Acer Swift 5 2020 – next Intel Project Evo laptop ‘cleans up’ (Review)

Acer Swift 5 2020
9.6
Impressive

The Acer Swift 5 2020 is a Intel Project Evo notebook with a difference. It has a BPR and EPA-compliant silver-ion anti-microbial agent in the surface coating, chassis, keyboard, hinge, fingerprint reader and feet – an effective >99.9% microbial reduction.

Now that is a point of difference. While it is more of a sales aid for the Acer Swift 5 2020, it really is a hygiene aid. Note: microbes are not a virus like COVID-19, so it won’t protect you there.

And knowing Acer there will be a range of Acer Swift 5 2020 configurations to reach every price point. In this case, it offers Intel 11th Generation Core i5-1135G7 and i7-1165G7 processors, 8 or 16GB and up to 1TB SSD. All wrapped in a 1kg MgAlu and MgLi chassis.

What is Intel Project Evo?

Evo-class devices have powerhouse 11th gen Intel Core processors like a Porsche racing car in a VW body – a ridiculous power to weight ratio. They also have Thunderbolt 4, Wi-Fi 6, at least 9 hours usable battery life, and more.

Evo will replace the 2020 Intel term ‘Project Athena’. You can currently get Evo models from  ASUS, Dell, Dynabook, HP, Lenovo, MSI, and Razer. And to a large degree, all Evo platform notebooks do the same thing at the same speed. So, it is important to differentiate, and Acer has done it in part, with its silver-ion anti-microbial agent.

Details: Acer Swift 5 2020 SF514-55T Model NX.A34SA.003

Please note that Intel provided this unit to show its Project Evo laptop capabilities.

  • Acer Website here
  • Price: From $1600 to $2399 (price as tested $1799)
  • Warranty: 12-months ACL warranty
  • Acer (Est 1976) is a Taiwanese multinational hardware and electronics corporation specialising in advanced electronics technology, headquartered in Xizhi, New Taipei City. It is the 5th largest global computer manufacture and the 3rd largest in Australia behind HP and Dell.

Specs as tested

  • Intel Core i5-1135G7 quad-core 2.4Ghz with Intel Xe Graphics (i7-1165G7 option)
  • 14” 1920×1080, IPS touchscreen, Corning Gorilla Glass
  • 8GB LPDDR4X (16GB option at order only)
  • 512GB PCIe M2 SSD
  • Wi-Fi 6 AX and BT5.1
  • HDMI, USB-A, Thunderbolt 4/USB-C
  • 56W Battery, 19V/3.42A/65W charger
  • 318.9 x 207 x 14.95mm x 1.05kg
  • Windows 10 Home

First impression – light and small

The clamshell notebook comes in Mist Green, and I quite like it. Kind of a matte, textured, deep grey/green. The 14” screen is huge –  it has a 90% screen to body ratio and minuscule bezels.

The case is a magnesium aluminium alloy, so it is strong with no flex.

We will get to ports later, but my one concern upfront is that it has an external power supply briquette and only one USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gbps) port that doubles as the Thunderbolt 4 port. That means any ‘real’ expansion will need a Thunderbolt 3 (or 4) dock costing a few hundred dollars more. Just one more Thunderbolt 4 port with USB-C upstream charging would have made it almost perfect.

 It has 2 x USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 (5Gbps) and an HDMI port as a consolation.

Screen – big and colourful

The 14” (35.6cm), 1920×1080, 158ppi IPS touch screen has (claimed) 100%sRGB. It is an 8-bit, 60Hz, standard dynamic range panel. Made by AU Optronics (B140HAN06.D AUO7490) it has 16.7m colours, 430nits (and it loses some brightness through the touch and Gorilla Glass overlays), contrast 1550:1 (ditto) and it uses a WLED (White LED backlight). It has a 30ms response time.

Our tests are on both mains power and battery. On mains power, it delivers over 400 nits, 1340:1 contrast, 96% sRGB and a delta E of 2.2 (good). On battery, it drops considerable to 330 nits, 1100:1 contrast, 90% sRGB and a delta E of 4.5 (<4 is good).

It has a slightly colder colour cast than expected at 6600°, explaining the lower sRGB scores. But these things should be easily correctable with downloadable colour profiles. The screen is 10-point multitouch but does not support a pen. When open, it lifts the base of the desk for better cooling.

Overall, it’s a good screen for the price.  But if screen quality is the need, the HP Envy x360, Dynabook X30L and Dell XPS 13 9300 are far brighter (and more expensive).

Processor – New 11th Gen Intel Core ‘Evo’

The 10nm i5-1135G7 has a PassMark of 9,620, and the i7-1165G7 has 10,494. Desktop processors (with no wattage TPD constraints) can be twice as fast.

The processors have four-cores and eight threads. The i5/i7 Geekbench 5 single/multi-core ratings are 1407/1410 and 5333/4658 – no slouch. We could not test the i7, but Geekbench confirms that the i5 is faster in multi-core. You can read a comparison of the i5 and i7 here – the i5 seems to be the sweet spot.

We ran a stress test – 100% load (on power) for 15-minutes and the processor temperature never exceeded 50°. The single fan sat around 6300-6500 RPM, but there was little noise at <38dB. We ran the same stress test on battery power and it at once throttled at 80% – a Windows constraint that you can change at the expense of battery life. We suspect a lesser implementation of the new PCIe 4.0 and 16 PCIe lanes that this CPU supports. In other words, a PCIe NVMe 4.0 4-lane SSD would only perform as a V3.0.

GPU – 2x faster than Intel UHD

Intel Xe is very good – twice as fast as Intel UHD 620 and faster than the NVIDIA GeForce MX350 and AMD Radeon RX Vega 6 (usually on Ryzen 5 4500U notebooks). We did not find any Acer gaming control app, but the Intel Graphics has Gameplay.Intel.Com and scans for all supported games.

RAM – not upgradable

This unit comes with 8GB LPDDR4X soldered to the motherboard, so I recommend buying the 16GB version.

Storage – upgradable

It has a mid-range SK Hynix 521GB M.2 2280 PCIe 3.0 model HFM512GDJTNI-82A0A SSD capable of 2000/1000MB/s sequential read/write. This is a price choice and not an issue unless you are a heavy disk user. It does not have a micro-SD port. The good news is that it is relatively easy to replace. It also supports Intel Optane hybrid SSD.

Throttling – none

We ran a 15-minute full test in AIDA 64 with the following results:

  • Mains power – it starts at 4.2GHz for about 30 seconds and drops to 3.8GHz for most of the test. It ends at 3.3Ghz. Fan noise increases from 38dB to 44dB
  • Battery – it starts at 2.4Ghz and stays there due to Windows power management

Wi-Fi and BT- very fast

You get excited when the Intel AX201 GIG+ 160Mhz Wi-Fi clocks in at 2.4Gbps to our Netgear AX router. Typical laptop speeds are 866Mbps for Wi-Fi AC and 1.2Gbps for AX. Bluetooth is the 5.1 variety and is good to about 20 metres. It supports A2DP (2.0 audio) or HFP (mono plus a mic channel). Windows uses an SBC low-res codec.

Battery- exceptional

It has a 56Wh battery (tested 54.5) charged by a 19V/3.42A/65W power briquette using a round plug (not USB-C). In part that is good as upstream power does not require the single TB4/USB-C port. While I would like a second TB4 port, the extra power port makes this not a dealbreaker.

Recharge time with the briquette is just under two hours. It will fast charge for four hours use in 30 minutes. You can also power it from a TB3 or 4 Dock like the excellent Plugable 65W dock (preferably 60W or more upstream power). Or a 60W of higher USB-C wall charger like the Belkin 68W GAN charger.

We tested it with the SuperTank Pro 100W 26800mAh USB-C PD power bank, and it charged the unit twice at about 70% of the wall charger speed. We also tried with a ZMI 65W 20000mAh, and it kept up with the drain and provided about 1.7 charges. It was about the same charge speed as SuperTank. Since Windows has different power profiles and background loads, it is harder to be definitive.

We recorded the best time of 20 hours (2 x 8-hour days and 4-hours before exhaustion) using a mix of Wi-Fi and Microsoft 365 productivity suite for Word, Excel and MS Edge Browser. That result is pretty spectacular.

Over two weeks of use, the worst discharge time for general office use was 13 hours, but that included a lot of video. CPU Intensive tasks like Adobe Photoshop see that drop back to 8 hours. A 1080p video loop at 50% brightness with BT headphones is 17 hours. Games are not our forte, but we ran synthetic benchmarks for Counter-Strike 1080p

  • Low 168fps
  • Med 120fps
  • High 70fps

You should expect 10-15 hours use – well over a workday. BTW – the battery is a use-replaceable item if you can buy one in a few years.

Sound – low volume but nice sound signature

It has stereo down-firing speakers under each side of the front deck. It has a DTS Audio Processing app with pre-sets for Music, Movies, Games and Custom. This is basically a software EQ with +/-10dB from 100Hz to 10kHz, and custom settings allow you to boost or reduce treble, mid or bass.

We have used the DTS app many times before, and it usually makes little difference to the speakers native sound signature. Note: It is not the paid DTS Sound Unbound Windows app that processes DTS:X for home theatre solution for Xbox or DTS Headphone:X.

All tests are at default testings. Volume was a disappointing 70dB – fine for personal use, but it won’t rock the room. Bass was non-existent to 100Hz, but then something interesting happened. The frequency response was flat (good) to the top of 15kHz.

This flat response means that the EQ can mildly tweak frequency. We could boost bass, increase mids for clearer voice and bring back treble. You can read more about sound signature here, but overall it is possible to get a close to warm and sweet for music.

Webcam and dual array mic – fit for purpose

720p – clear and bright for Skype. No Windows Hello IR camera but used a fingerprint reader on the keyboard.

Keyboard/trackpad – not bad but may wear

Again, made to a price – the keys are plastic with painted letters (not injection moulded). Backlighting is from under the keys instead of through the lettering. It has a decent 1.3mm throw (1.5mm is ideal) and 40g actuation (45g is perfect). It is a comfortable keyboard – way better than the MacBook at <1mm throw. Power users, however, may wear off the lettering over time.

The trackpad is textured and oversized (115 x 65mm) allowing a full diagonal screen movement in one swipe.

Ports – needs one more TB4

  • HDMI 2.0 for [email protected] (note the maximum external monitor support is two)
  • Thunderbolt 4 40Gbps or USB-C 3.2 gen 2 (10Gbps)
  • 2 x USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 5Gbps
  • 3.5mm combo audio
  • Power port

To meet a price point, Acer has sacrificed an extra TB 4 port, micro-SD reader and cut a few less than noticeable corners. That means you can use a USB-C 3.X dongle, dock or charger on port and still use external power. It performed flawlessly with the latest Plugable 60W powered TB3 dock using the latest Intel JHL7440 Titan Ridge Chipset supporting DP 1.4 and dual [email protected] monitors.

Shows ports on both sides

Build – solid

It is well made and should stand up to everyday use rigours. It does not have MIL-STD 810 durability like some. The back cover is removable. In theory, various parts can be replaced. In practice, this is the M.2 SSD, motherboard, Wi-Fi module and battery – if you can get these parts in future.

Bloatware – huge fail

Acer pre-loads a tonne of bloatware that a) is useless, b) nags you and c) some is not easy to remove (not listed in Programmes and Features). Things like Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Express VPN, Norton Security Ultra, Amazon.com.au, Bookings.com, Dropbox, App Explorer, Evernote, GoTrust ID, Planet 9, Spotify, PhotoDirector, various games, and a fair few Acer apps that apart from Care Centre you do not need. Some of these just open webpages so Acer can earn some referral pennies. Enterprise users should consider as clean Windows ISO install to remove this bloatware.

GadgetGuy’s take

The Acer Swift 5 2020 reminds me of one of the best-selling cars – the Toyota Corolla. Great engine, build, performance and more. But like the Corolla with the Ascent Sport (entry-level), SX and ZR, this is the entry-level Project Evo. I could wish for more TB4 ports, a user-upgradable ram, a brighter screen, a digitiser, faster SSD and a x360 hinge but then that is the Acer Spin 5. That is precisely what I would buy. But you know deep down that the base Corolla is all you need.

Acer Swift 5 2020 – ratings

We reviewed our first Project Evo notebook, the Dynabook Portégé X30W-J and gave it 10/10. It is very much like the Acer Spin 5 at a similar cost. We can see where the Acer Swift 5 falls just a little short because we have seen close to perfection. Objectively it earns 9.6/10, but for the price, it is it’s a 10/10.

Acer Swift 5 2020 – next Intel Project Evo laptop ‘cleans up’ (Review)
A value for money Project EVO notebook
Features
8
Value for money
10
Performance
10
Ease of use
10
Design
10
Positives
Decent display with a good colour gamut
Terrific battery life
Very fast AX Wi-Fi
Anti-microbial for nerds, err germs
Performance as expected from Project Evo notebooks
Negatives
1 TB4/USB-C port
No micro-SD
Ram soldered to the motherboard
Middling SSD performance
9.6
Impressive