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A Glitch

For my initial testing, I plugged the xPrintServer into my home network, hoping that it would live up to its “plug and print” promise.  After waiting for a few minutes, I tried to print from my iPad, but no printer was discovered.  Unfortunately, my Kodak ESP 7250 AIO printer is not on Lantronix' supported printer list. 

In fact, when I checked Lantronix' supported printer list, I discovered only seven Kodak printers, three of which were printer docks for cameras.  Neither the Kodak ESP series nor Hero Series AIO printers are currently supported.  However, Lantronix does support more than 4,000 printers, which is 90% of the legacy printers out there. But your printer may be in that 10%, so I’d strongly recommend that you check the supported printer list before you buy an xPrintServer.

Why not Kodak printers? Well, Lantronix primarily supports printers that support PCL, Postscript, SPL, and ESC/P. I was told by a Lantronix representative that Kodak printers are “GDI Printers” (Graphical Device Interface). GDI is used by most Windows applications to display images on a monitor. So when printing from a Windows application to a GDI printer, there is no need to convert the output to another format such as PostScript or PCL. GDI printers are sometimes called host-based printers because they rely on the host computer to rasterize pages.

Host-based printers, especially Kodak's, require very large drivers that consume a lot of system resources, which is why Lantronix can’t really support them on the xPrintServer.

If your printer isn’t on the supported list, you still may be able to use it with the xPrintServer if it supports  JetDirect/AppSocket, LPD, or IPP.  You can manually configure it by logging into the xPrintServer’s browser-based interface.  If you don’t know the IP address of your xPrintServer, Lantronix provides a nice “Find My xPrintServer” utility on its web site.  Just type in the XprintServer’s serial number (the MAC address) and the utility will redirect your browser to the device’s login page.  I tried the utility and it successfully found the xPrintSrver on my local network.

Lantronix "Find my xPrintServer" utility
Lantronix "Find my xPrintServer" utility

Hands On

When you log into the xPrintServer, you land at the home page shown below.  You can configure the global properties for each discovered printer by clicking on the Printers tab. 

xPrintServer Admin Home Page
xPrintServer Admin Home Page

For each printer, the configurable global properties are a function of the printer’s capabilities that are defined in the print driver downloaded from Lantronix.  Just click on one of the printers to select it, then click on the “gear” setup icon.  Check out the gallery below for some typical configurable options.

Image Gallery

Even though the xPrintServer didn’t find my Kodak printer, I didn’t want to give up on the xPrintServer.  So I took it to a client’s office and, with their permission, plugged it into their network and also connected my iPad to their wireless network.

After waiting for a couple of minutes for the network printers to be discovered and their corresponding drivers to be downloaded and installed, I opened Pages on the iPad and clicked on the wrench to open the printer dialogue. The image below shows that an HP LaserJet CP1525nw as well as a Kyocera CS 3050ci were discovered.

Network Printers Discovered

Network Printers Discovered

To test each printer, I decided that I would print a web page, print a ten page review that I had previously written for SmallNetBuilder using the Pages application and print from within the iPad Note application.  For each printer, I tried printing using any of the client side (iPad) configurable options.  Since the xPrintServer had discovered both network printers and had installed drivers for both, I figured that I was coming down the home stretch.  I was wrong.

First, the bad news.  Nothing that I tried to print to the HP LaserJet CP1525nw printed successfully.  For each print job that I submitted, the printer appeared to be receiving the job, but generated an “out of memory” error.  Even the smallest job, a single page “Pages” document in B&W failed to print. 

I believe that this was related to the printer driver defaulting to Postscript.   I later called Lantronix tech support, which was very helpful. The tech I spoke with told me for cases like this, I could manually install the generic HP Color LaserJet PCL6 driver, which would likely solve the problem.  I didn’t make a second trip to my client’s office to test this, however.

I’m happy to report that everything that I tried to print to the Kyocera CS3050c1 printed perfectly.  The colors looked good and all local options, such as printing single sided or duplex or printing specified ranges (see images below) worked as expected.  For this printer, the xPrintServer was truly a “plug and print” experience.

Kyocera CS 3050ci Printer Options and Page Range on iPad
Kyocera CS 3050ci Printer Options and Page Range on iPad

Closing Thoughts

I like the idea of a hardware print server.  For me, it makes economic sense to try to get a few more years out of a printer before I retire it.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like xPrintServer support for Kodak printers will be forthcoming any time soon.  And since Kodak has filed for bankruptcy and is shedding its printer products, I’m guessing that I’m stuck with an orphaned product – at least as far as iOS printing is concerned.  Kodak will still sell ink, I'm sure (I hope?).

From a business standpoint, the xPrintServer also makes a lot of sense.  Many companies are equipping their employees with iPads to improve productivity.  In those environments, it’s likely that iPad-toting employees will want/need to print.  Rather than buying all new network printers, a modest investment in a few Office Edition xPrintServers could inexpensively extend the usability of quite a few printers.  If you check the supported printer list, you’ll also find many office-grade printers, including numerous models from HP, Brother, Lexmark, Xerox and others.

There are some limitations to printing from an iOS device, but I suspect that these are related to iOS, not the xPrintServer.  For example, if you are printing to a color printer from an iPad, you can't choose to print in black and white, nor can you select a paper source.  It also looks like your printer options are limited to single sided/two sided printing (if the printer supports duplexing) and printing a selected a range of pages.   Still, for home users and most office users, these will be plenty of options.

While I had a mixed experience with the xPrintServer, I was able to experience a “plug and print” setup in an office environment. So I can see that there is a lot of potential for the product if your printer is supported.  Your best bet is to confirm that your printer is on the supported printer list.  If it is, buy one and give it a shot.  If it doesn’t work, most online e-tailers have reasonable return policies. When an xPrintServer does work, it’s magic!

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