Compal HEL80 Review (pics, specs)

by Charles P. Jefferies Reads (153,203)

by Charles P. Jefferies


Compal HEL80 15.4″ screen notebook (view large image)

Introduction

The Crown P 15:2 reviewed here is PowerNotebook.com’s version of the Compal HEL80, a 15.4″ mid-range notebook with a wide array of features. The main focus of the HEL80 is performance while still retaining some portability and battery life. It features an Intel Core Duo processor, 256MB Nvidia graphics, and a high-resolution display.

Specifications:

  • 15.4″ WSXGA+ (1680 x 1050) Matte LCD
  • PCI-e nVIDIA GeForce Go 7600 w/256MB
  • Intel Core Duo T2500 2.0GHz Processor w/2,048k L2 On-die cache – 667MHz FSB
  • Arctic Silver 5 Thermal Compound
  • 1,024MB (2 SODIMMS) CORSAIR DDR2/667 Dual Channel Memory
  • 60GB SATA/150 Hitachi Hard Drive at 7,200 RPM
  • Combo Dual Layer SuperMulti DVDR Drive w/Software
  • Built-in Intel PRO/Wireless 3945 802.11a/b/g
  • Smart Li-ion Battery (9-Cell)
  • Windows XP Home
  • Full Range Auto Switching AC Adapter
  • Built-in Bluetooth Wireless
  • PowerPro 3-year Warranty – Next Business Day Shipping – Lifetime 24/7
  • Price as configured (inc. ship): $1,822 (w/Cash discount: $1,776.45)

Overall, a reasonable price for the included hardware, especially with a three-year warranty and 24/7 technical support.

Build and Design


Closed view of HEL80 (view large image)

The HEL80 is about as solid as they come. The chassis is very rigid, and there is hardly any flex on the unit. The only flex I found was when putting more than usual pressure on the palm rests. The aluminum areas surrounding the keyboards are rigid and flex-less. Copper trim surrounds the keyboard, and gives it a sharp and elegant look. The plastic used on the rest of the unit is high-strength and the whole unit feels like it is put together well. Tapping the plastic yields a solid sound, not a cheap, rattling noise as so many notebooks exhibit.


Back closed view of HEL80 (view large image)

The lid is equally well enforced, with much of this due to the fact that it is covered in aluminum Although it has a small amount of flex, no ripples appear on the screen unless extreme pressure is used.

All around the display are small rubber squares, which ensure an even and secure fit when the notebook is closed. You can lift the lid up without having to hold down the bottom of the notebook; the hinges are not too tight and not too loose. A satisfying ‘click’ results when the display is shut.

The overall feel and design of the HEL80 is well beyond that of a mainstream notebook. No corners were cut in putting this together, and attention to detail is superb.

Screen


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My HEL80 has a matte WSXGA+ (1680×1050 pixels) resolution display. This is one of the best matte screens I have seen. It is evenly lit, and contrast is excellent. Colors are very vibrant, white is white and black is black. Horizontal viewing angles are very good, and the vertical viewing angles are considerably better than average. From the bottom of the display, there is a small amount of light leakage, but it is unnoticeable unless the screen is completely black.

The WSXGA+ screen on the HEL80 is special in that it uses LGP Prism technology. The light is projected from the outside to the center, rather than projecting from the middle out, allowing for a brighter display compared to a standard screen. Picture quality is also better because of this.


The viewing and color is good from even very awkward angles (view large image)

Screen specifications:

  • Brightness – 185 cd/m2 (nits)
  • Contrast ratio – 300-500
  • Viewing angles – 130 degrees horizontal/100 degrees vertical
  • Response time — 25ms


Built-in 1.3MP camera (view large image)

Above the display is the integrated 1.3 megapixel video camera. The oval-shaped piece is actually a cover that slides over it when you aren’t using it, and will keep dust off. Video quality was good, and it could easily be used in place of an external webcam.

Speaker and Sound Quality

The two integrated speakers on the HEL80 actually sound decent; they are not tinny like most notebooks, and have measurable bass. They have good volume; I could watch a DVD without straining. Games are very enjoyable, and I did not notice any distortion while playing with maximum volume. Being laptop speakers as they are, I did not walk away disappointed.

The headphone jack is not quite crystal clear. It has some evidence of interference, but no hissing. It is drowned out by audio though.

The sound itself is provided by Intel’s High Definition Audio. I am not an audiophile, but the sound quality is quite good; I cannot tell the difference between it and my desktop’s Sound Blaster Audigy 2 sound card. An external sound card is definitely not necessary in order to get enjoyable music or gaming out of this notebook.

Processor and Performance

I did extensive testing on the HEL80. Packing a dual-core processor, 7200RPM hard drive, and a 256MB GeForce Go7600, I had high expectations. Let’s see how it did.


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Test configuration:

Drivers: Nvidia Forceware 83.90 (91.31 used for 3DMark06)

Graphics card clocks (Core: Memory): 350MHz/350MHz

Vsync disabled

System fully tuned and defragmented prior to testing; all tests run at least twice.

 

The Core Duo processor is known to be fast at SuperPi, considerably faster than the previous Pentium M.

Notebook

Time

Compal HEL80 (2.00 GHz Core Duo)

1m 18s

Asus W3H760DD (2.0 GHz Pentium M)

1m 33s

Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.0GHz Core Duo)

1m 16s

Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)

1m 18s

Toshiba Satellite M100 (2.00GHz Core Duo)

1m 18s

Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo)

1m 29s

Dell XPS M140 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)

1m 41s

Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)

1m 53s

IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)

1m 45s

 


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The installed 60GB 7200RPM Hitachi Travelstar is quick; a 36.7MB/s average transfer rate is a good deal faster than a regular 4200RPM or 5400RPM drive. I did not have any heat problems with the drive, and did not see the temperature rise above 50*.


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3DMark06 Comparison Results:

Notebook  3DMark 06 Results

Compal HEL80 (2.0GHz Core Duo, nVidia Go 7600 256MB)

1,654 3DMarks
Apple MacBook Pro (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB) 1,528 3DMarks

Dell Precison M90 (2.16GHz Core Duo, nVidia Quadro FX 1500M)

3,926 3DMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60 Nvidia GeForce Go7800GTX) 4,085 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1710 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia 7900 GTX 512MB) 4,744 3DMarks

The 3D performance of the HEL80 is not as fast as other notebooks using the same chip, mainly because the HEL80′s GPU is underclocked.

Gaming Tests:


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Far Cry

Settings: All settings at “Very High” with the exception of Lighting and Shadows (set at “High”), no AA/AF, 1680×1050 resolution.

Level

Regulator

Research

Training

Volcano

Minimum FPS

25.5

22.0

25.8

18.0

Maximum FPS

70.8

42.6

55.6

60

Average FPS

36.7

38.2

38.2

34.3

Far Cry was generally playable at the 1680×1050 native resolution. There are some levels where the resolution will have to be reduced to get ideal performance, but most of the game is enjoyable at the above settings. The fact that the HEL80 can handle this game at these settings is impressive, and it looks great.

F.E.A.R.

Settings: All settings at “Maximum”, CPU at “Maximum”, no AA/AF, 1024×768 resolution.

Level: Interval 01

Average FPS: 36.0

F.E.A.R. Is one of the most demanding games on the market. There were few areas where the FPS dipped below ~30, and the game is very playable at these settings. Note that 1GB of RAM is a limitation in this game, and the only one where I had an issue. Modern gamers should configure their systems with 2GB of RAM.

Star Wars: Battlefront 2

Settings: All graphical settings set to maximum values, Bloom off, no AA/AF, 1680×1050 resolution.

Level: Jabba’s Palace

Average FPS: 38.0

Level: Death Star

Average FPS: 35.0

Battlefront 2 is very enjoyable at maximum settings. I had no issues getting playable framerates. If “Bloom” is enabled, it adds to the visual quality, but the framerate is noticeably smoother with it off, and I do not think it is worth the performance hit.

Counter-Strike: Source Video Stress Test

Settings: All settings at maximum values, no AA/AF, 1680×1050 resolution.

Average FPS: 54.4

The Go7600 handles CS:S with little effort, and looks very nice.

3D Performance Conclusion: the HEL80 is a suitable gaming machine. Even though the video card is underclocked in comparison to other notebooks, performance is still high enough to post comfortable framerates in the latest games.

Note: by default, Nvidia cards render three frames ahead; this can reduce performance. I set it to render 0 frames ahead. Although the frame rate does not change, apparent performance, or how it appears to the eye, is much smoother, probably by roughly 4-6 FPS.

Overall System Performance:


Notebook PCMark05 Score
Compal HEL80 (2.0GHz Core Duo) 3,858 PCMarks
Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo) 3,487 PCMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60) 5,597 PCMarks
Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 3,637 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron e1405 (1.66 GHz Intel T2300) 2,879 PCMarks
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400) 3,646 PCMarks
Toshiba Satellite M70 (Pentium M 1.86GHz) 1,877 PCMarks

The HEL80 is no slouch as evident by the PCMark05 score. The system is very responsive in everyday tasks, and multitasking is seamless thanks to a dual-core Intel processor and 1GB of RAM. As I said previously, gamers will want to have 2GB to have the best experience. 1GB is fine for most people.

Keyboard and Touchpad


Compal HEL80 keyboard (view large image)

The keyboard on the HEL80 has a shorter keystroke than most notebooks, but is easy to type on. Fast typers will enjoy this keyboard. Some flexing is evident, mainly on the extreme right and left. There is still some flex in the center, but unless I had looked at it while typing, I probably would not have noticed. On the edges, it is noticeable.

Complaints? Yes — the Function (Fn) and Control (Ctrl) are switched. It takes a day or two to get used to, but after using the system for about a week, I rarely notice that they are switched anymore. However, for gaming, definitely set the Fn key to act as the control key if possible; the Ctrl key is right next to the Windows key, and it there’s anything you want to avoid hitting in game, it’s the Windows key. The flexing on either side of the keyboard is noticeable when first using the machine, but after a week of use, it adds to the typing experience in my opinion.


Touchpad view (view large image)

The touchpad is nice. The surface is smooth aluminum, and my fingers glided across the surface easily. The advantage of having an aluminum touchpad is that it will not wear like a plastic one will. I am in no way a fan of touchpads, but as far as touchpads go, this is one of the better ones. The buttons are easy to reach and depress. In between the buttons is the fingerprint reader. It did not hamper use of the touchpad.

Before using the HEL80, I had always thought fingerprint readers to be more of a novelty than anything, but after using one myself, I never realized how useful they are. All it takes is one swipe of a finger to log into my account. The OmniPass software integrates very well into Windows. You can use it to encrypt files — for example, “My Documents” can be encrypted with fingerprint authentication, so it can only be accessed by you. Very useful. It also detects if you are typing in a password in web pages, so those can be remembered as well. This definitely a worthwhile feature.

The HEL80 also has media buttons, both above and to the left of the keyboard. They are easy to press and look great embedded into the brushed aluminum.

All descriptions left to right


Media front (view large image)

Above keyboard: Caps lock,, number lock, and scroll lock lights, user-definable buttons (2), lauch default Internet browser, launch default Mail application, power button.


Media buttons left (view large image)

Left of keyboard: These buttons have two functions, one for media players, and one for DVD watching. The forward and back buttons can be used to change volume if held down for more than two seconds.

Input and Output Ports

Most of the ports on the HEL80 are found on the right and left sides of the notebook, along with a few along the front. They are spaced out and evenly distributed. The back of the notebook has hardly any ports, the majority of it being taken up by the extended nine-cell battery.

All descriptions are from right to left.


Right side view of HEL80 (view large image)

Right side: Headphone and microphone jacks, 2x USB 2.0, optical drive, VGA monitor port.


Left side view of HEL80 (view large image)

Left Side: TV tuner port (if ordered, otherwise covered up as seen here), main fan exhaust, USB 2.0, IEEE 1394 (Firewire), 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet, PCMCIA Type II (top), ExpressCard 34/54 (bottom).


Front view of HEL80 (view large image)

Front: Speaker, SD/MMC memory card reader, WLAN on/off switch, IR window, speaker.


Back view of HEL80 (view large image)

Back Side: S-video, lock slot, 56k modem, fan exhaust, AC power plug.

Wireless

The HEL80 from PowerNotebooks.com can be configured with an Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG. It supports the wireless A, B, and G formats, so you can be assured connectivity where ever you go.

I had no problems connecting to my wireless network. I have a Netgear wireless router with WEP 64-bit security. The range was also quite good, as I had no trouble connecting throughout the house.

The HEL80 is also configurable with internal Bluetooth wireless, a very worthwhile option if you have Bluetooth-enabled devices or plan to buy some, such as PDAs, cell phones, or even other computers.

Battery

The battery life of the HEL80 is one of its many strengths. With the standard nine-cell battery, I clocked three hours and forty-five minutes of life doing menial tasks with wireless off, and the screen at 3/7 brightness. I found this to be very impressive for a notebook with a 15.4″ screen and a 256MB graphics card. Intel’s Core Duo processor, although powerful, is very power efficent, and downclocks to 1.0GHz when on battery.

Although the battery is extended beyond the back of the notebook, it did not hamper travel.

Heat and Noise

The HEL80 has one large fan in the upper left corner of the notebook. It jets mildly warm air out of the left side, with a smaller vent at the back for added efficiency. It is nice that the fan isn’t on all the time — it comes on intermittently, about every minute or so (depending on the environment), and is fairly quiet. The only sound detectable when the fan is on low speed is air pushing through the vent. Even at full tilt, I found the fans to be within reason as far as noise goes — there is no whining, only the rush of air escaping. It is quiet enough that you wouldn’t annoy your neighbor in a quiet room.

The cooling system does a commendable job of keeping the system cool. The keyboard stays an even temperature in all places. The right side of the notebook (neglecting the keyboard) is barely warm, mainly toward the palmrest area. The only warm spots on the HEL80 are the touchpad and the area to the left of it. I did not feel as if the notebook would overheat at any time.


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Operating System and Software

What, no bloatware? Not a spot. My HEL80 came fully installed with Windows XP Home Edition w/ Service Pack 2. It is also available with XP Professional or no OS. All necessary drivers were also installed. And yes — the Windows XP CD is included, along with one for drivers.

The bundled software consists of Nero OEM Burning suite and Power DVD 5. Small, but useful.

Customer Service and Support

Ordering a notebook at PowerNotebooks.com is easy and safe. My sales representative, Donald Stratton, answered all my questions promptly, and I was completely satisfied with the responses. Their reputation is well-earned; see their page on ResellerRatings.com.


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Warranty – The Compal HEL80 provided by PowerNotebooks.com, is sold as both the PowerPro L 8:15 and the Crown P 15:2 The difference between the PowerPro and Crown models is the warranty coverage. The PowerPro models come standard with a 3 Year Warranty, where PowerNotebooks.com pays for Next Business Day shipping both ways. The Crown models come standard with a Manufacturer’s One Year Parts and Labor Warranty with “Match” shipping (you pay to ship it in to their repair center, and they match the shipping method you used to send it in when they send it back to you.) In addition, the Crown line offers On-site and Accidental Damage Protection warranties. You can get the Crown warranties for 1 or 3 years.

So, if you like the 3 Year Warranty, but don’t care about On-site or Accidental Damage Protection, the PowerPro is the best deal. However if you don’t care about a 3 Year Warranty, or you do want On-site or Accidental Damage Protection for either 1 or 3 years, the Crown is the best deal.

Conclusion

The HEL80 is one of the best built notebooks currently on the market, and is an ideal, mid-range system for gamers and power users with a need for portability. The system is a joy to use, and I received a compliment from everyone I showed it to. It is well worth a look for those looking for something other than the usual mix of mainstream brands.

Pros:

  • Solid build quality, attention to detail
  • Bright and vibrant high-resolution display
  • High performance, long battery life
  • A+ Customer Service
  • Runs cool and quiet
  • Fingerprint reader and camera, ExpressCard and PCMCIA slots

Cons:

  • Fn + Ctrl keys switched
  • Slight flex on keyboard
  • 3D performance not as high as other systems with same card
  • No DVI-D


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