Friday, January 17, 2014

Common Problems with Networked Multifunction Printers

Before I upgraded to a network printer, I used to use a manual USB switch to flip my old printer back and forth between devices. With the fixed location desktops it wasn’t such a big deal, but when it came to our laptops, it was a real pain; you had to be physically next to the printer to plug into one of the USB ports, and that kinda took all the fun and portability out of the laptop.

With networked printers you can print from anywhere. Using the laptop in another room? No problem, just connect to the Wi-Fi and bam, your printer is mounted on your device. You can even print from other networked devices like smartphones and tablets the same way, something that wasn’t possible in the old USB printer days. Wicked awesome.

So, what’s the down side, you ask? Well, I’ve found a couple of problems that you probably won’t find listed in the installation manual.

The first and most common problem is the “disappearing printer”. This is usually caused by the printer’s IP address changing. If you set the printer up using the DHCP network option, it will pull a random IP address from your router. Most routers will save an IP for use by a device for a short period of time, but if you were to leave the printer off for a few days, this temporary lease expires. Meanwhile, if you have lots of networked devices in your house like we do, i.e. smartphones, tablets, smart TV’s, iPods, something else is liable to grab the IP that the printer had used during setup. Next time you turn on the printer, it grabs a different address, and your devices can’t find it. This can also happen if you swap out your router or switch due to malfunction or ISP change.

There are a few fixes for this one. You can uninstall the printer on your device and then reinstall it, Windows will find it and make note of the new IP. The problem with this fix is that the printer is liable to “disappear” again the next time you leave it off for a while.

The best solution is to either assign the printer a Static (permanent) IP address, or leave it in DHCP mode and create an IP lease or reservation on your router port. If you decide to use a Static address, you need to use an address from the top of your router’s IP address range, a number that your router would never reach when it’s handing them out.

The next problem is with scanning and it’s a problem that’s unique to PC’s with multiple accounts. When you install a device on a Windows 8 PC you need to either be logged in as the administrator, or if you’re using a user or guest account, you need to enter administrator credentials. Once it’s installed, all accounts are able to print with no problem, but scanning is a different story. If you’re not using an account with administrator privileges and you try to use the scanning function, you’ll get a communications error like this:

Don’t panic, the fix for this one is simple. Instead of double clicking on the scanner icon, right click on it and select “Run as administrator” from the drop down. The system will prompt you to enter your admin credentials, and then you’re off and scanning.

Ok, last problem, this one is with faxing. Faxing is old school, I know, but sometimes you just gotta do it. A lot of banks and state and federal agencies insist that you fax documents to them, it’s got to do with them not recognizing the validity of digital signatures. I’ve faxed successfully numerous times, so I know the function works, but recently I needed to fax some documents and I wasn’t having any luck. I’d hear the other end pick up and start its crazy screeching, but after a minute or so my printer would hang up the line and show a “could not connect” message on the little LCD screen. Frustrating.

The most common problems with faxing are a either a staticky line, or a fax machine mismatch. The fix for a staticky line is to turn ECM (error correction mode) on if it’s not already enabled.

The fax machine mismatch problem is remedied by turning off the V.34 option in the fax setup. This setting has to do with the line modulation technique that the machines use during the fax modem handshake, or screech. When they’re wailing their love cries at each other, they’re really negotiating a connection speed. V.34 allows for a transmission rate of up to 28,800 bit/s, heady stuff in the fax world, and if the fax machine on the other end is an old standalone fax and not a new multifunction device, it’s just gonna say “huh?”, and drop you like a hot potato. Don’t forget to turn it back on when you’re done, though. Although 28,800 bit/s doesn’t seem very fast in these days of Gigabit Ethernet, it’s infinitely faster than the faxing alternatives, which can be as low as 2400 bit/s, and that’s slower than a herd of turtles.

Ok, that’s it. I’ve skimmed through these fixes because the specifics depend on your brand of router and printer. If you need more detailed info you can go to the device’s website, but at least now you have a starting point. Happy printing!

That is all.

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