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Brother Printers and Circuit Breakers

So we moved into a relatively inexpensive home that is only seven years old. What this means is that the wiring is new and takes advantage of current safety standards. So far so good.

I set up my equipment in a second room that serves as den or bedroom, and it was perfect for a home office. It has a carpeted floor, and js relatively free of extraneous echoes. You may have noticed the improvements in recent episodes of my radio shows. Even better, the neighbors don’t have packs of barking dogs to disturb my sanctity and deliver unwanted background noise.

Well, my gear is fairly straightforward, and the current lineup has mostly been the same for the past four years.

In addition to my 27-inch iMac, a relatively low-power device, there are two small external backup drives, a Bose computer speaker system, a VoIP phone adapter, a two-line desk phone with wireless capability, a tiny Netgear Gigabit Ethernet switch, a Behringer USB mixer, a multifunction printer from Epson and a Brother HL-5450DN laser printer. This gear is connected to a pair of name-brand power strips.

A laser printer is the best way to save on printing costs. With recycled toner cartridges and other accessories, I can keep printing costs to less than a penny a page. The multifunction is used mostly for copying and faxing.

But the Brother has had a troubled history. A few months after the one-year warranty expired, it started outputting with ghosting text. I changed out toner cartridges — and the printer drum — without resolving the problem. Fortunately, Brother took pity on me and agreed to replace the fuser assembly. To demonstrate the curious way spare parts are priced on such devices, the price for this part is actually very close to what the printer cost new.  On eBay you can get one for prices ranging from $99.95 to $176.00. It requires the sort of installation process, however, best left to a service technician.

Unless you’re a do-it-yourself person, it’s not worth the bother, unless it fails prematurely. The fuser and laser assemblies are rated for 100,000 copies. At this point, it’s best to just replace the printer.

Well, the repaired Brother worked fine until I moved into my new home. After wiring everything up, the room’s breaker would trip once or twice a day, which knocked out the lights and all the equipment connected to the wall outlets. Not good. The breaker panel is located outside, near the electric meter, and is easily reset.

The landlord sent an electrician to replace the 15-amp breaker with a 20-amp breaker. I thought that fixed the problem — until Sunday morning where it tripped again.

A little online sleuthing revealed that Brother printers are notorious for oqccaiosnally tripping circuit breakers. The usual excuse is that there are too many devices hooked up to the wall sockets, so use less, or connect the printer to a wall socket in another room, one that uses a different breaker. The replacement breaker, however, should have been more than sufficient to eliminate this problem.

So what to do?

Well, I wrote to someone from Brother’s technical support that I contacted a few years back when I was reviewing some of their gear. While that person is no longer with the company, I got the email address of her successor, who telephoned me Tuesday to attempt to diagnose the problem. At no time did they ask me to pay for out-of-warranty service. They took this seriously, and passed my call on to a senior tech support person who was clearly aware of such troubles.

I had a pleasant conversation with a very knowledgeable technician who proceeded to explain the reasons that might trigger a circuit fault and pop the breaker. He did suggest I might consider hooking the printer up in another room, but was willing to offer another possible solution first.

So it appears they have a special version of the firmware that they use to handle problems of this sort. Evidently it fine tunes power management so power spurts and heat generation are better controlled. The only fly in the ointment is that it cannot be installed with the Mac version of the printer’s network software. I will try to apply it under Windows 10 on a Parallels Desktop virtual machine.

As I write this article, I haven’t received the file or instructions yet. In the meantime, I did find an interim firmware update online, version 1.23 (the printer had version 1.20), which may have controlled or reduced the problem. Maybe that will be sufficient, but it won’t hurt to try Brother’s official fix.

I’m actually pleased with Brother’s attention to detail and the willingness to work with a customer, even though this is a fairly cheap printer. It’s the level of support you’d expect with a business level printer costing hundreds more. And, no, I’m not pulling rank. The support person wasn’t aware that I host a popular tech blog and two syndicated radio shows. He was just trying to help a customer solve a problem.

In the meantime, the breaker hasn’t tripped since Sunday. Maybe the updated firmware was sufficient to resolve the problem (such updates have helped with other models), but I will install the special firmware and report the results. If I can get the Brother to work without untoward side effects, I’ll keep it for another few years or until it drops. The next time I’m in the market for laser printer, Brother will be at the top of the list. This is the sort of customer service customers deserve but do not often receive.