Compal's Shark Evolves

While the internals have gotten their usual refresh, I'm pleased to report that the PBL21 has given the chassis a real update this time, too. In some cases it's two steps forward, one step back, but progress is always appreciated.

The lid and screen bezel have unfortunately gone almost completely unchanged, though. Glossy black plastic abounds, playing hell with photography and with the general appearance of the notebook. We've already been over my feelings regarding glossy plastic on the screen bezel so it doesn't bear repeating, but the takeaway here is that the top half of the PBL21 has the same issues with gloss that its predecessor did.

When you get to the main shell, though, you'll see Compal has divorced itself from the glossy gray of old and recognized what many of us already knew: black goes with everything. The frame of the keyboard is a glossy black accent, but the palmrest and touchpad are a textured black matte plastic that's a major improvement. Shortcut buttons and touch controls above and around the keyboard have been replaced by two physical buttons above it: power, and a toggle for USB charging.

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. If the NBLB2's keyboard was mushy and flexy, the PBL21's has some of the same issues with flex along with being incredibly noisy and clicky. The layout itself isn't terrible, but the 10-key is borderline worthless. The whole point of a 10-key (a point Clevo doesn't understand either) is that it's standardized to allow you to use it by touch. But moving keys around the way Clevo and Compal do makes the keypad pointless. I'm also not at all a fan of using the keypad as shortcuts for document navigation, much preferring the column of document navigation keys on the right side of the keyboard (assuming a lack of 10-key) or a row above the number pad. Thankfully the keys are still the same classic matte style keys and not an island-style keyboard, so users who hate the chiclet keys that have become so common with modern keyboards will be happy with the PBL21.

The touchpad is once again part of the shell, only this time even less well demarcated from the rest of the palm rest. I still hate how this looks on modern notebooks; it takes away some of the magic and just feels chintzy. The flipside is that because Compal switched to a matte plastic for the palm rest, the touchpad is now vastly improved and much, much easier to use. Tracking and texture are solid, and though I still hate the rocker-style mouse button, it gets the job done.

All in all the Compal PBL21's build still feels a bit generic and spare as is customary with whitebooks, but it's much improved from its predecessor, seeming less bulbous and more streamlined.

Introducing CyberpowerPC's Compal PBL21 Application and Futuremark Performance
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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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