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)|
|128GB NVMe M.2
2×2 Wi-Fi 5, Bluetooth 5.0
1×1 Wi-Fi 5, Bluetooth 4.2
|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|
|Fingerprint reader (in touchpad),
|Price as tested||$378 at Amazon and Walmart||$350 at Walmart|
Acer Swift 1 SF114-32
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.
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.
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.