PCWorld (USA)

Acer Swift X: A rare ultraporta­ble laptop with bite

It stumbles in some fit-and-finish details, however.

- BY MATT ELLIOTT

The Acer Swift X packs impressive power inside an ultraporta­ble case and is a great pick if you want a high-performanc­e, highly portable laptop. Where most ultraporta­bles prize efficiency and rely on integrated graphics, the Swift X serves up Nvidia’s Geforce RTX 3050 Ti GPU for an added punch. With the RTX graphics and a powerful AMD CPU, the Swift X is able to handle content-creation tasks and some gaming in addition to the basic office chores for which most ultraporta­bles are built.

The Swift X doesn’t toss efficiency out the window and it provides ample battery life despite its power-hungry parts. You’ll need to put up with a frequently loud fan and warm

keyboard, however, and the system’s fit and finish is not on par with that of other premium ultraporta­bles. Make sure you need the graphics prowess of the Swift X before committing to this system, because you are forced to sacrifice in other areas to get it.

SPECIFICAT­IONS

Acer currently sells only one model of the Swift X. It’s a 14-inch laptop based on an AMD Ryzen 7 5800U CPU and RTX 3050 Ti graphics with a list price of $1,099.99 ( go. pcworld.com/sxlp). It’s currently selling for $1,069.99 on Amazon ( go.pcworld.com/ sxam). Let’s take a look at the specificat­ions of the Swift X (model SFX14-41G-R1S6) that we reviewed:

CPU: 8-core, 16-thread AMD Ryzen 7 5800U

Memory: 16GB

Graphics: Nvidia Geforce RTX 3050 Ti

Storage: 512GB PCIE NVME M.2 SSD

Display: 14-inch, 1920x1080 IPS nontouch

Webcam: 720p

Connectivi­ty: Left: 1 x Superspeed USB 10Gbps Type-c, 1 x Superspeed USB 5Gbps Type-a (with power-off charging),

HDMI 2.0; right: 1 x

Superspeed USB 5Gbps Type-a, combo audio jack

Networking: Wi-fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2

Biometrics: Fingerprin­t reader

Battery capacity: 58.7 Watt-hours

Dimensions: 12.71x8.35x0.7 inches

Measured weight: 3.1 pounds (laptop), 0.9 pounds (AC adapter)

GOLD-AND-SILVER DESIGN

The Swift X features a thin aluminum chassis that’s available in three colors: Steam Blue, Prodigy Pink, and Safari Gold. We received the gold model, but only parts of the laptop come draped in the hue: the lid, a narrow strip above the keyboard, and the display hinges. The rest of the laptop is silver in color, resulting in a two-tone look that lends

an OEM feel to the system. The matte-black plastic display bezels also earn the system a design demerit.

The aluminum chassis is quite compact. It’s roughly the same size as another high-powered 14-inch laptop, the HP Envy 14 ( go.pcworld.com/env4). Both are only 0.7 inches thick, and the Swift X, at 3.1 pounds, is a few ounces lighter than the 3.3pound Envy 14. The Swift X’s power brick is also compact, resulting in a reasonable and eminently portable total carrying weight of just 4 pounds.

When you open the display, the hinges dip down below the bottom panel to provide a slight tilt of the keyboard for a more comfortabl­e typing angle and to improve airflow.

With its high-end components packed into such a compact enclosure, the Swift X needs all the aid it can get to keep thermals in check. The laptop is fairly quiet during basic tasks, but the cooling fan really begins to spin when it’s engaged in heavier lifting. While running Photoshop and other graphics apps or during

games, the Swift X gets loud. And even with its cooling fan working overtime, the laptop begins to heat up to the point where the keys feel rather toasty under your fingertips.

The keys themselves feel snappy and sound quiet, but two things annoy me about the keyboard. For one, the keys are silver instead of black, which leaves little to no contrast when the keyboard backlighti­ng is on and you are sitting in a room that’s not completely dark.

For another, the Page-up and Page-down keys are squeezed in above the side arrow keys, and I hit them constantly by accident. I’d much rather have these keys mapped to another key or placed anywhere else besides their current spot. Below the arrow keys is a fingerprin­t reader for easy, secure logins. The webcam lacks IR capability, so the fingerprin­t reader is the only biometric option on the Swift X.

The touchpad felt accurate, with smooth gliding and a firm, responsive click. I have no issues with the touchpad, but I do have a gripe about the AMD, Nvidia, and Alexa stickers to its left. They are placed in such a haphazard fashion that their crooked and ill-spaced positionin­g

detracts from the Swift X’s overall appearance. Acer’s sticker affixer needs to get it together.

SQUEEZED BY 16:9 PANEL

The 14-inch display features a full HD (1920x1080) resolution and 100 percent SRGB support. Its image looked bright, with vibrant color and good contrast. The biggest issue I have with the display doesn’t concern its performanc­e but its size. Quite simply, it feels too cramped for serious design work. It has a 16:9 aspect ratio, which limits the amount of vertical space it affords ( go. pcworld.com/vtsp) compared with a 16:10 display. The HP Envy 14 features a roomier 14-inch, 16:10 display that’s a better fit for creative work. Even a 13.3-inch Macbook Pro feels more spacious than the 14-inch Swift X because Apple’s laptop displays feature a 16:10 aspect ratio.

Above the display is a standard 720p webcam. You won’t wow your fellow Zoom conference attendees with the noisy image and reddish skin tones it produces. The webcam also lacks a physical privacy shutter.

The speakers, too, failed to impress. They didn’t reach a loud level at max volume and produced predictabl­y tinny sound. They also fire downward, which doesn’t help.

The Swift X’s port selection covers the basics with both USB Type-a and Type-c ports, although I’d like a pair of USB-C ports and one USB-A port instead of the flipside of that. The USB-C port offers 10Gbps data transfers, Displaypor­t support, and power delivery. Creative pros whose work requires the use of media cards will bemoan the lack of an SD card slot. The laptop supports the latest wireless networking standards—wifi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2—but omits an Ethernet port. You’ll also find an HDMI connection.

PERFORMANC­E

The Swift X shined in labs testing, easily outpacing competing ultraporta­bles. The closest laptop we’ve reviewed recently to the Swift X is the HP Envy 14 ( go.pcworld.com/ env4), a 14-inch laptop built for content creation that features an 11th-gen Core i5 CPU and Geforce GTX 1650 Ti Max-q graphics. We also compared the Swift X to Acer’s Swift 3X ( go.pcworld.com/st3x), which is based on an 11th-gen Core i7 CPU and Intel’s discrete Iris Xe Max graphics. Rounding out the charts is the Lenovo Thinkbook 14s Yoga ( go.pcworld.com/14sy) and Dell XPS 13 9310 ( go.pcworld.com/9310), a pair of 2-in-1 convertibl­es with an 11th-gen Core i7 CPU and integrated Intel Iris Xe graphics.

Our first benchmark is Pcmark 10, which measures performanc­e on everyday computing work including office productivi­ty tasks, web browsing, and video chats. The Swift X was the clear winner, beating the next closest system by more than 1,000 points.

Next up is Cinebench, a sort of CPU sprint that stresses the CPU rather than the GPU and makes use of all processing cores. The Swift X dominated here on the multithrea­ded test for the simple fact that its Ryzen CPU has twice the physical cores and processing threads than the chips in the other systems. The Ryzen 7 5800U is a threaded, eight-core processor, and the Intel Core i5-1135g7 and Core i7-1165g7 are threaded, four-core chips.

Twice the cores and threads leads to the Swift X posting a Cinebench score that’s nearly double the score of the Swift 3X and more than double that of the others.

The Swift X also performed well on the single-thread test of Cinebench, although not to the degree of the multithrea­ded test.

We use the Handbrake utility to convert a 30GB movie to Android table format, an intensive task that taxes the CPU and all its cores. Again, the Swift X blasted the competitio­n. It completed the test in nearly half the time of the HP Envy 14, its closest competitor.

The Swift X and its RTX 3050 Ti graphics produced more than double the output of the laptops with integrated Intel graphics on our 3Dmark benchmark. The HP Envy 14 and its

GTX 1650 Ti Max-q performed admirably but its score was still a considerab­le distance behind that of the Swift X. The Swift X has the graphics oomph to handle content-creation chores.

Because the Swift X features discrete graphics from Nvidia’s latest lineup of GPUS, we ran a few games on the system. On Shadow of the Tomb Raider at 1920x1080, it averaged 48 frames per second at the Highest preset. On the more demanding Metro Exodus at 1920x1080 at the benchmark’s Extreme preset, the Swift X averaged only 16 fps but improved to 52 fps at the Normal preset. Keep the quality settings in check and you’ll achieve playable frame rates at 1080p. With its compact design and graphics muscle, the Swift X could make a good fit for people who want

an easily portable laptop to take to class or around the office each day that also has some gaming chops when you get back to your home or dorm—once your homework is done, of course.

We test laptop battery life by looping a 4K video using the stock Windows Movies & TV app, with screen brightness set to about 250 nits, the volume dialed to 50 percent, and headphones plugged in. The Swift X doesn’t offer the longest battery life among ultraporta­bles, but it lasted for more than 12 hours on our battery-drain test, an impressive result given its high-powered parts.

BOTTOM LINE

There’s no question that the Acer Swift X provides enough CPU and GPU performanc­e for on-the-go content creators. With an octo-core Ryzen 7 5800U, the Swift X offers blazing applicatio­n performanc­e and strong multimedia performanc­e. Add in the RTX 3050 Ti graphics, and you get a considerab­le boost in 3D graphics and gaming capability from the ordinary ultraporta­ble with an integrated GPU. It’s rare to find a laptop this compact with this much performanc­e. And you aren’t forced to sacrifice all that much in battery life for this power.

What prevents us from giving it a stronger recommenda­tion for creative types is the

Swift X’s cramped display. In particular, the 16:9 aspect ratio makes the screen feel restrictiv­e. I’m not saying you need a 15.6inch or larger laptop to run Photoshop and other media-creation and -editing apps, but I would argue you need at least a 14-inch display with a 16:10 ratio. The 14-inch, 16:9 display isn’t a barrier, however, for gamers. It’s a better fit as a laptop for students or office workers: light enough for carrying around each day and powerful enough for playing games each night.

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