August 3, 2005

Review: HP Deskjet 6840 on Linux

Author: Joe Barr

In a recent review article of SUSE 9.3 Professional, I discussed the advantages of using a common distribution to administer CUPS and more easily share a locally attached printer across a LAN. A reader comment about using a network-ready printer instead made me consider that alternative for multi-OS environments where a common platform is not a possibility. I am now the proud owner of a Deskjet 6840, a color inkjet printer by Hewlett-Packard (HP).

The 6840 is a network-ready printer that can print black text at 30 pages per minute (ppm) in draft mode or 2 ppm in normal mixed text/graphics mode. It can also produce high-resolution photo-quality prints at up to 4800x1200-optimized dots per inch (dpi). If your digital camera is PictBridge compliant, you can print directly from the camera. A main draw of the Deskjet 6840 is its built-in networking capability: wired and wireless.

Configuring for Linux

Although HP doesn't support the 6840 on Linux, it works just fine. Before I shelled out cash for the printer, I checked it out at LinuxPrinting.org -- the printer bible in Linux land. They said it works "perfectly." I'll quibble about the perfection, but it does work well. I recommend you visit that site prior to purchasing any printer that you're uncertain about using with Linux.

Unpacking and setting up the printer was a snap. Ink cartridges are the only items you need to snap into place, and the trays they fit into are color-coded to match the ink cartridges.

The instructions that HP provides for Windows and Mac users look easy enough to follow, but Linux folk are left to their own devices. Fortunately for us, configuring the network printer is also easy. Configuration tasks -- including network configuration -- can be handled with the 6840's built-in Web server.

After unpacking and installing the cartridges, I plugged it in and connected it to my router via a Category 5 Ethernet cable. The only thing I needed to know to get access the 6840's Web hosted configuration screens was its default IP address. To get that, I pressed the Report Button -- the right-most of four buttons on the left side of the front panel -- and the printer told me all its network secrets.

I entered the IP address of the printer as the URL, and I was there. My router thinks of itself as 192.168.0.1, so I selected Manual IP from the configuration screen, assigned the printer a static address of 192.168.0.111, entered 255.255.255.0 as the subnet mask, and pointed to 192.168.0.1 as the default gateway.

After clicking Apply to save my changes, I lost connectivity to the printer. To regain it I powered it down and turned it back on. I went back into the configuration pages once more -- this time as 192.168.0.111 -- to assign an admin password, and I was done. The Deskjet 6840 was live on the LAN and ready to handle print requests.

Configuring the printer from my desktop machine, which runs SUSE 9.3 Professional, was just as easy. (The configuration process, of course, will vary by distribution.) SUSE's Yast utility didn't detect the printer on the network, but it took only a few seconds to set it up. I clicked on "Print Directly to a Network Printer" and then chose "Direct TCP Port Printing." I used the assigned IP address (192.168.0.111) as the printer name and left the port assignment as the default: 9100. On the next screen, I described the printer and its location. Finally, I selected the appropriate manufacturer and model number from Yast's drop-down menus.

Satisfied that the initial configuration was working correctly, I immediately set it up on a second Linux machine on the LAN. It also worked, and I became a new fan of network-ready printers.

General usage

Using the standard cartridges that come with the 6840, I've printed more than a thousand sheets of good quality, mostly black text and graphics from Adobe Acrobat Reader, AbiWord, and OpenOffice.org. Running at the default quality settings, I get the rated output of 2 ppm. In draft mode, which I find acceptable for my personal printing needs, the speed jumps to 6 ppm.

Both the loading tray and the output tray are located on the front of the printer. I find this much more convenient than having to stand and reach over a printer to load paper from the rear. The Deskjet 6840 is a little louder than I would like, especially during big print jobs exceeding a couple of hundred pages of text.

All the controls are near the front for easy access. Four buttons on the right side provide the on/off switch, one-touch print job cancellation, an error recovery button, and the report button. I like being able to do everything I need to do, from printer control to paper loading, without having to stand up.

Larger capacity trays and a duplex add-on are available options for the Deskjet 6840. But for my normal day-to-day usage, such as printing a letter, a Web page, or a report of less than 20 pages, I'm fine with the standard issue model. Other than occasionally feeding multiple sheets to print a page, it has performed flawlessly.

As you can see from the photo, the built-in Web server shows the status of the ink cartridges at a glance. This can be helpful in making sure you have enough of the printer's precious bodily fluids on hand to finish your printing chores. And speaking of precious, retail prices for the cartridges are about $31 for the HP 96 black, $36 for color, and $26 for photo color.

Photo printing

Using the tips I found for the printer on LinuxPrinting.org, I found it easy to configure the GIMP to print to the Deskjet 6840. After selecting Deskjet 6840 from the list of available printers, I set it up in GIMP as a Deskjet 900 series printer. I set the resolution at 600dpi, the highest available for that printer driver, but since the printer configures itself for highest quality print whenever it detects photo quality paper in the tray, the setting in the GIMP shouldn't matter.

Although the configuration for use by the GIMP was easy, the results were disappointing when compared to photos printed directly from the camera via the PictBridge connection. Colors seemed to be less vibrant, and repeating bands of just barely visible horizontal lines appeared in the background. Even after replacing the regular black ink cartridge the a photo color cartridge, the lines -- while not as pronounced as before -- were still visible.

I connected a Canon PowerShot A95 digital camera to the PictBridge USB connection on the lower right side of the 6840 and was quickly able to produce a high-quality print directly from the camera.

Bottom line

The current list price for the Deskjet 6840 is $179, but a quick Froogle search shows prices starting at $160.

The Deskjet 6840 is a solid performing, moderately priced, and easy-to-use machine for small or home office usage, where printing demands are varied but not heavy. It's especially valuable in multi-OS environments, where a network-ready printer can alleviate headaches normally associated with printer sharing. One drawback is that it's less valuable than expected for producing high quality photo prints from the GIMP.

Category:

  • Linux
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