Lexmark E323n printer TCP/IP problems

The Lexmark E323n is a compact network/USB laser printer. Its distinguishing feature is that the paper fits in a convenient vertical paper holder in the back, which eliminates opening paper trays to add paper. It handles PostScript Level 2 and PCL 6. The PostScript implementation is not as complete as more expensive HP printers, and some valid PostScript documents will not print properly. However, as a personal USB/network printer, it is very reliable and is a good choice for Linux.

However, this printer does have a problem in its handling of network connections. Normally, you configure the TCP/IP, AppleTalk, and NetWare settings through its HTTP interface (or by telnet to port 9000). It also has the interesting feature of allowing you to print using ftp. However, if you configure the printer incorrectly, the printer's NVRAM sometimes gets wedged, rendering the printer inaccessible. This also happens spontaneously at unpredictable times. This behavior was observed on two different Lexmark E323n printers and seems to be a design flaw rather than a hardware failure.

(Note: It was not a problem with the network. The printer was working perfectly, until its interface started hanging, probably due to a dip in the line voltage, which was a frequent occurrence at this location).

The symptoms are: (1) Can't ping printer; (2) Can't communicate with printer to change configuration; (3) power cycling and resetting the printer to Factory Defaults don't help; and (4) the printer's date mysteriously stays stuck on December 31, 1969, which it relives over and over like a bad movie. However, the hardware is still functional--the link LED is lit, and the other LED blinks when you ping the printer. It also periodically still sends out IPX broadcast packets. But you can't print to it over the network. Lexmark's Web page gives instructions for restoring the NVRAM to factory defaults, and the Driver CD contains Windows software which restores factory defaults; however, neither of these techniques is effective.

As far as I know, the older Lexmark E322n and the improved E324n (which, like the E323n, is black in color) do not have this problem. I suspect that the E323n may be very susceptible to variations in line voltage. However, this is only speculation.

Solution: There are actually two different problems that can cause similar symptoms. They have different solutions--one solution will not work for the other problem. Restoring the factory defaults should be tried first, because it's easier. If not, try the second procedure.

1. Restoring the factory defaults.

A fellow Lexmark user named Leo Meijer found that resetting the network card seems to work in the less serious case:

Open the front cover and keep the Continue button pressed. Instead of pressing only the Continue button, press BOTH buttons (Continue AND Cancel). That will do the trick in resetting the network card.

Yassen Damyanov provided a more detailed version of this procedure:

Make sure you have an active DHCP server on the network (this is usually the case for most networks).

  1. Remove the network cable
  2. Turn the printer off
  3. Open the front cover
  4. Hold down the cancel and continue buttons
  5. Turn the printer on
  6. All the lights will flash
  7. The ! light will appear as the only light on.
  8. Remove fingers from the 2 buttons
  9. Close the front cover
  10. Attach the network cable and wait a minute allowing it to obtain address
  11. Press the continue button twice
  12. It will print out an Ethernet 10/100 page listing the current settings

Yassen reports that this works on the E323n, E332n and E120n.

2. Tweaking the NVRAM settings

In my printer, the above procedure did not work. I found that it was necessary to tweak the NVRAM settings to un-wedge the printer's network interface.

Step 1: Prepare server

  1. Make sure a dhcp server is active on your network. Otherwise, the printer will reset its default IP address to when it recovers (You can recover from this with the arp trick described on Lexmark's website).
  2. Monitor network traffic on the subnet where the printer is located: tcpdump -i eth0 The printer will emit a large number of packets when it is restored.

Step 2: Put printer in Printer Diagnostics mode

  1. Turn the printer off.
  2. Open the front cover.
  3. While turning the printer on, hold the Continue button.
  4. Release the Continue button when the Error light is solid, then close the cover. The first four lights on your printer will be lit. Printer Diagnostics mode is now activated.

Step 3: Tweak each of the NVRAM settings. To do this, you need to print out the Printer Settings configuration page and systematically change each of the settings using the two buttons on the printer. When the printer comes back on the network, it will emit a sudden large burst of ARP packets in the tcpdump window. Ignore any IPX packets from the printer.

  1. In Printer Configuration mode, the first option is "Print configure mode instructions" (LEDs 1,2,3, and 4). This will show the codes you need to identify the LED patterns. Press and hold the Continue button to print the instructions.
  2. Momentarily press the Cancel button to go to the next option, "Reset factory defaults" (LED 1 only). Contrary to expectation, this does not erase the network settings. Press and hold the Continue button to reset printer defaults.
  3. Momentarily press the Cancel button nine more times until the 2nd and 4th LEDs are lit (Network Interface or NPA Mode). Check the status of the 5th and 6th LEDs. If both are lit, the network card is in "Automatic" mode. If only the 5th LED is lit, the card is in "Off" mode. If neither is lit, the card is in "Totally screwed up" mode. Press the Continue button until both LEDs are lit (This may take a few tries. Continue power-cycling the printer and tweaking this setting until the LEDs are lit).
  4. Tweak the next setting (Card Speed) by momentarily pressing the Cancel button once. The 5th and 6th LEDs should toggle on and off when the Continue button is pressed. Repeat until this step works.
  5. Once the printer's network interface is reset, don't press 'Reset Printer Defaults' again. Just power-cycle the printer.
  6. Continue changing the settings until the printer emits several BOOTP packets and a burst of ARP probe packets. The printer should then grab an IP address from your DHCP server. The address that it grabs will be visible in the tcpdump output. Sometimes the printer sends out bogus IP addresses that are not part of your network. You need to continue tweaking the printer until a sensible IP address (i.e., one that is offered by your DHCP server) appears. The printer should now respond to pings.

Step 4: Re-enter all the network settings using a browser.

Alternative procedure for clearing the NVRAM

This procedure for clearing E32x INA (Integrated Network Architecture) NVRAM was provided by Lexmark technical support.

  1. On the back of the printer above the RJ45 there should be two buttons and 4 LEDs arranged vertically.
  2. Press and hold the lower (Test) button for about 10 seconds and release when all four lights are solid.
  3. Press the upper (Menu) button one time when the 3rd and 4th light are illuminated simultaneously.
  4. Press the Menu button one time when the 3rd light is illuminated.
  5. The INA should then return to a steady state with the lights scanning from top to bottom and bottom to top. The NVRAM on the INA has now been reset and must be configured for your network.

However, for the E323n, this procedure doesn't work, because there are no LEDs on the back of the E323n. These instructions do apparently work for earlier printers like the E322n.

Footnote - Additional problems and solutions

1. "Press continue" light coming on After about a year, a new problem emerged on the E323: when printing a PostScript document through the network interface, the "Press Continue" light would light up and printing would stop. If the Continue button is pressed, the printer starts printing garbage (not garbage of course, but the text of the PostScript file). Printing ordinary text files worked fine, and printing through the USB port worked fine.
Solution: The above procedure also fixes this problem. Tweak the "MAC Binary PS" (there are two of these) and the "Set Card Speed" settings. Remember to press and hold Continue until all of the lights cycle to save the new values. It was not necessary to reset the network configuration. Sometimes it is not necessary to do anything; as long as the urge to press the "Continue" button is resisted, printing will spontaneously resume after a few minutes.

2. IP configuration problems The following information provided by a fellow Lexmark user indicates another potential source of configuration problems that users should be aware of:

The cfgutil program provided by the vendor to store the IP configuration parameters has a bug in it. It appears that when the configuration software attempts to reach the printer, the software assumes that the printer is the next IP address downstream from the machine running the utility. We were only able to discover this with a network sniffer. If the config machine is, for example, the software tries to contact as the printer. Once we discovered this pattern, we reconfigured the PC to use the IP number just below the intended IP address and we were successful in storing the IP configuration data into NVRAM, and returned the printer back to service.

3. Lights flickering Another problem that was attributed to this printer was flickering lights in the house. The printer is supposed to draw a maximum of 375 watts when printing and 8 watts when in powersave mode. The 375 watt load overloaded the house mains circuit in the winter, when electric heaters were in operation, and lowered the line voltage, causing the printer to print garbage. For this reason, I kept the printer on its own separate circuit. However, I noticed that the lights in the house were still frequently blinking or flickering. At first I attributed this to cheap compact fluorescent lamps; but when I tested some incandescent lamps, I found that they too were flickering. The flickering stopped when the printer was unplugged. Apparently the printer uses electricity in intermittent bursts even when nothing is being printed. This may be common to all laser printers.

Alternative procedure - Throw the printer away and buy something else

This is the procedure that worked for my boss.