Contrary to popular belief, the benefits
of a home wireless network don't begin and end with a
free-flowing Internet connection. Wireless print servers are
liberating printers everywhere, allowing users to print with
reckless abandon from anywhere in the house.
Of course, printer sharing at home and in
small offices is nothing new. Wired print server devices
have been doing the job for years, and many network-enabled
printers have sharing capabilities built-in. Most people,
however, have shared their personal printers by using a
single Windows PC on a given network as a print server.
There's a downside to this: The dedicated PC must always be
on for others to print.
Wireless print servers simplify the
concept and save on electricity, too. You simply plug one
into any printer via a USB or parallel port; the server then
communicates with your wireless router and in turn with any
wireless or wired PCs on your network.
You can also manage such print servers
remotely via a Web browser interface or through telnet, so
you can manage a printer that is in another room or even in
an entirely different location.
Before you buy one, though, there are
several things to consider. Make sure that the print server
you are interested in supports a network protocol that your
PC's OS can understand (such as NetBEUI, SMB, or AppleTalk).
Also keep in mind that if you own or plan to purchase a
multifunction printer, a print server won't support features
like faxing or scanning in such devices. Finally, most print
servers won't support useful feedback features that many
printers provide when they are directly attached to a PC:
alert messages warning when ink levels are low, paper is
jammed, or your printer is out of paper.
Security can be an issue as well. All of
the print servers we review here support only WEP. This may
be sufficient for home use, but businesses might find it
problematic and should consider WPA security instead. The
manufacturers assure us that WPA support will appear in more
Following are reviews of six wireless
print servers (a mix of 802.11b and 802.11g) for the home
and small office. We also look at two more expensive and
more complex products for business use.
Craig Ellison is the director of
operations at PC Magazine Labs. Associate editor Davis D.
Janowski and PC Magazine Labs lead analyst Oliver Kaven were
in charge of this story.