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Acer Swift 3X review: Intel’s Xe Max graphics make a surprising debut

acer swift 3x review iris xe max 1
Acer Swift 3X review: Intel’s Xe Max graphics make a surprising debut
MSRP $1,240.00
“The Acer Swift 3X debuts Intel's impressive Iris Xe Max in a ho-hum package.”
Pros
  • Strong performance
  • Excellent battery life
  • Aesthetic is attractive
  • Well-rounded port selection
Cons
  • Display is underwhelming
  • Build quality doesn't meet premium standards
  • Poor gaming performance

Intel has released its first discrete GPU in 20 years, the Iris Xe Max. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s trying to compete with Nvidia for gaming laptops, though. It’s not designed specifically to accelerate games, but rather to work with the CPU to speed up a variety of other tasks. An interesting idea for thin-and-light laptops, right?

So far, the Iris Xe Max is in three laptops, and we received one of them — the midrange clamshell Acer Swift 3X — for review.

The Acer Swift 3X isn’t a cheap laptop in its Iris Xe Max configuration — at least not for a typical Swift laptop. It comes in at $1,240 at Amazon with a Core i7-1165G7, 16GB of LPDDR4X RAM, 1TB of PCIe solid-state drive (SSD) storage, and a 14-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS display in the increasingly old-school 16:9 aspect ratio. You can spend $899 and get a version with just Iris Xe graphics inside, a Core i5-1135G7, 8GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD.

Do the Iris Xe Max graphics make this a must-buy midrange laptop?

Performance

We’ll start with performance because it’s where the rubber meets the road in this review. Either the Iris Xe Max makes a difference in real-world tasks, or it doesn’t. That’s the make-or-break test for the Acer Swift 3X. Reading Intel’s description of the GPU exposes you to a host of buzzwords and technical jargon, but we’ll skip most of it here. If you want to dig into the details about the new GPU, then check out our guide to Intel’s discrete GPUs and our deep dive into the Iris Xe Max itself.

One term you’ll want to keep in mind, though, is Deep Link, which is Intel’s term for technology that intricately connects the CPU and GPU (both Iris Xe and Iris Xe Max) to enable some sophisticated capabilities. Not all of them are enabled yet or supported by today’s software, and so we’ll focus on just one: Deep Link Dynamic Power Share. This feature allows the system to “turn off” the GPU and give all the system’s power to the CPU. With the Swift 3X and its 11th-gen Core i7, that means that more than 28 watts of power and thermal performance can be delivered to the CPU on demand, which theoretically should speed up CPU-intensive tasks.

The Acer Swift 3X even challenges the performance of H-series machines on occasion.

Does it work? Yes, it does indeed. The Swift 3X was competitive in all our performance benchmarks, occasionally taking the crown for the fastest Tiger Lake laptop we’ve tested. That makes it among the fastest U-series laptops, and it even challenges H-series machines on occasion.

It can’t quite keep up with AMD’s Ryzen 4000 (or the upcoming Ryzen 5000 laptops) in all cases, but it gives a much stronger showing than do most non-Max laptops. However, is that enough to make Iris Xe Max an exciting development? At this point, perhaps not — by itself, the GPU makes the Acer Swift 3X a fast laptop but not without challengers in AMD and Apple that are faster and either less expensive, thinner and lighter, or both. We’ll have to wait to see what other capabilities Iris Xe Max delivers before we can call it an unqualified success.

We’ll start with Cinebench R23, where the Swift 3X scored 5,944 in multi-core mode and 1,496 in single-core mode. I tried out the utility to switch from optimized to performance mode and didn’t note much of a difference, unlike some others (e.g., HP’s Command Center utility in the Spectre x360 14) that have a greater impact. That multi-core score is the fastest we’ve seen in an Intel U-series CPU, beating out faster Core i7-1185G7 laptops like the MSI Prestige 14 Evo (5,789) and the Lenovo Yoga 9i 14 in its more effective performance mode (4,988).

Note that the Razer Blade with a 45-watt Core i7-10750H scored 6,166, meaning the Swift 3X was within spitting distance of what should be a much faster CPU.

In Geekbench 5, the Swift 3X wasn’t quite as strong — likely because Dynamic Power Share has the most impact on longer, sustained processes. The Swift 3X scored 1,551 in the single-core test and 5,847 in the multi-core test. The Prestige 14 Evo was slightly faster (1,593 and 5,904) as was Intel’s Tiger Lake reference laptop based on the same MSI machine (1,563 and 5,995).  The Acer Swift 5 with the same CPU as the Swift 3X scored higher in the single-core test at 1,580 and almost as high in the multi-core test at 5,836. Interestingly, the Swift 3X managed to best the Lenovo Yoga 9i 15 with a Core i7-10750H (1,285 and 5,551).

In our Handbrake test, which encodes a 420MB video as H.265, the Swift 3X finished the process in 2 minutes and 36 seconds, which is again (technically) the fastest among Intel U-series laptops. The Prestige 14 Evo — again with its faster CPU — took four seconds longer, making for a virtual tie. Note that the Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7 with an AMD Ryzen 4800U processor finished in 2.2 minutes, meaning that while Iris Xe Max speeds up Tiger Lake’s performance, it still can’t match AMD at some tasks.

Finally, I ran the PCMark 10 Complete benchmark, where the Swift 3X scored 5,117. That’s the second-highest score in our laptop database, behind only the Lenovo Yoga 9i 15. The Swift 3X’s individual Essentials, Productivity, and Creation scores weren’t all the highest individually, but they were in the upper range. To zero in on the Creation portion of the test, which focuses on photo editing, video rendering and playback, and video editing, the Swift 3X did have the highest score (5,334) of all U-series laptops we’ve tested — showing once again that Deep Link is doing its job.

The next closest was the Prestige Evo 14 that scored 5,036. That bodes well for performance in Adobe apps and other creative tools, which will only get better as more Deep Link capabilities are rolled out. Simply put, the Swift 3X did extremely well in this benchmark.

Intel did not design the Iris Xe Max specifically to accelerate modern games.

Clearly, Intel’s Iris Xe Max makes a real impact on a laptop’s performance, even at this early stage. The Swift 3X screams through productivity tasks and does well in creative tasks for a U-series CPU. If you’re looking for the fastest CPU performance in an Intel-based ultrabook, then — counter-intuitively — you’ll want to choose a model that includes Intel’s discrete GPU.

If you’re looking for a gaming laptop, then as noted in the introduction, Intel did not design the Iris Xe Max specifically to accelerate modern games. It works well with some titles, but on others, Intel pushes the job to the Iris Xe that’s also on board. The Iris Xe Max did well in the 3DMark Time Spy benchmark at 1,889, which is a couple of hundred points above the typical Iris Xe GPU.

However, in Fortnite, the Max managed 34 fps (frames per second) at 1080p and high graphics and 22 fps at Epic graphics. That compares to the Yoga 9i 14 that hit 40 fps and 27 fps in performance mode, and the MSI Prestige 14 Evo that managed 42 fps and 28 fps. Clearly, Fortnite is one title where the Iris Xe Max doesn’t shine.

Design

Acer didn’t simply copy the design of the non-Max Acer Swift 3 when it created the Swift 3X. There are some similarities, but the Swift 3X has a look all its own, including choices between Steam Blue (my review unit) and Safari Gold rather than simple utilitarian silver.

The hinge was also redesigned and emblazoned in an “electric blue” that certainly draws attention to the laptop’s lid. And there’s a nice angularity to the rear corners that adds to the aesthetic. It’s not an attention-seeker like the HP Spectre x360 14, though. The bezels do disappoint a bit. First, they’re not as small as on some other modern laptops with an 84% screen-to-body ratio (many exceed 90%), and second, they’re plastic rather than being set behind the glass. That gives the laptop a bit of a cheap look when viewed from straight on.

The Swift 3X also isn’t quite as svelte as some of its 14-inch competition.

The construction isn’t quite up to the same standard as many other premium laptops. The chassis is all-aluminum, but the lid is quite bendable and the keyboard deck has a bit of flex. The bottom of the chassis is sturdy, however. The hinge is very stiff, requiring both hands to open the laptop — unlike the Dell XPS 13 that opens easily with one hand — but it does hold the display firmly in place. Overall, I’d say the build quality is more midrange than premium, making the laptop more attractive at its $899 entry-level price than my review unit’s $1,200. The MSI Prestige 14 Evo, for example, is the same price — without the Iris Xe Max, of course — and it feels quite a bit more solid than the Swift 3X.

The Swift 3X also isn’t quite as svelte as some of its 14-inch competition. It comes in at 0.71 inches thick and weighs 3.02 pounds. That compares to the Prestige 14 Evo at 0.63 inches at 2.85 pounds, the Asus ZenBook 14 UX425 at 0.54 inches and 2.58 pounds, and the Acer Swift 5 at 0.59 inches and 2.31 pounds. It’s not that the Swift 3X is a humungous ultrabook — it simply doesn’t feel as thin and light as some other options.

Finally, the Swift 3X enjoys a solid range of connectivity options. On the left-hand side of the chassis, you’ll find a proprietary power connector (likely to provide enough juice for the Iris Xe Max), a full-size HDMI 2.0 port, a USB-A 3.2 port, and a USB-C port with Thunderbolt 4. On the right-hand side, you’ll find another USB-A 3.2 port and a 3.5mm audio jack. What you won’t find is an SD card reader, which is a bummer given that this machine is aimed at least in part at creative types.

Wireless connectivity is provided by Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1.

Display

The Swift 3X sports a 14-inch Full HD 16:9 IPS display that, according to my colorimeter, is generally a bit below average for premium laptops. For example, its color gamut is slightly narrow at 95% of sRGB and 71% of AdobeRGB (premium laptops usually hit 97% and 75%, respectively). Color accuracy is quite good, though, at 1.18, where 1.0 or less is considered excellent.

At the same time, brightness is 284 nits, below our 300-nit threshold that ensures a display will be visible with the typical bright office ambient lighting. And most damning, contrast comes in at 740:1, where many premium laptops are at 1000:1 or more, or at least very close to it. The combination of brightness, low contrast, and a narrow color gamut gives the display something of a muted look.

Overall, the display is certainly usable for productivity work and watching Netflix, but it’s not going to blow you away. Toss in the 16:9 aspect ratio when many competitors are moving to taller ratios like 16:10 and 3:2, and the Swift 3X’s display is underwhelming.

Audio is closer to average, with two downward-firing speakers that provide enough volume for YouTube videos but not enough for watching a Netflix movie with friends. Mids and highs are okay, but the bass is lacking. You’ll want to use a pair of headphones or a Bluetooth speaker for Netflix binging and music listening.

Keyboard and touchpad

It seems that Acer pulled the keyboard from the previous Acer Swift 3. The Swift 3X has the same look and feel, meaning that the keycaps are smaller, making for some hunting for keys in my experience. The mechanism is very clicky, requiring a bit of pressure to engage but offering a solid bottoming action. It comes down to preference, of course, but I’d rate the keyboard as behind the HP Spectre x360 14 and the Dell XPS 13 in terms of precision and overall typing speed.

The touchpad is small but functional. The surface is comfortable for swiping and the buttons are responsive but a little loud. Thanks to Microsoft Precision touchpad drivers, multitouch gestures are responsive and precise. There’s no touch display, which is a bummer for me personally — I miss touch when it’s not there, especially for scrolling long web pages and tapping the occasional on-screen button.

Windows 10 Hello password-less login support is provided by a fingerprint reader located in the upper-right corner of the keyboard deck. It was fast and accurate in my testing.

Battery life

You’d think that 59 watt-hours of battery life in a 14-inch laptop plus very fast CPU performance might result in poor battery life. You’d be wrong, as the Swift 3X managed to last well past the Evo specification’s nine hours of typical use.

In our web benchmark, which loops through a series of popular web sites until the laptop hibernates, the Swift 3X lasted for 11.5 hours. That beat out the Lenovo Yoga 9i 14 by over an hour and the MSI Prestige 14 Evo by almost four hours. Next, I ran through our video test that loops a Full HD Avengers trailer and the Swift 3X lasted for roughly 15.75 hours, a strong score that was nevertheless almost three hours less than the Yoga 9i 14 and thirty minutes less than the MSI Prestige 14 Evo.

In the PCMark 10 Applications battery test, the Swift 3X lasted for 14 hours, second only to the Yoga 9i 14 in our database and almost four hours longer than the Prestige 14 Evo. In the PCMark 10 Gaming test, which stresses both the CPU and the GPU, the Swift 3X managed just 1.5 hours, which was worst with the Prestige 14 Evo and Dell XPS 13 coming in second and third. Most other laptops lasted roughly an hour longer than the Swift 3X in this test.

Overall, the Swift 3X exhibited solid battery life that will get it through a full day’s work with no issues, at least as long as you’re not pushing the CPU and GPU. And again, the Swift 3X exceeds the Intel Evo certification requirement of nine hours of typical use, which not every Evo-certified laptop we’ve tested has achieved.

Our take

Taken by itself, that is, without considering the inclusion of the Iris Xe Max, the Acer Swift 3X is a rather mundane high-budget to low-midrange ultrabook. Its components are fine for $1,200, but its build quality and keyboard aren’t up to snuff.

Toss in the excellent CPU performance afforded by the Iris Xe Max and Deep Link, though, along with some strong battery life, and the Swift 3X becomes a more attractive option. It’s a solid choice for anyone who wants to encode the occasional video but doesn’t want to spend the money on a laptop with a 45-watt CPU and faster discrete GPU.

Are there any alternatives?

The MSI Prestige 14 Evo is almost as fast as the Swift 3X without Iris Xe Max on board, and it costs the same. It’s also thinner, lighter, better-built, and better-looking. The Swift 3X does offer better battery life, however.

Next, if the ultimate in CPU performance is what you’re looking for, then you’ll want to take a look at an AMD Ryzen 4000 (soon to be Ryzen 5000) laptop. One option today is the Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7 with its Ryzen 7 4800U. It’s less expensive than the Swift 3X, but offers much faster CPU performance and adds in great battery life to boot.

Finally, the Dell XPS 13 9310 remains a solid competitor as it does with every laptop we review in the 13- or 14-inch class. It has a smaller display, but it’s in the productivity-friendly 16:10 aspect ratio. The XPS 13 is also significantly better built, also offers up a superior display, and can be configured with more RAM and storage.

How long will it last?

The Acer Swift 3X isn’t the most robust-feeling laptop we’ve reviewed, but it should still last a few years of reliable service. The components are up to date, which is a plus, but the 1-year (industry standard) warranty is too short, as usual.

Should you buy it?

No. The Iris Xe Max graphics provide the best CPU performance you can get in an Intel-based ultrabook, but if CPU performance is most important to you, there are other, better options. And other than equipping the Iris Xe Max, there’s not much that makes the Swift 3X stand out.

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