The Acer Swift 3 line of laptops are thin, light, and designed to offer a good balance of performance, mobility, and price – and the latest version seems to very much deliver on that promise.
The Acer Swift 3 (SF314-42-R9YN) is a 14 inch laptop that weighs less than 2.7 pounds, measures just over 0.6 inches thick and which has a suggested retail price of $650. But it outperforms many laptops that cost twice as much in many benchmarks.
That’s largely thanks to the AMD Ryzen 7 4700U processor that powers this laptop. It’s a 15-watt, 8-core chip that runs neck-and-neck with Intel’s Core i7-1065G7 processor in most of the performance tests I’ve run, and which can even hold it s own against more powerful chips under the right conditions.
Historically AMD chips have lost out to their Intel counterparts on energy efficiency, but the Acer Swift 3 manages to get up to 10 hours of battery life while streaming video over WiFi, and should last through much of a workday for many basic tasks.
So how does Acer sell this thing for just $650?
First, AMD-powered laptops do tend to be more affordable than their Intel counterparts. And second, Acer did cut a few corners. There’s no touchscreen. The laptop’s all-metal body doesn’t extraordinarily sturdy. And the notebook comes loaded with a fair amount of bloatware that most power users will probably want to uninstall (but which probably helps Acer offset some of the cost of the laptop).
Overall though, if you’re in the market for an affordable thin and light laptop that punches above its price class in performance, there’s a lot to like about the Acer Swift 3 (SF314-42-R9YN).
But it’s not necessarily the best choice for everyone.
Acer loaned me the laptop featured in this review and I’ve been using it on and off for about a month. For the most part, it’s been a very capable little workhorse especially given its price tag.
But if you need more than 8GB of RAM, you’re out of luck. The memory is soldered to the motherboard, which means that the only way to get more is to either spend $950 on a version of the laptop with twice as much memory and storage, or buy a different laptop altogether.
The good news is that the SSD can be removed and replaced or upgraded. You could also probably swap out the wireless card, but I see little reason to do that.
One other weird thing about this notebook? It has three USB ports, but they’re a mix of newish and older technologies, with top data transfer speeds ranging from a 10 Gbps for the fastest to 480 Mbps for the slowest. I’m willing to overlook the decision to use USB 2.0 for one of those ports given all the other nice things about this laptop. But that $950 model I mentioned above? It has the same set of ports, and it seems strange to ask customers to spend nearly 50-percent more on a laptop where the only upgrades are the memory and storage.
Acer also offers Swift 3 laptop models with Ryzen 5 4500U processors, 8GB of RAM, and 256 GB of storage, but with a list price of $620 for those models, I can’t think of any reason you wouldn’t spend a little more to get the Ryzen 7 model under normal conditions… although right now the price gap is a little wider than usual.
|Model||Acer Swift 3 (SF314-42-R9YN)|
|Display||14 inch, 1920 x 1080 IPS matte LCD|
|Processor||AMD Ryzen 7 4700U|
2 GHz base / 4.1 GHz boost
AMD Radeon Vega 7 graphics
|Memory||8GB LPDDR4 memory (onboard)|
|Storage||512GB PCIe NVMe SSD (removable)|
|Ports||1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C (10 Gbps)|
1 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (5 Gbps)
1 x USB 2.0 Type-A (480 Mbps)
1 x HDMI
1 x 3.5mm audio
1 x charging
|Wireless||WiFi 6 (2 x 2 MU-MIMO)|
|Materials||Aluminum, magnesium aluminum, and plastic|
|Dimensions||12.3″ x 8.62″ x 0.63″|
Acer’s Swift laptops are all thin and light. But the Swift 3 is basically the entry-level version. If you want premium features and design, then you can step up to the Swift 5 or Swift 7.
That said, the Swift 3 hits a lot of the marks you’d expect from a higher-priced notebook. It’s thin, light, powerful, quiet, and gets decent battery life. It also has a mostly-metal body, a decent keyboard and touchpad, and a 14 inch display surrounded by relatively slim bezels, making this laptop smaller than some 13.3 inch models.
The top and bottom of the laptop are covered in aluminum, while the palm rest and keyboard deck are made from magnesium-aluminum alloy. The bezels around the screen are plastic, and the notebook has a 1920 x 1080 pixel matte IPS display that does not reflect as much glare as a the glossy screens you’ll find on most modern laptops.
It’s not the brightest or most vivid notebook display I’ve seen, but I had no problem using the notebook in dim or well lit rooms, or while sitting by a window with sunshine hitting the display (or as much sunshine as I can get in my Philadelphia rowhouse on a narrow street).
If you push down on the Acer logo on the top of the lid, you’ll notice that it flexes inward quite a bit. The same thing happens if you flip the notebook over and press on the center of the bottom cover. While I don’t think that will be a huge problem for most users who are relatively careful with their laptops, it does make the Swift 3 feel a little cheaper than you might expect from a mostly-metal laptop.
The $650 Acer Swift 3 comes in only one color option: silver with a black border around the screen. The palm rest is covered with stickers advertising the laptop’s Ryzen processor, Radeon Graphics, and Acer Swift 3 branding, but these can be removed.
Acer equipped the notebook with a full-sized keyboard that includes an Alt Gr key, but which has half-height arrow, page up, and page down keys. For the most part, I’ve found typing to be comfortable, but I do keep forgetting that I’m supposed to hit Fn + PgUp/PgDn for Home and End functions when switching between the Acer laptop and other computers in my home office.
One thing I’m not a big fan of is using a white backlight for laptops with silver/grey keyboards. When the light shines through the keyboard to illuminate the lettering, it can sometimes make the letters harder to read. I’ve found that I usually disable the backlight altogether when typing in a well-lit room, and only turn on the feature when I’m typing at night time or in a darker environment.
The touchpad is nice, large, and responsive and responds to multi-finger swipes and other gestures as well as clicks. And there’s a fingerprint reader on the right side of the palm rest which does a pretty good job of allowing me to quickly log into the laptop by lifting the lid and tapping my finger once the login screen appears.
On the right side of the laptop, you’ll find the headset jack, USB 2.0 port, and a Kensington lock port.
Most of the good ports are on the left side. There’s an HDMI output, a USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A port, a power jack, and a USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C port that can be used for data, video output via DisplayPort Alt mode, or for charging.
While the laptop comes with a 19V/3.42A power brick and adapter that plugs into the dedicated power jack, if you have any 5V/3A USB charger, it should work with this notebook. I was able to use my HP Spectre x360 charger with the Acer Swift 3 without any problems.
There are 10 screws holding the bottom cover in place. Remove them with a Phillips head screwdriver and you can access the notebook’s M.2 2280 slot if you want to upgrade or replace the 512GB PCIe NVMe SSD that comes with this model.
The RAM is soldered in place and not user replaceable. And while you could theoretically replace the Intel AX200 wireless card, I’m not sure that’s something you’re likely to want to do anytime soon, since it’s a pretty decent WiFi 6 & Bluetooth 5.0 card.
Acer’s cooling system draws air in through the vent on the bottom of the laptop and blows it out through vents in the back of the chassis by the hinge where the display meets the body of the notebook. I haven’t made an extensive study of fan noise, but I’ve generally found it to be negligible. This notebook offers strong performance, decent battery life, and doesn’t make a lot of noise while you’re using it.
So let’s talk about using it. I feel pretty comfortable saying that this notebook makes a pretty decent general purpose computer.
As a blogger, I’ve spent many hours researching and writing articles for this website using the Acer Swift 3. I’ve also used it to watch videos, listen to music, edit pictures, do some (very) light gaming, and some personal web browsing and online shopping. And of course, I ran a bunch of benchmarks.
For the sort of web work I do, the Swift 3 felt as zippy and responsive as any other laptop I’ve used in recent years. The 8GB of RAM might become a limiting factor if you’re using the notebook for heavier workloads such as video editing or 3D design, but it’s fine for the sort of multitasking I tend to do, which typically involves a dozen or more browser tabs, a little image editing, and media streaming.
I’d have a hard time recommending a laptop in this price range with any less than 8GB of memory, especially if it’s not upgradeable. But assuming Microsoft doesn’t up the system requirements for Windows 10 in the next few years, I think that the amount of memory this laptop ships with (and is stuck with) will probably fine for most relatively casual users.
Acer says the laptop’s stereo, front-facing speakers (located on the bottom of the notebook) feature DTS Audio and “optimized bass response and micro-speaker distortion prevention.” I didn’t notice much distortion even at the highest volume levels, but I also didn’t notice much bass. There’s no mistaking these speaker for anything but the kind of small, relatively tinny speakers you’ll find on most compact laptops.
One feature I don’t typically spend much time testing on laptops is the webcam, because they’re generally nothing to write home about. But in the age of pandemic-induced Zoom meetings, I felt like I should at least spend a few moments confirming that the camera can shoot above-potato-quality images, and it at least seems to pass that test.
Located above the display, the camera is a 720p webcam that will spit out a fairly grainy image for your video calls, but it supports high dynamic range and seems to do a better job of low-light photography than some crappy laptop webcams I’ve used in the past. There’s no privacy shutter to cover the camera when it’s not in use, but a green LED light should shine when the camera is on to let you know if you’re still on a call you forgot about (or hopefully if someone has hacked your device and remotely activated your camera).
Acer promises up to 11.5 hours of battery life during normal usage or up to 16 hours when playing video from local storage. I think both of those figures are a bit on the generous side. But I was able to get 7+ hours of battery life for normal use, and the notebook lasted for 9 hours and 58 minutes when I streamed 1080p video from YouTube over WiFi with the screen brightness at around 50-percent.
The Acer Swift 3 is the first laptop I’ve tested that features an AMD Renoir processor featuring an AMD Ryzen 4000 series processor with Zen 2 CPU cores and Radeon Vega graphics. As promised, it’s a pretty excellent combination that offers a good balance of performance and power efficiency, unlike most earlier AMD laptop chips (which often offered the performance, but at the cost of battery life).
I only ran benchmarks after I’d been using the laptop for a few weeks so I could get a feel for general performance. But the synthetic tests largely confirmed what I had already known. This notebooks 15-watt, 8-core/8-thread processor is pretty well matched against Intel’s 10th-gen 15-watt Core i7 chips.
In fact, the Acer Swift 3 even outperformed my Dell Vostro 15 laptop in some tests, even though the Dell notebook has a 45 watt Intel Core i7-9750H 6-core/12-thread processor.
With Intel’s 11th-gen “Tiger Lake” processors promising a big boost in graphics performance and a more modest bump in CPU speeds, Intel may have a shot at retaking the performance lead again this year. But I doubt we’ll be seeing a lot of $650 laptops with 11th-gen Intel Core i7 chips anytime soon.
When it comes to graphics performance, Acer Swift 3 is… alright. You should certainly have no problems streaming video or running 3D applications. And you can certainly play some games on the Swift 3, but this isn’t exactly a gaming laptop.
It only scores moderately higher than a Dell XPS 13 9300 laptop with a 10th-gen Intel Core i7-1065G7 Ice Lake processor and Iris Plus graphics in most 3DMark gaming benchmarks.
In terms of real-world gaming, I had no problem playing some titles including the platformer Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Laier (around 50 frames per second) and older titles like Hitman (around 45-60 frames per second).
But more demanding games like Assassin’s Creed Syndicate struggled to hit 22 frames per second, making the games barely playable. Skiing game Steep was particularly problematic, with frame rates sometimes going as high as 28 fps, but often staying below 15 fps and sometimes turning into slideshows as low as 4 frames per second, even after I decreased the graphics settings for the game.
If you’re looking for a gaming laptop, you’re going to be better off picking up a system with at least an entry-level discrete graphics card and/or better cooling to enable smoother gameplay.
While I did not take the time to install a GNU/Linux distro to local storage and test battery life and long-term performance, I did take an Ubuntu 20.04 LTS LiveUSB for a spin and found that almost everything seemed to be working out of the box.
WiFi, audio, video, and graphics all seem to work. The camera works. And the keyboard shortcuts for volume adjustments work.
I did notice that when I used the keyboard shortcuts for adjusting screen brightness, and indicator did pop up on the screen… but the display stayed at exactly the same brightness level no matter how far up or down I tried to adjust it. Ars Technica’s Jim Salter also found that the fingerprint sensor didn’t work under Ubuntu, but that’s not uncommon.
Overall, I’d say that this version of the Acer Swift 3 is a reasonably Linux-friendly notebook.
In order to boot from a flash drive, by the way, you’ll probably first want to hit the F2 key during startup to get into the UEFI settings. And then you can enable an F12 boot menu that gives you the option of booting from internal or external storage.
Digging around in the UEFI menus, I did notice that Secure Boot cannot be easily disabled, so you may need to stick to a Linux distro that supports that feature.
The Acer Swift 3 (SF314-42-R9YN) is a reasonably priced notebook with a compact design, better performance than you’d expect from a laptop in this price range, and acceptable design, especially when you consider the price.
While Acer ships the notebook with a proprietary power adapter, the decision to add support for USB-C charging is a welcome feature that should make it easy to find an extra charger or buy a replacement if anything happens to your power brick.
And the notebook offers decent battery life, has a matte display, a fingerprint sensor, backlit keyboard, and decent support for Linux.
It also has a USB 2.0 port because apparently those are still a thing. There’s no option for a touchscreen display. And the RAM is not user upgradeable. Acer also pre-loads a lot of bloatware on this laptop including Norton Antivirus, Cyberlink PowerDirector and PhotoDirector, ExpressVPN, Dropbox, GoTrust ID, a Microsoft Office 365 Trial, and games including Mahjong, Solitaire, Spades, and Hearts.
The bloatware most likely comes from deals with the makers of that software, allowing Acer to sell the laptop for a few dollars less than it might otherwise cost. But it’s been a while since I’ve set up a new computer to be greeted with this many applications I’d want to uninstall.
But given the laptop’s sub-$700 price tag, I don’t consider the bloatware, memory limitation, or any other issues to be deal breakers.