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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  • Dustin Sklavos - Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - link

    I think that really depends on where your priorities lie.

    If gaming and budget are top priority, the NBLB2.
    If a slightly better screen, slightly better battery life, and slightly better connectivity are important, the B5130M.
    If the best battery life is what you're after, we haven't tested the ASUS but imagine it's probably going to do better than the B5130M.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - link

    Wow, I hope Dell brings back the 1080p LCD soon; maybe it's just a temporary thing due to demand? (And if that's the case, you'd think they would realize that a good LCD *can* sell lots of laptops!) As for the rest, speak for yourself... *I've* tested the ASUS N53JF; I just haven't finished writing the review yet. ;-) So, um, SPOILER ALERT!

    Battery life with a 48Wh battery comes to 271 idle, 233 Internet, and 139 for H.264 playback. That's better than the competition (despite having a smaller battery) in two of the tests. Performance elsewhere is in line with the other i5 + 425M configurations we've tested. Here's the kicker, though: The 1080p LCD sucks. Not sucks as in it's worse than 768p, but sucks as in contrast is 233:1. That means that unfortunately, all the 15.6" 1080p LCDs aren't great; only some of them are. Also, the Dell XPS 15 still has by far the best sounding speakers; ASUS has some Bang & Olafsen tech supposedly, but they just don't sound that great -- they really overemphasize the highs, to the point where a lot of MP3s sound like they have tons of static. Anyway, the full review should hopefully be up this week.
  • debacol - Thursday, December 23, 2010 - link

    Whats the price of a Dell XPS 15 with the equivalent 640M CPU and 1080p screen? I have a feeling its a bit north of $1,100.
  • Dug - Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - link

    I think this is a great improvement over the last review. Easy to read and very informative. Keep up the good work.
  • mattgmann - Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - link

    My only question concerns hard drive space. Is there a second slot to add an SSD, or can the optical drive be replaced with an ssd? I really need to have room for data on my next laptop, so a lone SSD isn't going to cut the mustard. I'd be cool though if adding a second drive meant losing the optical drive.

    I am super impressed with the hardware in this lappy. I need a new laptop capable of doing some of my production work (mostly web stuff, but also lots of flash and photoshop/illustrator work) while I travel. I'm quite intrigued by the i7 640m.

    The build quality looks to be a little on the cheap side, but I'm not one for style anyway. I configured a system on cyberpowerpc without an operating system and slid in at ~1100, well within my budget. The Dell XS 15 isn't available with the i7 640m, and similarly configured systems were much more expensive.
  • debacol - Thursday, December 23, 2010 - link

    I have an old Compal IFL90 and have been using it heavily for about 4 years. I haven't had a single issue with it at all. So even if the build quality doesn't "feel" as great as other laptops, at least from my personal experience, that "feel" hasn't translated into poor reliability.

    I use my laptop for light gaming and very heavy photoshop use (ie: always working with 300dpi 200+mb files).

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