Monday, August 18, 2014

My new Brother Wireless Printer (MCP-J470DW)

This post is unrelated to anything, just bantering.

This is my second wireless network printer. The setup was fairly easy, that is, easy if you DON'T follow the "quick setup guide" which is ridiculously confusing. After everything was working, I was having the occasional problem that almost every home network printer user knows about: the printer periodically goes off line. You could turn the printer off and on, or re-install the printer software, and it would go online, but the problem would still recur. I had this problem with the last printer, too, but at that point I was unaware that the solution is so blindingly simple. It is also stunning that the guidance that comes with these printers does not give you this information as standard instructions. And, evidently, almost every IT professional knows about this.
The solution?

Use a static IP address for the printer.

The technical explanation:
Usually, by default, your home network is set up to automatically assign IP addresses  to different devices on the network-- like computers, tablets, and network-enabled printers. This address is a unique identifier for all of the devices so that the router can communicate with each one separately. These "dynamic" addresses are assigned and reassigned periodically, as the devices come on and off the network. This process is called DHCP. The problem begins if the IP address for the printer changes, and is different than the one which was assigned when the printer software was installed on the computer. For whatever reason the printer software is "dumb" and the computer cannot track the printer at its new, changed IP address. When this happens the computer cannot see the printer and therefore thinks its disconnected. Restarting the printer or re-installing the software on the computer allows them to find each other again but the same problem will inevitably recur.

To prevent this from happening, you can use a static (permanent) IP address for the printer rather than a dynamic one. There are several ways of doing this, but the simplest way to accomplish this is the set it from the printer itself. Depending on your make and model this is done from the front panel of the machine or from the printer web interface which you access from a browser. You have to pick an IP outside the range of the DHCP which you router uses. You don't need to make any changes to the router, but you may need to check the router settings (via the web interface) to see what your DHCP range is. Make sure that the subnet (the first 3 parts of the IP address) are the same as the IPs assigned by DHCP, but the last part (after the 3rd dot) can be any number above the range up to 254. You enter this IP into the printer settings, and set "static" as the method for IP assignment. In Brother printers, this is found under the "network-->TCP/IP" menu.
After doing this, restart the printer and the computers, and you should be good to go.
The printer will remain online, because the computer always knows where to find the printer.

Why don't manufacturers include this basic information in the instructions? I am sure the countless hours of frustration and technical support calls are made because of offline printers.