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It Isn't a Shark, Compal

Let me explain: the shark is one of nature's perfect predators, and has thus undergone very little evolution over the preceding millennia compared to other species. It hasn't changed because it hasn't really needed to; the Big Buddha stamped that project "complete" some time ago. Compal's NBLB2, on the other hand, looks like the relic of a bygone era. Notebook styling has changed fairly substantially over the past few years—heck even in the past year—but you wouldn't know it from looking at this one.

Gallery: Compal NBLB2

The lid marks the return of everyone's favorite: glossy black plastic. There's no pattern, just solid black, and it looks nice enough but the industry has started moving away from this kind of styling for a reason. Our CyberpowerPC unit has a company logo on the top left (or is it bottom right?) corner.

When you pop the notebook open you find that same wonderful glossy black plastic in the same place we've kvetched about before: all around the screen bezel. Oh well, at least they're consistent, and it makes more sense than ASUS using the glossy plastic only on the screen bezel. The hinges for the screen feel fairly strong, and the webcam is exactly where you'd expect it.

Moving down to the body, we find a patterned silver glossy plastic shell and what has to be the first 10-key-free 15.6" notebook keyboard we've seen in a while. The real estate saved to the right of the keyboard is used for the power button, the USB charging toggle, and the fingerprint reader, while the left side is barren. Above the keyboard are the speakers along with a bar of touch-sensitive buttons that didn't actually do anything in our review unit.

And the keyboard itself? A quaint sort of "old-style" layout (read: tried and true) using generic matte plastic keys. Compared to the chiclet-style keyboards we're getting accustomed to seeing these days, the NBLB2's oldest-school keyboard feels a little mushy despite having a comfortable layout. There's a little flex in the center of the keyboard, too; not enough to become a serious issue but still noticeable.

The touchpad below it, on the other hand, feels brutally cheap. Cordoned off from the rest of the palmrest by a printed outline and nothing else, the texture is unpleasant and tracking is difficult. The toggle button next to it is handy at least, and will probably see use long enough to turn the touchpad off for good. Beneath it is a single rocker that serves as the left and right mouse buttons and is about as much fun to use. This is a bad design that's in dire need of updating, but depending on how you intend to use the notebook it's not a dealbreaker. 

Unfortunately, the port selection also betrays Compal's general unwillingness to update their design. The four USB 2.0 ports and HDMI port are welcome, and having a hard wireless toggle switch instead of handling it in software is a nice throwback, but the infrared port is horribly outdated. Worse, without FireWire, USB 3.0, eSATA, or ExpressCard, you're stuck using either USB 2.0 or your network to transfer files to and from the hard drive. Frankly I'm surprised there isn't a PC card slot on this notebook.

Compal may have studiously continued to update this notebook's internals over the past couple of years, but the overall design feels borderline ancient in an industry that moves forward as fast as this one. AVADirect didn't want to send us one of these at all and to an extent I can understand why, but I'm not sure the notebooks Clevo makes are much of an improvement. Overall build quality of the Compal is actually a little better (Clevo notebooks feel like they have more of a candy shell than any kind of actual construction), but the design is staggeringly dated.

Introducing the Compal NBLB2 Application and Futuremark Performance
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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. Reply
  • 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. Reply
  • 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. Reply
  • 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. Reply
  • 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. Reply
  • 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. Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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. Reply

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