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


View All Comments

  • synaesthetic - Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - link

    The BB version of the G73 has a 1600x900 screen... so, no, no full HD for you. Reply
  • 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. Reply
  • 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 Reply
  • 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. -.-; Reply
  • 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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