Which ancient HP LaserJet printer should I buy: 4, 5, or 6?
October 27, 2009 9:21 PM   Subscribe

Which ancient HP LaserJet printer should I buy: 4, 5, or 6?

Which one would you buy, and why? Cost of replacement toner cartridges, known common mechanical malfunctions, and so forth are all fair game.

All other things being equal, I'd prefer a smaller model. This would be for very light duty use.
posted by adipocere to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've got an hp4050, still going strong after I bought it from university surplus.

All things being equal, get the printer that has the best sample page.
Sample pages being equal, get the one which has the highest duty rate in hp's specifications, in terms of thousands of pages per month it can print; that one will last you the longest.

It might be a touch heavier, but you may get a few decades out of it compared to the lightest.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:28 PM on October 27, 2009

I have an HP LaserJet 6L and it works great. It had a problem pulling paper through but the company sent me a kit that fixed it. That was about five years ago. Cartridges are about $55 and last a long time. I use this printer when I don't want to use my expensive color printer.
posted by tamitang at 9:44 PM on October 27, 2009

The thing about "known common mechanical malfunctions" is that mostly they're due to wear. In other words, the problems you'll have will likely be the pickup rollers and the pick pad wearing down, so that either it won't feed paper, or it will feed multiple sheets at once. Third in line is the exit rollers, and after that, probably the fuser (especially if you jam scissors into the back to try to clear a paper jam - saw that pretty often). So your choice, if you want to keep this printer running for some time, will also necessarily depend on parts availability. If you rip up a fuser roller, you can probably find another printer of the same model for a spare. But there's a high probability that ever other one out there has worn rollers just like yours, so you need to get them from HP, or from someone who has a backstock (somewhere on a dusty shelf, no longer in inventory, and hopefully not dried out).

This is not to discourage you, but to let you know some potential problems. One of my favorite printers, to use and to work on, was the 6P. I'd get the 'P' model of any over the 'L' model - they seem sturdier, albeit heavier, and seemed to feed better (and longer even as rollers wore smooth). That said, you might get an 1100 - it was basically the 5L/6L in a new swoopy casing. Parts and toner may be more readily available, and it should hold up as well. Or you could go with a 4xxx/5xxx etc series like sebastien suggests. Again, a little larger and heavier, but in my experience a little heavier-duty as well.
posted by attercoppe at 9:50 PM on October 27, 2009

Oh, I meant to ask why you were looking for an ancient HP, and why you are looking at a 4, 5, or 6 in particular. Driver issues?
posted by attercoppe at 9:52 PM on October 27, 2009

I've had a 4L for about 15 years and I just bought my 2nd toner cartridge. This after living 8 of those years with a writer who had printed dozens of reams of paper on it. It's indestructibly delicious.
posted by torquemaniac at 10:01 PM on October 27, 2009

I've taken care of a ton of 4 series and 5 series LaserJets in my various tenures. In my experience, the 4s are built like frickin' tanks. The 5's are a little finicky and prone to paper feed issues without more frequent maintenance. I'd go for 4s if I were you. Also, the 4s were in the marketplace longer than the 5 or 6 series and a lot of them are still around, and as a result remanufactured toner cartridges and other consumables are plentiful.
posted by barc0001 at 10:23 PM on October 27, 2009

It's a combination of driver compatibility, driver simplicity (new HP printers seem to demand ninety programs running in the background), and the solid construction of old HP printers, which seem to still be going around, whereas the new ones seem to be flimsy. USB is nice, but not required. Parallel port is just dandy. I have no use for WiFi.

I just want an ancient workhorse printer that will probably be running when I am dust.
posted by adipocere at 11:12 PM on October 27, 2009

4L - Very tiny, cute, slow.
5L, 6L, 1100 - tinier, slower, fiddlier. Do not buy. Had funny parallel port connectors

5p, 6p - Less tiny, slightly less slow. I have a 5p, they are pretty bullet proof for low volume.

4 - Larger, rock solid, fairly slow.

4plus and 5- same mechanism, different case. Same as 4, but faster.

the 4, 4+ and 5 only really had one issue that plagued them, and it's hardly an issue at all. You would get accordian jams at the exit. A lot of people worked through this by pulling the sheet out before it got caught. Easily fixed by opening back door and scrubbing grime off of rubber rollers.

I do not believe there was a straight 6- I think that was shifted to the 4000. Also a quality machine.

You don't have to use the fancy drivers- the PCL 6 universal driver should work with all lasers. And the Laserjet 4 driver should also work. Often used in legal settings where different drivers caused slightly different output. SO they all use the 4 driver and everything looks the same on all newer machines. Except on the cheap machines, you don't need to install any of the widgets and ink announcer programs.
posted by gjc at 11:25 PM on October 27, 2009

I recently retired my faithful (if slow) 4L that has been going strong since 1993. It still works perfectly after all those years of fairly heavy use, but I needed color and quicker printing.
posted by jjb at 11:40 PM on October 27, 2009

To answer the part of your question as to which one I'd buy, the answer is none. And that's simply because you can probably find those printers for free if you're close to a moderate-sized city, maybe in living in smaller town.

You ever see one those electronic recycling events or centers? They must take in hundreds of printers of the HP 4,5,6 vintage years. Nowdays most people like small, fast and wireless gear, and the old HP boat anchors aren't it. I used to have a 4P a while back, but I recycled it after it starting jamming altogether too much and estimated fix cost was higher than a new printer ROI.

In fact, I have a HP 4000 sitting in my basement right now that I retired a few months back. Works fine except it simply will not quit feeding multiple sheets, even after replacing the rollers twice. Finally got sick of it and bought a new dirt-cheap Brother which has more features and is faster, even if is built like a tin can compared to the HP. The HP 4000 is just waiting for the next electronics recycling event to go away. There has to be thousands of people and businesses like me with an old retired HP, you only need to connect to one of them.

Ask around of co-workers, friends, and neighbors, or check the free listings of choice. A good contact in a recycling event/center or computer repair shop would be ideal.
posted by mdevore at 12:18 AM on October 28, 2009

Laserjet 4's are fine, they will last forever. Here's a site you will want to have a look at. They have fusers, rollers, etc going back to LaserJet II. I haven't used the site so I can't comment as to their quality though.
posted by humpy at 4:15 AM on October 28, 2009

I have a 4+ that I literally found on the curb. I'm super happy with it. I put an ethernet card in it for about $15.

the 4, 4+ and 5 only really had one issue that plagued them, and it's hardly an issue at all. You would get accordian jams at the exit. A lot of people worked through this by pulling the sheet out before it got caught. Easily fixed by opening back door and scrubbing grime off of rubber rollers.

Mine had that problem in a bad way when I found it. I replaced the exit roller assembly for, IIRC, about $40 and a couple of hours of my time.
posted by exogenous at 5:55 AM on October 28, 2009

I have a 6p, and it's winding down a bit -- doesn't like powerpoint, and gets a little wonky with some pdfs -- but it's had heavy, heavy use its whole life and still makes excellent printouts, with the exception of the few files it does badly. However, I suspect the problem is due to the switch to a USB port. It's not the fastest printer ever but it's more than fast enough for normal use.
posted by jeather at 6:36 AM on October 28, 2009

I have a 5, works wonderfully. 5L/6L, stay clear. These smaller models have a history of paper feed issues.
posted by reptile at 7:18 AM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just last month retired the 6L that 've been using since 1998. We still have a couple of same-era 6Ls running here in the office. We also have two of the LJ4 that are like tanks.
posted by notashroom at 7:47 AM on October 28, 2009

I've ordered from the site humpy links to (I've got an older LJ 2100 at home, which is kinda sorta like a smaller 4000-series) and can vouch for them not being shady. I'd recommend you get a JetDirect box or a printer with either a JetDirect card or a slot for one - seems Ethernet is about the easiest way to connect a printer nowadays, especially older ones.
posted by mrg at 7:48 AM on October 28, 2009

I've been using a 4M+ at work for the last 8 years or so. I upgraded the network card firmware to the most recent version (J2552B, firmware A.08.49) and added more memory. It had a fuser replacement just before I first got it, and last year I had a new set of pickup rollers put in. It's a tank. Unless I throw it out a third-story window I doubt it will quit any time soon.

I have been using a 5M at home since 2005, picked up from university surplus for $50 (including the full-ream second paper tray). It seems to be faster in some ways than the 4M+, but it uses the same network card (also firmware upgraded) and the same toner cartridges so I've been happy with it. From what I've seen, the 4+/4M+ will allow a larger total amount of memory than the 5 will, so if you have chips to throw in there the 4 is perhaps a better option.

I have an archived copy of the old JetAdmin and software if you need it, to access, configure and upgrade the firmware on older JetDirect cards. The new WebJetAdmin doesn't work worth a damn on the old machines unless they are already upgraded and configured, and HP has made sure the old software is not easy to find (it's mirrored here and there, the file should be "hpjanten.exe" for an NT/XP compatible file, or "hpja95en.exe" for the Win9x version). WebJetAdmin also doesn't allow you to specifically look for a machine on the network - it's a Java program that scans for machines, but has no option to specifically look for a newly-plugged-in system with a given IP or MAC address.

This isn't so say the WebJetAdmin doesn't work. It works, so long as the card is upgraded and working. Some people have even upgraded the cards using this software. However, upgrading the JetDirect firmware is tricky, and can brick the ethernet card - but it's usually recoverable if you have the right (old) version of the software and a direct cable connection to the printer. I haven't done it in a while, but out of the 5 old HP 4/5 printers I've upgraded, I haven't yet found an ethernet card that I couldn't upgrade (even if it took several tries to get it working). This is why the WebJetAdmin isn't helpful - you can't use it to do the direct cable connect setup thing if anything goes south on you. If all else fails, old software plus enabling IPX/SPX on your computer plus direct connection should still allow you to connect and fix the card.

Upgrading the firmware on a J2552A model will turn it into a B. But it takes several rounds of upgrades to do it - stepping through a couple of different firmware versions. Upgrading to B fixes several issues with the card, including adding the ability to configure it properly for TCP/IP.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:09 AM on October 28, 2009

Also, I should add: I have used an LJ6, and to be honest I didn't like it nearly as much as the 4 or 5. Aside from the lack of network card (an issue as I'm using a Mac, and thus have no ability to use a parallel cable) it just didn't seem to be as robust as the 4 or 5, and the print quality was lower, which I found odd as it was a newer printer - but it also has less memory than either of mine, and the rendering engine doesn't seem to be the same.

Still love my 4M+. Firmware says 12-01-1993, page count is at 91,202 and still going strong.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:18 AM on October 28, 2009

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