June 01, 2010

How Much Memory Does Your Printer Need?

By Sean Doherty

PrinTip: A Printer With Insufficient Memory Will Slow You Down


Like computers, printers have different types of memory for different tasks. For example, modern printers have Flash or synchronous dynamic random access memory (SDRAM) for storing print jobs, read-only memory (ROM) to store firmware code (the programming that tells the printer how to handle tasks), and flash memory (EEPROM) to retain configuration parameters that you set (e.g., network configuration and power conservation settings).

You don't have to compare ROM and EEPROM on printers today. Manufacturers supply sufficient amounts of these types of memory for printers to perform their jobs. Instead, you need only worry about Flash (SDRAM).

Memory Math

Computers send files to printers in either plain text or in page description language such as Adobe PostScript or Hewlett-Packard PCL. Printers translate these files into bitmap images of dots for printing.

The bitmap images of dots require, at a minimum, 1 MB of memory to store a black-and-white, letter-size page at 300 x 300 dots-per-inch resolution (draft quality). Color prints require 4 MB because of the four colors used (black, cyan, magenta, and yellow).

Memory requirements increase as the print quality increases. For example, at 600 x 600 dots-per-inch resolution, a printer will require 4 MB of memory to store and print a black-and-white, letter-size page and 16 MB of memory to store and print a full-color, letter-size page.

Computers send files to printers based on the printer's available memory. A printer has sufficient memory if it can receive a file from a computer and create bitmap images on the fly to continuously print until it completes a job. If memory is insufficient, printing may pause until the printer prepares a bitmap file for output.

Minimum Starting Points (More Is Better)

If you primarily print black-and-white text, look for printers with at least 4 MB of memory. If you primarily print color documents or photographs, consider 16 MB your starting point. If you print complex, graphical images such as CAD drawings, you should either do the math or buy the maximum amount of memory available in your printer of choice.

About PrinTips
Sometimes useful, sometimes fun, and always interesting, PrinTips enable you to get more out of your ink jet or laser printer. That said, we don't profess to have a monopoly on printer tips so if you have anything to add, please do so below.

Article Filed Under: Printers PrinTips

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