The Dell 2145cn's design makes it difficult to use, however, and it performed very slowly.

Dell deserves credit for a painless setup and excellent documentation. The installation wizard worked seamlessly. The PDF-based user guide covers all aspects of the MFP's operation in detail, from instructions for using the bundled applications and embedded web monitor to how to use the Dell 2145cn MFP in Linux.

Unfortunately we needed the documentation a bit more than usual because the Dell 2145cn's design can be confusing. On the control panel, the buttons for major functions (such as copy and fax) have icons rather than word labels; text labels and icons are hard to read because they are gray on a black background; and the menu-navigation buttons have black-on-black stamped icons that are almost invisible.

A large front handhold opens the 100-sheet multipurpose tray if you pull down; if you pull up, you open the entire front panel to expose the Dell 2145cn's toner cartridges and the transfer belt. A label indicating the difference would have been nice.

Paper handing is pretty good. The standard, 250-sheet paper drawer is maybe too sturdy: on our Dell 2145cn, the paper guides were very stiff and difficult to move. An additional 500-sheet internal tray costs more. The output area is a small cave underneath the control panel and holds a somewhat skimpy 170 sheets. The 50-sheet automatic document feeder is generous, as is the standard automatic duplexing.

The Dell 2145cn performed disappointingly in our tests. Dell designated PostScript as the unit's primary printer language; using that driver, it printed plain text at a rate of just 14.3 pages per minute (ppm), well below Dell's promise of 21ppm. Its graphics speed was the slowest we've tested to date: 1.7ppm.

Scan and copy speeds also lagged behind the pack. Print quality suffered from an overall ruddiness, with blotchy skin tones and a pinkish cast to grayscale images. Scanned images looked slightly dark and blurry.

The Dell 2145cn's toner costs are average compared with those of other colour laser MFPs. The 2145cn ships with standard 2500-page black and 2000-page colour cartridges, whose costs are a bit above-average.

OUR VERDICT

Dell's 2145cn Multifunction Colour Laser Printer is designed for a busy workgroup, but there are several choices available that are faster and easier to operate; and some may have a lower price tag.