Brother HL-630: Vintage Laser Printer Review

This EPA Energy Star-compliant printer can’t be totally shut off without pulling the power cord. Instead, it shifts from full alert mode, consuming 480 watts or less, to standby, consuming 60 watts or less. Finally, the unit eases into total sleep mode, using a meager 10 watts or less when idle for more than 15 minutes. In sleep mode, even the fan shuts off after the printer has cooled, and the HL-630 appears to be switched off until incoming data coax it back to life. The delay period can be set through the Windows printer driver or a DOS-based remote-control program.

Brother adds environmental friendliness in the form of an EconoPrint mode, which lays on a lighter coat of toner for drafts, saving up to 50 percent of the ink normally required. You can expect 3,000 text pages from each low-cost ($36.95 list price) toner cartridge. Printing graphics-dense pages will consume proportionately more toner, but at these prices, who’s counting? Yes, the toner printer cartridges are really cheap!

You can even print graphics using the stock 512K of RAM, thanks to three different compression schemes–selectable from the Windows driver–which squeeze the maximum amount of data into the available memory and help improve printing speed. For full-page 300-dpi graphics, however, a user-installable 1MB or 1.5MB RAM upgrade ($119.95 and $179.95, respectively) may be in order. Some–but not all–graphics pages would print using the built-in 0.5MB on our test machine.

Despite its low price, the Brother HL-630 is a solidly built machine with none of the flimsiness we’ve seen in recent low-end printers. At around 20 pounds and with a roughly 14×15-inch footprint, this printer could easily be mistaken for a unit costing twice as much.

Put to work in a mail-merge application involving nearly 150 individualized letters, the HL-630 pumped out several hundred pages at close to its 6-ppm rated speed. The input tray, canted off the top of the printer at a 45-degree angle, forms a near-straight line with the fold-out output tray. The bend-free paper path sidestepped any potential jams during our tests; we ran 150 No. 10 envelopes through the printer with nary a glitch. Even custom paper sizes and postcards can feed through smoothly.

The easy-to-load input tray holds 200 sheets of 8.5-inch paper stock, but just 10 envelopes. Single sheets of transparency film or label stock can also be guided through the printer manually, without removing the sheet feeder.

The output tray purports to handle 100 sheets, but our letters began spilling over onto the floor a bit sooner than that. However, unless you print lots of long jobs in an unattended mode, the HL-630’s paper handling should suffice.

The HL-630 is one printer that hasn’t forgotten the DOS user. It can switch automatically among Epson FX-850, HP LaserJet IIp, and IBM Proprinter emulations, and most settings can be made from a DOS-based remote printer console utility. A status monitor program that reports on current jobs can be loaded as a TSR, giving DOS users some of the flexibility of Windows’ Print Manager. Only two typefaces, a serif and sans serif in 12 different sizes and weights, are built in, but any HP soft fonts can be downloaded.

Both the DOS and Windows printer drivers support bidirectional parallel ports, so the printer can communicate detailed configuration and job-status information back to the user. If an optional Macintosh-compatible serial interface is installed, the printer can be connected to both a PC and a Mac, or two PCs simultaneously, and can alternate jobs between machines automatically.

While setup and installation of the HL-630 aren’t difficult, the process was a lot more involved than that required by most of the other laser printers we’ve tested. Separate drum and Brother toner cartridges must be installed, each with up to five numbered pull tabs that must be yanked, torn, or removed to free up moving parts. A final step involves opening a shutter on the toner cartridge, which proved a fairly messy procedure. Other printers in this price range we’ve reviewed recently–such as the Lexmark WinWriter 200–were faster and cleaner to set up, but most users will put up with the occasional annoyance to save a few more dollars.

Brother backs the HL-630 printer with a one-year warranty and toll-free technical support. We spent about 15 minutes in the queue the Monday after a long weekend before receiving courteous and efficient answers to some questions. A company BBS provides updated printer drivers and answers to commonly asked questions.

The Brother HL-630 printer proves that even the lowest-cost laser printers can offer enough speed, print quality, economy, and flexibility to meet all the needs of the average user. If you’ve shied away from upgrading to a laser because you thought decent models required major cash outlays, Brother is set to change your mind.

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