When it comes to computing the cost of a printer, most of us tend to focus on the wrong things. We tend to want to know the volume of ink per cartridge, the cost of ink per milliliter or the price per cartridge. Unfortunately, none of these numbers reveals much about operating costs.At first glimpse, a 20 milliliter cartridge is a better value than a 10 milliliter cartridge at 1.5 times the price because it has twice the capacity, but costs only 50 percent more, right? Not so fast! If I added the fact that the 20 milliliter cartridge prints 1.5 times as many pages, at 1.5 times the price, that would make it an equal value. But if it printed twice as many pages, that would clearly make it a superior value.Many people who migrate from an inkjet to a high-falootin' color laser printer are stunned and sometimes even queasy when they discover the difference in cartridge prices between the two technologies. (The first time I had to buy replacement cartridges for my laser printer, I was on antidepressants for months.) Here again, the per-cartridge price doesn't tell the whole story.Is a $50 cartridge a better value than a $100 cartridge? The answer depends on how many pages each cartridge can print. If a $50 cartridge prints 1,000 pages and a $100 cartridge prints 2,000 pages, and Mary has four apples and John has three, the cartridges are of equal value. If the $100 cartridge prints 2,500 pages, that's the one you want on a cost-per-page basis.As a rule of thumb, the less expensive the cartridge, the more you will pay per page. That's just another way of saying that less expensive cartridges are often more expensive in the long run. I wouldn't go so far as to say that's carved in stone, but I will commit to Jell-O.Computing the operating cost of a color printer is a little tricky because you have to calculate the cost for noncolor pages separately from the cost of color pages. Depending on the printer, you may also have to factor in the cost of other consumables, which can include anything from photosensitive drums to toner waste bottles, in addition to toner cartridges.One last thing to keep in mind when comparing operating costs of printers is that you will often find that one is cheaper for monochrome pages (printing with black ink only), while another may be less expensive for color pages.If you haven't lost the will to live by this point, to arrive at a meaningful comparison of operating costs, you need to estimate the percentage of color versus noncolor pages that you will print. If you aren't sure, keep track of what you print for a couple of months. All things considered, focusing on the cost per page will give you a much better grasp of operating costs than focusing on ink volume and cartridge prices alone.Mr. Modem publishes "Ask Mr. Modem!" each week, featuring PC tips, tricks and plain-English answers to your questions by email. For more information, visit www.MrModem.com.
Mr. Modem's Sites of the Week
The Backpacking Chef
If you are into camping and backpacking, this site has great recipes for foods that you can take with you while you are waiting for rescue services to find you. Information includes menu planning, dehydrating food and the always popular bark-based recipes. (Personally, I prefer shoelace tea.)
Star Car Central
All of the celebrity cars here are street legal, meaning they can be driven around town by anyone who lacks the embarrassment gene.
The Vimeo website is fascinating by virtue of all the contributed videos, but "The Mountain" is one of the most intriguing. It is a time-lapse video of El Teide, and for those who don't get out much or who have never heard of it, ET is the highest mountain in Spain. Good to know. Three other videos, "Aurora," "Arctic Light" and "Water," are also well worth watching.