Working from home during the yule is cool since you can avoid a lot of the traffic, crowds and stress that are part and parcel of the holiday season. Having the right tools to make your at-home work more productive is important especially since many people may not have the luxury of a dedicated home office or such office niceties as networked devices.
In my case, the available 'office' space is the kitchen table since downsizing from a large house and expansive basement office. The home printer is tucked away in a cubbyhole located in the back hall - a perfect space for a noisy laser printer, but a pain if you have to run out and plug into a USB port to print documents.
The solution is a wireless router that provides a cable-free link from computers to printer, which seems an easy fix given the wide range of devices out there. Not so fast, home boy! I have used a couple of early-technology techniques, including one that plugged into the printer's RS-232C port and communicated with the wireless home router to provide connections for all computers within range. Unfortunately, this worked sometimes or not at all depending on the peculiarities of my firewall - and did not function at all with iPhones, iPads and other mobile devices.
Fortunately, Lantronix has a solution, called the xPrintServer, that is small and works very well once installed and running. I have to admit, I had my doubts about its operation and the company's claims of 'Open it! Plug it in! Print!' nirvana. But, having spent some time with the xPrintServer Home Edition (the company also has a more feature-packed Business Edition) I can say it works well and has thus far performed like a trooper with every type of device I have at my disposal, from iPhone to notebook (Mac and PC) to well, not Android devices yet. This is strictly an AirPlay play for now, at least with the review unit I have.
Installation couldn't be easier. The xPrintServer does not have built-in Wi-Fi, so it must be attached to a wireless router via an Ethernet cable (provided). In my case, I connected it to the wireless router provided by ComCast, the local Internet service provider. I then plugged the USB cable of my Brother laser printer into the USB port of the xPrintServer, and then plugged the Lantronix device into the wall socket. I then fired up my PC, pulled up a document to print and..nothing!
While the xPrintServer does not require any additional software thanks to an auto printer discovery function which automatically translates print dispatches into printer-specific page description language (PDL), my cable modem apparently didn't like the fact a new device was attached and assigned it a temporary Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) lease. As a result, I had to manually reset the DHCP lease to assign a permanent number - a relatively simple task and something the xPrintServer Reviewer's Guide warned about.
Once the wireless router was reset the xPrintServer worked fine, although there were some delays between hitting the print command on my PC and mobile devices and having the laser printer spring into action. Some reviewers complained the device caused printers to print in bursts, rather than fluidly, although I did not have this problem. Delays might happen if too many jobs are being routed through the xPrintServer at once, although the device is designed to handle one USB printer and up to 10 network-enabled printers.
One caveat: The Lantronix xPrintServer is priced at $99*, while decent wireless multi-function inkjet printers are available for under $90. But, unlike wireless printers, the xPrintServer does not need any additional software or driver downloads for Apple iOS devices, which can be a challenge for some platforms. Also, like me, a lot of users may have a variety of printers bouncing around the house, including older lasers and wireless multi-function four-color wonders. In this situation, the xPrintServer is an operational piece of cake and provides peace of mind, so it is totally worth the price this holiday season.
* Holiday Bargain Alert! Looking for a bargain this holiday season? Lantronix is offering a 20% discount on the xPrintServer Home Edition, but you have to act fast. The xPrintServer deal is only good until Dec. 31!
Be sure to check out our full 12 Tech Days of Christmas list for new suggestions and picks by TechnologyGuide editors through Christmas Eve on Dec. 24th! Spend some time with our 2012 Holiday Buyers Guide as well, for high-tech gift suggestions from across our product news and review sites
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