Brother MFC-9320CW Review
Some multi-function printers (MFPs, aka all-in-ones or AIOs) deliver lots of features. Others emphasize high-quality print output. The Brother MFC-9320CW ($500 street) focuses squarely on speed, with the fastest overall time on our tests for its price class. If print speed is one of your key concerns, this may be just the color MFP you’re looking for.
The MFC-9320CW is an LED printer, a category that’s usually grouped with lasers, because it’s basically a variation on the same technology. The difference is that instead of using lasers, LED printers use LEDs to draw the image of each page as the first step in printing.
The natural home for the MFC-9320CW is in a micro or small office with relatively light-duty printing needs. The printer offers only a 250-sheet tray and a 1-sheet manual feed as both standard and maximum, with no duplexer for printing on both sides of a page.
This level of paper handling can also be appropriate for a home office or as a personal printer, but the MFC-9320CW’s relatively large size would make it a tight fit. At 15.7 by 16.9 by 19.3 inches (HWD), it’s a little large to comfortably share your desktop with, and many people would find the 50.5-pound weight a little too heavy to move around easily. If you don’t mind the size and weight, however, the printer can serve nicely in a home office or as a personal printer sitting near, if not on, your desk.
In addition to printing, the MFC-9320CW can scan and fax, even over a network, as well as work as a standalone copier and fax machine. Office-centric features include a 35-page automatic document feeder (ADF) that lets you scan, fax, and copy multi-page documents easily, as well as handle legal-size pages, which are too big to fit on the letter-size flatbed. The printer can also print from and scan to a USB key, and even print directly from a PictBridge camera—a feature that can come in handy in, say, a real estate office, not to mention in a home office to print photos meant for a refrigerator door, for instance.
Setup and Speed
Setting up the MFC-9320CW on a network is both straightforward and typical for a color laser-class MFP that ships without the toner cartridges already inside the printer. Set it in place, remove the packing materials, and install the drum unit and four toner cartridges. Then load paper, connect the power cord and cables, and run the automated installation routine.
Like an increasing number of printers, the MFC-9320CW offers both Ethernet and WiFi (as well as USB). I connected using Ethernet and installed the driver and software on a system running Windows Vista. According to Brother, the printer also ships with drivers and a full set of software for Windows XP, XP 64 bit, Windows 2000, Windows 7, and Mac OS X 10.3.9 through 10.6. In addition, it comes with printer drivers for Windows Server 2003 and 2008, and you can download printer and scanner drivers for most popular versions of Linux from Brother’s Web site.
As I’ve already suggested, the MFC-9320CW excels at speed. Brother rates it at 17 pages per minute (ppm) for both monochrome and color. More important, it delivers on its promise. I timed it on our business applications suite (using QualityLogic’s hardware and software for timing) at a total of 10 minutes 55 seconds. That makes it almost twice as fast as the similarly priced Editors’ Choice HP Color LaserJet CM1312nfi MFP ($4999.00 direct, ), at 20:47. To find a faster color MFP, you’d have to move to the somewhat more expensive Editors’ Choice Canon Color ImageClass MF8350Cdn ($699.00 direct, ), which scored a 9:27 total time.
Unfortunately the output quality for the MFC-9320CW is nowhere near as impressive as its speed. However, the text, graphics, and photo quality are all good enough for most business purposes, and within the range in which the vast majority of colors lasers fall.
More than half of the fonts on our text tests qualified as both well formed and highly readable at 6 points, none needed more than 8 to pass both thresholds, and more than half qualified as highly readable, though not well formed, even at 4 points. Unless you have a particularly demanding desktop publishing need, or have a highly unusual need for small fonts, you should be more than happy with the text quality.
Graphics quality was a match for most color lasers, with output that’s easily good enough for any internal business use, but with obvious flaws. I saw some minor banding in one graphic, visible dithering in the form of mild patterns in several, a slight misregistration (with small slices of white showing at the borders between solid blocks of some colors), and a tendency for thin lines to disappear—although many printers do far worse with thin lines. Depending on how demanding you are, you may or may not consider the graphics good enough for, say, PowerPoint handouts. They’re not quite the level I’d want for marketing materials like trifold brochures or one-page mailers.
Photo quality was at the low end of the range where most color lasers fall. Here again, I saw dithering in the form of mild patterns in some photos. In others, colors were slightly off, with apples that looked a little too orange, for example. I also saw a slight color tint in some shades of gray in a monochrome photo and some staircase aliasing in the spokes of a bicycle wheel in another. Here again, depending on how demanding you are, you may or may not consider the photos suitable for a client newsletter or the like. However, they’re certainly good enough to print recognizable photos from Web pages.
When I reviewed the Brother HL-3070CW ($349.99 direct, ), which is essentially the single-function printer version of the MFC-9320CW, I pointed to the relatively high running cost based on the list price of the toner cartridges and drum unit, as given by Brother. Now that the single-function printer has been selling for awhile, Brother says it’s in a better position to give an accurate street price. Based on the current street prices for the consumables, the running cost comes out to 3.5 cents for monochrome pages and 15.5 cents for color. These prices are comparable to the cost per page for similarly priced printers, indicating that running cost isn’t an issue.
One nice touch that you’ll also want to keep in mind is Brother’s one-year warranty, with Brother paying the cost of shipping both ways, and even shipping the replacement to you first with instructions for returning the non-working printer. Not only will this help minimize any downtime, but if any of the MFP’s functions are working, you can at least keep using the printer for those functions while you’re waiting for the replacement.
If you need better paper handling, you’ll certainly want to consider the Canon MF8350Cdn, which offers duplexing and a higher paper capacity than the MFC-9320CW. Similarly, if you’re more concerned with output quality than speed, you’ll probably prefer the HP CM1312nfi, which remains our Editors’ Choice precisely because of its better quality output. If you don’t need an automatic duplexer or expect to print a lot of pages, however, and care more about speed than output quality, the MFC-9320CW offers a full set of MFP features and top speed for the price.