Acer’s Swift 3 lineup includes a multitude of competitively priced ultraportable notebooks with slim designs, matte screens, and updated hardware specs.
For 2020, Acer offers no less than 3 compact Swift 3 models, two 14-inch variants based on either Intel or AMD hardware, as well as a 13-inch option with a 3:2 display. In this article, we’re covering the Swift 3 SF314-57 model, the 14-inch variant based on Intel Ice Lake hardware.
Our unit is a retail version, identical to what you can find in stores, in a mid-tier configuration with the Intel Core i5-1035G1 processor, 8 GB of RAM and 512 GB of SSD storage. All these are tucked inside a lightweight 2.4 lbs magnesium chassis, with a matte IPS display, good selection of ports, fast wireless and a 48 Wh battery, with a starting price of around $650 at the time of this article.
We’ve gathered our impressions below, with the strong points and the quirks you should be aware of if you plan to buy one of these.
Specs as reviewed – Acer Swift 3 SF314-57
|Acer Swift 3 SF314-57|
|Screen||14.0 inch, 1920 x 1080 px, IPS, non-touch, matte, Chi Mei CMN141D4 panel|
|Processor||Intel Ice Lake Core i5-1035G1 CPU, quad-core|
|Video||Intel UHD G1, Gen11 with 32 EUs|
|Memory||8 GB LPDDR4x (soldered, dual-channel)|
|Storage||512 GB SSD (Kingston RBU-SN8154P3/512GJ1 – M.2 2280 PCIe x2)|
|Connectivity||WiFi 6 Gig+ (Intel AX201), Bluetooth 5.0|
|Ports||1x USB-A 3.1, 1x USB-A 2.0, 1x USB-C with Thunderbolt 3, HDMI, mic/headphone, Lock|
|Battery||48 Wh, 45W charger (barrel-plug)|
|Size||322 mm or 12.67” (w) x 218 mm or 8.58” (d) x 16 mm or 0.63” (h)|
|Weight||2.4 lbs (1.1 kg)+ .53 lbs (.24 kg) charger, EU version|
|Extras||optional white backlit keyboard, HD webcam, stereo speakers|
The 2020 Swift 3 SF314-57 is a hardware update and slight redesign of the 2019 SF314-55 model we’ve reviewed last year, but with a few major differences, such as a much lighter construction and a poorer quality panel.
That aside, our model is a mid-tier configuration, with the Intel Core i5-1035G1 processor, 8 GB of LPDDR4x RAM and a 512 GB PCIe SSD, well suited for an everyday ultrabook and portable school laptop. Higher tier configurations get the Core i7-1065G7 processor with the faster Iris Pro G7 graphics and 16 GB of RAM, a fair option if you need the extra amount of memory and especially the more capable graphics. You can also opt for Nvidia MX250 graphics in some areas, but that wouldn’t make much sense on an IceLake configuration, as it would negate the improved iGPU in the 10nm Intel hardware.
Design and construction
This time around Acer went with magnesium alloys for this Swift’s entire construction, and that has allowed them to create one of the lightest 14-inch notebooks on the market, which is especially surprising considering the price-range this competes in.
Acer advertises a total weight of 2.7 lbs/1.2 kg for this product, yet our configuration weighed in at only 2.4 lbs/1.1 kg, and there’s nothing wrong with our scales. The device also feels lightweight and portable, the kind of product you can easily toss into your bag when going to work or uni. It’s not a performance computer or something you can game on, but a good option for everyday use, typing, and multimedia.
In all fairness, the magnesium materials used for this laptop don’t feel as nice or high-quality as the aluminum or higher-tier alloys you’ll get with premium ultraportables, but rather like a good plastic. They’re not plastic, though, that’s just how magnesium alloys feel in this sort of budget implementations, we’ve experimented them on other laptops before. I do advise placing this Swift 3 inside a protective sleeve during your travels, the finishing tends to scratch easily, and you can see there are already some scuffs and scratches on our test unit. It’s a review product, so it hasn’t been pampered by those who used it before it got to us, yet this is something to keep in mind.
This aside, the Swift 3 SF314-57 is well made and fairly sturdy for its class, with limited flex in the lid and acceptable amounts in the keyboard deck.
So while the construction isn’t necessarily on par with the top-tier ultraportables of the moment, Acer didn’t skimp on the practicality.
Fairly grippy feet keep this well anchored on the desk, the low profile and blunted edges allow for comfortable typing, the hinge is sturdy and allows for the display to go back flat to 180-degrees and there’s a very good selection of ports around the sides, which include USB-A, USB-C with Thunderbolt 3 support and a full-size HDMI.
On top of that, the cooling blows air through grills placed behind the hinge, but because this laptop is slightly taller than other modern implementations, there’s enough distance between the exhaust and the panel to negate any potential issues caused by the exhausted heat, something we’ve complained about on ultrabooks with smaller chins, like the Asus ZenBook series, for instance.
I do have something to nit on, though, and that’s the fact that you’ll need both hands to lift up the screen, as the hinges are fairly stiff and don’t allow one-handed operation, the kind you’ll get with higher tier devices.
Keyboard and trackpad
Acer haven’t updated their entry-level Swift/Spin keyboard in a while and I feel that they should.
It’s not a bad typer and doesn’t get a weird layout, except for the small arrows and combined Enter and \ key, but it’s one of those short travel variants with over-sensitive actuation, the kind that leaves no room for mistakes or straying fingers. As a result, both my typing speed and my accuracy fall behind my norms with this Swift 3, even after typing several thousands of words on it.
I should mention that Acer offer two keyboard variants for this Swift 3 lineup, one without backlighting on the lowest-tier models, the one we have here, and another with backlighting, most likely the kind we’ve experienced on the previous Swift 3 SF314-55 review. There’s also a feedback difference between the two; I also struggled with that one at first, but ended up liking it after a few days of accommodation, so I’d make sure to go with the backlit option on this notebook. Not to mention that backlighting should be a must in a 500$+ computer these days anyway.
The mouse is an averagely sized plastic surface with Precision drivers. I found it it a bit too fast with out-of-the-box settings, but overall a fair option with some tweaks, both with everyday swipes and with gestures. The entire implementation does feel rather cheap though, as the surface rattles with even the gentlest of touches and the clicks are stiff and clunky, so I feel that inputs are something Acer should tweak on their future updates and one of the compromises you’d have to accept with this 2020 Swift 3 model.
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 with Windows Hello.
The screen is another, and surprisingly so, since the Swift 3 SF314-55 version we’ve reviewed in the past got a higher-quality panel.
For the SF314-57 Acer went with a different variation of the Chi Mei panel used before, the CMN14D4 also implemented on the previous AMD based Swift 3 SF314-41, which is dimmer and more washed out. At around 220 nits max-brightness in the middle of the panel and 65% sRGB coverage, this is OK for indoor use and for unpretentious users, but not a great choice by today’s standards even in the budget-oriented segment.
Here’s what to expect, data collected with our Spyder4 sensor:
- Panel HardwareID: Chi Mei CMN14D4 (N140HCA-EAC);
- Coverage: 64.8% sRGB, 45.4% AdobeRGB, 46.5% DCI P3;
- Measured gamma: 1.96;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 216 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 742:1;
- White point: 7160 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.29 cd/m2.
Further calibration would be required to correct the cool white point and gamma imbalances, and once calibrated, colors get within excellent DeltaE 2000 limits. The gamut is still a limitation, though, so colors are just not as rich and nice looking as on higher-quality panels.
On the other hand, blacks and overall light uniformity are very good on this implementation, so you’re not going to experience pronounced light bleeding on dark backgrounds. Flickering should not be a concern either, as PWM is only used for very low brightness levels of under 10%, and I doubt you’ll ever want to use this that low.
Indoors visibility, max brightness, next to the Swift 3 SF313-52 (left)
Hardware and performance
Our sample is a mid-tier configuration of the Swift 3 SF314-57 model, with an Intel Ice Lake Core i5-1035G1 processor, 8 GB of RAM and 512 GB of PCIe x2 SSD storage.
The i5-1035G1 is the mid-range IceLake offer and will make its way inside a wide range of ultraportable laptops in the first part of 2019. It’s a quad-core eight-thread processor, much as the Whiskey Lake i5-8265U it replaces, but built on Intel’s 10nm processor and runs at lower default and turbo speeds. That aside, a bigger part of the design is reserved for the integrated GPU. The G1 is a Gen11 Intel UHD chip with 32 EUs (execution units), a 50% increase from the 24 EUs in the Intel UHD 620 embedded with the i5-8265U.
This article provides a comparison between the Ice Lake i5-1035G1, Comet Lake i5-10210U, and the Whiskey Lake i5-8265, both in terms of fundamentals and in terms of performance.
Acer also offers the SF314-57 with the higher-tier i7-1065G7 Intel IceLake processor and optional Nvidia MX250 graphics on both the i5 and i7 versions, as also implied by the internal design that includes space for one. Opting for the dGPU makes very little sense on the i7 model, as it would negate its primary strength, the G7 Iris Pro graphics. Pairing it with the i5 might be worth-while, but overall I’d rather go with last year’s Swift 3 with MX150 graphics if you’re after a dGPU, it’s a better overall product and would perform similarly to this 2020 model, for a fraction of a price.
Back to our unit, getting inside is fairly easy and requires you to remove the back panel, hold in place by a handful of Torx screws. Here you’ll find the upgradeable M.2 2280 SSD and M.2 WiFi chip, as well as the basic thermal module, the tiny speakers and 48Wh battery. Pretty standard design for a budget laptop, with some unused space and visible routing cables for the speakers and wireless antennas.
A benefit of moving to the Intel IceLake hardware platform is the support for LPDDR4x memory, which is more efficient than the DDR4 and faster than the LPPDR3 implemented with the various WhiskeyLake designs. The RAM and CPU are soldered, so make sure you get the appropriate configuration, storage is the only aspect you can later upgrade. Our unit came with a middling Kingston PCIe x2 SSD, which is fine for everyday use, but the platform supports faster alternatives as well.
This sort of configuration is primarily designed for casual use, for browsing, text-editing and movies, which it handles smoothly, while keeping thermals and noise at excellent levels.
We also tested our sample in more demanding loads. The Cinebench loop test runs Cinebench R15 for 10+ loops, with 2-3 sec delay between each run, to test for performance in taxing longer-term scenarios. The i5-1035G1 did well out of the box on the Best Performance Windows power mode, settling for its designed 15W TDP, frequencies of 2.1 GHz and temperatures of around 75-77 degrees Celsius. The 15W TDP allocation is the limiting factor here, and better performance could be obtained if Acer would allow the i5 to run at higher power.
Since that’s not an option right now, we further looked to improve the performance by undervolting the CPU, possible with the latest versions of Throttlestop. Our test unit ran stably at -100 mV, which translates in 10% improved frequency and scores within the same 15W envelope, with similar 76-77 C temperatures. We also got the same results with the laptop unplugged, which proves this implementation won’t struggle with serious multitasking or more demanding chores on battery.
Furthermore, to test the performance in combined CPU+GPU loads that would simulate tasks like video encoding or data processing, we ran out 3DMark and Luxmark 3.1 stress tests. The system passed 3DMark with flying colors, and did very well in Luxmark as well, constantly running at its 15W power allowance for the entire duration of the test. Of course, the CPU drops in frequency in comparison to the Cinebench test, as it has to split its allowance with the iGPU.
Next, we ran our standard set of benchmarks, for those of you interested in numbers. Here’s what we got on stock settings:
- 3DMark 11: P2775 (Graphics – 2546, Physics – 6238);
- 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 1643 (Graphics – 1748, Physics – 8315);
- 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 532 (Graphics – 466, CPU – 2769);
- Uniengine Superposition – 720p Low: 2989;
- GeekBench 4.4.2 64-bit: Single-Core: 5178, Multi-core: 15615;
- GeekBench 5.0.1 64-bit: Single-Core: 1152, Multi-core: 3485;
- CineBench R15 (best run): CPU 541 cb, CPU Single Core 166 cb;
- CineBench R20 (best run): CPU 1210 cb;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 142.85 fps, Pass 2 –29.84 fps;
- x265 HD Benchmark 64-bit: 109.78 s.
We also reran some of them on the -100 mV undervolted CPU profile:
- 3DMark 11: P2775 (Graphics – 2508, Physics – 6884);
- 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 1566 (Graphics – 1660, Physics – 8723);
- 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 510 (Graphics – 445, CPU – 2971);
- Uniengine Superposition – 720p Low: 2973;
- PassMark: Rating: 4088, CPU mark: 10287, 3D Graphics Mark: 1674;
- PCMark 10: 3799 (Essentials – 7651 , Productivity – 5777 , Digital Content Creation – 3367);
- GeekBench 4.4.2 64-bit: Single-Core: 5092, Multi-core: 16270;
- GeekBench 5.0.1 64-bit: Single-Core: 1159, Multi-core: 3810;
- CineBench R15 (best run): CPU 618 cb, CPU Single Core 170 cb;
- CineBench R20 (best run): CPU 1320 cb;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 152.24 fps, Pass 2 –43.92 fps;
- x265 HD Benchmark 64-bit: 95.85 s.
Undervolting helps improve CPU performance across the board. However, the system is still limited by the 15W power allowance, and there’s room for improvement if Acer decides to raise the limit towards 25W, which is an option for IceLake platforms. That’s why the combined CPU+GPU results such as 3Dmark and Uniengine are lower on the undervolted profile, as the GPU scores drop slightly as the CPU results improve.
The power limit is perhaps not that much of an issue for the i5-1035G1, but the i7-1065G7 would surely benefit from a higher TDP threshold in combined loads and in games.
Speaking of games, we ran a few titles on our sample. Keep in mind the G1 is the base level Intel UHD Gen11 version available with existing Ice Lake chips. For comparison, Intel also offers an i5-1035G4 version, with 25% extra EUs (48, vs 32 on the G1), as well as the i7-1065G7 with 64 EUs, twice of what G1 offers.
Here’s what to expect in terms of gaming on the i5-1035G1 powered Swift 3 SF314-57, and we’ll update with further details on the i7 version if we get to test one in the future. We did throw in our results of a Ryzen 3500U platform (from our review of the Lenovo IdeaPad S540) and an Intel i7 WhiskeyLake + dedicated MX250 graphics configuration (from our review of the Asus ZenBook 14), for comparison.
|FHD resolution, lowest graphics presets||Swift 3||IdeaPad S540||ZenBook UX434FL |
|Bioshock Infinite (DX 11, Low Preset)||34 fps||52 fps||77 fps|
|Far Cry 5 (DX 11, Low Preset, TAA)||11 fps||18 fps||23 fps|
|NFS: Most Wanted (DX 11, Lowest Preset)||32-40 fps||46-54 fps||– fps|
|Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (DX 11, Lowest Preset)||30 fps||32 fps||50 fps|
|Rise of Tomb Raider (DX 12, Low Preset, FXAA)||14 fps||18 fps||32 fps|
|The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (DX 11, Low Preset, Hairworks Off)||– fps||17-21 fps||27-38 fps|
- The Witcher 3, NFS – recorded with Fraps in campaign mode
- Bioshock, Far Cry 5, Middle Earth, Tomb Raider games – recorded with the included Benchmark utilities
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.
The performance is OK, with both the CPU and iGPU sides running at high speeds, but within the platform’s abilities and 15W power allowance. The configuration is definitely not made for modern gaming, but you can occasionally play older titles if you’re willing to drop on settings and even lower the resolution to HD. Nonetheless, configurations with an AMD APU or Intel Core + MX level graphics are better suited for light gaming.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers, and others
This 2020 Swift 3 SF314-57 gets a very basic thermal module, with a single fan and a thin heatpipe between the CPU and radiator.
As an interesting side-note, the thermal plate only covers the CPU part of the chiplet, but not the PCH (Platform Controller Hub) as well. Nonetheless, this doesn’t seem to have any impact on performance and thermals, so it works fine for this laptop. If you’re not aware of this, IceLake chips are different than Whiskey Lake Core Us and past versions, with the PCH and GPU separated and an overall larger footprint. The CPU part is built on Intel’s 10nm lithography, while the PCH is still 14 nm.
The fan inside rests idle with basic use, but kicks in with multitasking. It remains very quiet, though, barely even noticeable even in a perfectly silent room. We also haven’t noticed any coil whining or electronic noises on our sample, which turned out to be one of the most silent ultrabooks reviewed in recent months.
The fan kicks up with demanding loads and games, but still remains quiet (at 37-38 dB max volume, at head-level) and can be easily covered even be the mediocre speakers on this device.
At the same time, the Swift 3 in this i5-1035G1 configuration barely passes 40 degrees Celsius on the back with games, so thermals are never going to be a concern.
In all fairness, i7 variants (if allowed to run above 15W) and especially the MX250 dGPU variants will definitely run hotter and noisier.
*Daily Use – running Netflix in EDGE for 30 minutes, fans 32-34 dB
*Load – playing Need for Speed: Most Wanted for 30 minutes, fans 37-38 dB
For connectivity, there’s latest-gen WiFi 6 with an Intel AX200 module on this laptop. It did very well with our setup, nearly 2x faster than the WiFi 5 implementation in the previous Swift 3 with Wifi 5 wireless. At the same time, the signal and performance remained very strong at 30-feet with obstacles in between.
On the other hand, for audio Acer went with some of the smallest speakers I’ve seen in a while, and they fire downwards, through grills on the belly. These are not completely awful, but it’s surely no surprise they sound mediocre, with nearly no bass and volumes of up to 70 dB. Overall, I feel these are a downgrade from both the previous Intel and AMD Swift 3 versions.
Finally, there’s an HD camera at the top of this laptop’s screen, flanked by an array of microphones. These are fine for occasional calls, but the camera quality is muddy and washed out.
There’s a 48 Wh battery inside the Swift 3 SF314, a normal size for ultrabooks in this segment these days. This Intel implementation proved, however, less efficient than the Whiskey Lake build on the previous Swift 3, so we only ended up with middling runtimes.
Here’s what we got on our review unit, with the screen’s brightness set at around 120 nits (~80 brightness).
- 8.5 W (~5 h 30 min of use) – text editing in Google Drive, Better Battery Mode, screen at 80%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 7.8 W (~6+ h of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Edge, Better Battery Mode, screen at 80%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 7 W (~7- h of use) – Netflix fullscreen in Edge, Better Battery Mode, screen at 80%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 12 W (~4 h of use) – browsing in Edge, Better Performance Mode, screen at 80%, Wi-Fi ON.
The laptop comes with a 45W charger that plugs-in via a classic barrel plug. It’s a two-piece design with a small brick, and a full charge takes about 2 hours. USB-C charging is not supported.
Price and availability
The Acer Swift 3 SF314-57 is available worldwide as of January 2020.
The configuration reviewed here, with the Intel Core i5-1035G1 processor, 8 GB of RAM and 256/512 GB SSD is available at this point for $679 in the US and 749 EUR in Germany/France. Both are MSRP prices and will most likely drop in the future.
Shops in Europe and the UK also list Core i7-1065G7 configurations with 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage, as well as variants with MX250 graphics. These could also make it to North America in the near future.
Follow this link for updated configurations and prices at the time you’re reading the article.
The Swift 3 FS314-57 is one of the most competitively priced Intel Ice Lake ultraportables of the moment, as well as one of the most compact and lightweight 14-inch options in the $600-$1000 budget. Furthermore, Acer did not sacrifice the IO in the process and implemented the hardware very well, allowing good performance in both daily use and more demanding loads, combined with excellent thermals and noise levels.
At the same time, this 2020 update downgrades the typing experience, battery life, audio, and screen quality of the previous Swift 3 SF314-55 lineup, and that reflects in our overall rating and overall conclusion of this review.
For what is worth, I consider the older Swift 3 to be a better overall product and the one I’d still recommend over this update if you’re shopping at around 600-700 USD/EUR. Yes, it’s a heavier product and lacks Wireless AX or Thunderbolt 3, but that kind of money will buy you a versatile Whiskey Lake i7 + MX150 dGPU these days, and you’ll end up with a more efficient implementation, brighter and richer display, and an overall nicer keyboard.
At the same time, if you decide to stick with the SF314-57 update for the IceLake hardware and lightweight build, I’d only consider the i5-1035G1 configuration reviewed here and not spend extra for the MX250 or the i7 on this product. Instead, if you’re willing to spend closer to 800-1000 USD/EUR for an ultraportable, go with the 13-inch Swift 3 SF313-52 instead. That’s also a compact product with IceLake hardware, Thunderbolt 3 and AX wireless, but with a much nicer 3:2 display and bigger battery.
Of course, the Swift 3s are not without competition in their niche of value ultrabooks, from options such as the Asus Vivobook S14, the Huawei MateBook D 14, the Lenovo IdeaPad S340 or Dell Inspiron 14, among others, and you should check them as well, for a bigger picture of your options. That aside, if I were you I’d also check the higher-tier segment for potential discounts, you might find some excellent value options there for $100-$150 extra, well worth the difference in some cases.
Overall, I’m rather disappointed with this year’s Acer Swift 3 SF314-57 and Acer’s decisions to sacrifice on crucial aspects for an ultra-lightweight construction and latest Intel Ice Lake hardware. Luckily, that Swift 3 SF313 is a much nicer product, but it’s sad the Swift 3 14-inch series is no longer impressive, unlike it’s been for the past years.
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