Wireless Print Servers

Question

I need to put a printer in an area that does not have a computer. Can you recommend a good wireless print server?

- Ron

Answer

This question was answered on October 13, 2005. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

There are often technologies that are developed that sound like a good idea in principle, but can be a bit precarious in execution and wireless print servers rank high on my list of precarious technologies.

There are a host of reasons that I don’t particularly like recommending wireless print servers, the least of which is that anything “wireless” is subject to down time because it is wireless (Ever heard of a cell phone, cordless phone, wireless network, etc that works every time?) My motto has always been that wired is always better than wireless because you eliminate a huge point of failure in the system.

Make sure that you have explored all the possibilities of wiring a printer to your network before you decide on a wireless solution (wireless should be the last option in my book!)

The other big problem with print servers (wired or wireless) is that if you are using a standard consumer printer that assumes that you have a persistent connection to a PC, it may not printer properly (or at all) because the two-way communication that is assumed is not possible through the print server.

Corporate grade printers are designed to work in these environments and often have the print server capability built-in or available as an add-on device They can connect directly to any Ethernet port, so all you need is a RJ-45 connection (standard network plug) to make it available to all that are on the network (a better solution for large office settings).

If you have a small home or office network, I would strongly recommend you save your money and figure out a way to connect the printer directly to one of the PCs on the network, then share it using the Windows networking utilities (information on how to share printers in Windows XP is available here) This reduces the complexity of the printing process, making it easier to troubleshoot and most importantly if the network goes down, you can still print from the machine that is physically connected to the PC

My highly technical friends will scoff at such a suggestion, but I am a firm believer in keeping it simple for those that are not interested in spending hours learning the intricacies of the wireless networking world (IP addresses, SSIDs, WEP, WAP and the list goes on!)

Wireless devices are subject to interference from a multitude of external forces, so even if you get it to work today, anything that comes within the range of the device can cause it to stop working on your network (another in a long list of technologies that is great when it works and a nightmare when it doesn’t).

You need look no further than the Internet to see the repeated feedback from users on wireless print devices; they either love them or hate them based on their ability to get them to work consistently or at all in some cases.

If you decide that wireless is your only option, I strongly recommend sticking with the same brand of equipment as your wireless router for the highest chances of compatibility and make sure the retailer has a liberal return policy!

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on October 13, 2005