Testing scanners under Linux

HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M477fdw

Hewlett-Packard (HP) is one of the world's leading suppliers of dedicated scanners and multifunctional devices with a scan unit. In fact, the company covers the entire range of applications from private users to large corporations. In addition to a wide range of other operating systems, HP also supports Linux as a platform.

The constantly updated HP Linux Imaging and Printing (HPLIP) [13] application provides a graphical front end, based on SANE and the CUPS print server, to make multifunctional devices usable under a uniform interface. HPLIP has been in the software repositories of virtually all leading Linux distributions for years and is constantly growing to include driver modules for the latest HP models.

We used a current multifunctional device from the Color LaserJet Pro MFP M477fdw [14] series (Figure 2), which costs around EUR400 (~$430), for our test. It is a powerful multifunctional device with printing, scanning, and fax capabilities, in addition to a copy function. The model is suitable for a recommended print volume of about 4,000 pages per month (i.e., for smaller departments, branch offices, and small companies). As is usual with HP, the system requirements list compatibility with countless Linux distributions.

Figure 2: HP's Color LaserJet Pro MFP M477fdw also supports VueScan.

In order to use the device (which has only been available for a few months) with HPLIP, you need software version 3.15.11 or newer. Only this version has the required SANE back end modules. Especially with older Linux derivatives used primarily as server operating systems, such as Debian 8 or Centos 6, it makes sense to install the offered updates, since the repositories still contain older versions of HPLIP.

Once the driver is installed, HPLIP usually automatically finds a connected and supported device at startup. If this is not the case, a window pops up to support manual configuration.

Since many HP printers and multifunction devices now have multiple connection options, you can set up devices that talk to the host computer via the USB port, an Ethernet port, a parallel port, or WLAN. To do this, start the configuration routine in the graphical user interface via the Device | Setup Device.

HPLIP identifies the connected device, and you can set it up in a few steps. The configured new arrival then appears in a narrow vertical column on the application window's left side. On the right, you can trigger various actions and initiate status queries in five tabs.

Ideally, the installation routine should install the CUPS printer driver for the printer and copy unit, the associated fax driver (if necessary), and the appropriate scanner module in the background. Therefore, the first Actions tab also contains entries for printing and scanning and for manual control of the configuration.

Although the installation of the MFP M477fdw succeeded without obstacles, the first time an original was scanned, the scanner could not be initialized. The software required a specific scanner plugin that we were able to downloaded with a single mouse click. Afterwards, the scanning unit did its work without further complications; the drivers fully supported special functions such as automated scanning of several pages from the document feeder and duplex scans. In the Status tab, HPLIP also displays the device status. If errors occur while importing templates, they also appear here.

If you digitize large batches of documents via the single sheet feeder, it can help to check the status remotely. This way you can find out whether the scanner has processed a batch without having to physically check the scanner. However, since the status window also outputs messages from the printer, the display becomes somewhat cluttered when used intensively by several users (Figure 3).

Figure 3: HPLIP also offers a status query to keep track of larger print jobs from the workstation.

The MFP M477fdw is also one of the few HP devices that supports the VueScan scanning software in addition to HPLIP. Its GUI offers far more detailed dialogs for setting up connected printers and scanners. In addition to the HPLIP functions, it allows image modifications such as rotation of the scanned document or filter and color adjustments. The use of commercial software makes sense for demanding tasks (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Because VueScan takes full advantage of the MFP M477fdw's feature set, the use of commercial software can make sense in some cases.

In our lab, the MFP M477fdw also impressed with a sharp and detailed reproduction of the originals due to its high optical resolution of 1200 dpi. However, the CIS scanner digitizes books placed on the original glass with insufficient depth of field, and the document feeder is not suitable for bulky documents such as thick books.

HP ScanJet G3110

We tested one of the HP models without HPLIP support, the ScanJet G3110 flatbed scanner. It costs around EUR75 (~$93), but it was already an end-of-life product when this issue went to press. SANE modules are missing for this scanner with a USB connection, but VueScan supports it as well as other standalone scanners.

The software uses the scanner's TWAIN capability. Manual setup is not supported. It automatically detects the scanner after it is switched on. If you uses several scanners in parallel with VueScan, you need to select the correct device in the program window's Source selection field.

Since the ScanJet G3110 also has a transparency unit for digitizing negatives or slides that can be controlled on other operating systems using push buttons located on the housing, the main interest here is how VueScan makes these special functions available (Figure 5).

Figure 5: The ScanJet G3110 is a conventional flatbed scanner with a transparency unit.

We were able to use the ScanJet G3110 with VueScan without any problems, although some minor issues were revealed (Figure 6). The device works at a very leisurely pace when scanning and the device cover's function keys do not work with Linux. On the upside, the scanning process itself worked perfectly. The scanned content is detailed, sharp, and true to color, regardless of the storage format, even with very bad originals.

Figure 6: The ScanJet G3110 can also handle thick originals.

VueScan also correctly controls the transmitted light attachment without complaint: In the Source tab, you must change the Flatbed default setting to Transparency in the Mode selection field. This switches off the scan bar's light source and activates the transmitted light attachment located in the device's housing cover.

The light source's time-controlled automatic off switch also stands out: If the scanner does not read any documents for a long time, the software switches off the currently active light source so that the device does not unnecessarily waste energy. Since it also reliably wakes up from standby mode, the ScanJet G3110 delivers very good Linux support.

Samsung MultiXpress X4300LX and K4350LX

The South Korean conglomerate Samsung has gained a good reputation for multifunctional devices in recent years. The range of models offered extends from small systems for home networks or small offices to large floor-standing devices accessed by several hundred employees (see the "Samsung and HP" box).

Samsung and HP

HP took over Samsung's printer division in 2016 and officially added the Samsung printers to the HP portfolio on November 1, 2017. This news was preceded by years of close cooperation between the companies.

The acquisition does not mean that Samsung devices will disappear from the market. New devices with the Samsung logo will continue to exist in the mid-term. Consumables and spare parts will remain available for at least five years after a series' end of production.

Samsung has been delivering working Linux driver modules for most devices across all performance classes for years. For workstations that want to integrate smaller systems, Samsung also offered a graphical front end.

For the scanner test, Linux (Pro) Magazine examined two brand-new large multifunctional devices from Samsung for workgroups or branches with several hundred employees: In addition to a MultiXpress X4300LX system for around EUR3,300 (~$4,700) [15], we used an almost identical MultiXpress K4350LX [16] for compatibility testing (around EUR4,200 of $5,180).

The devices differ primarily in terms of the different printer units: The X4300LX has a color laser printer on board (Figure 7), while the K4350LX is a monochrome laser printer designed specifically for government agencies and public offices. Otherwise both models deliver quite impressive performance data: The scan units with duplex scanning arrays read up to 120 pages per minute at a maximum native resolution of 600x600 dpi. A duplex document feeder is standard.

Figure 7: The Samsung MultiXpress X4300LX is designed for large infrastructures.

Numerous accessory options underline the devices' professional standard. They include an automatic sorter and stapler in addition to a base cabinet. One unit for automated accounting of copies supports credit card payment and additional paper feeds can be added.

The central unit itself consists of a single controller with a dual-core CPU with 1GHz clock frequency that is supported by 2GB RAM and a 320GB hard disk for documents and data.

However, the Samsung devices' firmware is out of the ordinary: Samsung relies on open standards and uses a customized Android version that meets professional users' security needs. This means that the multifunction devices can be operated like a conventional tablet PC via the built-in 10.1-inch touch display. You can even install additional apps for added flexibility.

Users with existing Internet access can send scanned documents to anywhere in the world using a one-time password and AES encryption. The documents can be sent to another computer, a smartphone, or a tablet PC via a peer-to-peer connection, regardless of the device.

Conversely, external devices can send documents to the multifunction device. For this purpose, Samsung has developed its own programs and free add-ons for all common web browsers, including Firefox and Chromium.

In this performance class, the two test devices were also clearly out of the ordinary in terms of Linux support: Samsung provides a Unified Linux Driver for the newer models in the form of two Deb packages (for 32- and 64-bit architectures) and a tar.gz archive [17]. The 15MB package contains modules for printers and scan units.

You integrate the modules into CUPS. To do this, execute the ./install.sh setup script with admin rights. SANE then automatically detects the scan units, allowing them to be controlled by any front end.

The driver modules showed no weaknesses in the test: We were able to perform individual scans and to use the automatic sheet feeder and duplex unit. Especially when scanning large documents with many pages, the single sheet feeder showed its potential. The software on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS with Simple Scan couldn't keep up with the pace of the sheet feeder.

The scan results proved to be true to color and with good detail even without prior calibration of the scanner. The CCDM-MMT sensor technology developed by Samsung with extended color reproduction and excellent depth of field also makes it possible to digitize even poor quality originals without any problems.

VueScan mainly targets many smaller Samsung models but also some business devices. The MultiXpress X4300LX is one of them, but this does not apply to the USB interface. Therefore, the professional devices cannot be directly connected to single workstation systems with VueScan. If you want to use the multifunction device with VueScan, you have to integrate it into a network [18].

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