Features to look for in a wireless network print server

Filed under:Wireless and printing    

Computers have failed to create the fabled paperless society and instead gave us a much greater demand for paper and printing in general. A print server simply is a device that lets printers use network connections rather than the USB or older parallel (printer cable) connection. This means it can be shared easily and used from anywhere on the LAN rather than the few feet that the USB or printer cable runs. There are servers designed to work on a wireless network that will allow a laptop to use basically any printer without the need for wires. What’s more the server can allow any and all computers on the local network to print, not just one laptop. There are many different brands and types of servers available. So the question is, what should one look for in a wireless print server?

Let’s get the basics out of the way. There are only two standards in use for wireless networking. The original standard is the IEEE 802.11 b WiFi and the current version is 802.11 g; but the standard is backwards compatible meaning that older equipment works just fine with the newest ones. There are two types of cable jacks for printers. The older one (still found on most) is LPT or a parallel printing connection depending on the whim of the person who documented the item. This can easily be recognized as it’s about three inches long with one of the long sides being slightly shorter than the other. The other type is USB which is about half an inch long. It looks like a small slit on the PC/print server end and a square with two corners rounded off on the peripherial side. Most people only use the USB jack. If you need to use the older one then make sure that you get the “printer cable” with it. Due to the way servers are designed to interface with computers they are completely compatible with all computers, there is no distinction between servers for Macintosh or Windows.

Now for the wireless network print servers themselves… These servers vary in terms of features, mostly what they do in addition to hosting a peripheral. Wireless servers already have the feature of being able to connect to wireless instead of wired networking cabling. If you can conveniently run a cable to your printer from a LAN switch then you do not need the wireless version as long as you have a wireless gateway to provide you with the wireless connection. Some of these also provide standard ports for wired laptop/pc cabling (ethernet); expect to pay a little more for this. Some are also a router (also called gateway), and the most expensive ones have some firewall capabilities. If you have more than one device on your network a router is needed, but only one. If you don’t have an existing router (many consumer grade firewalls double as a router) you probably will do best with a combined router and firewall, it probably includes some ethernet ports as well. The combined model will cost more than a basic model.

Using a print server means that you can share your printers with more than one computer conveniently. It also means that you don’t have to be right next to it with a short cable plugged in. Other than the hardware changes printing works the same with one as it would without on a wireless network.

Shoppers Choice has wireless print servers that should work for you.

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