Sharing local printers is a snap with the right equipment

Certain local printer scenarios demand clever thinking by IT pros. For example, what if two users need to share one local printer or one user needs to access different local printers? Leave it to the Technical Q&A to offer some brilliant solutions.

In today's highly networked corporate environment, workgroup printers abound, and for good reason. Having a single, high-capacity printer costs much less to install, operate, and maintain than multiple local printers. Situations still exist, however, that require local printers. Printing confidential material or a large number of odd-sized documents may be more efficient when done from a local printer. So what happens when two people need to share a single local printer or one person needs access to two local printers?

TechRepublic member Lmcdonald recently asked for advice on such a problem in our Technical Q&A. "I need a PC with two printer ports for a department," writes Lmcdonald. "The only thing they run is Excel and they print from an Excel spreadsheet to a tractor-feed printer and also a label printer." TechRepublic members quickly came to Lmcdonald's aid, offering tips for sharing the printers through a combination of A/B switches and additional parallel port cards.

A/B switches
Member Lizzy suggests Lmcdonald get an A/B data switch box. These devices allow multiple computers to share a single printer or a single computer to share multiple printers. Figure A shows two different types of data switches.

 Figure A The data switch on top has parallel connections, while the one below uses Centronics cables.

Figure B shows a data switch with four connections, and Figure C shows a more compact data switch with two connections. You'll want to choose the switch that best fits your needs. Data Switch boxes range in price from \$20 to \$70, depending on the model.

 Figure B

 Figure C

Maxwell_t_edison suggests another option: installing additional parallel ports on the PCs that need to use more than one printer. Parallel port cards can be purchased for under \$30 and are available for both ISA and PCI expansion slots. Figure D shows an example of an ISA card, and Figure E shows a PCI version. These cards will give a PC two LPT ports, one for each local printer.

 Figure D

 Figure E