Introducing CyberpowerPC's Compal PBL21

The last time we took a look at a Compal whitebook (again courtesy of CyberpowerPC), we noted to Compal that their whitebook wasn't a shark, perfect and needing no further evolution. Their 15.6" shell had gone largely unchanged since the dawn of the 15.6" form factor, missing modern connectivity like eSATA and USB 3.0 and exhibiting an aesthetic that seemed like a relic from a bygone era. When Compal updated the exterior of their 15.6" flagship along with the interior update to Sandy Bridge, it sounded like a good opportunity to see just how much the notebook had evolved. Exit the old NBLB2, enter the PBL21.

The march of progress has been a long time coming for Compal. Ever since the start of my tenure way back at NotebookReview, people have been consistently curious about their 15" notebooks. These machines always featured high-resolution screens and powerful dedicated graphics in an appealing form factor. The shell stagnated for a long time, but with the PBL21 that era comes to a close. Updates to Sandy Bridge and NVIDIA's GeForce 500M series accompany a healthy change in style.

Compal PBL21 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-2630QM
(4x2GHz + HTT, 32nm, 6MB L3, Turbo to 2.9GHz, 45W)
Chipset Intel HM65
Memory 2x4GB Kingston DDR3-1333 (Max 2x4GB)
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M 2GB DDR3
(96 CUDA Cores, 672MHz/1344MHz/1.8GHz core/shader/memory clocks, 128-bit memory bus)
Display 15.6" LED Glossy 16:9 1920x1080
(AU Optronics AUO10ED Panel)
Hard Drive(s) Kingston SSDNow V Series 128GB SSD
Optical Drive DVD+/-RW Drive
Networking Realtek RTL8168 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Realtek RTL8191SE PCIe 802.11b/g/n
Audio Realtek ALC269 HD Audio
Stereo speakers
Headphone and microphone jacks
Battery 6-Cell, 11.1V, 5200mAh, 58Wh battery
Front Side Wireless switch
Card reader
Left Side Kensington lock
Exhaust vent
Ethernet jack
USB 3.0
Right Side Headphone and mic jacks
2x USB 2.0
Optical drive
AC adapter
Back Side -
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 14.82" x 9.8" x 1.37" (WxDxH)
Weight 5.51 lbs
Extras 2MP webcam
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo)
USB charging
Warranty 1-year limited warranty and lifetime technical support
Pricing Starting at $949
Priced as configured: $1,190

I find the more notebooks I test the more fond I become of Intel's Core i7-2630QM. Last generation didn't really have a proper entry-level quad-core unless you count the Core i7-720QM, and that chip was a rare find south of a grand. But Intel seems to be pricing the i7-2630QM to sell, because I'm seeing it pop up all over the place; on NewEgg you can find it in an Acer notebook for just $699. It's a good thing, too, because while the i7-720QM occasionally found itself having a hard time competing with its dual-core brethren, the Sandy Bridge-based i7-2630QM is plenty fast. It starts at a 2GHz clock speed and can turbo all the way up to 2.9GHz on one core or 2.6GHz on all four cores, and each of those cores is Hyper-Threading enabled.

Strapped to the i7-2630QM's memory controller is 8GB of DDR3-1333 in two DIMMs, and supporting it on graphics duty is NVIDIA's GeForce GT 540M with 2GB of DDR3 (honestly far more than this GPU can really take advantage of). I'm curious to see how well the GT 540M competes with the last model's AMD Mobility Radeon HD 5650. In the Compal PBL21, the GT 540M features 96 of NVIDIA's CUDA cores, with a base clock speed of 672MHz and the shaders operating at 1344MHz. That 2GB of DDR3 is thankfully strapped to a 128-bit memory bus and running at an effective 1.8GHz. It's not blazingly fast, but mercifully the benefit of a 1080p 15.6" screen is that running at a lower than native resolution doesn't look that bad.

For storage duties, CyberpowerPC equipped this review unit with a 128GB Kingston SSDNow V Series SSD. It's not the fastest SSD on the market, but it still beats mechanical storage for speed and it keeps costs down. Connectivity has gotten a small but much appreciated boost with the new chassis, though: the Compal PBL21 is now USB 3.0 enabled (but still no eSATA).

Compal's Shark Evolves
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  • Hrel - Monday, July 11, 2011 - link

    I wish compal would release a 15.6" with a GTX560 in it... sigh. Oh well, just ordered the Clevo.

    I'd be curious to know if DDR3-1333 with CAS latency 9 is faster or if 1066 with latency 7 is faster. Like I said, I just ordered this laptop and intend to add or swap out the RAM. Came with 1333, so I know it's CAS 9. It's always made sense to me to reduce latency whenever possible. But I'd like to know for sure. What do you think, 1333 at CAS 9 or 1066 at CAS 7? Gaming, video editing, web surfing. Media playback is the usage model. Tests would be great, but that's asking a lot.

    It annoys me that they put so much RAM on GPU's in notebooks. Like you said it can't use anywhere near that much. They just wanna sell more RAM and don't want you to have a choice. So they just let the price creep up. Similar feeling to the old RAM price fixing issues from a decade ago. Same idea, just forcing quantity on you instead of straight price.

    Finally, I'd like to see the Seagate Momentus XT compared to a laptop 7200rpm drive. Anand's review of it compared it to a 5400rpm drive, hardly a reasonable comparison considering the XT runs at 7200rpm AND has 32MB of cache. I ordered it already anyway, but I like numbers:)

    On to the rest of the review!
  • Hrel - Monday, July 11, 2011 - link

    I like the keyboard mostly. The NBLB2 never bothered me except where the ctrl key is. They 10-key on this looks good, all the numbers and enter key at least. The other keys I just couldn't fit to the right. I'm ok with that. I can still do the number part as fast as ever, just have to alter brain patterns to hit the + - / * keys.

    I hate one mouse button, give me two actual buttons please.

    I know it's silly but I want a fingerprint scanner. Seriously, how much can they cost? 15 bucks? I got that.

    Overall I agree. Much improved but still in need of work.
  • Hrel - Monday, July 11, 2011 - link

    Final thing I should mention. If you google "cyberpowerpc coupon" you will find multiple coupon codes that STILL work. Can save you about 20-80 bucks depending on some variables. Basically paid for shipping and then a little thank you for me.
  • GuinnessKMF - Monday, July 11, 2011 - link

    The latency is a measure of how many clocks, so comparing latency directly is misleading. 1333mhz, 9 clocks is 6.75 microseconds (my units might be off, but I'll be consistent), and the 1066 with CAS 7 is 6.56 microseconds, less than a 3% degradation in actual latency, but you're looking at about a 25% throughput improvement. Different applications demand different performance characteristics, but I think for the most part a DDR3-1333 at CAS 9 is going to be an improvement over DDR3-1066 CAS 7.
  • PlasmaBomb - Monday, July 11, 2011 - link

    It would be nanoseconds (ns), and I don't think 3% is enough to be worried about (you probably won't notice it due to benchmarking variations). Other than that thumbsup.
  • tzhu07 - Monday, July 11, 2011 - link

    Tacky build quality and design + glossy screen on a laptop = auto-fail

  • DanNeely - Monday, July 11, 2011 - link

    "Unfortunately, the PBL21's keyboard is more of a lateral move than anything and I'm beginning to think that despite the ability to cram a 10-key into a 15.6" chassis, manufacturers should probably just avoid it."

    Yeah, if there's only room to fit 3 columns naturally I'd much rather see the ins-pgdn keys and the arrow T in a proper desktop layout than anything else.
  • wurizen - Monday, July 11, 2011 - link

    why does a modern gpu like the gt 540m have trouble playing in 1080p when console games like the PS3, which is like 5 yrs old have no problem w/ it?
  • Dustin Sklavos - Monday, July 11, 2011 - link

    Consoles typically render at 720p (sometimes lower) and then upscale the image. The lion's share of the time they're not ACTUALLY rendering at 1080p.
  • wurizen - Monday, July 11, 2011 - link

    huh? aren't ps3 games already 1080p? no need to upscale. are you saying ps3 developers render their games at less than 1080p and tell you it's 1080p? i think you can sue them for that.

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