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Network Printer: Shared vs Routed

Can someone help me understand the different options for setting up a networked printer. I know you can simply shared the printer, and then you can get some kind of print router to give the printer is own IP. What are the pros and cons, and are there any other ways to network it? What are the OS requirements for these setups?

The more information the better, I'm trying to decide between the two, and I have never done either.

2 Solutions
Sharing the printer connected via a parallel port requires that you use a pc as a print server, which means that you can only print when that pc is switched on.
Alternatives are :
A print server box (e.g. HP jetdirect) which takes the place of the PC .These are often quite limited in terms of traffic handling.
 A builtin network card (which is in effect an onboard print server) these are usually much more capable.

These can also be linked via a network to a PC and then shared, which simplifies installing drivers, but has the following disadvantages:
The pc sharing the printer has to be on.
The print job crosses the network twice- from host to server and then from server to printer.
The server needs to supply resources for spooling.

If the printer in question is a multi function device, then the scanning, faxing etc will be effected by the connections

The exact nature of the device and the network in question will govern the practicality of the solution, i.e. individually installing network printing ports and drivers on a 200 PC network would be impractical, so a shared printer install would be simpler.
There are a number of factors involved in this. Let's start with the printer.

If the printer has a "command language" such as PCL, PostSript or EscP then it can be shared in any of the ways we'll talk about. If the printer relies on GDI (the Windows graphics processor) the networking the printer can be a problem, although some will work.

There are 3 ways to share the printer. In order of convenience and speed they are: a direct network connection, an external network connection (a "print server") , and a PC with network connections (this PC can also be a file server).

Direct network connection only works with printers that have a built-in network interface. These printers are given an IP address and PCs can then print over the network, either direct to the printer or via a server.

An external print server is a little box that makes the printer "look" as if it has a network interface, and the PC connection is made in the same way as with a built-in network card. This method may not give the same performance as direct networking, but it allows cheaper printers to be networked. Print servers are very low cost and many of them allow you to connect more than one printer. They are available for both parallel and usb connected printers. Most of them work very well indeed.

The last method consists of connecting the printer to a PC (or server) via either parallel or usb. This PC then "shares" the printer so other PCs can use it too. This is the method used when you go to the Add Printer wizard and select "network printer" - as far as Windows is concerned the first 2 methods are "local printers". Sharing a printer this way means that the sharing PC must be powered on whenever anyone wants to print. This is not a problem with servers, as they are powered up 24 hours a day. A user PC can be switched off or rebooted at any time though, and hence is not the best print server. If you use a parallel connection to the printer, the PC also needs to use an appreciable amount of CPU power to talk to the printer (this is a legacy of the good old DOS days).

My recommendation is to use either the first or second method and use the third one only if you have a server.

As far as O/S requirements go, with Windows 2000 and XP all 3 methods work fine. Windows 98/98/ME do not support direct TCP/IP printing and must rely on third party utilities. If the printer has a built-in network card it usually comes with the necessary utilities. Print servers may not and may require the user to invest in an LPR utility such as Brooks IntelliScribe. See

If you use any version of MacOS, my recommendation is to invest in a printer that supports PostScript and comes with built-in network. Some print servers support AppleTalk, but the printer still needs to support PostScript. If you are using Macs, let me know and I'll give more details.
elmoredanielAuthor Commented:
Thank you both, this was very helpful.
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