The MF8170c's functions stack up, with a 250-sheet paper tray at the bottom, a front wall that folds down into a 125-sheet auxiliary feed, an exit void for prints, copies, and incoming faxes, and a wide control-panel ridge surmounted by the scanner glass and the 50-page automated document feeder (ADF). With the scanner bed open, the output tray folds up to expose the machine's insides. To change toner, you insert the cartridges straight down one at a time and work the big imaging unit inside with a bit of twisting and rocking. One oddity: the MF8170c has no power switch. Plug it in, and it wakes up and stays on until its Energy Saver setting kicks in. Pushing the Energy Saver button immediately puts the printer into hibernation.
Canon came up with a smart idea for the document feeder: the motor pokes out of the top of the main unit instead of being incorporated into the scanner lid. That means the scanner lid can float on a thick document or come off completely to make room for a big document--no wires or latches connect it to the rest of the machine; however, the document feeder's motor blocks one edge of the scanner glass. Although the glass is letter size, the feeder can handle a legal-size document by pulling it partway through, scanning, then feeding it to the end of the page. Next to the glass and under the lid, Canon curiously provides a list of items that are illegal to copy--something we've seen on copy-shop walls but never before built into a copier.
Canon doesn't offer any extra paper trays for the MF8170c, so you're limited to the 375-sheet total input between the main tray and the auxiliary feed. A side door that opens to clear paper jams reveals what looks like a perfect place for a duplexer, but there is none. This rather limited paper-handling capability should give businesses pause when scoping out the MF8170c.Installing the Canon ImageClass MF8170c on a USB connection went smoothly in our informal tests--for the most part. Installing Canon's printer, fax, and scanner drivers on our Windows XP system required no intervention beyond clicking OK and plugging in a USB cable. We had to run a separate installation, however, to load two useful third-party applications that come with the MF8170c: ScanSoft's OmniPage SE 2.0, a lite version of the leading OCR software, and NewSoft's Presto PageManager 6.03, the full-featured version of a capable document-archiving database. The MF8170c won't let you carry out push scanning over the network, however, so you can't start a scan and send the image to another member of your workgroup. That makes OmniPage and PageManager useful only for a single user.
The MF8170c provides basic and broadcast faxing, but it lacks exotic features such as forwarding, encryption, and polling, which holds a document in memory and waits for another fax machine to request the image, or vice versa. It does, however, offer a utility for creating cover pages that import fields from your address-book database. It also lets you design a template that updates itself for each recipient. The MF8170c can send faxes over the network. The control panel also features a clever Canon idea: it manages to store 20 one-touch fax numbers on a pad with only 10 buttons.
Operating the control panel of the Canon ImageClass MF8170c is painless. When making copies, you can't miss the big B&W Start and Color Start buttons, nor the buttons labeled Reduce/Enlarge, Exposure, Image Quality, and Collate. We like the easy-to-read backlighting on the control-panel LCD. The LCD menus are easy to navigate, though they close too quickly if you hesitate while setting up a job. In the menus, you can set the system to remove random crud, such as dust, from copies, and the Status button shows you all the print, fax, and copy jobs waiting in the queue. Be forewarned: anyone on the network can delete jobs from the queue--another reason offices might not get along with the MF8170c.
Canon's Remote UI utility comes into play for checking or adjusting the shared settings for your Canon ImageClass MF8170c over your IP network. You can also use Remote UI to make sure no paper trays or toner cartridges have run dry and to check if fax or print jobs are stuck in the queue. Another utility, MF Toolbox, floats on your PC's screen with buttons for configuring scan settings, running a scan through OCR, attaching a scan to e-mail, and so on.
Canon's printer driver provides loads of features displayed in text and graphics. Besides adding watermarks, printing multiple reduced pages on one sheet, or blowing a page up into a poster, the driver can print the filename and the page numbers on a document; it also lets you control color matching, gradients, and halftones.
Keeping the MF8170c well fed should cost about the same as it does for most color laser printers. Counting only toner, a black page costs 1.7 cents, and a color page runs 9.6 cents. The HP Color LaserJet 2550L, by comparison, runs 2.1 cents for black and 9.6 cents for color, while the Brother HL-2700CN runs 1.7 cents for black and 9.2 cents for color. But note that because the Canon is a four-pass machine, wear on its imaging drum really adds up. In addition to the toner cost, figure in 3.5 cents per page for use of the color imaging drum.In CNET Labs' tests, the 600dpi engine of the Canon ImageClass MF8170c impressed us with its extremely clean, clear black text. We'd prefer a darker shade of black, but we're not complaining about a printer that creates large letters without distorted curves and renders even 2.5-point type easily legible. Grayscale graphics had fine detail and distinguished between close shades of gray; they were also free of the coarse textures common on monochrome lasers. On color graphics, we noticed banding in what should have been smooth gradients, and colors looked dark in general--especially in flesh tones and reddish colors. But overall, color graphics suffered minimal distortion and displayed good detail.
With the 1,200dpi, 48-bit CCD flatbed scanner, color scans looked good. Colors were undersaturated, and the focus seemed less sharp than we're accustomed to, but despite that we saw no loss of detail. The scanner picked out subtle color gradations and introduced no errors. The soft focus was more pronounced on grayscale scans but captured detail well. Copies looked clean, with good color matching.