Earlier this year I’ve reviewed the 13-inch Swift 3 ultraportable with Intel IceLake hardware, an interesting and fairly affordable portable laptop with a productivity-focused 3:2 display.
Several months later, Acer updated the series with the newer Intel Tiger Lake hardware, updated the thermal design in order to better cope with this new-generation hardware, and slightly revamped the inputs, which are now friendlier in everyday use.
Are these updates enough to make this late-2020 Acer Swift 3 SF313-53 model a good buy? That’s what this article is going to answer for you, as we’ve gathered all our thoughts and impressions on this ultraportable after using it for a couple of weeks.
Specs as reviewed – Acer Swift 3 SF313-53
||Acer Swift 3 SF313-53
||13.5 inch, 2256 x 1504 px, 3:2, IPS, glossy, non-touch, BOE NE135FBM-N41 panel
||Intel Tiger Lake Core i7-1165G7 CPU, 4C/8T
||Intel Iris Xe G7
||16 GB LPDDR4x (soldered, dual-channel)
||512 GB SSD (SK Hynix HFM512GDJTNI-82A0A – M.2 2280 PCIe x4)
||WiFi 6 Gig+ (Intel AX201), Bluetooth 5.0
||1x USB-A 3.1, 1x USB-A 2.0, 1x USB-C with Thunderbolt 4, HDMI, mic/headphone, Lock
||56 Wh, 45W barrel-plug charger, USB-C Charging support
||302 mm or 11.91” (w) x 234 mm or 9.21” (d) x 16 mm or 0.63” (h)
||2.53 lbs (1.15 kg)+ .53 lbs (.24 kg) charger, EU version
||white backlit keyboard, HD webcam, stereo speakers, finger sensor
Our test unit is the higher-tier configuration, but retail models will also be available in a couple of other lower-tier versions, with various amounts of storage, i3 to i7 Intel TigerLake processors, and optional Nvidia MX450 graphics.
Design and construction
Aesthetically, this late-2020 Swift 3 13-inch update is identical to the model originally launched earlier this year. That means that silver magnesium alloys are used for its unibody construction, making it one of the lightest and, at the same time, sturdiest builds in its class; its inner-deck and keyboard area are especially solid, and barely bulge even when pressed harder.
The magnesium shell also does a very good job at hiding smudges and even scratches on this lighter-color scheme, but keep in mind it still scuffs fairly easily, so I’d be careful when carrying it in my bag or backpack. A protective sleeve would be welcomed.
On the practical side, this Swift 3 is a fairly tall product, as it has to accommodate the 3:2 display and its mid-sized bezels, which are still fairly chunky for this day and age. That allowed Acer to implement a full-size keyboard on this laptop, a large clickpad, and a spacious armrest, with friendly lips and corners all around.
On the other hand, the rubber feet on the bottom could have been a little grippier, and the screen’s hinge is also a bit stiff, requiring the use of both hands to open up it up. At the same time, it keeps the display well in place and allows it to lean back flat to 180-degrees, a particularity I highly appreciate in a portable computer.
The thermal design is fairly standard, with air being sucked in from the bottom, through those spacious unobstructed ventilation girls, and then exhausted through the grills beneath the screen, under the hinge. The hinge’s angled design pushes some of the hot air down and back, and some of it into the screen, where the fairly hefty chin takes in most of the heat and allows the panel to rest cooly.
As for the IO, there’s almost everything you’ll want here, except for a card-reader, and the status LEDs have also been conveniently pushed on the sides, out of the way. The laptop charges via a classic barrel-plug connector, but USB-C charging is also possible through the Thunderbolt port. Furthermore, a fingerprint sensor is also included, placed under the arrows keys.
Keyboard and trackpad
I wasn’t very happy with the inputs on the unit tested earlier this year, and while they’ve been slightly revamped on this updated model, they’re still not my favorites.
The design is fine for everyday use and standard for an Acer laptop, with the cramped arrows/PgUp/PgDn keys, a power button in the top corner, and a Capslock key without a physical activation indicator.
The feedback is what you’ll have to get used to, as the keys take very little force to actuate, making them rather unforgiving to any straying fingers. At the same time, this is a very quick typer and something experienced writers will probably appreciate, but not necessarily the average Joe. It’s also a fairly loud implementation that might raise some eyebrows in the study rooms or other quiet environments.
Finally, I’m not a fan of this silver keys + white illumination combo, something I’ve constantly complain about whenever I encounter it, due to its poor readability and contrast with the illumination activated.
The clickpad is spacious, accurate, and reliable, but it’s also fairly clunky when tapped and not as smooth as the glass implementations out there.
As for biometrics, there’s a finger sensor on this series, but not IR cameras.
Acer puts a good-quality 3:2 IPS display on this series, which is in fact the main reason you’d want to go with one of these Swift 3 13s over the multitude of other options out there.
As a 3:2 display, this is taller than the regular 16:9 screens on most other laptops, thus offers an increased workspace. Furthermore, Acer implemented a high-resolution panel with good brightness, contrast, and color accuracy, perfectly suitable for everyday use, and even fine-enough for occasional color accurate work.
My only gripe is with the fact that this is a glossy screen, but doesn’t support touch, not ideal for a matte-screen fanatic such as myself. You mgith feel otherwise, though.
Here’s what we got in our tests, with a X-Rite i1 Display Pro sensor:
- Panel HardwareID: AU Optronics AUO408D (B140HAN04.E);
- Coverage: 98.7% sRGB, 70.1% AdobeRGB, 73.3% DCI P3;
- Measured gamma: 2.12;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 441.14 cd/m2 on power;
- Min brightness in the middle of the screen: 37.23 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 1494:1;
- White point: 6600 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.29 cd/m2;
- PWM: No (see details below).
This panel is well calibrated out of the box and we haven’t noticed color/uniformity issues in our tests, nor excessive amounts of light bleeding around the edges, with only some pressure points on the lower lip.
Initially, I was afraid flickering might still be an issue here, as it was on the previous generation. We don’t have the exact tools to measure for PWM, but NBC’s review of the early-2020 model shows that this panel used PWM at 200 MHz for <90% of the brightness coverage (source). However, LaptopMedia’s review of the late-2020 model shows that PWM is no longer used at any brightness level (source). Nonetheless, I’d look into other reviews as well for updates on this matter.
Hardware and performance
Our sample is a higher-specced configuration of the Swift 3 SF313-53 model, with an Intel Tiger Lake Core i7-1165G7 processor, 16 GB of LPDDR4x RAM, and 512 GB of PCIe x4 SSD storage.
We’re testing a pre-release sample of this laptop, with the software and drivers available as of late-Sept 2020, thus some of our findings might change with future software optimizations. Our test unit was provided by Acer, and sent back to them once we finished up the tests.
Spec-wise, this is based on the late-2020 Intel Tiger Lake i7-1165G7 hardware, the same implemented by a multitude of other ultrabooks of this generation. It’s a 4C/8T processor, very snappy in single-core tasks, and averagely competent in multitasking, especially when allowed to run at higher TDP settings. OEMs can implement this hardware in a couple of different versions, with a sustained TDP of up to 28W. As you’ll find from our tests, this Swift is mostly a mid-tier implementation, capable of roughly 17+W of sustained power in demanding loads.
Graphics are the major novelty of this Tiger Lake platform, and the i7-1165G7 gets the most capable version of the Iris Xe iGPU, with 96 Execution Units clocked at up to 1350 MHz. That’s a significant upgrade over the Iris Pro G7 in the Ice Lake i7-1065G7 processor, implemented in the early-2020 Swift 3 13.
These aside, our configuration also gets 16 GB of LPDDR4x 4266 MHz of RAM out of the box, in dual-channel, and an SK Hynix PCIe x4 SSD, a mid-performance option. This might differ for the retail versions, though. Upgrades are possible if you remove the back panel, hold in place by a couple of visible Philips screws.
The CPU and memory are soldered on the motherboard and non-upgradable, but the SSD is upgradeable. You’ll also notice the GPU-slot under the thermal heatpipes, which suggests that some of these Swift 3 configurations might also be paired with Nvidia graphics – most likely MX350 or MX450 chips.
As far as the software goes, there’s no dedicated control software on this Swift, so you can only toggle between the Windows power modes, with a mild effect on the CPU’s performance and power allocation.
Ok, let’s get to some test results, first looking at how this laptop handles casual use such as browsing, text-editing, and movies, which it copes smoothly while keeping thermals and noise at excellent levels.
Onto more demanding tests, the Cinebench loop test runs Cinebench R15 for 15+ loops, with 2-3 sec delay between each run, to test for performance in taxing longer-term scenarios.
The i7-1165G7 did fairly well in this implementation on the Best Performance Windows power mode, spiking up at high power and frequencies for a few runs, and then stabilizing at around 17W TDP, frequencies of 2.6 GHz, and excellent temperatures of around 63-65 degrees Celsius. The 17W TDP allocation is the limiting factor here, and better performance could be obtained if Acer would allow this i7 to run at higher power on the retail models, which this implementation could definitely handle.
We further looked to improve the performance by undervolting the CPU, but that’s no possible with Thorttlestop on Tiger Lake for now.
On the other hand, the laptop performs well on battery, similar to its performance while plugged in.
To put these results in perspective, here’s how a couple of other AMD and Intel ultraportable notebooks score in this same test.
The 8Core and 6Core Ryzen 4000 platforms are a clear step-up in performance over the Intel options, but TigerLake seems to be a slight improvement over matching IceLake configurations in this sort of CPU-heavy loads, and a match for the best IceLake models (such as the Razer Blade Stealth 13) even in this limited 17W-only implementation.
Running the longer and more challenging Cinebench R20 test results in similar findings, while on the gruesome Prime 95 test the CPU stabilizes at around 17+ W after a short initial boost, with temperatures of 70+ degrees C.
We also ran our combined CPU+GPU stress tests on this notebook, on the same Performance profile.
3DMark stress runs the same test for 20 times in a loop and looks for performance variation and degradation over time, and this unit did not pass it, which suggests a performance degradation once the heat builds-up. That’s not unexpected given the high CPU power in the early runs, which latter stabilizes at around 17+W. Luxmark 3.1 fully loads both the CPU and GPU at the same time, but it doesn’t properly support the Tiger Lake platform at this time, so is not relevant here.
Next, here are some benchmark results. We ran the entire suite of tests and benchmarks on the standard Windows Best Performance profile. Here’s what we got.
- 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 4407 (Graphics – 4968, Physics – 10480, Combined – 1623);
- 3DMark 13 – Night Raid: 15493 (Graphics – 19256, CPU – 7352);
- 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 1539 (Graphics – 1391, CPU – 3886);
- AIDA64 Memory test: -;
- Uniengine Superposition – 1080p Medium: 2876;
- Uniengine Superposition – 1080p Extreme: 964;
- Handbrake 1.3.1 (4K to 1080p encode): 23.32 average fps;
- PassMark: Rating: 5415 (CPU mark: 12283, 3D Graphics Mark: 3433, Disk Mark: 11676);
- PCMark 10: 4830 (Essentials – 10159 , Productivity – 6686 , Digital Content Creation – 4502);
- GeekBench 4.4.2 64-bit: Single-Core: 6317, Multi-core: 23072;
- GeekBench 5.0.1 64-bit: Single-Core: 1463, Multi-core: 5836;
- CineBench R15 (best run): CPU 940 cb, CPU Single Core 218 cb;
- CineBench R20 (best run): CPU 1885 cb, CPU Single Core 370 cb;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 201.82 fps, Pass 2 – 47.96 fps;
- x265 HD Benchmark 64-bit: 68.55 s.
We also ran some Workstation related loads, on the same Performance profile:
- Blender 2.82 – BMW Car scene- CPU Compute: 8m 18s (Auto);
- Blender 2.82 – Classroom scene – CPU Compute: 27m 41s (Auto);
- Luxmark 3.1 – Luxball HDR – OpenCL CPUs + GPUs score: CPU not properly recognized;
These results are within 20% of the Intel i7-1185G7 reference configuration that has been provided by Intel for the initial Tiger Lake performance previews, which runs at roughly 28W of sustained power. That means the retail units could run faster, if Acer supplies them with more power, at the possible expense of thermals and noise.
Even as it is, this implementation is fast enough for daily multitasking and can also handle GPU-loads and light gaming significantly better than the previous IceLake models.
We ran a couple of DX11, DX12, and Vulkan titles on the Best Performance profile and Low/Lowest graphics settings. Here’s what we got:
||Swift 3 14 – Intel 1165G7 – FHD
||UX393 – Intel 1165G7
||Swift 3 13 – Intel 1065G7
||UX425 – Intel 1065G7
||IdeaPad 7 – AMD R7 + Vega 8
||UM425 – AMD R7 + Vega 7
|Bioshock Infinite (DX 11, Low Preset)
||76 fps (45 fps – 1% low)
||83 fps (44 fps – 1% low)
||40 fps (22 fps – 1% low)
||81 fps (58 fps – 1% low)
||66 fps (50 fps – 1% low)
|Dota 2 (DX 11, Best Looking Preset)
||71 fps (46 fps – 1% low)
||63 fps (39 fps – 1% low)
||34 fps (20 fps – 1% low)
||53 fps (40 fps – 1% low)
||39 fps (28 fps – 1% low)
|Far Cry 5 (DX 11, Low Preset, no AA)
||32 fps (19 fps – 1% low)
||29 fps (19 fps – 1% low)
||12 fps (10 fps – 1% low)
||28 fps (24 fps – 1% low)
||21 fps (17 fps – 1% low)
|Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (DX 11, Lowest Preset)
||60 fps (43 fps – 1% low)
||67 fps (53 fps – 1% low)
||32 fps (22 fps – 1% low)
||33 fps (24 fps – 1% low)
||45 fps (36 fps – 1% low)
|NFS: Most Wanted (DX 11, Lowest Preset)
||60 fps (53 fps – 1% low)
||60 fps (45 fps – 1% low)
||42 fps (25 fps – 1% low)
||60 fps (46 fps – 1% low)
||56 fps (34 fps – 1% low)
|Rise of the Tomb Raider (DX 12, Lowest Preset, no AA)
||36 fps (5 fps – 1% low)
||46 fps (12 fps – 1% low)
||16 fps (3 fps – 1% low)
||41 fps (22 fps – 1% low)
||28 fps (22 fps – 1% low)
|Shadow of Tomb Raider (Vulkan, Lowest Preset, no AA)
||37 fps (21 fps – 1% low)
||34 fps (18 fps – 1% low)
||17 fps (12 fps – 1% low)
||38 fps (22 fps – 1% low)
||27 fps (16 fps – 1% low)
|Strange Brigade (Vulkan, Low Preset)
||50 fps (40 fps – 1% low)
||54 fps (45 fps – 1% low)
||21 fps (7 fps – 1% low)
||41 fps (36 fps – 1% low)
||37 fps (32 fps – 1% low)
|The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (DX 11, Low Preset, Hairworks Off)
||28 fps (22 fps – 1% low)
||21 fps (14 fps – 1% low)
- The Witcher 3, Dota 2, NFS – recorded with MSI Afterburner in game mode;
- Bioshock, Far Cry 5, Middle Earth, Strange Brigade, Tomb Raider games – recorded with the included Benchmark utilities;
I’ve added a couple of other configurations for comparison, either ultraportables available within the same segment and price range, or some of the few other Tiger Lake models we’ve tested so far.
We’re looking at 2x or higher improvement over the i7-1065G7 Swift 3 configuration tested earlier this year, even on this 17W implementation which does not allow the Iris Xe graphics to run at its full potential. In fact, it’s fairly far from it, with the GPU averaging frequencies of only .9 to 1 GHz in our gaming tests, down from the 1.30 GHz peak performance that the platform is theoretically capable of.
Furthermore, don’t forget that our sample is pre-production, so there’s a fair chance the retail models could run at higher power and end-up performing faster in games. As it is, our sample averages temperatures of around 68-70 degrees Celsius in games and other demanding loads, with quiet fans that only ramp up to sub 40 dB noise levels, so there’s room for a power increase that would bump-up the temperatures to around 80 C and slightly faster fans, as we noticed in other portable Tiger Lake models.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers, and others
Acer updated the thermal design in this Swift 3 SF313-53 adding an extra heatpipe over the model tested earlier in the year. It’s still a fairly basic design, though, with a single fan and these two heatpipes that handle both the CPU and dGPU. This design is perfectly fine for the Intel-only configurations such as this one tested here, but it might not suffice for those models also equipped with the Nvidia MX350/MX450 dGPU, something to definitely consider if shopping for one of those.
The fan rests quietly in our test model. It’s always active, but barely audible with daily use, and it ramps up to 38-39 dB at head-level with games. We did, however, notice some electronic noises on our sample, so make sure to check for them in your unit.
With the fairly cool internal components, this laptop also runs cooly on the outside, both with daily use and with games. We only measured temperatures in the very low 40s in the middle of the chassis, and low 50s on the back, around the CPU. The screen’s bottom chin runs at around mid-40s, as some of the heat is pushed straight into that part by the fan, but thanks to the slightly thicker chin on this laptop, the panel itself stays within comfortable temperatures of sub-40s C.
*Daily Use – streaming Netflix in EDGE for 30 minutes, Better Battery Mode, fans at 29-35 dB
*Gaming – playing Far Cry 5 for 30 minutes, Best Performance Mode, fans at 38-39 dB
For connectivity, there’s latest-gen WiFi 6 with an Intel AX201 module on this laptop. It performed well with our setup and the signal and performance remained strong at 30-feet, with obstacles in between.
On the other hand, Acer didn’t do anything about the speakers on this Swift 3 and still implement measly audio. The internal speakers are tiny and placed on the front lip, firing downwards. They’re not completely useless, yet they sound mediocre, with nearly no bass and volumes of up to 70 dB at head-level.
Finally, there’s an HD camera at the top of this laptop’s screen, flanked by 2 microphones. These are fine for occasional calls, but the camera quality is still muddy and washed out.
There’s a 56 Wh battery inside the Swift 3 SF313-53, averagely sized for a mid-range ultraportable thee days.
We ended up with fairly poor runtimes on this early unit that we have here, and I’d expect these to improve with the retail products, especially for the less-demanding activities such as watching videos or editing texts.
Here’s what we got on our review unit, with the screen’s brightness set at around 120 nits (~60 brightness).
- 11.2 W (~5+ h of use) – text editing in Google Drive, Better Battery Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 8.4 W (~6+ h of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Edge, Better Battery Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 7.8 W (~7+ h of use) – Netflix fullscreen in Edge, Better Battery Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 14 W (~4 h of use) – browsing in Edge, Better Performance Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON.
The laptop comes with a 65W charger (in this configuration) 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, but quick charging fills-up a big chunk of the capacity in under one hour. USB-C charging is also possible with an appropriate charger.
Price and availability
The Acer Swift 3 SF313-52 is not widely available in stores at the time of this article and is scheduled for Q4 2020, with a starting price of 899 EUR.
We’ll keep updating this section once we know more about final configurations and prices. In the meantime, follow this link for more details.
While not without quirks, I still feel that this Swift 3 SF313-53 is an interesting mid-range ultraportable with a focus on daily-use productivity, thanks to its 3:2 display. This is what primarily puts it on the map, as one of the more affordable laptops with TigerLake hardware and a good quality 3:2 display. I would have preferred if this was either touch or matte, but this no-touch glossy implementation should still appeal to many of you.
These aside, Acer built a sturdy and lightweight product here with a quiet, cool, and fairly competent TigerLake implementation and good battery life.
On the other hand, the Tiger Lake i7-1165G7 is not pushed to its best on our early review sample, and I’d look into later reviews if that’s something of interest for you. For me, this performs well enough and I appreciate the excellent thermal and noise-levels even if that comes with a 10-20% performance cut in games and some tests.
I do have a couple of gripes with this laptop, though, such as the quirky inputs, with the unforgiving and hardly visible keyboard and the clunky clickpad, as well as the measly audio. Furthermore, while we couldn’t properly test this out, make sure to check other reviews for reports on screen flickering, which has been an issue on the early-2020 version of this laptop, which shipped with the same kind of panel. I didn’t notice flickering with the naked eye during my time with this laptop, but I’m not highly sensitive to this matter, so those of you that are should definitely further look into this.
Bottom point, this Acer Swift 3 SF313-53 has its ups and downs, so it’s not a clear recommendation for everyone, but could be a fine choice as long as you’re OK with its inconveniences and can find it for a good price. As I mentioned already, this is among the most affordable ultraportables with TigerLake hardware, a big battery, and a 3:2 display, and that alone might be just enough to convince you to buy it.
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