The Samsung CLP-500 color laser printer is low on flash; it looks like an electronic office appliance from a bygone era. Housed in gray plastic, the round-edge, boxy CLP-500 stands 15.9 inches tall by 20 inches wide and is 18.5 inches deep, which is about average for color lasers. It has a solid feel to it, weighing in at an above-average 77.2 pounds when fully loaded with toners.
A 250-sheet-capacity output tray sits on top, and a 250-sheet paper-cassette input tray rests at the printer's base. (An additional 500-sheet paper-input tray sells for $299.99.) The CLP-500's multipurpose tray is located on the right side of the printer, and while made of flimsy lightweight plastic, you must use it when printing envelopes, labels, transparencies, preprinted paper, or card stock. Unfortunately, it holds only a slim stack of 10 envelopes, 10 typical sheets of labels, or 100 sheets of paper. We've seen larger capacities elsewhere.
Immediately below the paper-output tray is the CLP-500's control panel, with a thin string of buttons on both sides of a two-line, 32-character LCD panel. The buttons provide access to the most basic level of operational control, and they are easy and intuitive to use: For example, one button cancels print jobs, and the rest are for maneuvering through the printer's options menu, which ranges from fine-tuning the duplex-printing operations to turning off the low-consumables alarm.
Inside a left side panel are the four toner containers, one each for black, yellow, magenta, and cyan. And in the back left corner there are ports for power, USB 2.0, and parallel connections. Samsung intentionally leaves some space open on the back for a wireless network antenna or a network interface card. An Ethernet 10/100BaseTX and 802.11b wireless adapter sells for $249.99, and an already network-ready (but not wireless) version of the CLP-500, the CLP-500N, with an estimated street price of $849.99, will be available at the end of January 2004.
The Samsung CLP-500 color laser printer's most notable features are its built-in duplex unit and its expansion capabilities.
The duplex unit, used for double-sided printing, is housed on the right side of the CLP-500, just above the multipurpose tray. To enable automatic two-sided copying, you can either choose Layout, then Duplex from the printer's control-panel menu or select Duplex directly from the Properties tab within the computer's driver. The double-sided text that we produced was both clear and legible on both sides of the paper and didn't suffer from bleed-through.
The CLP-500 includes both USB 2.0 and parallel port connections, plus it comes with 64MB of RAM and provides extra slots that hold up to 192MB total. When the CLP-500 is fully extended with these extras, Samsung estimates that the network model CLP-500N should support an office workgroup of 20 to 24 people. That sounds overly optimistic to us, given the 266MHz processor and 10-envelopes-at-a-time maximum. But without a lot of color printing or specialty media work, a fully expanded CLP-500N could reasonably support 10 to 15 people without slowing down.
It took us about 20 seconds to hook up the CLP-500 via USB cable (not included) and load the print drivers onto a PC running Windows XP Professional. The CLP-500 also is compatible with Windows 95 and later, Macintosh systems 8.6 and later (with the sole exception of Mac OS X 10.0), and many versions of the Linux OS. The CLP-500 doesn't use PostScript emulation, which preserves font styles, but instead uses SPL-C (Sharp Printer Language with Compression) emulation designed to speed up large data jobs. If you need exact font matches, you might consider a different color-laser system.
In CNET Labs' performance tests, the Samsung CLP-500 color laser printer proved a very fast worker. Clocking in at 14.1 pages per minute (ppm) on monochrome text, the CLP-500 beat both the Minolta QMS 2300DL color laser with its 10.3ppm and the HP Color LaserJet 1500L with its 11.2ppm. With monochrome mixed text and graphics, the CLP-500 sizzled at 14.6ppm, again beating both the 2300DL, which lagged at 10.7ppm, and the 1500L's 10.4ppm. In color, the CLP-500 was sprightly at 4.5ppm, close to but, once again, faster than the Minolta-QMS, which CNET Labs timed at 4.0ppm, and much faster than the HP 1500L, which provided a score of 3.4ppm.
Speed aside, the quality of the CLP-500's black text is good but not as dark or crisp as we've seen elsewhere. In fact, when we closely appraised the text, we could see a fine mist of toner overspray around each printed character. Also, the color text looks fair only, with gaps, dots, and mismatched color overprinting in the text, visible to the naked eye.
The CLP-500's graphics, on the other hand, are very good in monochrome, reproducing line art, gradients, and even black-and-white photographs cleanly and sharply. The color graphics look almost as appealing--certainly fine for most everyday business needs--but like most all other color laser printers we've seen, the CLP-500 doesn't consistently create finely shaded gradients.
At 5 percent coverage, the black starter cartridge is rated for 2,000 sheets, and the color ones are rated for 1,500 each. Replacement cartridges offer more capacity, with black rated at 7,000 sheets and each color producing 5,000 sheets. The estimated street prices for replacement toner cartridges are $99.99 for black and $119.99 for each color. This works out to 1.4 cents per page for black and 2.4 cents per color page, which is a middle-of-the-road cost compared with other color lasers we've seen.
Color laser-printer speed (Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Laser printer quality|
Samsung covers the CLP-500 by an industry-standard, limited, one-year parts-and-labor warranty against defects in materials and workmanship. For the life of the warranty, however, Samsung provides toll-free telephone technical support from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT. Going beyond the support offered by its competitors, Samsung also provides onsite repairs to correct material and workmanship defects, or if onsite service is not available, Samsung will arrange for transportation to an authorized Samsung service center.
But the CLP-500 doesn't ship with a helpful setup poster; instead, it includes only a 28-page setup guide, and the CD-ROM includes a user guide, though there could be more info in the troubleshooting section. Samsung's Web site offers some FAQs, as well as the latest drivers and manuals available for download, but it doesn't provide as much online information as, say, HP's does.