Dell Breaks $100 B&W Laser Printer Barrier; What About Mac Users?

In a move many experts are seeing as the beginning of a price war in home and small-office printers, Dell Inc. introduced Tuesday a monochrome laser printer priced under US$100. The printer is not compatible with the Apple Macintosh, leaving OS X users to pay some $50 more for a comparable printer, but a solution to that problem might only be a matter of time.

The Dell Laser Printer 1100 will retail for $99 and is targeted at home users and small businesses looking for a cheaper, smaller alternative to other printers retailing for $149 or more. The model 1100 prints up to 15 pages per minute (ppm) at 600 dots per inch (dpi) and comes with a 1,000 page yield toner cartridge.

The printer is being made for Dell by Samsung and is similar to its now discontinued ML-1610, which is comparable in speed, look and dimensions.

The Dell 1100 is meant to put pressure on competitors such as Hewlett-Packard (HP), Samsung and Brother International Corp. -- all of whom start off their cheapest black and white laser printers at $149.

"This announcement is a natural extension of Dellis plans to impact small and home business," Paul Withington, IDCis research manager for European Peripherals, told The Mac Observer from London. "I think weill see Dell move to further fill out its product line with lower priced products such as this. That will put pressure on its competitors, for sure."

In comparison, the cheapest, printers in the under-20 ppm market to the new Dell addition include the HP LaserJet 1012, at 15 ppm and 600 dpi. At present, the HF offering is retailing for $199, but is currently being sold with a $50 rebate.

"Dell is going after HP. There is no doubt about that." Mr. Withington said. "The Dell 1100 is going after HPs similar printer."

Other competitors would include the Samsung ML-1740 at $149 with 17 ppm and 600 dpi, as well as the Brother HL-2040 at $149 with 20 ppm and 600 dpi.

At US$99, the Dell 1100 is expected to start a price war on inexpensive B&W laser printers.

Forget the printer. The profit is in supplies.

Just like affordable ink jet printers, Mr. Withington said Dellis goal is to entice customers to buy an expensive monochrome laser printer like the model 1100 so it can make its real profits on replacement toner cartridges.

"I would imagine the printer itself has a very slim (profit) margin for Dell," he said. "But that is not the real goal. Printer makers today are willing to lose money on the printer and make it up in the toner and ink. That is built in to the profit margin of the printer."

Industry experts tell TMO that on average, consumers will buy anywhere from 15 to 40 toner cartridges over the life span of todayis laser printers. At between $60 and $100 for a new cartridge, the profit starts at $50, minimum. As for ink jet cartridges, the minimum profit margin is even higher.

Replacement cartridges for the just-announced Dell 1100 will cost $65 and print up to 2,000 pages -- Only $34 less than the price of the printer itself. A brand new replacement cartridge for the HP LaserJet 1012 retails for $69.99 and also yields 2,000 copies.

"Dell is going to be relying on people actually printing through the machine," Mr. Withington commented. "Everyone knows you need the toner. So, as soon as they have you hooked into buying the printer, they know they also have you chained to buying the toner as well...Thatis where the majority of their profit is."

Sorry Mac users. For now.

While the good news is Dell is setting new ground rules for laser printer manufacturers to go after home users with cheaper options, Macintosh users will not be able to take advantage of the Dell 1100 or any other sub-$100 alternative for right now.

"Itis a market that is probably being ignored by a lot of vendors out there," Mr. Withington said. "But the Mac population and interest in it is growing, so I wouldnit say Mac users will be ignored in lower priced printers forever."

While Mac users canit take advantage of the Dell 1100, many consumers have expressed their opinions through online forums that laser printers in the $200-plus range are often more reliable and hold more toner in their cartridges than smaller, cheaper alternatives.

Of the three comparable laser printers to the Dell 1100, the LaserJet 1012 and HL-2040 are both Mac compatible.