Anyone running a small office who needs to print off A3 colour documents, or A4 documents with bleed or crop marks, will find that a laser printer offers much faster output than an inkjet, albeit at a lower quality. Oki's latest model is particularly useful because it's so compact. The C8600 comes in three flavours: network capable, with duplex, and with a cabinet and second paper tray.

We've reviewed the base model, which retails for £1,595 excluding VAT, but that has a street price of about £1,200. Measuring 341x485x593mm, it's barely larger than most A4 lasers, and was light enough to carry upstairs on your own. It has a bland design, but makes efficient use of space. The paper drawer, MP paper tray and output all face forwards, enabling you to position it under a desk, or in an alcove.

It's a Windows-only GDI device, which means that it does not have any onboard print language, which may be inconvenient if you depend upon postscript for your output. Because it uses your computer's processor to build the pages, owners of slower PCs will see worse performance.

It's a single pass machine, and the print engine is capable of 26 colour A4 pages, or 15 A3 pages per minute. In mono, it offers 32 and 17 respectively. This is slower than say, the Lexmark C920, but then the unit costs at least £500 less. Epson's Acculaser C9100 offers comparable print speed, better colour reproduction, but a much higher running cost.

Economic outlook

Speaking of which, the C8600 is far more economical to run than most other lasers. Taking all consumables - drum, fuser, toner and transfer belt - into consideration, it costs just 5.99p per page for A4 colour at five per cent coverage, and twice that for A3. For graphics, 20 per cent is more realistic, and it costs 21.92p per page. In mono, it prints A4 pages at five per cent for 0.99p per page.

With a 1,200x600dpi engine, using enhancement to interpolate to 2,400dpi, the C8600 provides reasonable image quality, with a nice semi-glossy print finish. It can't compete with inkjets for colour fidelity or apparent resolution, but photos look reasonable, while graphics are very sharp with a good colour gamut and subtle graduations.

Overall, the Oki C8600 offers lively performance, good operating economy, and very compact size. Well worth a look. Mat Broomfield