The LaserJet 4050's standard 500-sheet paper tray slides into the front of the printer; paper follows an S-path through the printer and ejects face-down in a generous 250-sheet output bin on the top of the unit. Alternately, you can flip down a tray in the rear of the printer that handles 50 sheets. The printer's front also hosts a flip-down, multipurpose feed tray that can handle 100 sheets of ordinary paper as well as media ranging from 3-by-5-inch cards to legal-sized paper. The tray's adjustable guides automatically center the paper.
We found the menu structure to be immediately understandable and the control panel easy to use. On the control panel, three LED indicators show the printer's online status, activity, and error conditions, while a series of buttons on the right allows you to maneuver through the printer's scrollable menus. The LaserJet 4050's online help system allows you to scroll through troubleshooting solutions on the control panel.
The LaserJet 4050 comes with two CDs: one has driver and management software for Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT 4.0, and Macintosh; the other contains the printer's documentation in Adobe Acrobat format. Hewlett-Packard's drivers are quite mature, but we missed having the printed user's guide, which is appropriate for a printer of this class. The software installed quite nicely, however, and the wizard-based installation walked us through the process quickly.
PCL6 and Postscript level-2 drivers are installed, with PCL6 as the default printer driver. The driver features a graphical representation of the printer; you click on the tray you wish to use and select the print quality. Other nice features of the driver are customizable watermark support and ZoomSmart settings, which allow the printer to automatically scale documents to fit different paper sizes or zoom levels. HP FontSmart, a font management utility with 110 fonts, helps you install and remove fonts as well as preview them on screen and print samples.
The setup program lets you choose between a typical or network- administrator installation. The difference is that the administration software--HP JetAdmin and HP Resource Manager--comes into play if your printer is attached to a network. JetAdmin enables network managers to monitor the status and configure features of multiple printers locally or over any IPX/SPX or TCP/IP network. Resource Manager handles more advanced functions, such as macro and font management of the LaserJet 4050's optional hard-disk contents. The 4050 has built-in JetSend compatibility, which allows it to receive jobs over the Internet from any Hewlett-Packard or third party JetSend-compatible device, such as a scanner or notebook.
The LaserJet 4050 comes with parallel and serial interfaces standard, but 10Base-T and 10Base-T Ethernet, Token Ring, and Apple Local Talk options are also available. The LaserJet 4050 has a port for an optional Fast Infrared (FIR) receiver in the rear. This option is handy if you have a compatible notebook and like the idea of printing wirelessly from across your office.
Our testing validated both the 17 pages-per-minute speed rating and the unit's excellent output quality. Formatted documents looked crisp and consistent at both high and average resolutions, and photographs showed great contrast and fine transitions. We printed hundreds of pages on our test unit without a jam.
In addition to font and macro storage, a hard disk enables the LaserJet 4050 to perform several types of jobs: private printing, proof and hold, stored jobs, and quick copies. Private printing enables users to encode a print job with a PIN number and release the job at the printer by entering the code. Proof and hold is a feature bound to save paper--it prints the first copy of a document and only prints the subsequent ones after you look at the proof and release the job at the printer. Quick copying lets you print up to 999 additional copies of the last job without reloading the source application. Stored jobs can live at the printer, and you can print them on demand from the control panel without any PC involvement.