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DrKlahn
DrKlahn, Computer Engineer
Category: Computer Hardware
Satisfied Customers: 1914
Experience:  BSci: Electrical Engr., Industrial Engr, and Computer Sci.
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My Dell 513w printer has begun printing radom black squares

Resolved Question:

My Dell 513w printer has begun printing random black squares on output. I replaced both ink cartridges, cleaned printhead, deep cleaned printhead, aligned printer, reloaded driver, and updated firmware with no impact. Help!
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Computer Hardware
Expert:  DrKlahn replied 2 years ago.

DrKlahn :

Please let me know when you're online, and we'll proceed.

DrKlahn :

Good morning. Thanks for using JustAnswer. I'm XXXXX XXXXX, a/k/a "DrKlahn."

Customer:

Hi Bruce. What do you suggest?

DrKlahn :

Is the printer producing exact squares, or are the blocks different sizes?

Customer:

They are squares that print in random patterns. For example, one line may have just one block - about 3/4" square - while the next two lines might be OK, then the following line may have a series of 3-4 blocks next to one another.

DrKlahn :

I see. This is going to sound unconnected, but in fact it is quite diagnostic. Does the scanner section still work correctly?

Customer:

Haven't tried it - let me do that now.

Customer:

Scanner appears to work fine.

DrKlahn :

Thank you. This establishes that communication between the computer and the printer, both ways, is error-free. The problem is not in the cabling, the USB interface on the PC, or the USB interface on the printer. That means it is in the printer driver on the host computer, or in the microprocessor in the printer.

DrKlahn :

Is the host system a PC or a Mac?

Customer:

That makes sense. The host system is a Dell PC running through a Belkin wireless router. I have reloaded the driver and updated the firmware.

DrKlahn :

Does the problem persist no matter what program is printing?

Customer:

Just forwarded a scan of a sample printout showing the squares.

DrKlahn :

Unfortunately, the images didn't come through. This is what I saw:

DrKlahn :

Full Size Image

DrKlahn :

Did you upload the images using the PaperClip tool at the top of the chat window?

Customer:

Yes. Is there a better way to transfer the image?

DrKlahn :

PaperClip is usually pretty good. However, there is an alternative. One moment while I pull up my file with the instructions. Bear with me, please ...

DrKlahn :

If you have problems using the JustAnswer PaperClip image loader, I recommend the image storage service at www.tinypic.com.

Go to www.tinypic.com. Click the Browse button to find the image file you want to upload. Then click the "Upload Now" button. You must solve a simple text puzzle on the next page. After this, a new window appears with four links to the image. Use the one labeled "Direct link for layouts." Click in that box, type control-A, and then control-C to copy the link.

Return to this session and click the PaperClip tool at the top of the session menu. In the drop-down menu, click in the box that says "link to web graphic" and type control-V. This drops the link to the image on tinypic.com into that box. Then click the Insert button. This drops the image into the session.


DrKlahn :

This is a distant second best, XXXXX XXXXX always works, in my own experience.

Customer:

See if that works...

DrKlahn :

Looking at it now.

DrKlahn :

I have not seen anything precisely like this before, but it sure looks to me like the black printhead is firing unexpectedly.

Customer:

That makes sense. Does that suggest the logic board in the printer is faulty?

DrKlahn :

I see there is also a problem with the yellow and magenta (the light bars through what should be solid squares). Those look like clogged jets, but they cannot be, because I'm quite sure that the printhead is not as "tall" as the distance between the light strips.

DrKlahn :

You are correct. It suggests that the printer's controller board is intermittently faulty.

Customer:

This is bizarre. This printer is barely a year old, does not get heavy use, and has functioned flawlessly until a week ago.

DrKlahn :

Was there an electrical storm or power outage about the time this symptom started?

Customer:

We did have several severe thunderstorms over that time frame.

DrKlahn :

By the way, you should upgrade your wireless security to WPA/WPA2. The printout indicates you're using WEP, which can be cracked in about four hours with a laptop.

Customer:

Thanks for that suggestion; I'll do that.

DrKlahn :

Is the printer plugged into a surge protector?

Customer:

It'

Customer:

It's plugged into a power strip that was supposed to have surge protection.

DrKlahn :

OK. I'm going to speculate a bit here.

DrKlahn :

I find it unlikely that a surge got through the surge bar, because that would have blown up the power supply, not the main board.

Customer:

Makes sense.

Customer:

And there are other things plugged into the strip that have not been affected, such as a Brother CL-500 label printer and the cable modem and wireless router.

DrKlahn :

It looks like the black printhead is firing anywhere from very short full bursts (the strong black vertical bars) to long mild bursts (the gray squares of varying densities). This is not what you'd expect to see if the problem was in the printer's memory; that would be spots-and-dots. It looks like the driver electronics for the black head are firing all jets at once, which indicates a problem either in the driver electronics (probable, since it's not seen on all heads) or in the microcontroller (less probable).

DrKlahn :

But in either case it's not a fixable problem.

DrKlahn :

Here is the good news: I have a $30 fix.

DrKlahn :

See the link below, auction closing in 8 hours:

DrKlahn :

http://www.ebay.com/itm/160802313777

DrKlahn :

If you would prefer a brand new one, there's one closing in a week:

DrKlahn :

http://www.ebay.com/itm/221030547616

DrKlahn :

There may be an escape hatch on the warranty, however. If you purchased the printer with a credit card (American Express and Visa are good on this), many cards double the manufacturer's warranty up to one additional year. If this might apply, check your cardholder's benefits flyer. If this does apply, contact your card supplier at the number in the benefits flyer to have the printer replaced or refunded.


Otherwise, the best choice is to purchase a replacement printer. In most cases, ebay is a good source for replacements. Used, refurbished and NOS ("New Old Stock") printers are generally available for all printers made within the last ten years. An identical replacement has several advantages:



1. Continue using the same printhead or toner cartridge (assuming it is removable, of course) and keep the replacement's unit as a spare.

2. Use up the ink / toner cartridges from the old printer.

3. Continue using any expendable supplies such as ink tanks or toner cartridges from the old printer.

4. Eliminates the need to remove existing printer software and replace it with different software -- always an "iffy" issue.

DrKlahn :

(As you can tell from the above response, we do see this situation quite a bit, and it's useful to have the response pre-written.)

Customer:

Thanks for the input. I was afraid I would need to replace the printer. I appreciate your insight and recommendations. I do quite a bit of business on ebay, so I"ll keep my eyes open for a replacement. Have a good week!

DrKlahn :

And you as well. I'm sorry that I don't have a fix for this one, but that is the nature of the hardware beast. Do you have any other questions, on this or any other topic, that I can assist you with today?

Customer:

That helps a lot - thanks again!

DrKlahn :

My pleasure. I have unlocked the Accept button so that you can accept this answer, if it is satisfactory. Thanks again for using JustAnswer.

DrKlahn, Computer Engineer
Satisfied Customers: 1914
Experience: BSci: Electrical Engr., Industrial Engr, and Computer Sci.
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