Introducing the Compal NBLB2

I don't know about the rest of you, but I've been wanting to get my mitts on a Compal notebook for review for a while. Compal has had essentially this same chassis on the market for years, periodically updating and refreshing the components as new hardware became available, but reviews of this line have been scarce. It wasn't until we got in touch with CyberpowerPC and let them know how difficult it's been to secure one that they sent us a review unit.

And what's not compelling about it? We know there's a demand for 15.6" notebooks with 1080p screens and reasonably powerful graphics, and this Compal model has generally been reasonably priced across the different vendors (much less across generations of hardware). So what is our review unit packing?

Compal NBLB2 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-640M
(2x2.8GHz + HTT, 32nm, 4MB L3, Turbo to 3.46GHz, 35W)
Chipset Intel PM55
Memory 2x2GB DDR3-1333 (Max 2x4GB)
Graphics AMD Mobility Radeon HD 5650 1GB GDDR3
(400 Stream Processors, 550MHz core clock, 1600MHz effective memory clock)
Display 15.6" LED Glossy 16:9 1920x1080
(AU Optronics AUO10ED Panel)
Hard Drive(s) 500GB 7200 RPM
(Seagate Momentus 7200.4)
Optical Drive DVD+/-RW Drive
Networking Atheros AR8131 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Realtek RTL8191SE 802.11b/g/n
Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
Audio Realtek ALC272 HD Audio
Stereo speakers
Headphone and microphone jacks
Battery 6-Cell, 11.1V, 57.72Wh battery
Front Side Wireless switch
IR port
Card reader
Microphone jack
Headphone jack
Left Side Kensington lock
USB 2.0
Exhaust vent
Ethernet jack
Right Side 3x USB 2.0
Optical drive
AC adapter
Back Side -
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 14.84" x 10.04" x 1.06"-1.48" (WxDxH)
Weight 5.95 lbs
Extras 2MP webcam
Fingerprint reader
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo)
USB charging
Warranty 1-year limited warranty
Pricing Starting at $945
Priced as configured: $1,112

Our review unit comes to us equipped with Intel's fastest dual-core mobile chip, and our testing has shown that the Core i7-640M's nominal 2.8GHz stock clock and blistering 3.46GHz Turbo clock allow it to trump the entry-level i7-720QM in all but the most heavily threaded tasks. Note that this chip is a $134 upgrade off of the standard and still reasonable Core i5-560M, and represents the biggest jump in price for our review configuration. You can upgrade to a quad-core chip, too, but we're not entirely certain how well this chassis would cope with the increased heat dissipation and it would most certainly have a catastrophic effect on battery life.

By now the rest of Arrandale and the PM/HM55 platform should be old hat. Cyberpower ships the NBLB2 with 4GB of DDR3 standard, but what we're really interested in is the AMD Mobility Radeon HD 5650. This wouldn't be the first time we've tested the chip, not by a longshot, but it's actually going to be the first time our testing platform (updated months ago) is going to see a 5650 that isn't encumbered by a slow AMD mobile processor, low stock clock, or worse, both. As a result, the 5650 is going to get to stretch its legs here. At 550MHz it's not running at the fastest spec clock AMD defines for this particular chip (that would be the HD 5730, clocked 100MHz higher), but it's not the brutally slow 450MHz we saw before either.

The hard drive in our review unit is one you should all be familiar with by now: the Seagate Momentus 7200.4, a 500GB 7200-RPM hard drive that seems to have become the de facto standard for all industry players large and small. It's likewise coupled with a bog standard DVD+/-RW drive.

That leaves the other highlight: Compal doesn't ship this notebook with anything but a 15.6", 1080p screen. It has been increasingly our experience that these high-pixel-density screens offer substantially improved viewing angles, backlighting, and overall quality than the usual cheapo 1366x768 panels. Hopefully our testing will bear that out again, but subjectively the panel is very attractive.

It Isn't a Shark, Compal
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  • DanNeely - Tuesday, December 21, 2010 - link

    Apple went full glass on the top. Every designer of cheap laptops slavishly emulated the shiney bit as cheaply as could be done. Clueless PHBs then decided shiney was in and forced the rest of their designers to commit the same crime or be fired.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - link

    I dislike the "edge-to-edge" glossy approach just as much as regular glossy; in fact, putting a glossy sheet over an LCD (typically with a small gap between them) is just brain dead. It's a case of two wrongs making a bigger wrong.
  • Pylon757 - Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - link

    Then get a Thinkpad or a comparable business laptop (e.g. Dell Latitude or HP Elitebook). Those don't compromise on usability and most are all-matte.
  • 5150Joker - Tuesday, December 21, 2010 - link

    With a 5650m GPU, you can hardly call it gaming worthy. Sure it's better than Intel integrated graphics but it's definitely not considered mid range in the notebook world. A midrange graphics chip in the notebook world is an nVidia GTX 260M or it's equivalent. The 5650 falls quite short of that.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, December 21, 2010 - link

    I'd say GTX 260M is more of a high-end mobile GPU. It's not in the dream category like GTX 480M, but for mobile graphics it's in the upper echelon. HD 5650 is a good "midrange" mobile GPU, but it's really an entry-level gaming GPU. The 1080p LCD is a bit of a problem for 5650 as well if you're playing games, but again you need substantially more expensive GPU and everything else to make that happen.
  • 5150Joker - Tuesday, December 21, 2010 - link

    The 260M these days is mid range in terms of gaming video cards available. The top end consists of GTX 480M, GTX 470M, GTX 470M, AMD 5870m, 5850m. 2nd tier would be 4870m, GTX 280M and third tier is 260M (mid range by performance). The 5650 is even lower on the scale of performance thus IMO doesn't constitute mid range at all. It's lower mid range if anything. In January we're going to see even faster GPU's released so that will push the 5650 down even lower.
  • synaesthetic - Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - link

    For the most part I agree with this... the lack of GDDR5 is a problem with these midrange mobile GPUs... even the desktop 5750 has a gig of GDDR5.

    At stock clocks the 5650 isn't very impressive, but if you get a good one it can OC like a champ. My 5650 running at 850/900 clocks can give the Mobility Radeon 5830 a run for its money (10k 3dmark06). Yeah, I know benchmarks mean mostly jack, but this chip is great for the price, especially if you're a light game such as myself.
  • bennyg - Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - link

    I agree - the GTX 260M is a cut-down high-end GPU, kind of the low end of the high end. Kind of the "4830" concept rather than "4670"... I am of course referring to a very short space of time when number names had some kind of internal consistency with the product-space-concept the product was occupying :/

    The core of the issue I think is the challenge to compare technology from different generations or model years - there is relative performance at release (where the 55nm G92b derivative chips were king), then there is relative performance right now (where they're still more powerful than 40nm midrange from both camps but not by very much), after it's been superceeded by a generation or two.

    All I know as an individual, my (un-underclocked...) GTX260M runs the games I play at 1080p with good enough quality to keep me happy.
  • frozentundra123456 - Tuesday, December 21, 2010 - link

    A decent system, but the 1199.00 price is way out of line. For this, you can get the Asus G73 model at Best buy, and that has a mobility HD5870 and a 1.73Ghz quad core in a 17 inch chasis.

    If the NBLB2 is available for 899.00 as the artice stated it might be, then I would consider it.
  • warisz00r - Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - link

    Would you be able to get the G73 with a 1080p panel at the same price? No? I guess as much.

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