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Brother MFC-9420CN multifunction printer

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Brother positions the MFC-9420CN as a business-friendly multifunction printer (MFP)—and in some ways, it is. It’s quick; it’s built for high volume, with a 250-sheet paper tray and a 35-page automatic document feeder (ADF); and its color-faxing capability is just plain cool. But our enthusiasm cooled after seeing the sometimes-mediocre output quality, and after wrestling with the control panel’s unintuitive design. And the machine’s network software is, if anything, overly friendly.

Ready to rumble

Smaller offices, take note: the MFC-9420CN cannot be tucked discreetly into a corner. It’s big, heavy (76.7 pounds), and loud, emitting distinct clunking noises during power-up and printing. You’ll need nearly three feet of height clearance to raise the scanner cover.

Installing the machine via USB and Ethernet was pretty easy, but watch out for the network software. It’s designed to check the network periodically for computers that are registered for the printer’s direct-scanning function. Even though we had only one machine registered to do so, it still checked our entire network. This feature might not disturb a small network, but on one the size of Macworld ’s, it set off firewall alarms. You can disable this function, but then you can’t scan from the MFP directly to your computer over your network.

The documentation that came with the MFC-9420CN was mostly good, but it cut corners in some areas. The printer’s setup guide offers exhaustive detail on installing the machine and adjusting fax and other features. The illustrations were often inadequate, however: a diagram of the machine’s external parts points toward the left-front corner for the power button instead of the left-rear corner where it’s actually located. Similarly, in the PDF-based user guide, small parts, such as a latch on an internal cover, begged for a magnified illustration. Some menu directions in the guide are unclear because they use item numbers instead of names. (Which makes more sense to you: Press Menu/Set, 1, 9 or Press Menu/Set, General Setup, Tray Use ?)

Losing control

The MFC-9420CN offers a plethora of functions, but getting to them via the front control panel flummoxed us because of the scattered design. Three large, central buttons let you choose whether you intend to fax, scan, or copy; but then what? The fax-related buttons are located in four different places. At the far right, there are three buttons labeled Stop/Exit , Color Start , and Black Start . The question is: stop or start what? When using the dual-function Menu/Set button, it’s hard to tell whether you’re about to launch the menus or choose an item within them. Brother’s ControlCenter2 fax/scan/copy utility is much easier to use. It includes rudimentary scanning and optical character recognition (OCR) applications for scanning editable text as well as customizable scan buttons for frequently used settings or destinations. Unfortunately, it can’t replace the control panel completely. We were also surprised by one thing the MFC-9420CN lacks: no duplex capability—not even manual duplexing.

What the MFC-9420CN lacks in presentation, it recovers somewhat in execution. Printed pages exited quicker than the competition. As for the output, plain text looked crisp and black, but photographs suffered from rough transitions between light and dark areas, yellow-tinged flesh tones, and washed-out colors. Stick to pie charts and logos with this printer. Scans and copies from the flatbed took an average amount of time and looked reasonably good; they showed different degrees of the same problems above but were comparable to the output from other color-laser MFPs we tested.

Timed Trials: Print

10-page Word test 0:33
1-page Word test 0:15
22MB Photoshop image 0:38
4-page PDF 1:04

Scale = Minutes: Seconds

timed trials: scan

8-by-10-inch Photo, 600 dpi scan 1:02
4-by-6-inch Photo, 1,200dpi scan 1:31

Scale = Minutes: Seconds

jury tests: print

Graphics: Fine Lines and Gradients Fair
22MB Photoshop Image Quality Fair
Text Quality Very Good

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

jury tests: scan/copy

Color Good
Clarity Good
Copy Good

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


Print Resolution 2400x600 dpi
Scan Resolution: optical 1200 dpi
Max Scanning Bit Depth (output) 24-bit
Connection High-speed USB 2.0; Ethernet 10/100 BaseT
Paper Sizes Letter, legal, A4, A5, up to 8.5x14
PostScript Version 3
Installed RAM/ Max RAM 64MB/576MB
Cost to Replace Ink/ Toner Cartridges $583 ($149 for black, $145 each for cyan, magenta, and yellow)
Weight (in pounds) 76.7
Dimensions (height x depth x width in inches) 21x20.2x19
Paper Capacity 250 sheets; 530 sheets optional paper capacity
Duty Cycle 30,000 pages per month
Special Features Backlit LCD (16 characters by 2 lines); ADF

Macworld’s buying advice

The Brother MFC-9420CN offers most of the functions you’d want in an all-in-one, but its design often gets in the way. We’d trade some of its admirable speed for better print quality and ease of use.

[ Melissa Riofrio is a freelance writer specializing in printers and MFPs. ]

Brother MFC-9420CN
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