If you’re shopping for an all-day laptop with an affordable price, there’s a good chance you already came upon one of the existing Acer Swift 3s.
The original Swift 3 was an excellent notebook at its time, the follow-up was a solid performer as well, but rather bulky and heavy, so quick forward to the second part of 2018, Acer now offers a handful of updated models that are worth more than jut a look.
In this article we’re talking about the more portable all-rounder, the Acer Swift 3 SF314-55, a 14-inch laptop with an all metal-construction, compact body, light weight, a matte IPS screen, backlit keyboard and the latest hardware specs available to date: an Intel Whiskey Lake processor and Nvidia MX150 graphics, the Max-Q variant designed for thin-and-light devices.
We’ve spent time with an early-production variant of this laptop, and gathered all our impressions below. Read on if you’re interested in where the Swift 3 SF314-55 shines, where it fails and how it compares to the competition.
Specs as reviewed
|Acer Swift 3 SF314-55G|
|Screen||14.0 inch, 1920 x 1080 px, IPS, non-touch, matte|
|Processor||Intel Whiskey Lake Core i3-8145U CPU|
|Video||Intel UHD 620 + Nvidia MX150 2GB DDR5 Max-Q (optional)|
|Memory||8 GB LPDDR3 (soldered)|
|Storage||128 M.2 SATA SSD (80 mm)|
|Connectivity||Wireless AC (Intel AC 9560), Bluetooth 5.0, optional LTE|
|Ports||2x USB-A 3.1, 1x USB-C 3.1, HDMI, card-reader, mic/headphone, Kensington lock|
|Battery||48 Wh, 65W charger|
|Size||320 mm or 12.59” (w) x 220 mm or 8.66” (d) x 17 mm or 0.66” (h)|
|Weight||3.00 lbs (1.36 kg)+ .70 lbs (.32 kg) charger and cables|
|Extras||backlit keyboard, HD webcam, fingerprint reader|
Acer also offers this exact same laptop without dedicated graphics, as the Swift 3 SF314-55, both with various processors, amounts of RAM and storage sizes.
There’s also a slightly thicker and heavier (1.4 kg) variant with 2.5″ storage and a more affordable price tag, sold as the Swift 3 SF314-56 (UHD 620 GPU) or SF314-56G (MX150 Max-Q GPU).
Design and exterior
This 2018-update of the 14-inch Swift 3 series borrows more design lines from the Swift 5 line than from the previous Swift 3s. That means it’s more compact and thinner than its predecessors, but still not as light as the Swift 5, as it is made from aluminum and not from the magnesium alloy used on the 5s. But that’s actually a good thing, as this laptop feels more durable and nicer crafted.
Machined aluminum is used for the lid-cover, the interior and the underbelly, and all of them are thick and sturdy, with very little give or flex even when pressed a little harder. The only plastic elements are the black bezels around the display, the silver hump between the hinges, and the hinges’ covers, both integrating nicely with the rest of the design.
I do have two complains about some of the construction decisions: the lid’s edges are not beveled, like the edges of the interior, thus rather sharp, and the bottom joint between the sides and the underbelly is not completely flush and leaves some bity edges. This is not a manufacturing flaw, it’s a design choice that I’m not on board with.
Acer offers this series in a handful of different color schemes. We got the basic silver variant, but you can opt for Red, Pink and Blue versions as well (if available in your region).
The Swift 3 SF314-55 is also more compact and lighter than before. Our version weighs 1.36 kg (3 lbs) and has a compact footprint, with 6 mm bezels around the sides, a slightly thicker ~14 mm bezel at the top (which accommodates the camera and microphones), as well as a bigger chin beneath. Asus and MSI actually offer slightly lighter devices with similar features and compact build, but I feel that the Swift 3 compensates with its sturdier build quality, and I sure don’t mind this trade in expense of the extra .3-.4 of a pound weight increase.
On the practical side of things, I like the fact that the screen can lean back all-the-way flat to 180 degrees and can be easily lifted and adjusted with a single hand. However, the hinges are a little weak; they keep the screen in place with everyday use just fine, but not when you grab it and move it around. It’s a minor nit, but still worth mentioning.
This aside, the 2018 Swift 3 SF314 sits comfortably on a desk thanks to its large and grippy rubber feet on the bottom, gets a spacious palm-rest, nicely beveled edges around the interior and a standard selection of ports on the sides. Acer went with full-size ports and there’s nothing missing except Thunderbolt 3, which would have made it more future-proof.
Down on the belly you’ll also notice the speakers’ cuts, as well as generous intake admission on top of the components. This laptop uses a single-fan cooling design to keep the processor and dedicated graphics at bay, so the extra intake is appreciated. Hot air is blown through the grill on the back edge. You’ll notice there are two of these cuts, but only one is used as an exhaust, the other is also used as an admission.
All in all, Acer did a good job with this redesign of the Acer Swift 4 SF314-55 line, even with those arguable decisions that leave some sharp bits around and the rather weak screen hinges. At the end of the day, the solid build quality, sturdy materials and overall excellent ergonomics are far more important in the grand scheme of things.
Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard on this laptop, on the other hand, might not be for everyone.
It’s not a bad keyboard by any means, but it’s one of those very short travel variants with an abrupt actuation. Even I, who I’m used to this kind of keyboards, had a hard time typing on it at first, but several thousands of words latter, I actually like it and I’m able to type faster than on most other laptops, with good accuracy.
Thus, if you’re into short-stroke keys, give this one a chance. The feedback is going to feel weird first, but I believe you can get used to it. If you’re coming from an older laptop or you’re not familiar with the typing experience provided by thin-and-light notebooks these days, there’s a good chance you’ll find this shallow and weird.
I’ll also add that this keyboard is a bit chattery and not as quiet as others, but not to the point where you’d be kicked out of the library or study room. It’s also backlit, with a single illumination level. As for the layout, I have little to complain about, but it might take some time to get used to the cramped arrow keys and the Power button integrated as the top-right key.
A Precision touchpad with a smooth plastic surface is integrated on this 2018 Swift 3, with beveled edges separating it from the palm-rest. It’s a fairly good implementation and responds well to everyday swipes, gestures and taps, and even the physical clicks are pretty decent too.
It feels a bit weird in everyday use though, as the surface is somewhat weak and gives in a bit each time you touch it, even with the most gentle of taps. I’m definitely nitpicking and most of you won’t probably notice this quirk, but I did and it bothered me.
Acer also implements a finger-sensor on this laptop, pretty much similar to what they put on all their other Swifts and Spins. It’s placed towards the right side of the palm-rest and works fine for quickly logging into Windows.
For the screen Acer went with a 14-inch Chi Mei panel with a matte finishing.
It’s a pretty good panel, similar to what we’ve also seen on other mid-range laptops before, like the Asus VivoBook Flip TP401, the Lenovo ThinkPad T450s or the original Zenbook UX430 variants.
It’s not as luminous as what you can get on some of the premium laptops out there, but at around 300 nits, it’s usable in bright light and offers good contrast, blacks and viewing angles. Color coverage is just a tad above average, thus good enough for daily use and games, but not that accurate for color-graded work.
Here’s what to expect (date recorded with the Spyder 4).
- Panel HardwareID: Chi Mei CMN14D5 (N140HCE-EN2);
- Coverage: 100% sRGB, 73% NTSC, 78% AdobeRGB;
- Measured gamma: 2.1;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 295 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 750:1;
- White point: 7400 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.39 cd/m2.
You can use this calibrated profile to address the slight gamma and white-point imbalances.
I should also add that I didn’t notice any obvious screen bleeding on our sample, which once more attends to this unit’s solid craftsmanship, and the fact that this panel uses high-frequency (25K Hz) PWM modulation for brightness adjustment, so not something you will notice with everyday use.
Hardware and performance
Our sample is an entry level configuration of the Swift 3 SF314-55G model, with merely a Core i3-8145U proccesor, 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB pf PCIe SSD storage, as well as the Nvidia MX150 Max-Q graphics chip.
Higher end versions will ship with the Core i5-8265U and i7-8565 CPUs, 16 GB of RAM and up to 512 GB of storage, but I feel there’s a lot of value in this base configuration and you should not disconsider it.
The Core i3-8145U is a dual-core quad-thread processor and while it’s not as capable as the quad-core i5 and i7, it’s actually faster than the Skylake i7-6500U, a top-performer merely two years ago. That means it’s a good option for everyday use, movies and a fair-bit of multitasking, and it can handle some basic games as well, which are more heavily dependent on the GPU.
The CPU, GPU and RAM are soldered on the motherboard, but the storage is not. The PCIe SSD Acer put on our test-sample is fairly slow, with decent read-speeds, but slow write abilities, so you should consider upgrading it with a more capable option. For that you’ll need to remove the back-panel and get access to the internals. It’s a simple task, as it’s hold in place by a handful of Torx T4 screws, all visible on the sides.
Inside you’ll notice that the motherboard is upside down, with the heatpipes beneath it, but you can access the M.2 slot without removing the motherboard. It is however trickier than with other laptops, as you’d have ti disconnect the ribbons that go on top of it, as well as remove the thermal shield that isolates it from the other components.
As far as performance goes, I mentioned earlier that the i3 powered Swift 3 is perfectly capable of handling everyday tasks and browsing. The logs below will show you what to expect in terms of performance and temperatures in these cases.
The Whiskey Lake processor is also fairly capable of handling demanding loads too, albeit you should get the quad-core i5s and i7s if you’re planning on running such tasks, they’re significantly faster. Still, if you’re interested in benchmark results, here’s what we got on our sample:
- 3DMark 11: P3489 (Graphics: 3369, Physics: 4142);
- 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 2477 (Graphics – 2783, Physics – 5433);
- 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 902 (Graphics – 828, CPU – 1837);
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 2785;
- PCMark 10: 3108;
- PassMark: Rating: 3044, CPU mark: 5114, 3D Graphics Mark: 2301;
- GeekBench 3.4.2 32-bit: Single-Core: 3350, Multi-core: 6872;
- GeekBench 4.1.1 64-bit: Single-Core: 4092, Multi-core: 7776;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 77.19 fps, CPU 318 cb, CPU Single Core 147 cb;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 106.59 fps, Pass 2 – 19.44 fps.
The i3-8145U on this unit has a TDP threshold on 15 W, which means its Turbo Speed frequency adjusts automatically when running demanding loads for a longer time, in order to stay within the boundaries of this TDP and keep temperatures at bay. The Cinebench R15 test is a perfect way of showcasing this behavior.
Undervolting the CPU lowers voltage and temperatures, and as a result, the CPU is able to run at higher frequencies within the same TDP threashold. We undervolted this test unit at -100 mV (this article explains what undervolting means and how you can do it too) and this translated in a slight 10% increase in Cinebench frequencies and marginally improved benchmarks results in some tests.
- 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 2503 (Graphics – 2883, Physics – 5907);
- GeekBench 4.1.1 64-bit: Single-Core: 4156, Multi-core: 7870;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 78.99 fps, CPU 334 cb, CPU Single Core 153 cb;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 114.91 fps, Pass 2 – 21.54 fps.
As far as gaming goes, the Swift 3 SF314-55 comes with the Max-Q variant of the Nvidia MX150 grahpics chip, and it performs fairly well. However, since the CPU and GPU share a common cooling solution and undervolting is something we recommend on any laptop these days, we ran our gaming tests on the -100 mV undervolted profile.
Here’s what we got.
|FHD Max ||FHD High|
|Bioshock Infinite||29 fps||46 fps|
|Far Cry 4||23 fps||26 fps|
|Rise of the Tomb Raider||11 fps||22 fps|
|Shadow of Mordor||24 fps||29 fps|
|Tomb Raider||23 fps||45 fps|
The logs below also show you what to expect in terms of hardware temperatures and CPU/GPU performance while playing games, on the undervolted CPU profile. Performance is pretty solid, with both the CPU and GPU running at high speeds.
Out of the box though, both the CPU and GPU actually run at lower frequencies with games, which translates in a slight performance decrease. On top of that, Gaming on battery is still a no-go, due to the stuttering caused by the throttled CPU. Details below.
In conclusion, the Swift 3 SF314-55G is by no means a gaming notebook, but it can tackle older and simpler titles at FHD resolution and mid-level graphics settings, which is pretty much what the MX150 Max-Q chip was designed to do. I do however advise you to check out detailed reviews of the i5 and i7 implementations, just to see how those quad-core processors cope with the cooling on this unit and if undervolting allows to squeeze great performance out of those configurations as well.
If you don’t mind sacrificing portability a fair bit for a slight 15-25% increase in gaming performance, Acer also offers a Swift 3 SF314-54 variant (yes, they’re naming schemes are atrocious) with the full-power version of the Nvidia MX150 graphics chip. That’s still compact and affordable, but a little thicker, heavier and for the time being, only available with KabyLake-R processors. You can also consider the MSI Prestige PS42 or the Asus Zenbook UX433, both compact and light 14-inchers with full-voltage MX150 graphics, just make sure to read reviews to find out how they actually perform in real-life use.
Emissions (noise, heat), Connectivity and speakers
The 2018 Swift 3 implements a simple cooling solution, with a single fan and single heat-pipes covering both the CPU and GPU, complimented by ample intake grills on the bottom and back edge. Hot air is pushed out through the exhaust grill on the back, the one on the laptop’s left side.
The fan is active pretty much all the time with daily use and spins faster with multitasking, but keeps to about 36-37 dB most of the time, with only occasional spikes to 38-40 dB at head-level. Regardless, you’ll still hear it in a quiet room. I didn’t however notice any electronic noise or coil whine on our test unit.
The fan doesn’t ramp up much when performing demanding CPU+GPU activities, like editing a video or playing a game, as it settles at merely 40 dB at head-level, making this Swift 3 one of the quietest gamers in its class.
This however translates in fairly high case temperatures in the mid to high 40s, both on the back and on top of the keyboard. These are within perfect reason for a thin-and-light laptop with dedicated graphics, but are still high enough to make gaming on the lap uncomfortable. Acer could have allowed the fan to spin a little faster, which would have lowered these temperatures and allow the components to run at high frequencies out of the box, without having to undervolt the CPU.
*Daily Use – 1080p Youtube clip in EDGE for 30 minutes
*Load – playing FarCry 4 for approximately 30 minutes on ultra FHD settings
The Swift 3 gets one of the new Intel 9560 Wave 2 wireless modules, but it didn’t perform as well as other implementations with our setup, only hitting transfer speeds of around 250-300 Mbps, while other devices stretched to 500 Mbps in similar conditions. You’re definitely not going to notice this unless you transfer a lot of content everyday. I’ll also add that we didn’t encounter any drops or any other issues, and the signal’s strength and transfer speeds remain solid at 30+ feet away from the router, with walls in between.
It’s worth noting that some Swift 3 configurations also get an integrated LTE modem.
Acer put some good speakers on this notebook. They’re fairly loud, peaking at about 80 dB at head-level, and to my ears they sound cleaner and richer than the speakers you’d normally find on a thin-and-light. I was actually expecting such performance when I opened the laptop and saw those big speaker chambers inside, they’re even bigger than what most OEMs put on their full-size 15-inch laptops.
These speakers do fire on the belly and can be muffled when using the laptop on the lap, which takes a slight toll on the audio quality.
The camera is not bad either. It’s a bit grainy, but takes decent shots in well lit rooms, is placed at the top of the screen (where it should be) and is flanked by a set of near-field microphones that work with Cortana and Alexa.
There’s a 48 Wh battery inside the Swift 3, which is bellow average for its class as of the second part of 2018. Paired with the efficient hardware and screen though, you can expect 4-6 hours of daily multitasking an 8-10 hours of video.
Here’s what we got in our tests, with the screen set at 30% brightness, roughly 120 nits.
- 5.2 W (~9 h of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive, Better Battery Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 4.6 W (~10 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Edge, Better Battery Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 4.5 W (~10 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Better Battery Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 4.8 W (~10 h of use) – 4K fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Better Battery Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 9 W (~5h 20 min of use) – heavy browsing in Edge, Better Performance Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 26.0 W (~1 h 45 min of use) – gaming, Best Performance Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON.
This laptop comes with a standard 65 Wh power brick and no quick-charging, so a full charge takes about 2 hours.
Price and availability
The 14-inch Acer Swift SF314-55 is expected in stores in November 2018, with prices starting at $799.
That’s pretty much all we know right now, but we’ll update once we find out more.
This laptop is an excellent update of the previous 14-inch Swift 3s. It’s a slightly more expensive product, but at the same time it fixes many of their issues and inherits very few compromises, thus is one of the best portable all-rounders in its class.
The compact form-factor, the excellent build quality, the IO, the fast and accurate keyboard, the matte IPS screen, the hardware specs, the performance and the speakers are among this one’s top selling points. It’s also one of the quietest thin-and-light out there while handling taxing loads, and offers good battery life, even if it doesn’t match some of the competition on this end. This Swift 3 is also a bit heavier than other 14-inchers with similar specs, and requires undervolting to get the components to work as they’re supposed to.
Quality control is something else you should consider at this level, that’s why I’d only recommend buying from stores that professionally handle returns and warranty claims, just in case you end up drawing a short-stick. Unless that happens though, I’d expect most of you to be happy with this 2018 update of the Acer Swift 3.
You should however consider the competition as well, especially the Acer Zenbook UX433 and MSI Prestige PS42, both lighter and powered by Whiskey Lake CPUs and the 25W variant of the MX150 graphics chip, but also the affordable Lenovo IdeaPad 720s and the compact and light 13-inch Asus Zenbook UX331 and UX333 series. Each have their pros and cons, and none is a better buy than the Swift 3 SF314-55, but some might better fit your particular needs and budget, so it’s worth checking them all out in order to make a well documented decision.
That’s about it for our review of the 14-inch Acer Swift 3 SF314-55G. The comments section below is of course open for discussion, and awaits your feedback and questions.