Acer Swift 3X review: This lightweight laptop shows Intel's Xe Max magic

If you can use Intel's Deep Link advantages for its Xe Max discrete graphics card, this is a great laptop.

Credit: Acer

The Acer Swift 3X builds upon an already-strong foundation by adding a dash of Intel’s special sauce.

Our review of last year’s Intel-based Acer Swift 3 was torn. “How do you rate a laptop that you really enjoyed using, yet whose performance is otherwise disappointingly weak?” we mused at the beginning. The eminently portable Swift 3 ticked all the boxes that made for a great notebook but lagged far behind its rivals in raw horsepower.

Enter the Acer Swift 3X. Moving from Intel’s 10th-gen Core processors to the latest 11th-gen Tiger Lake offerings alone provides a significant speed boost, but the ‘X’ in the name hints at the true star of this show. The Swift 3X is the first Acer laptop with Intel’s new Iris Xe Max discrete graphics chip inside, complete with “Deep Link” software tricks that lets it join forces—sometimes—with Tiger Lake’s integrated Xe graphics to boost performance in productivity tasks. It’s also the first Intel Iris Xe Max laptop to cross our test bench.

So does that ‘X’ mark the sweet spot for content creators on the go? It very much depends on your particular workloads. But there’s no doubt that this is a competently designed laptop, and when Intel’s Deep Link can stretch its legs, the results can leave even Nvidia RTX GPUs in the dust.

This review is part of our ongoing roundup of the best laptops. Go there for information on competing products and how we tested them. 

Acer Swift 3X specs and features

Before we get into that, though, let’s take a look at the laptop’s loadout.

acer swift 3x colors Acer

Acer offers two different Swift 3X configurations with Iris Xe Max. A more affordable model ($900 on Amazon) combines Intel’s Core i5-1135G7 quad-core processor, which tops out at 4.2GHz clock speeds, with 8GB of GDDR4X memory and a 512GB SSD. The model we’re testing (the poetically named SF314-510G-767Y, $1,200 on Amazon) bumps that up to a faster 4.7GHz Intel Core i7-1165G7, and doubles the memory and storage. It feels like a steal if you can put the extra hardware to good use.

  • Display: 14-inch 1920x1080 IPS 16:9 panel with 72% NTSC color gamut, 300 nits of brightness
  • Processor: Intel Core i7-1165G7
  • Graphics: Intel Iris Xe Max discrete GPU with 4GB of LPDDR4X memory; integrated Iris Xe graphics in processor
  • Memory: 16GB dual-channel LPDDR4X
  • Storage: 1TB PCIe NVMe SSD
  • Ports: 1 USB-C 3.2 gen 2 with Thunderbolt 4, DisplayPort, and USB charging; 2 USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 ports; full-sized HDMI 2.0; 3.5mm jack for headset/mic; Kensington lock; power
  • Security: Fingerprint reader (Windows Hello); Kensington lock
  • Camera: 720p (user-facing, with SHDR)
  • Battery: 58.7Wh (reported), 58.5Wh (actual)
  • Wireless: WiFi 6 (Intel AX201 802.11ax dual band, 2x2 MU-MIMO); Bluetooth 5.1
  • Operating system: Windows 10 Home
  • Dimensions (inches): 12.71 x 8.35 x 0.71
  • Weight: 3.02 pounds
  • Color: Steam Blue (reviewed) or Safari Gold
  • Price: $1,200 at Amazon

Acer Swift 3X design impressions

On the whole, the Acer Swift 3X nails the vibe it’s going for. This is a small, light, affordable, and long-lasting laptop targeting on-the-go content creators.

acer swift 3x angle Acer

Those characteristics have rarely melded before, as content creation laptops have typically cost and weighed more due to their need for discrete graphics chips. The Iris Xe Max is a discrete GPU, but it’s basically identical to the integrated Xe graphics in Intel’s Tiger Lake chips. The Xe Max, however, is split out and paired with 4GB of its own low-power LPDDR4X memory, rather than the usual higher-power GDDR5 or GDDR6. That upgrade, though somewhat modest, means Xe Max can be used in smaller, cheaper laptops like the Swift 3X. We’ll dive deeper into the capabilities of Intel’s discrete GPU and Deep Link technology later.

The 14-inch, 1080p IPS display shines at 300 nits and is technically a step back from the glorious 2256x1504, 400-nit panel in last year’s Swift 3, but the shift to standard 1080p makes sense. The humble Iris Xe Max would have trouble driving games at the higher resolution, while the reduction in both pixel count and brightness helps propel the Swift 3X’s battery life to an impressive 12-plus hours, as you’ll see later.

acer swift 3x 2 Brad Chacos/IDG

The Swift 3X’s IPS screen is best described as competent. It looks good, and it’s definitely better than the cheap TN panels found in many chunky gaming laptops in this price range. It looks good. The one bummer is its support for just 72% of the NTSC color gamut in a notebook pitched toward content creators. Contrast levels are merely average as well, giving the screen a somewhat muted look. You get nearly full sRGB support, but Acer missed an opportunity to help bolster the Swift 3X’s strengths here by offering greater color accuracy. Of course, that would have likely increased costs as well, which would eat into a key advantage for this laptop.

Our other tiny complaint revolves around the connectivity. Acer does a decent job here. Beyond the standard USB and audio ports, Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1 offer ample wireless capabilities, a full-sized HDMI connection will prove welcome for creators hooking up to external monitors, and the Thunderbolt 4-capable USB-C connection provides all sort of flexibility with add-on devices (including DisplayPort monitors). But again, since this laptop wants to woo creators, it would’ve been fantastic to see an onboard SD card slot, even though it’s hard to cram so many ports into a notebook this small.

acer swift 3x 1 Brad Chacos/IDG

Other than those nitpicks we have no real gripes. The backlit keyboard, like the display, is competent, with a comfortable design and decent key travel. The same goes for the precision trackpad. It feels good and stays out of your way—exactly what you want in a laptop for work. The speakers and 720p webcam are similarly fine. That’s a lot more than most laptops can say.

It’s the overall package that shines. The aluminum chassis and palm rest look good and feels sturdy. At just 3.02 pounds, the 0.7-inch-thick laptop can be tucked under your arm, while the incredible battery life means you can use it all workday long without shackling yourself to a wall outlet. The combination of Modern Standby and the Swift 3X’s fast fingerprint reader means you’ll never need to wait for the computer to wake up. Just open the lid, and you’ll be ready to rock in a second. Paired with the other solid design choices, the Acer Swift 3X is a joy to use, full stop.

Brimming with bloatware

acer swift 3x ads start menu Brad Chacos/IDG

You can see a ton of bloatware in just this tiny portion of the Acer Swift 3X’s Start menu, and multiple preinstalled apps pinned to its taskbar.

Well, once you square away the bloatware. Acer absolutely stuffs this system with it. You’ll find a Norton Antivirus trial installed by default. Apps for Dropbox, Firefox, and Amazon are already pinned to the Windows taskbar. Yet more lurks inside your Start Menu, including apps for, Facebook Messenger, and Evernote. Very annoyingly, a link to the Planet9 webpage automatically starts downloading software, ExpressVPN, and a lot of games.

Worse, Norton and the games pop up advertisement notifications from time to time—“Play Forge of Empires and receive $10 in in-game credits,” and whatnot. Ick.

acer swift 3x ads Brad Chacos/IDG

These pop-up notification ads for preinstalled games are a major bummer.

All that bloatware no doubt helps the Swift 3X hit its affordable midrange price tag, but it also detracts from the experience of using the laptop—and at $1,200, this thing ain’t exactly cheap to begin with. Spend a few minutes deleting it all if you buy this laptop to save yourself some frustration.

And hey, Acer: If you’re going to shovel bloatware into a laptop intended for creative pros, at least select partners that don’t bombard your users with nagging ad pop-ups.

Laptops we’re comparing

Enough bloatware-busting. It’s time to see how the Acer Swift 3X handles.

Before we dig into the benchmarks, these are the laptops we’ll be comparing Acer’s $1,200 notebook against, and why we included each in our charts:

  • The $1,500 Asus ROG Flow X13 gives us a look at how rival 8-core, 16-thread AMD Ryzen chips perform in a 3-pound laptop. It comes with an entry-level Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 graphics card.
  • The $1,650 HP Spectre x360 15 is a larger 15-inch laptop with a luscious 4K OLED display. More importantly for our needs, it includes a GTX 1650 chip and a six-core Core i7-10750H chip—a common setup for gaming laptops that cost between $900 and $1,500.
  • The $880 Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7 comes with Nvidia’s entry-level GeForce MX350 graphics, a humble chip that directly rivals the Intel Iris Xe Max’s intended use cases (albeit without Deep Link capabilities).
  • Last year’s $1,200 Acer Swift 3, the Swift 3X’s immediate predecessor. It has a last-gen Intel Core i7-1065G7 chip, which was replaced by the Core i7-1165G7 inside this newer model.
  • The $1,400 Porsche Design Acer Book RS, another modern Acer laptop. This notebook features an 11th-gen Core i5 processor, which will be handy to compare against the Swift 3X’s 11th-gen Core i7. Both have four cores and eight threads, but very different clock speeds
  • Finally, the $999 Gateway GWTN156-3BK shows us what’s possible with a big, loud, budget-minded gaming laptop that dumps all its focus into GPU firepower. It pairs a modest Core i3-10300H processor with Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 2060—the most potent graphics card in this comparison.

We test each laptop using the out-of-box power configuration set by the manufacturer. In the Swift 3X’s case, that’s the middle-of-the-road “Better Performance,” which splits the difference between efficiency and maximum power. We’ll only include data from a given laptop when it’s relevant to the testing scenario at hand, and only if we have the data available—we test gaming and standard laptops with slightly different barrages of benchmarks.

Let’s dig in, starting with the star of the show.

Next page: Intel Xe Max deep dive

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Brad Chacos

Brad Chacos

PC World (US online)
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