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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  • synaesthetic - Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - link

    The BB version of the G73 has a 1600x900 screen... so, no, no full HD for you.
  • frozentundra123456 - Thursday, December 23, 2010 - link

    No, it doesnt have a 1080p panel, but can the 5650 in the tested notebook run games at 1080p anyway? I dont think so at any kind of high detail.

    So I still think the G73 is a better value. I would prefer to have a somewhat lower resolution panel and the power to run at native resolution than a good display without the graphics power to use it properly.
  • synaesthetic - Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - link

    Can I put this screen on my Gateway NV5925u?

    Also, damn! That 5650 gets hot! It's hard for the 5650 in my laptop to reach 70 degrees, even overclocked to 5730 clocks!

    ... somehow I got really lucky with the GPU in my laptop. I can OC it to 850/900 without any stability issues so long as I use a laptop cooler.
  • Zoridon - Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - link

    I'd be willing to recommend a mid range gaming notebook just like the NBLB2 if they made the native resolution 1680x1050. at 1080p the 5650 can't run most games at native resolution. 1680x1050 seems to be the breaking point or 1600x900. They could use the money saved on the screen and include USB 3 and a keyboard backlight with a decent touchpad. Throw in the Momentus XT hybrid drive as well. All of which could be done for about the same price. That way if you are forced to play at 720p you are much closer to the native resolution and will have a better picture than if you step down from 1080p.
  • NJoy - Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - link

    You forget that they all have switched to 16:9 panels, while 1680x1050 is 16:10. In any case, thanks to small pitch the picture looks ok when you scale it down to 1600x900
  • NJoy - Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - link

    Very nice review. thanks.
    The touch buttons are supposed to work with the software, mainly to switch between different color profiles. However, the implementation is so bad that most compal users just disable them right away
    Next, the cooling. Traditionally, these compals cool the cpu a lot better than GPUs, probably due to a shorter heatpipe, but it should cope with quads without much problems. I recommended one to a friend recently and he got it with i7 840QM - havent heard any complaints from him yet.
    The GPU temps just make me feel really sad about the anemic DDR2 9600GT in my JHL90, which idles at 57C since day one and gets to 95C with toaster speeds. All that while cpu (p8600) never gets over 55.
    All in all, even despite the glossiness and dated design, I find this model to be one of the best laptops you can get for these money. There are not that many laptops packing so many nice features in a 15" chassis, especially here, in UK. DELL UK doesn't give you so many customisation options as the US one and their customer & repair service is to stay away from, so it's not a competitor, really
  • 7Enigma - Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - link

    Glad to see some dual-core laptops with mid-range graphics getting some review time. The quad-core fad for laptops is really only beneficial for a small minority, the rest of the time it's a battery-wasting expensive upgrade that your graphs show to be of little improvement over a good dual-core.

    I'm very interested in seeing how Sandy Bridge can close the gap for the notebook sector, because as of right now unless you REALLY need the quad, a dual with better screen/faster gpu is definitely the way to go.
  • Pjotr - Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - link

    Acer Aspire TimelineX 3820TG

    I still find this increadible value, ATI 5650 1 GB graphics, Core i5, 1.8 kg light weght and up to 8 hours of battery time. It should be around the top of the gaming charts... with a lower price than the reviewed unit and a lot more portable, although the standard low res screen.
  • synaesthetic - Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - link

    The 3820TG is still not available in the US, else I'd own one already. -.-;
  • TrooperOttawa - Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - link

    Right now the Dell XPS 15 is only available with the 1366x768 resolution. I agree that if you could still get the Dell with the 1080p screen then the Dell is the better system.

    So my question is, out of the following machines, which offers the best bang for the buck?
    - Compal NBLB2
    - Clevo B5130M
    - ASUS N53JF-XE1

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