Article by Kevin Savetz

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Copyright © by Kevin Savetz

In homes and home offices, peripheral gadgets are threatening to take over. Printers, scanners and fax machines take up desk space and hog power outlets and computer expansion ports. A multifunctional printer -- a combination of printer, scanner, copier and, perhaps, fax machine -- can cut down on the clutter. They may not save you much money, but most of the five under-$300 multifunctional printers we tested were solid values.

The Canon MultiPass F60 ($299) is an impressive mix of printer, flatbed scanner and copier (to fax, you'll need to step up to the $399 F80). It worked quickly, printing a sharp six-page text document in 90 seconds; color copies of magazine covers took one minute, and black-and-white duplicates of the covers took just 14 seconds. The F60's slot for digital-camera flash-memory storage (a CompactFlash adapter is included; Memory Stick, SecureDigital/MultiMediaCard and SmartMedia adapters are extra) lets you pop in a card and watch the F60 crank out beautiful, borderless 8-by-10 or smaller prints. The only downside: The F60 works only with PCs running Windows 98 or newer operating systems.

Hewlett-Packard's $250 PSC 2110 is another great contender for people content to live fax-free, with the best print quality of all the machines reviewed. Its black-and-white output was exceptionally sharp. The HP couldn't keep up with Canon's speed, however; our six-page test printout took a little over three minutes, and an 8-by-10 color print took 71 seconds. HP includes driver software for Windows and Mac OS 9 and X.

If faxing and fast prints are requirements -- but color isn't -- the Brother MFC-4800 ($300) is an excellent, if unconventional, choice. It looks like a fax machine, right down to its phone handset, and uses a laser printer rather than an inkjet. That design makes the MFC-4800 the cheapest printer to use, at about a penny per page, and the fastest to operate -- our six-page text document took just 46 seconds. Text and images were exceptionally sharp. This machine can scan and copy in grayscale, but its sheet-fed design limits it to whatever can squeeze through its mechanism.

The MFC-4800's sibling, the $300 MFC-5100c, is built around a color inkjet. With a flatbed scanner and an automatic document feeder, it can scan either a book or a stack of papers. It turned out color and black-and-white copies in about 30 seconds and took just under two minutes on our six-page printout. But we couldn't make a high-quality color print: The machine kept spitting out the paper after taking three minutes to cover a third of the page, wasting expensive photo paper in the process.

The Brother printers include parallel and USB ports, making them the only choice for the USB-intolerant Windows 95 and NT 4.0. They also work under Mac OS 8 and 9, but OS X users can't scan or fax.

Lexmark's X75 PrinTrio ($150, for Windows 98 or newer, Mac OS 9 and X) was unimpressive even before our evaluation unit began making a loud, continuous popping sound. Lexmark said the PrinTrio shouldn't normally make a racket, but our unit's printouts were also marred by jumbled text, grossly inaccurate color and other glitches, and its scans and copies looked blurry at the edges. It can't make copies when the PC is off, unlike nearly every other multifunctional device. To top it off, the PrinTrio took seven minutes to output the six-page text document, and its color copies took more than four minutes per page.

If you need color scanning and printing, the Canon F60 and HP PSC 2110 are both first-rate options. For faxing and speedy black-and-white printing, check out the Brother MFC-4800. But if you're going to do a lot of scanning and copying, you should stick with a separate scanner and printer -- multifunctional devices have improved a lot, but they're still not as fast as single-purpose machines.

Articles by Kevin Savetz