Brother HL-6050D Laser Printer

Reviewed by: Jack Reikel, April 2005
Manufactured by: Brother International Corporation
Requires: Windows, Mac OS or Linux
MSRP: US$449.99

Even if it's not the most highly regarded printer trademark, the Brother name is at least recognizable for its competitive pricing on most of the products in the company's vast lineup—fax machines, printers, labelers (I love my P-Touch!), typewriters (yes, people still use these things), laminators, sewing machines and industrial tools. I think market pressures in recent years have forced Brother to re-evaluate its apparent former bargain basement attitude and come up with a range of consumer products featuring better construction and higher all-around quality. From my point of view, the change places Brother solidly into the competitive mix when it comes to making small office choices. Of course, what's good for the small business office is also good for the serious SOHO and home computer user. And what's good for those two is also good for a number of applications in larger offices. Over the past two months, I've reviewed the HP LaserJet 1320 and the Lexmark E332. The Brother HL-6050D competes directly with those two excellent printers.

The very first thing we noticed about the HL-6050 caused an eruptive "Hallelujah!" from the Kickstartnews gang who came to view the unboxing. The reaction was caused by Brother's inclusion of a standard 500-page paper drawer. That's right—this model is the first one in its class to accommodate a full ream of paper without having to buy an expensive optional add-on paper tray. Considering that all the printers in this category are marketed at small office users, it's about time. The next thing we noticed was the weight—at 46 pounds, this baby is not light. Forget about it. Did I mention the 500 sheet paper drawer accepts US letter and legal size paper? HP needs to pay attention here because while the HP LaserJet 1320 is terrific, it takes only 250 sheets of letter (or smaller) paper at a time, with legal paper usable only via the HP's manual feed front paper slot. Brother good, Lexmark & HP bad.


I'm a wee bit tired of computer devices clad in putty-colored plastic bodywork. Both HP and Lexmark have taken hints from the immense amount of user feedback received on the matter over the years and are manufacturing their machines in a range of muted tones of gray, off-white, beige and black. Putty is out because it's boring. Plastic is plastic however, at least where all of these laser printers are concerned, and pretty colors in plastic don't make any difference to print output quality. So I accept the putty color grumbling but undaunted. HP & Lexmark good, Brother bad.

Because the HL-6050 has built-in automatic duplexing (printing on both sides of the paper, just like the HP 1320), the color of the Brother is once again less important than its functionality. Two other paper feeds, one behind the front cover and one at the rear for a straight paper path, provide some versatility although I had trouble getting a straight feed of odd stock and envelopes through the hand-fed upper front slot, despite the convenient guides. The HP & Lexmark also have upper front slot guides, but like the Brother, no tray or flap on which to rest the stock—hand-feed only. Brother, HP & Lexmark OK but not great.

Speed is also a priority for all of the laser printers in this category. The HL-6050 manages 18 pages of text per minute consistently, an output speed which ranks it in the middle of the class. Time to first page print is quite good at around 10-12 seconds, not as fast as the HP LaserJet 1320 or the Lexmark E332n (both less than 8 seconds), but obviously fast enough for the vast majority of situations. Throughout the testing and review period I was outputting primarily reports, Word documents, product manuals, charts and graphs. I had no trouble with any of them, but as soon as graphics entered into the picture, general quality took a nosedive. Do yourself a favor and install the PCL6/Postscript driver along with the standard driver when you first set up the printer. The improvement in graphics quality will amaze you. I can't figure out why Brother set the driver installer to default to an inferior output quality, but the problem is easily fixed. HP & Lexmark very good, Brother OK.

I tested the Brother HL-6050 in a small Windows XP, peer-to-peer network. Although not quite up to the overall output quality of the primary competitors, text of all kinds was excellent at all times. The HL-6050 also handled a wider range of jobs being thrown at it on the network mainly because of Brother's thoughtful inclusion of 32MB of standard memory. HP and Lexmark supply only 16MB and with RAM prices at all time lows (where they've been for years), the lack of RAM is hard to understand. Brother good, Lexmark & HP bad.

I tried the HL-6050 on a couple of standalone machines: an older Windows 98SE computer running a Pentium III/333MHz CPU with 256MB RAM, another Pentium III running Windows 2000 Professional, and a G4 iMac running Mac OS X 10.2. In all cases the driver installation was trouble-free using either the IEEE1284 parallel port or the USB 2.0 hi-speed port (no parallel port on the iMac). For some reason, PCL6 and Postscript installed by default on the Windows 2000 machine and the iMac, which resulted in better output without the brief driver tweaking required under Windows XP and Windows 98SE. As with all the other printers in this segment, a Linux driver is also supplied.

Cons: Graphics output is curiously not up to the standard of this printer's excellent text output. Graphics are acceptable, but we're hoping that a driver update will improve things somewhat. The only way to improve things is to install the PCL6/Postscript driver, something which is, curiously, not clearly explained in the either the Quick Start guide or the manual. As with other SOHO and small office lasers we've reviewed recently, the HL-6050 is not supplied with a parallel or USB cable.

Pros: Brother provides a clear and easy-to-follow Quick Start guide that will help the rankest novice get up and running in no time. At last, a desktop SOHO and small business laser printer that can be loaded with a full ream (500 sheets) of paper. Very fast operation, rivaling our benchmark HP LaserJet 1320. Built-in duplexing (automatic printing on both sides) works well. I tried the wireless networking option and it worked reasonably well—Microsoft's wireless detection utility has problems mind you. On the other hand, installing the HL-6050 and sharing it on a networked PC running Windows XP will make the printer available to any other XP user who needs it. Brother offers free technical support to the original owner for the life of the printer. Lots of built-in fonts. Useful 3-color LCD display is very helpful when changing internal device settings. This Brother is not the usual least expensive choice but rather a solidly competitive one that provides a wide range of features, sensible design and great value for the money. Recommended.





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