With dimension coming up to 11.4 x 6.0 x 2.2cm, the xPrintServer Network Edition is about the size of two iPhones stacked together. Encased in cream colored plastic, it’s pretty light too, weighing just under 90g. However, power supply isn’t built into the device, so there’s a jack at the side for plugging in a wall adapter. A 5V, 1.6A one is bundled, along with four interchangeable AC adapter plugs so that you can plug the adapter into most electrical outlets around the world.
Beside the power jack is a single Ethernet port. A 1m Cat 5 Ethernet cable is supplied in the box. A tiny pin hole at the bottom of the xPrintServer hides a reset button; using a paper clip, press and hold this button for about 15 seconds to restore the xPrintServer’s settings to factory defaults.
Unlike a typical print server where you’ve printers connect to it by way of USB, and then shared over the network, the xPrintServer only needs to be connected to the LAN, and it will automatically figure out the printers on the same subnet. It really is that easy. At the moment though, the xPrintServer Network Edition only works with native networked printers - that is, those with built-in Ethernet or Wi-Fi support. It doesn't have a USB port where you can plug in a USB printer; neither does it work with USB printers that are shared over the network. If you need the above, you'd be better served with the Home Edition of the xPrintServer. However, this home version only supports up to two network attached printers (versus unlimited for the Network Edition), and doesn't provide any printer access management functions.
When the xPrintServer is connected to the network and has discovered and provisioned the printers, the status LED that's incorporated into the letter ‘X’ at the end of the Lantronix logo on top of the device will pulsate slowly in orange. From then on, you can start printing from your iOS device.
So, does it work? In a word: Yes.
To print from an iOS device, what you need to do is to bring up the action sheet (circled in red in the image above) in the app (be it Safari, Mail, Photos, or any AirPrint-enabled app), and tap on the Print button. Assuming the printer is successfully discovered by the xPrintServer, you should see its name in the list of available networked printers. Just select it, enter the number of copies to print, and hit Print. If a printer is listed twice, the correct one to choose is the one whereby the name ends with 'XPrintServer'.
Earlier, we mentioned that for printer auto detection to work, the xPrintServer and the printer must be on the same subnet. In geek speak, what happens is that SNMP broadcast takes care of the discovery of the printers, while Bonjour ensures that they show up throughout the network. However, once the auto detection process is completed, the xPrintServer can be moved to a different subnet, on the condition that multicast traffic is allowed between the two subnets.
In addition, while the xPrintServer has to be connected to the router (or switch) via a CAT 5 cable, the printer can be connected to the network either via a wired or a wireless connection. Also, while Lantronix says that each xPrintServer in theory supports unlimited number of iOS devices and network attached printers, it recommends up to 10 printers for optimal performance. Due to the resource intensive nature of the discovery/provision mechanism, if you've many printers (say, in the hundreds), the xPrintServer may become unresponsive until the initial discovery and provisioning process is completed.