Acer Swift 3 review: Great features outweigh disappointing performance

Acer's Intel-powered Swift 3 is a pleasure to use, as long as you don't expect too much from it.

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Performance: Surprisingly disappointing

We thought that Acer’s Swift 3, and what we assumed to be a powerful Core i7-1065G7 chip inside, would open the door to performance that’s among the best the category has to offer—if you exclude the Ryzen-powered Acer Swift 3, that is. Yet the Swift 3 is a bit of a puzzle. It held up pretty well in real-world performance, both in office work and in streaming video. My son didn’t want to give it up while “testing” it as a Fortnite PC—though, as it turns out, he had to turn the graphics settings down to Low while running at 1080p or lower.

But even after re-running our benchmarks several times, its 10th-gen Core i7 chip still finished dead last in our Cinebench CPU test. We checked our results with Acer, who confirmed our results. After reading our performance scores below, you'll see why we were torn on how we rated the Swift 3.

We test each laptop using a mix of real-world and synthesized benchmarks, comparing the Swift 3 to a variety of competitors with similar specifications and about the same price point. We’ve highlighted the Swift 3’s results in red in the following graphs.

PCMark 8’s Work and Creative tests offer a mix of real-world tasks, beginning with the Office test’s emphasis on spreadsheets, word processing, web browsing, and videoconferencing. A score of 2,000 or higher means the laptop can handle mainstream tasks competently, All of the laptops we test do well here, and the comparative placement (midrange for this Swift 3) is satisfactory.

Acer Swift 3 (SF313-52) pcmark 8 work Mark Hachman / IDG

The Creative workloads tests the laptop in multimedia-oriented tasks, such as light gaming, and photo and video editing. Here, the Swift 3 scored solidly above average. 

Acer Swift 3 (SF313-52) pcmark 8 creative Mark Hachman / IDG

In both the PCMark Work and Creative tests, the Acer Swift 3 performs average to well. You shouldn’t have any problem with everyday tasks. 

We use Maxon’s Cinebench test to push the CPU’s workload to the max to render a scene. If you plan to use your laptop for CPU-intensive workloads like rendering, this test can point you toward appropriate choices.

The Swift 3's dead-last finish is a real puzzler. All the other laptops we compared with the same CPU are clustered toward the middle or above, while the Swift 3 is stuck behind a bunch of 8th-gen 'U' series mobile chips.  

Acer Swift 3 (SF313-52) cinebench Mark Hachman / IDG

We ran this test several times, just to confirm that the Swift’s performance is relatively abysmal. And for a Project Athena laptop, too!

HandBrake is a different story. This real-world CPU test uses the free utility to convert a real-world, feature-length movie to a format suitable for playback on an Android tablet. Becuase it's a prolonged task, it tends to separate the thermally well-managed laptops from the ones that struggle to stay cool and have to throttle performance as a result. Shorter times are better, and here again, the Swift 3 falls far behind laptops with the same CPU, falling in with older chips instead.

Acer Swift 3 (SF313-52) handbrake Mark Hachman / IDG

In the somewhat related HandBrake test, the Swift 3 again does poorly.

We don’t test gaming as intensively as we would for a dedicated gaming laptop, but you’ll still want to know if you can relax after hours with, say, Fortnite or Rocket League. (The answer is a qualified yes: Fortnite is quite accommodating at various resolutions and graphics levels, but the Swift 3’s performance on other games, such as the older Rise of the the Tomb Raider, was quite disappointing: just 11 frames per second at 1080p resolution, on High graphics levels.) We use 3DMark’s Sky Diver test to evaluate laptops with integrated graphics, and the high-powered Ice Lake chip inside the Swift 3 does compare well to other laptops using Intel’s low-end UHD graphics.

Acer Swift 3 (SF313-52) 3dmark sky diver Mark Hachman / IDG

The Swift 3's Intel integrated Iris Plus graphics elevates it into the middle tier of the comparison, above those with UHD Graphics but below those with discrete GPUs. Once again, however, the Swift 3 brings up the rear among those laptops with Iris Plus.

Finally, we come to battery life. We loop a 4K movie over and over until the battery runs out. There are other ways of testing battery life—office work with Wi-Fi on, for example—but our method is repeatable, and matches up nicely to how you’d use the laptop for a transoceanic flight, for example. Of course, if you use the Swift 3 at its maximum 400-nit brightness, rather than the 250 nits we set for testing, battery life will suffer. 

Acer Swift 3 (SF313-52) battery life Mark Hachman / IDG

Battery life is one area in which Acer’s Swift 3 shines.

Here, the Swift 3 redeems itself somewhat with just over thirteen hours of battery life. This suggests you could work from the couch all day with no problem, and is a result worth applauding. 

Conclusion: The experience, not the performance

It’s rare to find a laptop that I really enjoyed using, but whose performance is so disappointing. Let’s tally up the positives: a top-notch keyboard, premium Thunderbolt I/O, a crisp, lovely 2K screen, excellent battery life. On the opposing side of the ledger, the Swift 3’s performance is middling to poor, its audio so-so, and the software experience is lacking as well.

We probably agonized over our choice more than we should: 3.5 stars? Or a full four? We had to go with our gut. For its everyday combination of a great keyboard, beautiful display, and excellent battery life, Acer’s Swift 3 (SF313-52-78W6) earns four stars. If you’re more concerned with performance, there’s an easy answer to all this: buy our Editor’s Choice, the Acer Swift 3 (SF314-42-R9YN) instead, and for less. You’ll lose the Thunderbolt ports and the lovely 2K screen. Either way, however, we think you’ll win.

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At a Glance
  • Acer's latest Swift 3 hits the trifecta in terms of performance, keyboard quality and battery life. Performance, though, could stand to improve.

    Pros

    • Excellent keyboard
    • Lovely, crisp display
    • Top-notch battery life

    Cons

    • Performance that's frankly disappointing
    • Software utilities need to be reorganized
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