The 14-inch Acer Swift 3 series includes some of the best-value affordable ultrabooks on the market, and I’ve recently spent time with their latest update as of late-2020, the Swift 3 14 SF314-59 model with Intel Tiger Lake hardware.
On the outside, this looks much like the previous Swift 3 14 models from 2019 and early-2020, but on the inside, it has been revamped, with now room for a new thermal module, and updated speakers. This is also one of the few Acer laptops to get an Evo certification, in the i5/i7 configurations.
With that in mind, the article below will explain what to expect from the late-2020 Acer Swift 3 14, with its strong points and its quirks, so you’ll be able to make an informed decision on it.
Specs as reviewed – Acer Swift 3 14 SF314-59
||Acer Swift 3 14 SF314-59
||14.0 inch, 1920 x 1080 px, 16:9, IPS, matte, non-touch, Chi Mei N140HCE-EN2 panel
||Intel Tiger Lake Core i5-1135G7 CPU, 4C/8T
||Intel Iris Xe G7
||16 GB LPDDR4x (soldered, dual-channel)
||512 GB SSD (Kingston OM8PCP3512F-AA – 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 3, HDMI, mic/headphone, Lock
||48 Wh (56 Wh on updated models), 65W charger (barrel-plug)
||323 mm or 12.68” (w) x 219 mm or 8.59” (d) x 16.5 mm or 0.64” (h)
||2.5 lbs (1.14 kg)+ 53 lbs (.24 kg) charger, EU version
||optional white backlit keyboard, HD webcam, stereo speakers, finger sensor
Our test unit is a mid-tier configuration, but retail models will also be available in a couple of other higher-tier versions, with various amounts of storage, up to i7 Intel TigerLake processors, and optional Nvidia MX graphics.
The Evo-certified 2021 update also gets a 56Wh battery and 65Wh charger.
Design and construction
Aesthetically, this late-2020 14-inch Swift 3 is identical to the model tested earlier this year.
Acer went with a full-metal construction, with magnesium and aluminum alloys used for the entire case. As a result, the laptop feels sturdy, and only weighs about 2.5 lbs in our tested configuration, making it more portable than other 14-inch laptops in this same class.
Now, if you’ve touched these magnesium alloys before you know that they don’t feel as nice and premium as the aluminum-made devices available in higher classes, but that’s hardly something I can complain about, especially in a device that’s overall well made and finished; with still the exception of some sharper edges on the bottom, where the D-panel attaches to the main deck.
That aside, the strong lid and the little amount of flex in the keyboard area are reassuring, and the silver color does an excellent job at hiding smudges and fingerprints.
This Swift is also a practical notebook. A stiff hinge keeps the screen in place and allows it to lean back flat to 180-degrees, the rubber feet on the bottom are grippy enough and Acer made sure to blunt the lips and corners so they don’t dig into the wrists. That hinge is a bit stiff, though, so you’ll need both hands to lift up the screen here.
As for the IO, there’s mostly everything you’ll want here, including Thunderbolt 3 support and a finger-sensor.
I’ll also add that the cooling solution blows air through grills placed behind the hinge, and some of the heat still goes into the screen, but most of it is absorbed by the thicker chin. As you can tell by now, this is not the most compact 14-incher out there, but that helps the cooling and allows Acer to implement a spacious arm-rest, plus the computer is still portable enough thanks to its light weight.
Keyboard and trackpad
Acer still haven’t updated their entry-level Swift/Spin keyboards and I still feel that they should in order top keep along with the competition.
It is, however, important to mention that they actually offer two keyboard variants for this Swift 3 14-inch lineup with the same overall layout, but one without backlighting, the one we have here, and another with backlighting. The two also feel different in daily use.
This non-backlit model normally reserved for the entry-level configurations feels shallow and over-sensitive, with the keys actuating very quickly and leaving no room for any straying fingers. Their mushy feedback also gets in the way with touch-typing, and I often found the need to check out the screen to makes sure that I hit the right key.
The backlit keyboard implementation is still a short stroke and fairly mushy option, but I did end up accommodating to it after a few days back when I reviewed it in a previous Swift 3 model, so if given the choice, I’d definitely go with that one. Not to mention that key-backlighting should be a must in a $500+ laptop these days.
Keyboard aside, the clickpad is an averagely sized plastic surface with Precision drivers. Unlike on the previous Swift 3 that I’ve spent time with, this time the implementation felt a lot sturdier and more reliable, no longer rattling with taps and responding to my swipes and gestures just fine. That suggests there might be a degree of variation between the implemented clickpads on this series, so I’d make sure to give it a proper test.
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.
Acer also offers a couple of different screen options on the Swift 3 series, and our unit came with the same fair-quality Chi Mei N140HCE-EN2 panel that we’ve previously tested in the late-2018 Swift 3.
This is a fair choice for the affordable segment, with roughly 300-nits of brightness, 1200+:1 contrast, wide viewing angles and fair color coverage at 67+ AdobeRGB in our tests. That makes it a fine choice for daily use, video content, and the kind of activities you’d run on this laptop. It’s not ideal for fast-paced games, though, as it’s a 60 Hz panel with fairly slow response times, but there’s no significantly faster panel choice in this 14-inch segment right now, and definitely not within this lower price-range.
Here’s what we got in our test, with a X-Rite i1 Display Pro sensor:
- Panel HardwareID: Chi Mei CMN14D5 (N140HCE-EN2);
- Coverage: 96.2% sRGB, 67.3% AdobeRGB, 69.3% DCI P3;
- Measured gamma: 2.06;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 306.76 cd/m2 on power;
- Min brightness in the middle of the screen: 37.23 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 1215:1;
- White point: 6800 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.25 cd/m2;
- PWM: No
The panel is fairly well calibrated out of the box, with mild Gamma and White Point issues needing corrections. It shows some light-bleeding in the lower concerns, though, and we also measured a slight color variation in the lower-left corner compared to the other quadrants.
Hardware and performance
Our sample is a mid-specced configuration of the Swift 3 14 SF314-59 model, with an Intel Tiger Lake Core i5-1135G7 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 late-2020 Swift 3 14-inch series is based on the Intel Tiger Lake hardware, the same implemented by a multitude of other entry-level ultrabooks of this generation. Our model came with the Intel Core i5-1135G7 4C/8T processor, snappy in single-core tasks, and averagely competent in multitasking. 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 3 is surprisingly powerful in demanding loads, with the CPU averaging around that 28W level of sustained power in our tests.
Graphics are the major novelty of this Tiger Lake platform, and the i5-1135G7 gets one of the more capable versions of the Iris Xe iGPU, with 80 Execution Units clocked at up to 1300 MHz. That’s not the same iGPU chip also implemented in the i7-1165G7 processor, which has 96 EUs, but is nonetheless a major upgrade over the Iris iGPUs in the Ice Lake i5-1035G1 and i5-1035G4 processors implemented in the early-2020 Swift 3 14.
These aside, our configuration also gets 16 GB of LPDDR4x 4266 MHz of RAM out of the box, in dual-channel, and a mid-range Kingston PCIe x4 SSD, but that 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 SSDs are upgradeable. You’ll also notice that the internals have been completely redesigned on this generation, adding a revamped thermal module, which can no longer accommodate a dGPU.
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, but without any effect on the CPU’s performance and power allocation on our sample Again, that might differ with the final software updates.
Before we get to talk about the performance in demanding loads, you should know that this laptop handles casual use (browsing, video streaming, text-editing, etc) smoothly, running quietly and cooly.
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 i5-1135G7 in this unit did extremely well on the Best Performance Windows power mode, stabilizing at around 28W TDP, frequencies of 3.3 GHz, and fairly high temperatures of around 90-92 degrees Celsius. Acer allows the CPU to run at higher power and thermals, with a positive impact on the performance.
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, almost similarly 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 this i5 Tiger Lake implementation outmatches all the other i7 TigerLake and IceLake models we’ve tested so far, thanks to its high TDP.
We verified our findings by tunning the longer and more challenging Cinebench R20 test, which results in similar results, while in the gruesome Prime 95 test the CPU stabilizes at around 24+ W after a while, with temperatures of 90+ degrees C. Thermals become a limiting factor with this sort of longer CPU-heavy loads, which is not a surprise, given this Swift 3 is still an entry-level ultrabook with still a fairly basic thermal module.
We also ran our combined CPU+GPU stress tests on this notebook, on the same Best 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 passed it easily, which suggests that the performance remains consistent with longer combined loads. Luxmark 3.1 fully loads both the CPU and GPU at the same time, but is not properly supported by Tiger Lake 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: 4434 (Graphics – 4850, Physics – 13365, Combined – 1676);
- 3DMark 13 – Night Raid: 16253 (Graphics – 19326, CPU – 8551);
- 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 1553 (Graphics – 1382, CPU – 5198);
- AIDA64 Memory test: -;
- Uniengine Superposition – 1080p Medium: 2810;
- Uniengine Superposition – 1080p Extreme: 934;
- Handbrake 1.3.1 (4K to 1080p encode): 21.64 average fps;
- PassMark: Rating: 5414 (CPU mark: 13158, 3D Graphics Mark: 3616, Disk Mark: 11342);
- PCMark 10: 4634 (Essentials – 9405 , Productivity – 6260 , Digital Content Creation – 4588);
- GeekBench 4.4.2 64-bit: Single-Core: 5978, Multi-core: 21528;
- GeekBench 5.0.1 64-bit: Single-Core: 1357, Multi-core: 5418;
- CineBench R15 (best run): CPU 922 cb, CPU Single Core 199 cb;
- CineBench R20 (best run): CPU 2116 cb, CPU Single Core 518 cb;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 176.64 fps, Pass 2 – 42.16 fps;
- x265 HD Benchmark 64-bit: 80.85 s.
We also ran some Workstation related loads, on the same Performance profile:
- Blender 2.82 – BMW Car scene- CPU Compute: 7m 51s (Auto);
- Blender 2.82 – Classroom scene – CPU Compute: 22m 11s (Auto);
- Luxmark 3.1 – Luxball HDR – OpenCL CPUs + GPUs score: CPU not properly recognized;
These are excellent results, as expected given the high-power Tiger Lake i5 implementation here, which ends-up outperforming the mid-tier i7 implementation recently tested in the Swift 3 13-inch chassis in multithreaded loads. The i7 still ends up faster in the single-core CPU tests, though, as it can run at higher Boost speeds.
Nonetheless, based on this test sample, these results are among the best you can expect from a TigerLake i5-1135G7 implementation in both CPU-heavy loads and in combined tasks.
However, don’t forget that our unit is pre-release and there’s no guarantee Acer will keep this aggressive power-profile for the final retail versions, or opt for a more conservative profile in order to keep temperatures at a lower level.
Update: I’ve installed the more recent Intel drivers available as if mid-October 2020 (220.127.116.1173) on our sample and will update with once we rerun the tests.
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 1135G7 28W
||Swift 3 13 – Intel 1165G7
||UX393 – Intel 1165G7
||UX425 – Intel 1065G7
||IdeaPad 7 – AMD R7 + Vega 8
||UM425 – AMD R7 + Vega 7
|Bioshock Infinite (DX 11, Low Preset)
||88 fps (52 fps – 1% low)
||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)
||73 fps (44 fps – 1% low)
||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)
||31 fps (19 fps – 1% low)
||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)
||77 fps (58 fps – 1% low)
||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 (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)
||46 fps (31 fps – 1% low)
||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)
||41 fps (23 fps – 1% low)
||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)
||56 fps (48 fps – 1% low)
||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.
As suggested by the benchmarks results above, this Swift 3 14-inch ends-up outmatching the other i7-1165G7 models we’ve tested so far in real-life gaming as well. Power allocation makes a big difference here and allows the iGPU to run at its peak frequencies of 1.3 GHz in most of the titles, with fairly solid CPU frequencies as well. However, that wasn’t the case in all titles, as we noticed different results in less-demanding games such as Dota 2 or NFS: Most Wanted, which rather prioritized the CPU over the GPU. That’s weird and could change with later drivers and software updates.
Bottom point, this Swift 3 can game. Older titles easily run at 60+ framerates on FHD and low settings, and many even at higher graphics levels, while more recent titles run at 30+ framerates with very few dips. That’s excellent from an integrated chip and a major step-up from the Intel IceLake platform, but also the Vega iGPUs available for now in the AMD Ryzen 4000 configurations.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers, and others
Acer updated the thermal design in this Swift 3 SF314-59 over the 57 and 58 models. They’re still going with a single fan and heatpipe, but the heatpipe is thicker and shorter, and the design no longer leaves room for a dGPU.
Now, this thermal module does a good job of squeezing excellent performance out of this Tiger Lake i5, but with high CPU temperatures on this aggressive 28W power profile implemented on our test unit, especially since the fan spins moderately fast and only ramps up to about 38-39 dB at head-level.
As a result, the aluminum exterior case runs hot as well while running games, and some of the heat is blown into the screen’s chin. The panel itself only gets mildly hot, in the mid to high 40s, as the thick chin takes in the blunt of this heat.
With daily use, the fan rests quietly and pretty much inaudible. We did, however, notice some electronic noises on our sample, so make sure to check for them in your unit.
*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. This is, however, not as fast as other Wifi 6+ models that we’ve tested in the past.
Acer updated the speakers on this Swift 3 model, and while these are now a fair bit louder, I’m not seeing a significant increase in quality in our model. They still sound mediocre, with nearly no bass and volumes of up to 74-76 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 48 Wh battery inside the Swift 3 SF314-59 model, which is fine for an entry-level ultraportable three days, but smaller than some of the competition offers.
Update: Acer bumped the battery to 56 Wh on the updated Evio-certified 2021 version of this Swift 3, so expect 10-15% longer runtimes on those models.
Here’s what we got in terms of runtimes on our review unit, with the screen’s brightness set at around 120 nits (~60 brightness).
- 8.5 W (~5+ h of use) – text editing in Google Drive, Better Battery Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.5 W (~8+ h of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Edge, Better Battery Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.8 W (~8+ h of use) – Netflix fullscreen in Chrome, Better Battery Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 10 W (~4-5 h of use) – browsing in Edge, Better Performance Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON.
Take these for what they are and don’t forget that our sample is pre-release, so there’s a fair chance these would improve with later drivers and software. Compared to the previous-gen Swift 3 models, this Tiger Lake variant runs more efficiently than the Ice Lake variant from early-2020, yet less efficiently than the Whiskey Lake version from 2019.
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 long cables, 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 14 SF314-59 is available in stores at the time of this article.
This i5 / 8 GB RAM / 512 GB SSD listed in Canada for 999 CAD, which is about 700 USD. That’s competitive.
The updated EVO-certified i7 configuration stats a little under 799 USD in the US and around 800 EUR in Europe.
Follow this link for updated configuration/prices in your regions, as well as more details.
I’m not sure the Swift 3 you’re going to buy is going to end up performing the same as our early test-model, but if does, I must say I’m impressed. Acer managed to squeeze a powerful 28W Tiger Lake implementation into an affordable product, and as a result, this performs very well in all kinds of tasks, including demanding loads and games.
Now, the Tiger Lake platform is still not a multi-tasking beast, where an AMD Ryzen computer would be the obvious recommendation, but it’s still very snappy in daily use and a competent gamer, even with recent AAA titles. If that’s what you’re after, this Swift 3 could be for you, especially with the affordable pricing, sturdy build quality, good IO, and fine display on its side.
On the other hand, the typing experience isn’t my favorite on this non-backlit keyboard version, but most models will come with the superior and firmer backlit implementation that I got along with well in previous tests, so that might not be an issue on those. Furthermore, while Acer updated the speakers on this model, they’re still not much on our sample, something else to further look into.
Finally, with the powerful hardware implementation, this laptop runs hot with games, both internally and on the outside, and that might also steer some of you away if ends up true on the final product. If I were Acer, I’d work in some variable power-profiles and keep the 28W implementation, but also offer a more balanced option for those who’d prefer better temperatures.
Of course, the Swift 3 series is not without competition, and among the better alternatives, I’d mention the ZenBook 14 from Asus and the IdeaPad Slim 7 from Lenovo, this latter one available with either Intel or AMD hardware.
With these in mind, I’d advise you to look into a couple of other Acer Swift 3 14 SF314-59 reviews as well, preferably of retail products, to further clarify on the typing experience, thermals and performance, which I can’t draw final conclusions on based on this sample alone.
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