The Aspire Swift 3 SF314-51 is one of the best value laptops I’ve reviewed in the last 12 months, selling for under $600 with a proper Core U configuration, SSD storage and an IPS screen.
As of mid 2017 Acer updated that notebook and we’ve spent some time with this new version and gathered all our impressions below, with the goods and the quirks.
The new model is called Swift 3 SF314-52, with that 2 at the end of the name telling the two generations apart. It is however different in many ways: it gets a different build and design, a glossy non-touch screen this time, a backlit keyboard with a new layout, updated hardware inside and optional Nvidia MX150 dedicated graphics. The pricing policy hasn’t changed much though and still remains one of this computer’s strongest selling points.
The article below will tell you whether this new Acer Swift 3 is a good buy or not, and how it fares against the competition.
Specs as reviewed
||Acer Swift 3 SF314-52
||14.0 inch, 1920 x 1080 px, IPS, non-touch, glossy
||Intel Skylake Core i7-7500U CPU
||Intel HD 620 + Nvidia MX150 2GB DDR5 (optional)
||8 GB LPDDR3 (soldered)
||128 M.2 SATA SSD (80 mm) + 512 GB SSD (2.5″ bay)
||Wireless AC (Intel AC 7265), Bluetooth 4.1
||2x USB 3.0 and 1 x USB 2.0 Type-A slots, 1x USB 3.1 Type-C gen 1, HDMI, card-reader, mic/headphone, Kensington lock
||48 Wh, 65W charger
||338 mm or 13.30” (w) x 234 mm or 9.23” (d) x 18 mm or 0.70” (h)
||3.77 lbs (1.71 kg)+ .70 lbs (.32 kg) charger and cables
||backlit keyboard, HD webcam, fingerprint reader, available in Silver, Blue or Pink
This series is available in a few different configurations, with Core i5 and i7 U processors, various amounts of storage and with or without the Nvidia MX150 dedicated graphics.
There are also versions with the KabyLake-R (Coffee Lake) Core i5-8250U quad-core processor and Nvidia MX150 graphics available in stores as of Q3 2017, as well as several 15-inch variants (the SF315-51 and the updated SF315-52 model).
As of 2018 Acer offers several more compact and lighter updates of this laptop, the SF314-54 models with KabyLake hardware, or the more premium SF314-55 and 56, with compact builds, Whiskey Lake hardware, MX150 MQ graphics and improved screens. You’ll find all about these newer Swift 3s from our detailed review.
Design and first look
The updated Swift 3 has gained some weight from the previous generation, at least on the configuration we reviewed that comes with dedicated graphics and dual-storage. It weighs nearly 3.8 lbs and is about 18 mm thick, which makes it pretty much averagely sized: portable enough to grab along in your bag or backpack, but a little heavier than the new generation 14-inchers like the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S or Asus Zenbook UX410, for example. It’s also a few mms bigger, as the bezels around the screen are fairly chunky, but it’s worth noting that all the 14-inchers with more compact builds are also more expensive, and I’m pretty sure many of you won’t mind this compromise: spend less and get a marginally bigger and heavier laptop.
The new Swift 3 gets a slight design change as well. The old version looked a lot like a Macbook Air, this one looks like a standard Acer laptop, with lines and branding elements that Acer puts on all their computers, like the Switch engraving on the piece of plastic between the screen’s hinges. Our test sample came in a subtle Silver color scheme, but Acer also offer this series in Pink and Blue if you’d rather get a more colorful computer.
There are no lights on the interior and no annoying design elements, but you should peel off the ugly sticker on the palm-rest and the one on the screen to preserve the otherwise clean looks.
There’s little to nag about the overall build quality and finishing. This Swift 3 gets a strong metallic lid, a metallic interior with a brushed finishing, and a plastic bottom made from soft, rubbery plastic. All of them should age well and do a good job at hiding smudges and fingerprints. There’s a little flex in the hood and in the keyboard’s deck, but nothing out of ordinary for this mid-range class.
The tapered metallic edges around the interior are kind of sharp though and although the laptop has a fairly low profile and roomy palm-rest, my wrists actually came in contact with them quite often when typing and didn’t like it at all. I also noticed an oddity: the screen is actually a little shorter than the main body and as a result it’s quite difficult to grab and lift-up, especially since there’s no crease to make the process simpler. The metallic edge around the screen is fairly sharp as well, so I’d reckon fingertips and nails will suffer when using this laptop everyday.
Once you do manage to grab the screen, the hinges do a good job at smoothly adjusting it and firmly keeping it in place. They also allow it to go back flat to 180 degrees.
You might have noticed by now that the display is glossy, but this is not a touchscreen, it just gets a layer of Gorilla Glass on top of a non-touch panel. Acer claims this makes the entire ensemble tougher and keeps the panel safe, but in reality a glossy screen also adds reflections and glare that are highly in brighter environments. And it’s even more problematic when the panel beneath is dim, like in this case, but more about that in a further section.
Flipping the laptop upside down you’ll notice big rubber feet that keep the computer well anchored anchored on a flat surface, as well as the speakers in the corners and a large intake grill. The hot air is pushed out through a grill behind the hinge and we’ll more talk about the cooling solution and its performance in the appropriate section below.
The IO is the last aspect we’ll mention here though. This laptop gets pretty much what’s expected in this category, with 3x Type A USB ports, 1x USB Type C port (without Thunderbolt 3), HDMI, a card-reader, a mic jack and a Kensington Lock. Most of them are placed on the left edge, which leaves an uncluttered right side in case you plan to use a mouse.
There’s a 14-inch display on this laptop with fairly chunky bezels and a layer of Gorilla Glass on top. There’s no touch though, Acer just decided to go with the glossy cover for extra strength and protection, but I consider it a poor decision in terms of usability and a downgrade from the simple, matte screen of the older Swift 3.
I’ve heard the argument that glossy screens show more vibrant colors, but that’s mostly untrue. The panel’s quality matters a lot more, and this notebook falls short here. It gets an IPS panel, so the viewing angles and contrast are fairly good, but it’s otherwise dim and limited in terms of color coverage, as you can see below:
- Panel HardwareID: AU Optronics AUO213D (B140HAN02.1);
- Coverage: 65% sRGB, 47% NTSC, 49% AdobeRGB;
- Measured gamma: 2.1;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 197 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 850:1;
- White point: 7100 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.23 cd/m2;
- Average DeltaE: 3.2 uncalibrated, 1.81 calibrated.
This is in fact the same panel used on some versions of the older Swift 3 and the glass takes an extra small toll on the maximum brightness, which was poor to begin with. Adding the glare on top, this screen is pretty much unusable outdoors or in bright light, but it’s fine for indoors as long as you don’t expect rich, accurate colors. Our calibrated color profile improves the gray levels and balances colors to some extent, but there’s still so much you can expect get with this kind of gamut coverage.
I’ve also noticed a fair amount of light bleeding around the edges, so the glass doesn’t seem to help with that either, even if the screen feels otherwise fairly well built.
It’s also worth adding that this screen leans back flat to 180 degrees, so at least they kept that from the older Swift 3. It’s very useful for those of us that use the laptop on the lap, or leaned on our thighs when lying on the bed or on the sofa.
Keyboard and trackpad
I’m happy with this keyboard and I’d expect most of you to like it too, as long as you’re used to short-stroke keys, the kind you get on most ultraportables these days.
The keys are well spaced and have a nice, rubbery finishing. They’re also quiet to type on and responsive, with a proper click and good feedback. Some might find them a little shallow, but I actually found them quite good and was able to type fast and accurately.
This keyboard is also backlit, but the illumination is only activated by pressing a key and not by swiping the fingers over the trackpad.
The layout is pretty standard, but those tiny arrow keys cramped by tiny Home/End dedicated keys will need time to get used to. Overall I still prefer this layout over the older one from the Swift 3 SF314-51 that gets that extra line of Function keys on the right, as I’m already accustomed to tiny arrows from my XPS 13. I could probably live with either of them just fine after a while though.
The trackpad is large and carved into the palm-rest, with tapered edges around. It’s a plastic Synaptics surface, so the finger doesn’t glide on it as easily as on a glass surface, but otherwise provides a smooth and consistent experience with swipes, taps and gestures. The click buttons are a little mushy, but quiet.
There’s also a fingerprint reader integrated in the right-corner of the arm-rest, beneath the arrows keys. It’s properly sized and works well with Windows Hello.
Hardware and performance
Acer offers the Swift 3 in multiple configurations and we got to test one of the the higher end models, with a Core i7-7500U processor, 8 GB of DDR4 RAM, two SSDs and an Nvidia MX150 dedicated graphics chip with 2 GB of GDDR5 memory, which is perhaps this laptop’s most interesting feature.
It’s also worth noting that as of the Fall of 2017 Acer plans to equip the Swift 3 with the newer Intel Coffee Lake Core i5-8250U processor as well, a quad-core ULV CPU, but more about that in a future article, but I can’t tell for sure whether that will make it into this 14-inch model or is reserved for the larger 15-inch Swift 3 SF315.
Of course the Swift 3 comes without dedicated graphics as well, and you should opt for one of those models if you want a computer for daily tasks and don’t plan to play any games. You wouldn’t even need the Core i7 processor for everyday use, a Core i5 configuration with 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD will do just fine for browsing, video content, editing texts, etc. The CPU and GPU perform just as expected with daily activities, as you can see below.
The RAM, GPU and CPU are soldered on the motherboard, but the storage, wireless chip and battery are accessible once you remove the back panel. We didn’t get to do it on this sample, but it’s hold in place by visible Torx screws and should pop open fairly easily with the help of some plastic priers.
But back to the GPU. The MX150 is an entry-level dedicated graphics chip, part of Nvidia’s Pascal line, the mobile version of the desktop GeForce GT 1030. It’s meant to provide FHD gaming capabilities with medium/high settings while running efficiently, so it will make its way on a handful of thin-and-light laptops, as well as on budget ultraportables like this Swift 3. You can find more about the Nvidia MX150 from this dedicated article.
Although our sample is a pre-release version and drivers should improve by the time it reaches retail stores, it did well in our tests, with only minor issues in some benchmarks where the CPU would occasionally drop bellow its maximum TurboBoost speeds (you’ll find details in the pictures below).
As a result, here’s what we got on this test unit:
- 3DMark 11: P4201;
- 3DMark 13: Sky Driver – 9092, Fire Strike – 3031, Time Spy – 1106;
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 2942;
- PCMark 10: 3416;
- Geekbench 3 32-bit: Single-Core: 3341, Multi-core: 7292;
- Geekbench 4 64-bit: Single-Core: 3920, Multi-core: 7873;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 52.02 fps, CPU 3.77 pts, CPU Single Core 1.25 pts;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 85.70 fps, CPU 331 cb, CPU Single Core 138 cb;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 118.52 fps, Pass 2 – 21.76 fps.
I am however a bit concerned on how the Core i5-8250U CPU will perform on this laptop, given how our test unit barely kept the dual-core i7-7500U at full speeds in demanding loads. But it’s way too early to comment on this aspect as of right now when that i5 is still months from being released.
Next we’re going to compare the MX150’s performance to the older 940MX chips that were previously used in mid-range thin-and-lights, both in benchmarks results and in actual games. First, the benchmarks:
||MX150 2 GB DDR5
||940MX 2 GB DDR3
||940MX 2 GB DDR5
||Intel HD 620
|3DMark – Time Spy Graphics
|3DMark – Fire Strike Graphics
|3DMark – Sky Diver Graphics
And second, in some of the games we’ve tried on this sample, at FHD resolution and Low details:
||MX150 2 GB DDR5
||940MX 2 GB DDR3
||940MX 2 GB DDR5
||Intel HD 620
||~ 24 fps
|Far Cry 4
|NFS Most Wanted
And at FHD resolution and High details:
||MX150 2 GB DDR5
||940MX 2 GB DDR3
||940MX 2 GB DDR5
||Intel HD 620
|Far Cry 4
|NFS Most Wanted
And here’s how the MX150 chip performed in the same games with Low, High and Ultra settings.
|Far Cry 4
|Shadow of Mordor
|Metro Last Light
|Total War: Atilla
It’s also worth mentioning that I noticed no performance loss when gaming on battery, with both the CPU and GPU running at full loads in this case.
All in all, the MX150 is about twice the performance in games of the regular GT 940MX with GDDR3 memory and a big step-up from the DDR5 version as well. So if you care about gaming on a thin-and-light laptop or a budget ultraportable, this is absolutely the option to get starting with the second half of 2017. More about the GeForce MX150 and the available laptops bundled with it in this dedicated article.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers and others
The cooling solution uses a fan and two heatpipes that spread on top both the CPU and GPU. I don’t have a picture to show you as of right now though, but it’s a pretty standard implementation.
The fan spins pretty much all the time, even with the most basic of activities, but at 38-39 dB is barely audible in a normal environment. You’ll hear it in a quiet room though. It is however surprisingly quiet at full blast, only averaging 41-42 dB at head-level, something the speakers can actually cover easily.
The fan is efficient with daily use, keeping the internals and the outer case cool (30-35 Celsius) and does fair job in gaming and demanding activities. The shell gets hot in some places and gaming on the lap is not very pleasant, but mid 40s on some parts of the back and the upper inner deck are normal for a laptop as thin as this one. The heat spreads towards the keyboard though and can lead to some uncomfortably sweaty hands.
*Daily Use – 1080p Youtube clip in EDGE for 30 minutes
*Load – playing Far Cry 4 for 30 minutes
Connectivity wise there’s wireless AC and Bluetooth 4.1 on the Swift 3. Acer went with an Intel AC 7265 module on our sample which is a proven option and solid performer both near the router and at longer ranges. Nothing to complain about here.
As far as the speakers go, they’re actually punchy and a step-up from the older Swift 3. They’re still placed on the bottom, but no longer distort at high volumes and no longer sound weird on a desk or when using the laptop on the lap and occasionally covering them. They’re also fairly loud at up to 80 dB at head level and the sound is surprisingly rich and clean.
As for the webcam, it’s placed on top of the screen and flanked by microphones and it’s an average option with HD resolution that should do fine for occasional Skype calls.
Acer puts a 48 Wh battery on this Swift 3, which is not bad for a budget laptop, especially since there’s no energy-hungry screen on this thing, but still a little smaller than what some of the competition offers.
Here’s what you should expect from the i7 configuration we tested here (we set the screen’s brightness 50%, which is around 120 nits):
- 7.7 W (~6 h of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.8 W (~8 of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 4.8 W (~10 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.3 W (~9 of use) – 4K fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 11.5 W (~4 h of use) – everyday browsing in Edge, Balanced Mode, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON.
- 38 W (~1 h 25 min of use) – gaming at FHD low details, screen at 50%, Wi-Fi ON.
A standard 65 W charger is included in the pack, which weighs about .32 kg, and a full-recharge takes around 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Price and availability
The KabyLake-R models of the Swift 3 (name code SF314-52G) with the Core i5-8250U processor, Nvidia MX150 graphics, 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD are available in the US with an MSRP of $699 as of September 2017. Core i7 versions with more RAM and larger storage space are also available.
Follow this link for more details, updated configurations and prices in your region at the time you’re reading the article, or this one for more info on the 15-inch version of this laptop, the Swift 3 SF315.
Let’s get this out first: I absolutely hate laptops with glossy non-touch displays. If you’re like me, this updated Swift 3 is not for you and you should consider the previous Swift 3 SF314-51 generation instead, which is similar in most ways, more portable and should even sell for less with discounts.
If you can live with a glossy display though and if you keep your laptop indoors all the time, the new Swift 3 SF314-52 should be on your map, especially for those of you that want a powerful and compact laptop with gaming abilities. The Nvidia MX150 chip is a big step-up from the GT 940MX options available on most other laptops with similar traits (for now), and those quad-core Coffee Lake processors are an important particularity as well, IF they’ll actually make it into this 14-inch model and if this laptop actually manages to keep temperatures at bay and get the most out of them.
That aside, the Swift 3 SF314-52 is overall a pretty good laptop with an excellent price. It’s well built, gets an excellent backlit keyboard, proper IO, an IPS screen, decent battery life, fast wireless and punchy speakers. It also runs smoothly and cool with everyday use and can handle gaming well, as already mentioned above.
On the other hand, I do have some complains. Some are subjective, like the fact that those edges around the interior are sharp or that the fan is active all the time with basic tasks and it doesn’t have to be. Others are just standard for this segment, like the fact that the screen is rather washed out and the battery inside is only average in size. And some are potential deal-breakers, which gets us back to the sub-par display with a dim panel and a glossy glass coating on top that I personally resent.
If you can live with these, the Swift 3 can be for you. If not, then you can also check out other 14-inchers with similar features like the updated Swift 3 SF314-55 series, the Lenovo IdeaPad 320s and 510s, the Dell Latitude 3480, the HP ProBook 440 or the Asus Pro P2440 / B9440 and Zenbooks UX410 and UX430 series, each with their own fair of strong points and nits. Or this longer list of 14 and 15-inch ultraportables.
All in all, I’d have the Swift 3 SF314 on my map for the Coffee Lake configuration and MX150 graphics, but you’ll have to keep on eye on the performance once available, as well as the competition at the time. And that wraps-up our review, but the comments section is open for your feedback and questions and we’re around to help if we can.
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