Lexmark X500n multifunction printer

If you’ve been following printer reviews at Macworld, you know that $500 is inexpensive for a color laser multifunction printer (MFP). Your first impression of the Lexmark X500n, priced at $500, might be that it must therefore be mediocre. Don’t let the price tag fool you. In my testing, the X500n delivered solid results with its ability to print, scan, and copy. A large factor contributing to the X500n’s affordability is its lack of a fax machine; fax capability is an increasingly common feature on laser MFPs. If your office already owns a standalone fax machine—and most offices do—you’ll appreciate Lexmark’s thoughtful way of making a powerful MFP more affordable. And if you actually do need a fax machine, Lexmark doesn’t leave you in the dark: for $200 more, you can purchase the X502n model, which offers built-in fax functionality in addition to all the features included in the X500n.

Setup and usability

You’ll know the X500n is a serious device once you unpack it from its box. The MFP is somewhat of a behemoth, weighing 77 pounds and standing 21 inches high, so you’ll likely need some assistance setting it up. The step-by-step setup pamphlet is fully illustrated, and I managed to set up the X500n fairly quickly, but I felt the process would have been easier had there been written instructions. (The printer does come with a printed manual.)

When testing MFPs, the problem I most often come across is flawed scanner software. Testing the X500n’s built-in flatbed scanner was like a breath of fresh air. The scanner utility worked smoothly, and its user-friendly interface offers flexible customization options. Also notable is the X500n’s ability to scan over a network. The scanner can be shared on a network using its 10/100BaseTX Ethernet connection, and it can also scan to a single computer via USB 2.0.

Likewise, the X500n’s copier is easy to use and straightforward. The included automatic document feeder works well and should come in handy in busy offices. Two large buttons on the control panel allow you to choose between black-and-white or color copying. You can also configure settings for the quality of your copies using the menu button.

Configuring the X500n over a network is also easy. Using its network utility (which you can access through the OS X Printer Setup utility once you’ve installed everything on the CD that accompanies the MFP), you can change the administrative password and other settings, or even add e-mail alerts that send warnings about paper jams or low toner.

Quality

The X500n’s printing performance turned in solid results from a panel of Macworld experts, ranging from Good to Very Good. The MFP’s text quality appeared smooth and clean, earning a Very Good rating. In our test print of a 22MB Photoshop image, reds were too strong, earning a Good rating. The MFP did rather well when printing a 4-page color PDF containing graphics, fine lines, and gradients: thin lines were well preserved, gradients were smooth and distinct, and overall the color document was pleasing to the eye.

Our jury was least impressed with the X500n’s copy quality. In our copy of a Macworld magazine cover, colors were nearly accurate, but some details that could be seen in the original were lost in the copy. The overall composition also appeared a little grainy. Our jury gave the X500n copy quality a Good rating.

I mentioned earlier that I appreciated the ease of use of the X500n’s scanner. Even better news is that the scan quality is impressive. In a scan of a line chart to test resolution quality, the X500n received a Very Good rating from our jury. And when scanning our control photo of a picnic scene to judge color and image quality, the X500n’s output was a little heavy on the blues, but overall the image was clear, earning a Good rating.

Speed

The X500N has surprisingly fast print speeds for an MFP of its price. It was faster in two tests than our Top Product in the color laser MFP category, the Epson AcuLaser CX11NF (   ). In my testing over 10/100 BaseTX Ethernet, the X500N took 13 seconds to print a 1-page Word document, 37 seconds to print a 10-page Word document, 43 seconds to print a 22MB Photoshop image, and 58 seconds to print a 4-page PDF. In contrast, the AcuLaser took 10 seconds to print a 1-page Word document, 36 seconds to print a 10-page Word document, one minute twenty-six seconds to print a 22MB Photoshop image, and two minutes nineteen seconds to print a 4-page PDF.

Scanning with the X500n is a little slow. In my testing, it took 1 minute and 38 seconds to scan an 8-by-10-inch photo at 600 dpi. And it took 1 minute and 55 seconds to scan a 4-by-6-inch photo at 1,200 dpi.

timed trials: print

10-page Word test 0:37
1-page Word test 0:13
22MB Photoshop image 0:43
4-page PDF 0:58

Scale = Minutes: Seconds

timed trials: scan

8-by-10-inch photo, 600-dpi scan 1:38
4-by-6-inch photo, 1,200-dpi scan 1:55

Scale = Minutes: Seconds

Jury Tests: Print

Graphics: Fine lines and gradients Very Good
22MB Photoshop image quality Good
Text quality Very Good

Scale = Superior, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor.

Jury Tests: scan/copy

Jury Tests: Scan/Copy
Color Good
Clarity Very Good
Copy Good

Scale = Superior, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor.

How We Tested: We ran all tests with the color laser multifunction printer connected via 10/100BaseTX Ethernet to a 2.66GHz Mac Pro with Mac OS X 10.4.10 installed and 1GB of RAM. We recorded the time it took the MFP to print a 1-page Word document and a 10-page Word document, as well as the time it took to print a 22MB Photoshop image and a 4-page PDF. We then recorded the time it took to scan an 8-by-10-inch photo at 600 dpi, as well as the time it took to scan a 4-by-6-inch photo at 1,200 dpi. A panel of experts examined sample output of the MFP to evaluate its print, scan, and copy quality as either Superior, Very Good, Good, Fair, or Poor in comparison to the output of past color laser MFPs we’ve tested.—Macworld Lab Testing by Brian Chen

specifications

Print resolution 1,200 x 600 dpi
Scan resolution: Optical 1,200 x 1,200 dpi
Max scanning bit depth 24-bit
PostScript version N/A
Installed RAM/Max RAM 128MB
Connection Ethernet 10/100BaseTX; USB 2.0
Paper sizes A4, A5, B5, Envelope, C5 Envelope, DL Envelope, Executive, Folio, JIS-B5, Letter, Statement, Universal, Legal with Optional Legal Tray
Cost to replace ink/toner cartridges $385.35 ($90 for black; $98.45 for Cyan; $98.45 for Magenta; $98.45 for Yellow)
Weight (in pounds) 77
Dimensions (width x depth x height, in inches) 19 x 17.2 x 21
Paper capacity 250 pages
Special features Automatic document feeder

Macworld’s buying advice

At $499, the Lexmark X500n is a bargain for a device of its kind. Although it’s slow with scanning and its copies lack some detail, this MFP is fast, easy to use, and a strong overall performer.

[ Brian Chen is an assistant editor at Macworld.]

Lexmark X500n
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