The Advisory Boar

By Abhijit Menon-Sen <>

Renault Duster AWD 2019

Renault India introduced the Duster AWD in late 2014, and Hassath and I bought one just days after it was released. We liked it immediately, and wrote a detailed review after one year. At the time of writing, our car is doing fine after five years of unrelenting offroad use.

Time to upgrade?

The Duster retains a dedicated following, but attracts fewer new buyers with each passing year. Its outstanding ride quality and surprising AWD competence are still unmatched in its segment (the Mahindra Thar is much less usable on-road, and the Jeep Compass AWD costs as much as a Duster and Thar put together); but the AWD market in India was always a niche, and the Duster is now increasingly described as “dated” and lagging its competition in terms of features and interior comforts.

Renault chose not to bring its second-generation 2017 Duster to India, and was content to release the occasional “facelift”, most recently in July 2019. Meanwhile, grim rumours began to circulate about the future of the Duster AWD in India after the April 2020 deadline for adoption of BS6 emission standards (or even Renault's future in India, depending on how grim you wanted to be).

In October 2019, the Duster AWD took top spot in Autocar India's list of “cars to buy before they die”.

Alas, the latest facelift did not endear itself to us. The AWD variant, formerly available only in the top-spec RxZ configuration, was relegated to the “RxS(O)” line and stripped of various features to reduce costs. Some of the differences we didn't care about (cosmetic changes), some we could live without (e.g., the touchscreen, electrically foldable outside rearview mirrors, reverse parking camera), and some we were willing to sacrifice (e.g., cruise control, speed limiter).

But that left us with the infuriating omission of the rear wiper and washer and height-adjustable driver's seat with lumbar support. We need both and were prepared to pay more for them, but neither feature could be retro-fitted onto the RxS(O) car (and we couldn't do without AWD).

Conclusion—keep the 2014 RxZ AWD, don't buy a new one.

RxZ AWD: the last of its kind

At least, that would have been the conclusion if it hadn't been for Hassath. At her urging, someone at the dealership went to consult the inventory, and found a pre-facelift 2019 Duster RxZ AWD at the factory in Chennai. Just one.

At first, I was not a fan of buying an "older car", but Hassath asked me to enumerate specific reasons to avoid it. After much thought, the only objection I could come up with was… “But it's brown”.

And that's how we came to buy the very last pre-facelift 2019 RxZ AWD available anywhere in India. And it's actually quite a lovely brown.

Headline feature comparison

Here's an armchair comparison of some major features between the 2014 RxZ AWD (our old car), the 2019 RxZ AWD (our new car), and the 2019 RxS(O) AWD (the latest available model).

This table omits features present in all three models (e.g., ABS+EBD+BA) as well as differences from the brochure that I didn't find interesting (e.g., the colour of the inside door handles).

Feature comparison
  2014 RxZ AWD 2019 RxZ AWD 2019 RxS(O) AWD
Cruise control ×
Speed limiter ×
Front fog lamps (optional)
Rear wiper and washer ×
Height adjustable front seat belts ×
Height adjustable driver's seat with lumbar support ×
Driver's seat armrest × ×
One-touch driver's window × ×
Automatic climate control × ×
Reverse parking camera × ×
New MediaNAV touchscreen ×
Projector headlamps, LED DRLs × ×
Cooled storage × ×

One minor change deserves special mention: the rear window controls have been moved to the front of the rear armrest, which fixes a long-standing annoyance for rear passengers who accidentally lowered the window with their elbow. This might be our favourite new feature.

Not all of the differences above were initially clear to us. The rear wiper and washer and the height-adjustable driver's seat by themselves were enough to tip the scales in favour of the older model. We realised later that we would get automatic climate control and a reverse parking camera, and discovered only when we received the car that it had the new-style touchscreen with Android Auto support.

Thanks to Hassath, we didn't lose any features we already had, we got a few nice surprises, and missed out on only two relatively minor features from the facelift. In short, we got lucky.

Cosmetic changes

Renault has made various design changes to the original Duster, and we don't particularly care for any of them. Since the Duster was launched in 2012, their aesthetic sense has never strayed too far from “can we make it even more shiny somehow?”

Many of these changes can be seen in the Team-BHP reviews of the 2012 Duster, 2014 AWD (which is what we had), and 2016 Duster (which was also only a “facelift”, and looks very much like the 2019 RxZ AWD).

Here are some of the changes we've noticed, in no particular order.

Exterior

All three models have different alloy wheels. We still like the original bold five-spoke “anthracite” design best, both for its distinctive looks and because it's easiest to clean. We don't mind the generic-looking but inoffensive (no red centre) in-between design that we ended up with. The facelift introduces distinctive “diamond cut” alloys, but they're a bit too busy and shiny for our tastes. (Also, diamond cut makes me think of an addictive but crumbly South Indian fried snack, and I'd just as soon keep those away from the car.)

The plastic front and rear skid plates have both become larger and more prominent. The unobtrusive black-and-silver one in front has now become a flamboyant contrasting silver moustache with a nicer-looking mesh for the air dam. The facelift goes back to a darker silver colour for both.

The turn indicators have moved to the outside mirrors, and their place on the body is taken by a stupid shiny badge that says “RXZ” (nowhere else is this X capitalised). If you happen to drive at night with the mirrors folded in, remember to budget an extra few seconds per right turn to recover from temporary blindness after switching on the indicator. 😑

Speaking of shiny badges, the rear hatch now has only a “dCi 4WD” badge instead of the separate RxZ, dCi, and 4WD badges on the old car. The big chrome plate across the hatch says “Duster” in raised letters instead of embossed ones. Also, the wider roof rails now say “Duster” (as does the dashboard, just above the glove compartment).

Interior

All three models have different steering wheels, but the differences are minimal. The original design was plain and unremarkable. The one we got is nearly identical, but the horn pad works better (no more presses that fail to activate the horn). The latest design may be a bit nicer to the touch, but tries too hard to make the steering-mounted controls look more interesting.

Both older models have a large cubbyhole above the glove compartment, and a smaller one above the centre console. The facelift does away with these in favour of cooled storage and a closed console. Inexplicably, it does so in a way that still fails to provide a secure flat surface to place mugs of tea on. The lack of storage is a serious impediment—the front cup holders are so tiny and so close to the controls that they can be used to store at most a few coins or perhaps a phone standing on one side. We're glad to have both cubbyholes.

The facelift has two rounded-off rectangular central AC vents on the console, but retains a round vent on each side. The original had four unremarkable round vents with silver outlines and matte-finished dark vanes. The model we got has four round vents too, but the glossy vanes are of appallingly poor quality. They feel flimsy and unpleasant to use, and badly let down the otherwise pleasant interior.

The newer models are upholstered in “Deco Brown” fabric (shades of beige that go nicely with the woodland brown exterior), where the old car had shades of dark grey. The new seats look nice enough to be worth some extra effort to keep them clean.

The outside rearview mirror controls (adjustment only, not folding) have moved from their original position below the parking brake to the block of controls on the driver's door. This doesn't really matter.

That brings us to the end of the comparisons that we can do without starting the car.

What's it like to drive?

The new car has the same engine, the same chassis, the same suspension, and the same steering as the old car. Even the horn sounds the same! So I expected it to feel exactly like the old car to drive. I was wrong.

Somewhere along the line, Renault tweaked the gear ratios significantly. I don't know when, or for which models, but the result makes the new car even easier to drive in the mountains.

The old setup was upshift-happy. You could start from a standstill and be in fifth gear in under a minute at a speed slightly above 40km/hour. If your engine speed dropped to about 1500rpm or lower, you would have to drop a gear or two briefly to build up to a cruising speed again.

The new car is very different. The 3rd and 4th gears in particular are tolerant of a wider range of engine speeds. You can hold on to them for longer and rev higher before you have to shift up. More importantly, you can hold on while the engine revs much lower before you need to shift down. Climbing hairpin turns that we used to take in 2nd gear now feel comfortable in 3rd. You can slow down for traffic or a speed breaker and ease back onto the throttle from 1000rpm or so without shifting down from 3rd. You can do the same thing in 4th gear, so long as you are careful to accelerate gently and don't need to climb uphill right after the obstacle. On good roads that allow for slightly higher speeds, you can spend a lot of time even in fifth gear. It's a truly remarkable change.

Of course, nothing prevents you from dropping gears and getting onto the power early—as the gear shift indicator suggests—but with the long and awkward clutch travel, it's nice to have the option of a more relaxed driving style and also benefit from increased fuel efficiency. Dropping to such low engine speeds and trying to recover without downshifting would result in a lot of juddering in the old car. The new one remains composed. The difference is particularly noticeable on mountain roads, but the new gear ratios should also help in traffic and other situations that call for frequent speed changes.

The inevitable flip side of this change is that the car takes longer to reach highway cruising speeds. Where the old car was sprightly and felt eager to accelerate into the triple digits, the new one is more sedate and likes to take some time to think about it. Once at that speed, it feels as relaxed and composed as ever, but you might need to change gears a bit more often if you intend to dart aggressively through openings in traffic instead of just cruising along.

We spend a lot more time driving in the mountains than on highways, so this arrangement suits us perfectly. A gradual increase in the number of roads in India where one can use cruise control as something more than a gimmick also helps to accept more relaxed highway manners.

Apart from this, the car feels utterly familiar. The driving dynamics are still the same: negligible body roll through corners, stable and responsive handling, and excellent ride quality.

Our review of the 2014 Duster is still relevant for background information.

Tyres

Apollo claims that the stock Apterra HL 215/65R16 tyres are all-terrain tyres, but they just don't look like it. They're obviously strongly road-biased, and the manufacturer is probably counting on most drivers to do no more off-road driving than an occasional foray through mud or wet grass. Unfortunately, this assumption does not apply to our driving conditions at all.

Still, these tyres seem comfortable enough and behave well on road, at least while they're new. We decided to keep them for however long they last before switching to something with a more aggressive tread (such as the Yokohama Geolandar A/T tyres we fitted on the old car).

Air conditioning

The old car had the worst AC unit we had ever encountered.

It bears repeating here that the redesigned AC vent flaps are so cheap and flimsy that they do not give a good first impression, but it's too soon to say much about the AC itself.

The AC controls don't look nearly as nice as the European version (which gets three knurled silver-and-black control knobs), and while they don't feel nearly as bad as the vents, they are only a few rungs lower on the ladder of nastiness. If you like LEDs, the AC controls have about two dozen between the two knobs and eight buttons. One of these buttons is marked “A/C off”, and it has a red LED that lights up when the A/C is switched off(!).

Reverse parking camera

The reverse parking camera does the minimum required to tick a checkbox on the brochure. It's an improvement over parking sensors alone, but we would have preferred a clearer and brighter image with guidelines that responded to steering changes.

At night, the image is just barely usable if you use your brake lights to illuminate the scene. The reversing lights are not nearly enough to provide any useful detail.

New MediaNAV system

The new MediaNAV is uglier than the old one, but works fine. All we want is to play music from a phone via Bluetooth, and it still does that. The system seems to respond more quickly when you touch the screen.

There is still no dedicated mute button near the screen, and the system now hesitates for a moment when you use the controls mounted behind the steering wheel to mute the audio. On the other hand, going back to play the last audio track used to take some frantic spinning of the selector wheel, but a quick touch now suffices.

We don't care about the inbuilt navigation at all (we never used it), but we can use Google Maps directly on the touchscreen now, thanks to Android Auto support. Unfortunately, the USB port is placed at the top right corner of the screen, and when you plug in a cable, a bit of the connector will block your view of the corner (where the time is displayed). Then, depending on where you put your phone, the cable might obscure some other bits. This unforgivably thoughtless bit of design can be mitigated by buying a cable with a special right-angle USB connector.

The physical AC controls have LED indicators, but the console displays a slightly-delayed and redundant notification of every change anyway. You can turn this off in the display settings.

The MediaNAV manual mentions a “Vehicle” menu with “Eco” and “4x4 info” (realtime compass and inclinometer display) options, but this unit does not have it.

Miscellaneous

The stock headlamps on the old car were an immediate disappointment. The new ones are much better (still halogen bulbs, and without the projector setup introduced by the facelift).

The one-touch control for the driver's window is handy when you want it, and annoying when you don't. I'm not sure yet which happens more often when I'm driving.

Conclusion

The 2019 RxZ AWD is a welcome improvement over the 2014 RxZ AWD: many good things remain unchanged, some things are better, and only the AC vents are unquestionably worse. The Duster remains a capable car, well suited to our needs, at a reasonable price point.

In short, we got lucky.

I like volumeicon

My headphone cable has become flaky, so I've been using a small external speaker for a while. I now need to change my volume settings so often that running alsamixer in a terminal each time was beginning to annoy me. So I looked for a systray-based mixer (I use xmobar with xmonad), and I found volumeicon (packaged in Debian as volumeicon-alsa).

I really like volumeicon. The default behaviour is perfectly sensible. Click the icon to mute, click again to unmute. Hover to see the current volume level, use the scroll wheel to change it. Middle click to "Open Mixer", which runs alsamixer in a terminal. Right click to set "Preferences".

What's more, the preferences are also remarkably sensible. You can pick the ALSA device and channel to control, and there's a straightforward menu to change the appearance and behaviour of the icon. volumeicon preferences

It's been quite a while since I encountered a new program that did exactly what I wanted with so little fuss.

Fighting voltage fluctuations

The mains power supply in Lweshal is dismal.

There are frequent outages, of course—the transformer in the village blew up earlier this year, and we had no power for a week. Two or three times in the summer (when forest fires were burning everywhere) a tree fell on the line and cut off power for a few days. There's a big fuse near Mauna which seems to keep melting down. But none of that is really a surprise in a remote area.

The unpleasant surprise was how bad the supply could be when there's no outage. For some reason, extreme voltages are quite common. I've seen the mains voltage at a record low of 25V for several hours once, and we've had whole days when it stayed around 60–90V—voltages so low that the electricity meter stayed off, even though our 9W LEDs inside would light up. Free power!

High voltages don't last nearly as long, but we've seen spikes of 300V and more on occasion. It's difficult to decide which condition is more destructive. High voltages fry appliances, but persistent low voltages where some lights appear to work encourage people to draw more current than their circuits can safely carry—and in a place where people use 1.0mm² wire even for 16A circuits, and nobody has any earthing, that isn't something to be taken lightly.

Either way, voltage fluctuations blew up our UPS twice. The first time we didn't have any sort of voltage regulator installed. After having to pay for a new logic board, we installed a custom-made "constant voltage transformer" (a big auto-transformer with a voltage meter). It clicked a lot to indicate its displeasure, and we had to take it back to the shop to make it cut off the output altogether if the voltage was too low (but why didn't it do that to begin with?). Then the next fluctuation killed the UPS again.

Accurex DPM-3000

In such a dire situation, only a device with a genuine superhero name could possibly save us, and the Accurex DPM-3000 certainly delivers on that front. I bought one from Amazon, and we installed it upstream of the main distribution board. It doesn't do any voltage regulation, just cuts off the output beyond the predefined low and high voltage thresholds. Here is it in action.

Photograph of Accurex DPM-3000

It has worked correctly in various low-voltage conditions (we've had a 130V supply for most of the past two days). It has high- and low-voltage bypass modes that I have never tried, and an optional output timer that restores power to the house only if the power stays on for two minutes. It's useful that it displays the input voltage (even when the output is cut off), and the 32A circuit breaker is very handy when we're working on the distribution board.

Other Amazon customers assured me that the device makes no noise during operation, but of course it does. It clicks away merrily, but it's a small price to pay for reliable voltage limits.

Update (2017-04-23): Our low- and high-voltage records for the Accurex are 43V and 592V respectively (both voltages persisted for some hours before returning to normal).

Debian 8 on the Intel NUC5PPYH

Hassath's birthday present this year was an Intel NUC5PPYH (with 8GB of Kingston DDR3L RAM and a 250GB Samsung SSD 750 Evo) to stand in at home for her ageing Thinkpad X131E.

It took some time for the machine to reach our remote mountain abode, but we have it working nicely after spending a few hours wrestling with it. Here's a quick summary of our experience (InstallingDebianOn/Intel/NUC5PPYH wasn't really useful).

Display problems

Hassath loves her old Samsung SyncMaster 172s monitor (1024x768, VGA) and resists the idea of a new wide-format monitor. Getting the NUC to work properly with this display took the most time (but none of it was the display's fault).

We connected the monitor to the NUC's VGA port and were greeted with a "Video mode not supported" error on the monitor. The debian installer's text-mode display worked fine after boot, but we couldn't see any of the UEFI setup menus. Fortunately, we were able to sidestep the problem by using an HDMI→VGA adapter that we had ordered “just in case”. Using the HDMI output resolved the display problems with the UEFI menus.

After we installed Debian (8.1 from a USB stick created from the DVD image), X wouldn't start. The intel driver didn't work, and Xorg fell back to the VESA driver, and died while trying to set the video mode. (Also, virtual terminals didn't work at all until we added an xorg.conf snippet to force the resolution to 1024x768.) It didn't work even with the DVI-D input (via another “just in case” HDMI→DVI-D cable) on my monitor.

We stumbled around for a while, but we eventually got it working. The key was to apt-get dist-upgrade against jessie-backports to install a new kernel and drivers (e.g., libdrm-intel1). We also updated the BIOS from revision 0054 to revision 0058, but I am not sure that this was necessary, or even helpful. Xorg works with the new kernel and Intel driver. We didn't bother to check if the VESA driver would also work if we forced its use.

(Aside: we had no UEFI boot-related problems at all. We didn't even need to try the legacy boot option, either for the installation from the USB stick or to boot the installed system.)

Everything else worked

The Ethernet controller is a Realtek RTL8168h, which works out of the box with the r8169 driver. Installing the firmware-realtek package got rid of an “unable to load firmware patch” message, but the adapter worked fine without it.

The wireless controller is an Intel dual band wireless-AC 3165, which required the new kernel from backports (4.8, though 4.2+ should have worked from what we read) and the firmware-iwlwifi package to be installed. It worked fine thereafter.

The audio controller is an Intel "Braswell" 2284, which works out of the box with the snd_hda_intel driver. Audio output goes simultaneously to the headphone connector on the front panel and the glowing red S/PDIF plus headphone connector on the back. We did not try S/PDIF audio (no cable, no devices) or HDMI audio (no audio port on the HDMI→VGA adapter) or recording (no mic—or at least, no mic on my desk).

The Intel Bluetooth 4.0 controller (8087:0a2a) works out of the box with the btusb driver. We were able to pair with an Android phone and a Bluetooth speaker. We were not able to play audio to the speaker, but that is probably not a problem with the NUC, because we didn't manage to get it working with any of our other machines either.

We didn't try the SDXC card slot or the infrared sensor.

Update (2017-01-18): The SDXC card slot works fine. I used it to write a Raspbian image.

Transferring domains from 123-Reg.co.uk

A friend had a domain registered at 123-Reg that he no longer wanted. It was coming up for renewal later this month, and he offered to transfer it to me. The domain was not locked, so I asked him for an auth code, and immediately submitted a request to transfer it to Namecheap, my preferred registrar.

The transfer failed, and Namecheap sent me mail saying the domain was locked. I checked, and it was. It had also already been transferred to another sponsoring registrar (Mesh Digital, the company that owns both 123-Reg and Domainmonster). My friend contacted support to unlock the domain, but by then of course the domain had entered the sixty-day period during which it could not be transferred again. I was forced to pay the renewal fee to them, and will now have to retry the transfer after the embargo expires.

I suppose I could think of benign explanations for the above if I tried, but I'm not feeling especially charitable about it.

Debian 8 on the Lenovo Ideapad S206

I got my dad a Lenovo Yoga 300 a few days ago, and installed Debian 8 on his old Ideapad S206 before giving it to Ammu, who has been using my old (and increasingly broken) Thinkpad X120e for months now.

The Linux Laptop Wiki has a page about the Ideapad S206; the quick summary is that everything works with only a little tweaking.

Wifi worked out of the box with brcmsmac. Bluetooth worked fine after installing the firmware-atheros package. Sound input and output worked fine out of the box. The hotkeys to change the volume (and brightness, etc.) also worked. I didn't try the card reader or the webcam.

I didn't bother with the fglrx video drivers, but I had to install firmware-linux-nonfree to enable KMS (kernel mode setting) to get suspend/resume to work properly. (Hibernation worked fine anyway.)

This is a sleek and light machine, quite a step up from the earlier Ideapad models I've used. The screen is a bit shiny, but stops short of being annoying. The keypad is unfortunately very jittery—unless you are very deliberate about tapping-to-click, you'll most likely just move the pointer a bit rather than clicking. This was my father's biggest problem with the machine (and it wasn't just a matter of acceleration settings).

But it's working nicely otherwise, and I hope Ammu gets some good use out of it.

DMT DiaSharp diamond sharpening plates

A friend sent me a pair of DMT DiaSharp “bench stones”. These are steel plates surfaced with diamond particles—an alternative to old-fashioned oilstones for sharpening steel cutting edges. I have been using them for several months now, and they have lived up to their reputation as being fast, durable, and convenient. I am very happy with them.

I have the D6CX and D6EF, each of which has two continuous sharpening surfaces measuring 150mm*50mm (6"*2"). The D6CX has extra-coarse (220 grit) and coarse (325 grit) sides, while the D6EF has fine (600) and extra-fine (1200) sides.

I have used them to sharpen kitchen knives, sharpen and flatten the back of a very hard plane iron, restore the badly-damaged cutting edges of some old chisels that belonged to my grandfather, and hone some new Narex chisels and other assorted tools.

I follow more or less the same process shown in this sharpening video by Paul Sellers.

The DMT plates are fast and a pleasure to work with. Flattening large steel surfaces does take a half-hour or so of extra-coarse rubbing (mind your knuckles don't scrape the plate! I learned this the hard way), but that isn't a task I would even attempt on my old Norton oilstone. Tuning up a blunted (not damaged) edge takes a couple of minutes at most, while restoring a nicked edge might take ten.

I use the plates with a bit of water sprayed from an old bottle of glass cleaner, and wipe them down afterwards with an old shirt. They are easy to maintain (but the coarse grits must be cleaned gently, because they will happily shred cloth), and do not need to be flattened periodically the way an oilstone might. The fine surface developed a few tiny black spots on the very first use, but extensive use thereafter has not made them any larger or more numerous. (DMT is reputed to have good customer support, but they didn't respond to my question about the black spots.)

(I also have the DuoBase stand. The rubber feet do keep it from moving, and the clearance makes it easy to flip the plates over. It works fine, but I could easily do without it.)

I like sharpening things, but I am not obsessive about it. I have not tried to measure how flat the surface actually is, nor have I looked at the sharpened edges under a microscope. The plates are flat enough, and the edges sharp enough for me; and it doesn't take too long to get them that way.

DMT manufactures a great variety of these plates: larger and smaller sizes, coarser and finer grits, single- and double-sided, or with “interrupted” surfaces that reduce the buildup of swarf (abraded steel particles that must be cleaned away). I might try a single-sided 8"*3" continuous surface plate someday—it should make it a little easier to sharpen my larger knives.

Alpen Wings ED binoculars

Two years ago, I bought a pair of Alpen Wings 8x42 ED binoculars. These are one of the least expensive mid-range birding binoculars, but a big step up from my earlier Nikon Trailblazer 8x42 at three times the price.

Even so, I didn't expect them to be so much better than anything I had used before. The view is addictively bright and clear, and I use the 2.5m close-focus capabilities much more than I thought I would. The build quality is excellent, the adjustments are smooth and precise, and these binoculars feel reassuringly solid in the hand. The hard carrying case is also welcome.

On paper, the specifications are very similar to the Trailblazer: same magnification, similar field of view, waterproof and fogproof, slightly less eye relief, a bit smaller but a few grams heavier. I expected only a modest improvement in optics and better build quality, but they're in an altogether different league. Two years later, I'm still as happy and impressed with them as I was in the first five minutes.

(I also use an Alpen spotting scope, which I will review someday; suffice it to say that Alpen optics deserve their excellent reputation.)

Renault Duster AWD 2014: one-year review

Hassath and I bought a Renault Duster AWD one year ago. This is our detailed review.

We live in a remote mountain area in Uttarakhand, and regularly use the Duster on rocks, mud, dirt tracks, and bad roads, and in heavy rain and snow; but we've also driven thousands of kilometres on good highways and expressways. We don't do any "hard core" off-roading, but the jeep track down to our house can be negotiated only by 4WD vehicles. We've had the car full of luggage, and we've had it full of people. Here's what we've learned in the past year.

Conclusion

The Duster AWD suits our needs well, and we are happy that we bought it. I say this right at the beginning because I don't want the criticism in the rest of this review to dilute the message: this is a capable car that serves us well in demanding conditions, and we look forward to using it for many years.

Update (November 2019): We bought a Duster RxZ AWD 2019, but the old car is still doing fine.

Read more…

Brother HL-2250DN and Linux

My mother has been using my old Lexmark printer for many years, but it is no longer possible to find toner cartridges for it (which is such a shame, because it's a good printer). When the last cartridge became so flaky that she could no longer print her tickets, she asked me to find a new printer for her.

I thought about a cheap Samsung ML-16xx laser printer, but my recent experience with SPL led me to settle on the Brother HL-2250DN instead. This printer ticks many of my boxes: it has Ethernet support, automatic duplex printing (surprising, for a relatively inexpensive printer), and a proper output tray. The downside is that it supports only PCL6, not PostScript.

It was easy to set up the printer under Ubuntu 11.10. I chose the generic PCL6 printer driver, and everything just worked. Delightful. (Brother's web site does have some CUPS drivers for Linux, but I did not bother to try them out.)

Not surprisingly, the printed output looks fine too.