December 5, 2003

Six multifunction printers for Linux

Author: Joe Barr

Have you been looking for an "All-in-one" (aka known as MFP, multi-function printer) for your Linux desktop? So have we, with somewhat mixed results. We found no MFPs in our price range (under $500.00) which are shipped with drivers for Linux. But we did find a number of MFPs which are usable on Linux machines, thanks to free software drivers available either with your Linux distribution or on the Internet. Be warned, however, that not every feature or function of many of the printers we found work with the free drivers. Here's the story on what we found, along with six specific MFPs that work with free software drivers and Linux to consider during your holiday shopping.

Just the fax, ma'am

We found no MFPs where fax (send or receive) worked with the free software drivers for Linux. Fax is a common feature which appears on many MFPs and so the reason for the lack of fax support isn't clear to me.

Are Winmodem's used exclusively in MFPs, or is it something else? For that matter, why aren't there Linux drivers provided by the manufacturers? My own guess as to the answer for both questions is that we won't find out until the next anti-trust case against Microsoft.

The single best source of information we found about how various printers work with Linux is It lists hundreds of printers from dozens of manufacturers, shows what free software driver works with them, and notes any shortcomings in those drivers. The site does not reference proprietary drivers, even if they come from the manufacturer.

HP maintains two sites in support of the open source drivers they have made available to the community. One is the OfficeJet driver project. This is the project that provides the drivers for scanning on HP MFPs. The other is the hp linux inkjet project. Both are good sources of information about the status of various drivers and features today, as well as news about what may or may not be coming from HP for Linux in the future.

Proprietary drivers

Lexmark is one example of a manufacturer providing closed-source drivers for their products for Linux. And they do provide them for their MFPs, too. Unfortunately, their starting price is over $3,000.00, which is beyond the price range we're covering here. If that's not beyond your price range, you can learn more about those printers here.

There are also ISVs providing proprietary drivers for Unix and Linux for hundreds of printers. ESP Print Pro is one example. But it is expensive, too, with a single-user license selling for more than most of the printers we report on below.

Back in the day

I bought my first personal printer in the early 80s, before the IBM PC had even been introduced. Epson was king, and when I spent over $400.00 to get an MX-80 (or was it the RX-80, it's been too long to be sure) dot-matrix for my TRS-80 Model 1, I felt I had the ultimate in personal computing system.

I'm not sure when HP replaced Epson as the king, but it probably came about as a result of their introducing inkjet printers to the market. HP's printers, like Epson's before them, were known for their reliability and high-quality printing.

That nod to the past in order to say that both firms are still producing top-notch personal printers. I'm not really surprised by the fact that of the six MFPs we've found to present here, three are from HP and three come from Epson. Here they are, with links to both the manufacturer and to for more information about each.


Epson Stylus CX3200
$99.99 (after mail-in rebate)
The Epson Stylus CX3200 is a low-cost MFP that handles printing, copying, and
scanning duties. You can print your photos at an amazing (enhanced) 5760 x 720
dpi or scan in others at 600 x 1200 dpi. Print speeds are not as fast as the
more expensive models, but are still acceptable at up to a maximum 14 ppm in black, and up to 10 ppm in color mode. Naturally, highest quality printing
is much slower.

Epson provides drivers for this printer only for Windows and Macintosh platforms.
Information on free software drivers for the CX3200 (reported to work perfectly with this printer) is available here.

HP PSC 1210
The PSC 1210 is a low-cost multi-function printer, copier, and scanner. Although the 1210 can do 1200 dpi resolution, the free software driver for it is only capable of 600 dpi. As you might expect from the price, printing speed is not the fastest in town. It goes 1.1 ppm for best color quality and 1.4 ppm in black.

HP provides PSC 1210 drivers only for Windows and Mac OS/X. Information on free drivers for the 1210 (reported to mostly work with this printer) can be found here.

Epson Stylus CX5400
The Epson Stylus CX5400 provides print, copy, and scanning functionality. It is a little more expensive than the CX3200, but for that extra $50.00 you are repaid with higher resolutions in printing and scanning and faster throughput coming out of the printer. Best print resolution is an enhanced 5760 x 1440 dpi. Scanning can go as high as 1200 x 2400 48 bit resolution. Printing can be as quick as 22 ppm in lowest quality black text or as slow as .38 ppm (that's 2 minutes and 37 seconds for 8 x 10 glossy photo).

Epson provides drivers for this printer only for Windows and Macintosh platforms.
Information on free software drivers for the CX5400 (reported to work perfectly with this printer) is available here.

HP PSC 2175
The PSC 2175 hits the sweet spot of price and performance. It not only does the normal printing, scanning, and copying functions, it allows you to print digital photos directly at the printer, without going through the PC at all. Just put your memory device (Compact Flash, Memory Stick, etc) into the appropriate slot on the printer, select the photos, size, and quality you want, and it's done.

As do other HP MFPs, it has 1200x1200 dpi resolution but in color modes the hardware does internal magic to achieve 4800x1200 printing. This printer can also accept a six-color photo cartridge for increased photo-realism.

HP provides PSC 2175 drivers only for Windows and Mac OS/X. Information on free software drivers for the PSC 2175 (reported to work perfectly with the printer) can be found here.

Epson Stylus CX6400
MSRP $199.99
The Epson Stylus CX6400 adds the ability to print directly from a variety of digital camera storage devices. It can all write scanned images directly to them.Performance in terms of scan and print speed and resolution are the same as for the CX5400.

Epson provides drivers for this printer only for Windows and Macintosh platforms.
Information on free software drivers for the CX6400 (reported to work mostly with this printer) is available here.

HP OfficeJet 6110
This color-inkjet offers Linux users printing, copying, and scanning at up to 1200x1200 dpi (enhanced to 4800 dpi when using photo quality paper). Print speed ranges from .5/2 ppm (pages per minute) for best quality color/black-only to 15/19 ppm for draft quality color/black-only.

HP provides drivers for Windows and Mac OS/X, but not for Linux. Information on free software drivers (reported to mostly work with this printer is available here.


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