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.

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CPU and system benchmarks

So Iris Xe Max mostly impresses as Intel’s first discrete GPU in decades. Does the company’s 11th-gen Tiger Lake Core processor follow suit? Spoiler: Yep.

First up: Cinebench R15. This older benchmark tasks the CPU with rendering a 3D image in real time. Because the duration of this test is so short, processors with higher boost clock speeds tend to perform better. The single-thread results show peak performance on singular tasks, while the multi-threaded results reveal how well the chip’s entire phalanx of cores works together. Chips with more cores and threads obviously perform faster. Higher scores are better for Cinebench.

cinebench r15 Brad Chacos/IDG

Nothing compares to the beastly 8-core Ryzen 9 5980HS in the Asus ROG Flow X13, but that’s to be expected. The Tiger Lake chip inside the Acer Swift 3X bests all comers in single-threaded performance otherwise though—including the powerful 10th-gen H-class gaming chip in the HP Spectre x360 15. Heck, even though the Swift 3X packs two fewer cores and four fewer threads than the Spectre, it still almost manages to catch up in multi-threaded performance. The 11th-gen chip in the Swift 3X also demolishes its direct predecessor in last year’s Swift 3. Tiger Lake was a massive advancement for Intel, and Deep Link’s new Dynamic Power Share feature plays into this as well. Cinebench doesn’t touch the GPU, so the Swift 3X can devote full power to the processor.

Cinebench R20 is a newer version of the test, using the 3D modelling application found in Maxon’s Cinema4D software. It lasts longer than R15, so overall system design starts to play a bigger role in the results here. Chips with high burst speeds don’t hold quite as much of an advantage. The results are also scored differently.

cinebench r20 Brad Chacos/IDG

The Ryzen 9 chip dominates once more, but the Swift 3X holds its own with a chunky gaming laptop and once again wallops its predecessor, the Swift 3 with a 10th-gen CPU. Our previous performance concerns have definitely been alleviated.

If Cinebench R15 is a sprint, HandBrake is a marathon, putting sharp focus on a CPU’s performance over time as well as a laptop’s overall cooling potential. We use version 0.99 of the free HandBrake utility to transcode a 30GB MKV file to a format suitable for Android tablets. Even the most monstrous processors take nearly half an hour to complete the task, while more modest hardware can take closer to an hour. The results below show total rendering time in seconds, so lower scores are better.

handbrake standard Brad Chacos/IDG

Yes, the monstrous ROG Flow X13 wins again—no surprise there. It’s amazing what that three-pound laptop pulls off. But the equally tiny Swift 3X once again delivers stellar results here, handily besting the other Intel-based ultraportables and hanging tough with the chunky Gateway laptop once again. It finishes the task over 21 minutes faster than last year’s Swift 3. Dang.

pcmark 10 Brad Chacos/IDG

Moving past the pure CPU tests, PCMark 10 simulates such day-to-day desktop duties as web browsing, word processing, spreadsheet tinkering, video chat, and playing games. Higher scores are better. We’ve only recently switched to testing PCMark 10 instead of PCMark 8, so our comparative results are limited. In any case, the Swift 3X with its 11th-gen Core i7 hums through the test much more efficiently than the Swift 3’s 10th-gen chip.

Finally, we test battery life on laptops by looping a 4K video using the stock Windows Movies & TV app. We set screen brightness to about 250 nits and dial down the volume to 50 percent, with headphones plugged in. Results are measured in minutes, and higher scores are better.

battery life Brad Chacos/IDG

Not only is the Acer Swift 3X surprisingly potent, it’s also incredibly long-lasting, playing our test video for a little over 12.5 hours before giving up the ghost. More strenuous workloads would eat into that endurance faster—especially gaming or content creation—but if you’re sticking to basic tasks, the tiny Swift 3X should have no problem lasting through your workday.

This test shows the drawback of using the monstrous Ryzen 9 chip in the Asus ROG Flow X13. That laptop dies well before the other ultraportables here, and it barely lasts longer than the big Gateway gaming laptop with an RTX 2060 inside.

Bottom line

The $1,200 Acer Swift 3X truly surprised and impressed me. Our only real gripe with last year’s Swift 3 was with its performance. The Swift 3X’s combination of discrete Intel Xe Max graphics and an 11th-gen Tiger Lake processor puts that concern to rest. This tiny laptop is fast. It’s also, slender, light, and long-lasting on battery. We wish the notebook had a more color-accurate screen and an SD card slot to play up its creation focus, but those are more nitpicks than deal-breakers.

acer swift 3x desk Acer

The Xe Max discrete graphics tremendously improves performance in creative applications that leverage Intel’s Deep Link technology, but that software’s still in its early days. Be sure you can put the Acer Swift 3X to work today rather than counting on potential for tomorrow.

Sure, there are alternatives, at least on paper. If you’re on a budget, the entry-level $900 Acer Swift 3X comes with an Intel Xe Max discrete GPU and Deep Link capabilities, but it drops to a Core i5 CPU and half the SSD and RAM capacity. The $900 Acer Swift 3 SF313-53-78UG has the same Core i7-1165G7 with integrated Xe graphics as the Swift 3X for $300 less, but no Xe Max and Deep Link, and less SSD and RAM as well. If you need higher-powered CPU or GPU capabilities for more general content creation tasks—like editing videos rather than just encoding them—and don’t mind a bigger, thicker notebook to achieve that, you have several other options around this price range.

Nothing else really offers the same capabilities in as small a package as the Swift 3X, though. This is a highly specialized laptop that should become more versatile as Intel shores up Deep Link. Intel’s fresh discrete GPU push is off to an intriguing start, and the Swift 3X is a worthy ambassador!

This story, "Acer Swift 3X review: This lightweight laptop shows Intel's Xe Max magic" was originally published by PCWorld.

At a Glance
  • The Acer Swift 3X is an ultraportable, affordable, and competently designed laptop for creators—a combination you don't see often. Intel's Xe Max GPU unlocks strikingly good performance but only in specific creation workloads. If your work apps support Intel's Deep Link software, you'll love this.

    Pros

    • Intel Xe Max has great performance in Deep Link creative apps
    • Very thin, lightweight, and affordable for a creation-focused laptop
    • Thunderbolt 4 port offers advanced display and storage options

    Cons

    • A surprising amount of bloatware, and some spawn pop-up ads
    • An SD card reader and a more color-accurate display would be nice
    • Intel Deep Link technology is still in infancy, with hit-or-miss app and feature support
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