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Acer Swift X review: A rare ultraportable laptop with bite

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Acer Swift X review: A rare ultraportable laptop with bite

It stumbles in some fit-and-finish details, however.

acer swift x overview

Matt Elliott/IDG

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  • Acer Swift X (SFX14-41G-R1S6)

The Acer Swift X packs impressive power inside an ultraportable case and is a great pick if you want a high-performance, highly portable laptop. Where most ultraportables prize efficiency and rely on integrated graphics, the Swift X serves up Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3050 Ti GPU for an added punch. With the RTX graphics and a powerful AMD CPU, the Swift X is able to handle content-creation tasks and some gaming in addition to the basic office chores for which most ultraportables are built.

The Swift X doesn’t toss efficiency out the window and provides ample battery life despite its power-hungry parts. You’ll need to put up with a frequently loud fan and warm keyboard, however, and the system’s fit and finish is not on par with that of other premium ultraportables. Make sure you need the graphics prowess of the Swift X before committing because you are forced to sacrifice in other areas to get it.

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 X specifications

Acer currently sells one and only one model of the Swift X. It’s a 14-inch laptop based on an AMD Ryzen 7 5800U CPU and RTX 3050 Ti graphics with a list price of $1,099.99. It’s currently selling for $1,069.99 on Amazon. Let’s take a look at the specs of the Swift X (model SFX14-41G-R1S6) that we reviewed:

  • CPU: 8-core, 16-thread AMD Ryzen 7 5800U
  • Memory: 16GB
  • Graphics: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti
  • Storage: 512GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD
  • Display: 14-inch, 1920×1080 IPS non-touch
  • Webcam: 720p
  • Connectivity: Left: 1 x SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps Type-C, 1 x SuperSpeed USB 5Gbps Type-A (with power-off charging), HDMI 2.0. Right: 1 x SuperSpeed USB 5Gbps Type-A, combo audio jack.
  • Networking: Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2
  • Biometrics: Fingerprint reader
  • Battery capacity: 58.7 Watt-hours
  • Dimensions: 12.71 x 8.35 x 0.7 inches
  • Measured weight: 3.1 pounds (laptop), 0.9 pounds (AC adapter)

Gold-and-silver design

The Swift X features a thin, aluminum chassis that’s available in three colors: Steam Blue, Prodigy Pink and Safari Gold. We received the gold model, but only parts of the laptop come draped in the hue: the lid, a narrow strip above the keyboard and the display hinges. The rest of the laptop is silver in color, resulting in a two-tone look that lends an OEM feel to the system. The matte black plastic display bezels also earn a design demerit. 

acer swift x design Matt Elliott/IDG

The aluminum chassis is quite compact. It’s roughly the same size as another high-powered 14-inch laptop, the HP Envy 14. Both are only 0.7 inches thick, and the Swift X at 3.1 pounds is a few ounces lighter than the 3.3-pound Envy 14. The Swift X’s power brick is also compact, resulting in a reasonable and eminently totable 4-pound total carrying weight.

When you open the display, the hinges dip down below the bottom panel to provide a slight tilt for the keyboard for a more comfortable typing angle and to improve airflow. With its high-end components packed into such a compact enclosure, the Swift X needs all the aid it can get to keep thermals in check. The laptop is fairly quiet during basic tasks, but the cooling fan really begins to spin when it’s engaged in heavier lifting. While running Photoshop and other graphics apps or during games, the Swift X gets loud. And even with its cooling fan working overtime, the laptop begins to heat up to the point that the keys feel rather toasty under your fingertips.

acer swift x keyboard Matt Elliott/IDG

The keys themselves feel snappy and sound quiet, but two things annoy me about the keyboard. For one, the keys are silver instead of black, which leaves little to no contrast when the keyboard backlighting is on when you are sitting in a room that’s not completely dark.

For another, the Page-up and Page-down keys are squeezed in above the side arrow keys and I hit each constantly by accident. I’d much rather these keys be mapped to another key or placed anywhere else than their current spot. Below the arrow keys is a fingerprint reader for easy, secure logins. The webcam lacks IR capability, so the fingerprint reader is the only biometric option on the Swift X.

acer swift x arrow keys Matt Elliott/IDG

The touchpad felt accurate with smooth gliding and a firm, responsive click. I take no issue with the touchpad, but I do have a gripe about the AMD, Nvidia and Alexa stickers to its left. They are placed in such a haphazard fashion that their crooked and ill-spaced positioning detract from the Swift X’s overall appearance. Acer’s sticker affixer needs to get it together.

acer swift x stickers Matt Elliott/IDG

Squeezed by 16:9 panel

The 14-inch display features a full HD (1920×1080) resolution and 100-percent sRGB support. Its image looked bright with vibrant color and good contrast. The biggest issue I have with the display doesn’t concern its performance but its size. Quite simply, it feels too cramped for serious design work. It has a 16:9 aspect ratio, which limits the amount of vertical space it affords compared with a 16:10 display. The HP Envy 14 features a roomier 14-inch, 16:10 display that’s a better fit for creative work. Even a 13.3-inch MacBook Pro feels more spacious than the 14-inch Swift X because Apple’s laptop displays feature a 16:10 aspect ratio.

acer swift x display Matt Elliott/IDG

Above the display is a standard 720p webcam. You won’t wow your fellow Zoom conference attendees with its noisy image and reddish skin tones. The webcam also lacks a physical privacy shutter.

The speakers, too, failed to impress. They didn’t reach a loud level at max volume and produced predictably tinny sound. They also fire downward, which doesn’t help the situation.

acer swift x left ports Matt Elliott/IDG
acer swift x right ports Matt Elliott/IDG

The Swift X’s port selection covers the basics with both USB Type-A and Type-C ports, although I’d like a pair of USB-C ports and one USB-A port instead of the flipside of that. The USB-C port offers 10Gbps data transfers, DisplayPort support, and power delivery. Creative pros whose work requires the use of media cards will bemoan the lack of an SD card slot. The laptop supports the latest wireless networking standards — WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2 — but omits an Ethernet port. You’ll also find an HDMI connection.

Acer Swift X performance 

The Swift X shined in labs testing, easily outpacing competing ultraportables. The closest laptop we’ve reviewed recently to the Swift X is the HP Envy 14, a 14-inch laptop built for content creation that features an 11th-gen Core i5 CPU and GeForce GTX 1650 Ti Max-Q graphics. We also compared the Swift X to Acer’s Swift 3X, which is based on an 11th-gen Core i7 CPU and Intel’s discrete Iris Xe Max graphics. Rounding out the charts is the Lenovo ThinkBook 14s Yoga and Dell XPS 13 9310, a pair of 2-in-1 convertibles with an 11th-gen Core i7 CPU and integrated Intel Iris Xe graphics.

Our first benchmark is PCMark 10, which measures performance on everyday computing work including office productivity tasks, web browsing, and video chats. The Swift X was the clear winner, beating the next closest system by more than 1,000 points. 

pcmark 10 Matt Elliott/IDG

Next up is Cinebench, a sort of CPU sprint that stresses the CPU rather than the GPU and makes use of all processing cores. The Swift X dominated here on the multi-threaded test for the simple fact that its Ryzen CPU has twice the physical cores and processing threads than the chips in the other systems. The Ryzen 7 5800U is a threaded, eight-core processor, and the Intel Core i5-1135G7 and Core i7-1165G7 are threaded, four-core chips. Twice the cores and threads leads to the Swift X posting a Cinebench score that’s nearly double the score of the Swift 3X and more than double that of the others.

cinebench all threads Matt Elliott/IDG

The Swift X also performed well on the single-thread test of Cinebench, although not to the degree of the multi-threaded test.

cinebench singlethread Matt Elliott/IDG

We use the HandBrake utility to convert a 30GB movie to Android table format, an intensive task that taxes the CPU and all of its cores. Again, the Swift X blasted the competition. It completed the test in nearly half the time of the HP Envy 14, its next closest competitor.

handbrake Matt Elliott/IDG

The Swift X and its RTX 3050 Ti graphics more than doubled the output of the laptops with integrated Intel graphics on our 3DMark benchmark. The HP Envy 14 and its GTX 1650 Ti Max-Q performed admirably but its score was still a considerable distance behind that of the Swift X. The Swift X has the graphics oomph to handle content-creation chores.

3dmark time spy Matt Elliott/IDG

Because the Swift X features discrete graphics from Nvidia’s latest lineup of GPUs, we ran a few games on the system. On Shadow of the Tomb Raider at 1920×1080, it averaged 48 frames per second at the Highest preset. On the more demanding Metro Exodus at 1920×1080 at the benchmark’s Extreme preset, and the Swift X averaged only 16 fps but improved to 52 fps at the Normal preset. Keep the quality settings in check and you’ll achieve playable framerates at 1080p. With its compact design and graphics muscle, the Swift X could make a good fit for people who want an easily portable laptop to take to class or around the office each day that also has some gaming chops when you get back to your home or dorm — once homework is done, of course.

We test laptop battery life by looping a 4K video using the stock Windows Movies & TV app, with screen brightness set to about 250 nits and the volume dialed to 50 percent, with headphones plugged in. The Swift X doesn’t offer the longest battery life among ultraportables, but it lasted for more than 12 hours on our battery-drain test, an impressive result given its high-powered parts.

battery life Matt Elliott/IDG

Do-it-all laptop for students

There’s no question that the Acer Swift X provides enough CPU and GPU performance for on-the-go content creators. With an octo-core Ryzen 7 5800U, the Swift X offers blazing application performance and strong multimedia performance. Add in the RTX 3050 Ti graphics, and you get a considerable boost in 3D graphics and gaming capability from the ordinary ultraportable with an integrated GPU. It’s rare to find a laptop this compact with this much performance. And you aren’t forced to sacrifice all that much in battery life for this power.

What prevents a stronger recommendation for creative types is the Swift X’s cramped display. In particular, the 16:9 aspect ratio makes the screen feel restrictive. I’m not saying you need a 15.6-inch or larger laptop to run Photoshop and other media-creation and -editing apps, but I would argue you need at least a 14-inch display with a 16:10 ratio. The 14-inch, 16:9 display isn’t a barrier, however, for gamers to pick the Swift X. It’s a better fit as a laptop for students or office workers: light enough to carry around each day and powerful enough to play games each night. 

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

  • Acer Swift X (SFX14-41G-R1S6)

    Billed as an ultraportable for creative pros, the powerful Acer Swift X is a better fit for students looking for a highly portable laptop with some gaming chops.

    Pros

    • Stellar ultraportable performance.
    • Sneaky gaming laptop with RTX 3050 Ti graphics.
    • Impressive battery life considering high-end parts.

    Cons

    • Display feels cramped for creative work.
    • Fan gets loud during heavy workloads.
    • Poorly placed Pg-Up and -Down buttons.

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Leaked Alder Lake prices strike at Ryzen’s CPU dominance

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Leaked Alder Lake prices strike at Ryzen’s CPU dominance

Here’s what leaked retailer pricing tells us about the performance of Intel’s upcoming Alder Lake S CPUs.

6core vs 8core cpus

Intel / AMD / janniwet / Shutterstock

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Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake processors aren’t upon us yet, but another price leak indicates they might indeed compete with AMD’s best CPUs, unlike current top-end Core offerings.

The latest oopsie comes from retail IT vendor Provantage, which puts the top-end Core i9-12900K at $605. The IT vendor also lists the Core i7-12700K at $420, as well as a Core i5-12600K for $283.

After news reports of the part numbers and prices surfaced, Provantage removed the listings. The latest leak follows reports two weeks ago—supposedly from European retailers—that placed the Core i9-12900K at $705, the Core i7-12700K at $495, and the Core i5-12600 at $343.

Before you jump to any conclusions, we want to point out that as reliable as a leaked retail price might seem, they can very unreliable too. Often times stores prep for impending launches by using placeholder prices and specs. Those listings are then updated when the stores receive the final information.

The leaked info itself from Provantage would indicate it’s not quite baked yet. For example, we know the top-end Alder Lake S chip will feature 8 performance cores and 8 efficient cores (Intel’s Alder Lake chips feature a radical new mixture of big and little cores), yet the listing at Provantage lists the top-end chip as an 8-core design. 

alder lake provantage Provantage via Hothardware.com

Hothardware.com snapped this image of Intel’s 12th gen Alder Lake CPUs at retailer Provantage. that has since been removed.

Still, both combined retail leaks reinforce what we’ve already come to conclude so far: Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake S will at least suit up with the intent to take on AMD’s 16-core Ryzen 9 5950X.

That’s a marked change from the $550 8-core 11th gen Rocket Lake CPU, which lost badly to AMD’s $550 12-core Ryzen 9 5900X chip. With the 11th-gen desktop chips, Intel didn’t even try to field a CPU against AMD’s $750 Ryzen 9 5950X.

With its increased core efficiency, newer manufacturing process, and physically more cores than previous Intel consumer desktop CPUs, it’s entirely possible Intel’s 12th Core i9 will actually end up being somewhere between $604 and $705 when it comes out.

intel alder lake performance core benchmark Intel

Intel is touting a marked increase in core efficiency with its 12th gen Alder Lake CPUs.

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One of founding fathers of hardcore tech reporting, Gordon has been covering PCs and components since 1998.

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The best Windows backup software

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The best Windows backup software

Updated

The best programs for keeping your data and Windows safely backed up.

Rob Schultz/IDG

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Table of Contents

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We need backup software for our PCs because our storage drives won’t last forever. Backup software ensures we’re covered when the day comes that our primary drive up and dies.

It would be nice if Microsoft itself provided Windows users with something like Apple’s Time Machine: an effective, set-it-and-forget-it, total system recovery and backup solution that requires little interaction or thought on the user’s part. 

Instead, Microsoft delivers a mishmash of restore points, recovery discs, file backup, and even the un-retired System Backup (Windows 7), which was probably originally put out to pasture for its propensity to choke on dissimilar hardware. Online backup services are another option, but desktop clients tend to offer far more flexibility. 

Plenty of vendors have stepped in with worthy alternatives, and while none are quite as slick or transparent as Time Machine, some come darn close—and many are free. Read on for our top picks. 

Updated on 9/15/21 to include our review of the newest version of Aomei Backupper 6. It remains our favorite free backup software for Windows because it provides a near-total backup solution, with a generous number of features. As a paid program, however, there are better options. Read more about it below. And scroll to the bottom of this article to see links to all our backup software reviews.

Best overall backup software

There’s a reason True Image is renowned in the world of backup software. It’s capable, flexible, and rock-solid reliable. Indeed, it’s easily the most comprehensive data safety package on the planet.

Besides offering unparalleled backup functionality that’s both robust and easy to navigate, True Image integrates security apps as well, which protect against malware, malicious websites, and other threats using real-time monitoring. Read our full review.

Best free backup software

Among the free programs we tested, Backupper Standard wins primarily because it has the most features, including imaging, file backup, disk cloning, and plain file syncing, plus multiple scheduling options (see our full review). This was the case with Backupper 4, and the latest version has only added more options, making it a surprisingly well-rounded free offering. We hit a few performance snags with less-conventional system setups, but for the average user, it should perform as expected.

What to look for in backup software

As with most things—don’t over-buy. Features you don’t need add complexity and may slow down your system. Additionally, if you intend to back up to a newly purchased external hard drive, check out the software that ships with it. Seagate, WD, and others provide backup utilities that are adequate for the average user.

File backup: If you want to back up only your data (operating systems and programs can be reinstalled, though it’s mildly time- and effort-consuming), a program that backs up just the files you select is a major time-saver. Some programs automatically select the appropriate files if you use the Windows library folders (Documents, Photos, Videos, etc.).

Image backup/Imaging: Images are byte-for-byte snapshots of your entire hard drive (normally without the empty sectors) or partition, and can be used to restore both the operating system and data. Imaging is the most convenient to restore in case of a system crash, and also ensures you don’t miss anything important.

Boot media:  Should your system crash completely, you need an alternate way to boot and run the recovery software. Any backup program should be able to create a bootable optical disc or USB thumb drive. Some will also create a restore partition on your hard drive, which can be used instead if the hard drive is still operational.

Scheduling: If you’re going to back up effectively, you need to do it on a regular basis. Any backup program worth its salt allows you to schedule backups.

Versioning: If you’re overwriting previous files, that’s not backup, it’s one-way syncing or mirroring. Any backup program you use should allow you to retain several previous backups, or with file backup, previous versions of the file. The better software will retain and cull older backups according to criteria you establish.

Optical support: Every backup program supports hard drives, but as obsolescent as they may seem, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs are great archive media. If you’re worried about optical media’s reliability, M-Disc claims its discs are reliable for a thousand years, claims that are backed up by Department of Defense testing.

Online support: An offsite copy of your data is a hedge against physical disasters such as flood, fire, and power surges. Online storage services are a great way to maintain an offsite copy of your data. Backup to Dropbox and the like is a nice feature to have.

FTP and SMB/AFP: Backing up to other computers or NAS boxes on your network or in remote locations (say, your parent’s house) is another way of physically safeguarding your data with an offsite, or at least physically discrete copy. FTP can be used for offsite, while SMB (Windows and most OS’s) and AFP (Apple) are good for other PCs or NAS on your local network.

Real time: Real-time backup means that files are backed up whenever they change, usually upon creation or save. It’s also called mirroring and is handy for keeping an immediately available copy of rapidly changing data sets. For less volatile data sets, the payoff doesn’t compensate for the drain on system resources. Instead, scheduling should be used.

Continuous backup: In this case, ‘continuous’ simply means backing up on a tight schedule, generally every 5 to 15 minutes, instead of every day or weekly. Use continuous backup for rapidly changing data sets where transfer rates are too slow, or computing power is too precious for real-time backup.

Performance: Most backups proceed in the background or during dead time, so performance isn’t a huge issue in the consumer space. However, if you’re backing up multiple machines or to multiple destinations, or dealing with very large data sets, speed is a consideration.

How we test

We run each program through the various types of backups it’s capable of. This is largely to test reliability and hardware compatibility, but we time two: an approximately 115GB system image (two partitions), and a roughly 50GB image created from a set of smaller files and folders. We then mount the images and test their integrity via the program’s restore functions. We also test the USB boot drives created by the programs.

All of our reviews

If you’d like to learn more about our top picks as well as other options, you can find links below to all of our backup software reviews. We’ll keep evaluating new programs and re-evaluating existing software on a regular basis, so be sure to check back for our current impressions.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

Jon is a Juilliard-trained musician, former x86/6800 programmer, and long-time (late 70s) computer enthusiast living in the San Francisco bay area. [email protected]

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Razer just made gamer thimbles

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Razer just made gamer thimbles

Or maybe they’re yoga pants for your thumbs?

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Razer has never been afraid to take a shot on products that seem unusual at first glance. Witness its RGB-infused N95 mask, the now-defunct Razer Game Store with its own zVault currency, or the first-gen Firefly mousepad, which has evolved into something special but originally prompted us to review it against a ripped-up piece of cardboard. The company’s latest offering might just take the cake though. This week, Razer introduced gamer thimbles.

Yes, thimbles. You know, like the Monopoly piece (or the sewing accessory for more worldly folks out there). Seriously.

Well, not quite. If you simply can’t abide sweaty palms and greasy fingerprints interfering with your marathon mobile Fortnite sessions, the new Razer gaming finger sleeve may be up your alley. “Slip on and never slip up with Razer Gaming Finger Sleeve that will seal your mobile victory,” Razer’s site breathlessly boasts.  “Woven with high-sensitivity silver fiber for enhanced aim and control, our breathable sleeves keep your fingers deadly cool in the heat of battle, so you’ll always have a grip on the game.”

Razer says the 0.8mm-thick sleeves are sweat absorbent, and that they’re made from nylon and spandex. So maybe they’re more like gamer yoga pants? But you know, for your fingers?

Either way it’s ludicrous. And unlike most of Razer’s gear, the gamer thimbles understandably (yet sadly) lack RGB lighting. But if you want to wear your dedication to the Cult of Razer on your slee…thumb, or maybe just look snazzier when you’re passing Go and collecting $200, you can pick up a pair of Razer gaming finger sleeves on the company’s website for $10. The truly dedicated can double down to look especially gamer:

razer gamer thimbles 2 Razer

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