plastic and appears very flimsy. No; actually I did manage to break one of the hinges on the second day when the lid got stuck. Couldn't get the tray all the way open, applied pressure and... snap! the hinge went. My guess is that they took the cost-cutting route while designing this tray. As far I can see, the proper way to open it is to pull it gently from the top with one hand while lightly pressing inward on the lower end.

In regards to printing, there is something odd with the color print quality in which it isn't the best by default even with fine print checked and the toner save settings turned off. Images appear muted/washed off. Buried deep in the advanced settings, within the driver's printing preferences, there is an option to change the printing image quality from 'normal' to 'vivid' which helps a lot, but even then I found the quality still lacking. In just my second try, I got inspired and cranked the color saturation all the way up and that boosted the vividness some more. At this point, what I see on paper pretty much matches what's on the screen. Still, if some more vividness could be added, that would do the trick; I would say it is 95% of the way there. Black text does appear great. Toner cartridge replacement is as easy as it can be.

Update 6/28/13: There are widespread reports that this printer intentionally signals toner replacement much too soon. All I can say is that I tried the toner counter reset workaround six months ago and so far I'm still getting crisp results out of the starter cartridges.

225 g/m² paper has some problems, but prints good. From the documentation isn't clear if this paper belongs to the supported 'thick' or 'thicker' categories. I do not recommend automatic duplex printing on it though. On the first try the printer frayed the edges of the paper and on the second one, the sheet got jammed under the paper tray. Paper jams with regular paper are fairly common when printing more than a few pages from the MP tray. I think this problem may be only particular to me as my machine is not on a completely level surface. By the way, when there is a paper jam the LCD screen troubleshoots the problem which is a nice feature.

Update 6/28/13: No paper jams over the last year. These appear to have resolved themselves by placing the machine on a flatter surface

Scanning is very zippy and so far it has given me no cause of complaint. You can scan in duplex to an image file, PDF or to the included optional OCR software. Copying is even faster and you also get other functions such as size reduction, brightness and contrast adjustments and duplex. As a very last step, you can either choose color or black.

The command center software mostly intuitive and yet powerful. This one wants to initialize on start up along with some diagnostic program. If you find them burdensome for your system resources, you can disable them with the boot tab in the msconfig program.

Overall, the copy, print and scan qualities are just adequate for my needs. Loading pages for printing is more difficult than in my older printer, but on the plus side, tray one can hold a large stack of sheets (300, I think). It is very snappy chugging out about 30 ppm. Paper curling is a small issue for me, but there is an option for reducing it. Duplex printing is understandably slower, but the results are good.  Bottom line: as far I can see it does what it is supposed to do but getting it properly set up can be troublesome, the MP tray is not properly designed and studio quality printing is not its forte.  Recommended with some reservations.


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