Cramming an entire company into the garage isn't unusual anymore. Realizing that, manufacturers have started offering space-sensitive computer equipment. But how useful are these tiny all-in-one products?

Inc. tested three popular brands of machines that perform several office functions, including printing, scanning, and faxing. Two required a companion printer or a fax to make good on their claims of multifunctionality. We connected all three to a home phone line (some models don't work on office phone networks), using a Toshiba 486 laptop computer with 8 megabytes of memory and a 14,400-baud internal modem. For the machines requiring a printer or a fax, we used a Hewlett-Packard DeskJet 540 and a Brother IntelliFax 680.

We scanned four different kinds of printed material -- a newspaper article, a magazine article, a response postcard, and a business letter -- into the computer and then faxed and printed the documents. We timed each function.

Our results:

  Delrina WinFax Scanner (11.5" by 4.2"), 800-268-6082, $299 Brother Multi-Function Center 4500MI (17.9" by 16.9"), 800-284-4357, $1,900 Trio FaxConverter (2" by 3"), 919-846-4990, $79
Connects to: a computer modem and a printer to act as a scanner and fax machine a computer modem to act as a printer, fax machine, and scanner a computer modem and a fax machine to act as a scanner and printer
Works with a Mac? No As a printer only Yes
Hardware installation time: 3 minutes 30 minutes Less than one minute
Software installation time: 17 minutes 8 minutes 15 minutes
Scan time: One minute 8 minutes 3 minutes
Scans immediately to screen? Yes No No
Print time: 15 minutes 4 minutes 6 minutes
Fax time from machine: 9 minutes 3 minutes Not applicable
Fax time from computer: 15 minutes 3 minutes 5 minutes
Tech help: The line was always busy; we couldn't get through. Toll-free line was repeatedly busy; when we finally got through, we had a 10-minute wait. After several minutes on hold, we spoke to a patient, knowledgeable person.
Comments: Pages tilt easily while being scanned, but software has an "auto straighten" command. Fussy feed slot jams easily. Print quality is excellent. This device was easy to use but required batteries, which weren't included.
Summary: Speedy and reliable, this is a sturdy scanner/fax to buy if you already have a printer. This is a good choice for start-ups setting up from scratch but not for busy offices. This peewee unit prints to your fax machine, so you must have a plain-paper fax.