Tech

Battle of the $350 laptops: Acer Swift 1 vs. Gateway Ryzen 3 3200U

Enlarge / Acer's Swift 1 looks a little more professional than Gateway's GWTN141-2—but looks aren't everything, as our testing conclusively demonstrates.Jim Salter

We've been on the lookout for good but seriously cheap laptops for a while now. Acer's $650 Swift 3 is an excellent choice for budget laptops in the under-$700 range, but we've been really itching to find one in the almost nonexistent sub-$400 category. To that end, today we're looking at two of Walmart's finest—a $378 Acer Swift 1 and a $350 Gateway GWTN141-2.

Both of these are serviceable if cheap laptops, but the Gateway, despite being the less expensive model, will be the clear winner for most people. It's more powerful, more repairable, more upgrade-able, and in our testing, a bit more reliable as well.

Specs at a glance: as reviewed
Acer Swift 1 SF114-32 Gateway GWTN141-2
OS Windows 10 Home (S mode) Windows 10 Home (S mode)
Screen 14 inch IPS FHD (1920×1080, 250nits) 14.1 inch IPS FHD (1920×1080, 190nits)
CPU Pentium Silver N5000 Ryzen 3 3200U
GPU Intel UHD 605 AMD Vega 3
RAM 4GiB DDR4 (soldered, non expandable) 4GiB DDR4 (soldered, with one empty DIMM slot)
HDD 64GB eMMC
(SanDisk DF4064)
128GB NVMe M.2
(Netac S539N)
Networking Intel 9560
2×2 Wi-Fi 5, Bluetooth 5.0
Realtek 8821CE
1×1 Wi-Fi 5, Bluetooth 4.2
Ports
  • 1x USB-C (data only)
  • 2x USB-A 3.0
  • 1x USB-A 2.0
  • 1x HDMI
  • 1x SD card
  • 1x 3.5mm audio combo jack
  • 1x DC barrel jack
  • 1x Kensington lock slot
  • 1x USB-C (data only)
  • 2x USB-A 3.0
  • 1x HDMI
  • 1x SD card
  • 1x 3.5mm audio combo jack
  • 1x DC barrel jack
  • 1x Kensington lock slot
Size 12.7" x 9" x 0.6"
(323 x 229 x 15mm)
13.1" x 8.9" x 0.8"
(333 x 226 x 21mm)
Weight 2.9 pounds (1.3kg) 3.5 pounds (1.6kg)
Warranty 1 year limited 1 year limited
Extras Fingerprint reader,
720P camera
Fingerprint reader (in touchpad),
720P camera
Price as tested $378 at Amazon and Walmart $350 at Walmart

Acer Swift 1 SF114-32

  • Thankfully, the off-putting dingy yellow POST logo isn't in your face for long—the Swift 1 cold boots to the desktop in about 11 seconds. Jim Salter
  • We found the keyboard pretty unremarkable. It makes maximal use of the Swift 1's chassis, so it doesn't feel too cramped—but we already know some of you will hate the compressed arrow key layout. Jim Salter
  • DC barrel jack, full-size HDMI out, USB-C, 2x USB 3.0 type-A. Jim Salter
  • SD card slot, 3.5mm audio combo jack, USB 2.0 type-A, power and HDD LEDs, Kensington lock slot. Jim Salter
  • If you want to get into the Swift 1, you'll need a set of Torx bits. But there's no reason to bother, unless you're replacing the battery—or, we guess, the Wi-Fi—since everything else is soldered to the board. Jim Salter
  • Once you (very carefully, due to the thin aluminum side panels) lift off the back panel, there's not much to look at—no active cooling, and no sockets either, except for the Wi-Fi. Jim Salter

We didn't actually intend to test or review the Swift 1—we ordered a Walmart Motile 14, with a Ryzen 5 processor for only $350. But Walmart has an unfortunate tendency to just throw in any similar product when it runs low on stock, and the Swift 1 is what got sent in its place—with no notification, either by email or in our account at Walmart.com, and no paperwork in the box either.

There's only a 30-day return/exchange window on laptops at Walmart, but Things Came Up, and we didn't open the box until after that window had shut. Discovering that our Ryzen 5 laptop had magically turned into a Pentium Silver (roughly Celeron-class) laptop and there wasn't anything we could do about, it did not spark joy… but it is still an under-$400 laptop, and we're here to test and review cheap laptops, right?

Physically, the Swift 1 strongly resembles a lower-end Chromebook. It's not particularly lightweight, but it's quite slender, and its silver-skinned good looks are unassuming. On the plus side, it has a metallic chassis, not plastic; on the minus side, that chassis is extremely thin and very easily bent up. When we disassembled the Swift 1, despite being extremely careful and using a soft plastic spudger, we still bent the right side a little bit while getting the back panel off.

The best feature of the Swift 1 is its fast boot times—you can expect a cold boot to get to the Windows 10 desktop in around 11 seconds, including POST. Unfortunately, the high performance ends there—the Swift 1's Pentium Silver CPU, 4GiB RAM, and 64GB eMMC storage combine for a pretty lackluster experience.

Everything on the Swift 1—with the exception of the battery and the Wi-Fi chipset—is soldered on, unrepairable, and un-upgradeable. What you buy is what you get, and it works until it breaks.

Gateway GWTN141-2

  • We've got to give EVOO credit for one thing—they nailed the Gateway branding with that wallpaper. Jim Salter
  • We have a feeling some of you will be excited about that uncompressed arrow key layout. Jim Salter
  • The fingerprint reader on the Gateway is built into the touchpad—this was a new one on us. Note the dark square in the upper left. Jim Salter
  • Kensington lock slot, DC barrel jack, USB 3.0 Type-A, full-size HDMI out, USB Type-C. Jim Salter
  • SD card slot, 3.5mm audio combo jack, USB 3.0 Type-A. Jim Salter
  • Behold, a mystery panel! It looks pointless at first glance, but there's actually an M.2 slot under there at the top. I think I'd rather pull the whole back off than try to mess around in that tiny panel though. Jim Salter
  • The Gateway is very easy to disassemble; just Philips screws and pop things loose. The plastic chassis felt sturdy enough to survive quite a few disassemblings. Jim Salter
  • Looking a little closer, we see an active cooling system, an empty DDR4 DIMM slot, an occupied M.2 NVMe slot, an empty M.2 SATA slot, and an unfortunately soldered Realtek Wi-Fi chipset. Jim Salter
  • On the left, we see the currently empty M.2 slot, which is silkscreened as SATA only. By contrast, the occupied M.2 (with the C: drive in it) is silkscreened PCIE/SATA. Jim Salter

We went into testing the GWTN141-2 with a mixture of excitement and trepidation—on paper, a Ryzen 3200U system for $350 is a great deal. But in practice, we'd discovered that the new Gateway line is—like the horrid $140 EVOO EV-C-116-5—manufactured by Shenzhen Bmorn Technology and imported by EVOO.

We're happy to say that the GWTN141-2 is not a repeat of the EV-C-116-5's story. The Gateway's Ryzen 3 3200U CPU was not limited by substandard thermals or factory underclocking, and it performs as you'd expect from looking at public leaderboards. The Gateway offers an even faster cold boot than the Swift—we timed it at eight seconds from power button to Windows desktop.

Continuing the Gateway's tale of "Hey! Not bad," the 128GB SSD might be an odd Chinese brand you've never heard of, but it's a real M.2 NVMe SSD which can be replaced or upgraded. Although the 4GiB RAM the system comes with is soldered to the board, there's an empty DIMM slot available. There's even an empty M.2 SATA-only slot, with an easy-access panel for that slot on the back.

The only real flies in the GWTN141-2's ointment are its cheap plastic chassis and its equally cheap Realtek 8821CE Wi-Fi.

The plastic used for the chassis is noticeably softer than you might expect for a laptop; it feels more like a kid's toy than a real computer, and it even felt slightly tacky to the touch on first unboxing. (Your mileage may vary, here—it bothered me, but the Spousal Opinion was "Whatever, it's fine.") On the plus side, the plastic chassis felt sturdy enough to survive plenty of disassembly and reassembly, unlike the Swift 1's razor-thin aluminum side panels.

The Realtek Wi-Fi is serviceable if slow under Windows, but it will cause severe headaches for anyone wanting to install Linux—and unlike most of the GWTN141-2's gear, it's soldered to the board and not replaceable.

Performance

  • Passmark CPU testing demonstrates just how much air there is between these four laptop models—the $650 Swift 3, the $350 Gateway and Swift 1, and the $140 EVOO. Jim Salter
  • We're not really used to seeing big differences between single-threaded Passmark scores. The near-doubling of Swift 1's score by the Gateway is worth sitting up and noticing. Jim Salter
  • Cinebench R20 tells roughly the same story Passmark did—namely, the Gateway's Ryzen 3 3200U is far more CPU than the Swift 1's Pentium Silver N5000. Jim Salter
  • Once again, we see big air between these laptop models, even on single-threaded tests. Notice the EVOO has dropped out of the race entirely at this point. Jim Salter
  • Geekbench 5, as usual, flattens the differences between CPUs noticeably more than either Passmark or Cinebench. We believe Passmark and Cinebench serve as far references for the difference between Gateway's Ryzen 3200U and Swift 1's Pentium Silver. Jim Salter
  • Geekbench 5 continues the trend of showing big air on single-threaded benchmarks between these laptops. Jim Salter
  • Gateway's "Netac" 128GB SSD isn't very impressive by NVMe standards, but it crushes Acer's soldered-on 64GB eMMC without breaking a sweat. Jim Salter

The stars of our show today are, of course, Acer's $378 Swift 1 SF114-32 and Gateway's $350 GWTN141-2. But for reference, we're throwing in a couple of spoilers—Acer's $650 Swift 3 SF314-42, and EVOO's unspeakable $140 EV-C-116-5 doorstop.

We think it's important to relate the Swift 1 and the Gateway not only to one another, but also to a "real laptop." We also think it's instructive to compare the Swift 1, in particular, to the EVOO—because the gap between the two underscores the fact that the Swift 1, though no match in performance for the Gateway, is—for the most part—a usable laptop.

With that said, we find it difficult to recommend the Swift 1 over the Gateway. Although the Gateway's older Ryzen 3 CPU is no match for this year's Renoirs, it's still no slouch—and it absolutely dominates the Swift 1's Pentium Silver N5000. Gaming workloads will bring the 3200U to its knees, but there was never a time we felt like rolling our eyes and saying "ugh" at the Gateway during normal desktop or Web-based use.

The Swift 1's Pentium Silver N5000 is an entirely different beast, designed for maximum electrical and thermal efficiency with everything else left to go hang. It's roughly half the speed of the 3200U in most tests—but it gets by with entirely passive cooling, and the battery life is frankly pretty crazy. In most use, the Swift 1 struck us as reasonably responsive—but unfortunately, it's not hard to find Web-based workloads in which it struggles.

Specifically, the Swift 1 choked badly on Facebook's new layout. Attempting to type a short paragraph about electrical connections resulted in text buffering—leaving us to watch as it "typed" itself out, character by laborious character, for another couple of minutes. To be fair, this is more about Facebook sucking than about the Swift 1—but also to be fair, a lot of people will expect to use Facebook on their new laptop.

  • We have to stress that the Gateway is absolutely no gaming laptop—it turns in a Time Spy score only a third of the Swift 3's, and the Swift 3 itself is only a budget laptop. But the Swift 1 can't even run the test. Jim Salter
  • The less-demanding Night Raid tells roughly the same story—the Gateway gets a third the Swift 3's score, while the Swift 1 fails to complete the test. Jim Salter

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