Q: I recently changed from a desktop tower computer to a wireless laptop — and now I'm lost. I don't know whether I need to get a new wireless printer/all-in-one or [figure out] if there is a way to connect my older printer and scanner to the new wireless. Is there a way I can make them work together without having to use a flash drive and constantly transferring stuff, or am I going to have to spend the money for wireless accessories? — Diana, Taylorsville, Utah.
A: If you ask me, one of the biggest unsung technological breakthroughs in the past decade or so was the introduction of wireless printers. Before, you had to have your computer always hooked up to a printer via a USB or printer cable in order to print anything in the home.
But everything is wireless, and with wireless laptops being the norm, wireless printers also had to be invented so any computer could connect to it and print without the hassle of walking up and connecting a cable.
For Diana's problem — which I'm sure a lot of people have if they're lucky enough to still have the same printer for more than several years — there are at least a couple of possible solutions.
Unfortunately for the sake of space, I can't go into a lot of detail on each one, and Diana will have to get further, more detailed instructions from a tech-geek in the family or a friend. And these are solutions that are not guaranteed to work depending on the printer and scanner she's using, but they might be worth trying.
In her email, Diana told me the model numbers of both her printer and scanner, and they're both expensive business-grade models that probably do an outstanding job of printing. I understand why she just doesn't want to just throw them away for a new printer/scanner combo unit.
Diana told me that her printer and scanner are already cabled to an old desktop computer running Windows XP. But that computer is not connected to her home Internet network. The best and cheapest first option to try is to connect that old computer to the network with an ethernet cable connected to her wireless router.
Once that's done, that old desktop computer is now a part of the home wireless network, and she will be able to search the printer and scanner on the network from her laptop. After some tinkering with Windows and the wireless network, she should be able to print to that printer as well as use the scanner from any computer connected to the network. The advantage here is that it should not require special wireless printer drivers in the software. As long as the printer and scanner are connected to that old desktop computer, they should work as if they were printing and scanning to that old computer even though she is doing those things wirelessly from her laptop.
Another option to turn the old printer into a wireless one involves purchasing a small unit called a wireless printer server, which you can buy through Amazon for $20 to $70. It's a small box that you attach to your printer via its USB port and connects wirelessly to your home network. Before you spend money on one, first check to see if your wireless router has a printer server built into it, which some do. If it works, your wireless network will detect the printer and you should be able to print wirelessly from your laptop.
A possible way to turn your old scanner into a wireless scanner is to purchase a wireless adapter, a small $20 dongle with a USB plug. It looks like a flash drive that you connect to the USB port on the scanner. That allows the scanner to join your home wireless network and you should be able to scan documents from your laptop.
The big caveat here is that depending on the models of Diana's printer and scanner, both devices still may not work with those options because they may require special printing software. It depends on if they are available from her manufacturer.
The third and final option is to buy a new wireless all-in-one printer and scanner. They are extremely cheap — as low as $50 for a decent one — and they do an excellent job. The reason printers are so inexpensive these days is because the manufacturers want you to pay all your money on replacement ink cartridges.
If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and he'll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to sltrib.com/topics/ohmytech.