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The great ultraportable notebook shootout (2021 edition)

By Kenny Yeo - 24 Jul 2021

Performance analysis & battery life

Benchmarking the notebooks

Most of these notebooks are powered by Intel's latest Tiger Lake processors.

With the exception of the Huawei MateBook 14, the rest of the notebooks are powered by Intel’s new Tiger Lake processor. Additionally, it’s worth mentioning the MSI Prestige 14 Evo is the only one that comes with the more powerful Core i7-1185G7 variant – the others have the more standard Core i7-1165G7.

The notebooks will be tested using the following benchmarks and applications:

  • PCMark 10
  • Cinebench R23
  • Geekbench 5
  • WebXPRT 3
  • 3DMark
  • Tomb Raider

Here’s a quick recap at how the notebooks stack up against each other:

Model Display Processor Memory Storage Graphics Price
Acer Swift 5 14-inch, Full-HD, touchscreen Intel Core i7-1165G7 16GB 1TB SSD Intel Iris Xe S$2,298
ASUS ZenBook 14 Ultralight 14-inch, Full-HD Intel Core i7-1165G7 16GB 1TB SSD NVIDIA GeForce MX450 S$2,398
Dell XPS 13 13.4-inch, 4K+, touchscreen Intel Core i7-1165G7 16GB 512GB SSD Intel Iris Xe S$2,599
Huawei MateBook 14 AMD 14-inch, 2160 x 1440 pixels AMD Ryzen 5 4600H 16GB 512GB SSD AMD Radeon Vega 6 S$1,298
Lenovo Yoga Slim 7i Carbon 13.3-inch, 2560 x 1600 pixels Intel Core i7-1165G7 16GB 512GB SSD Intel Iris Xe S$1,999
LG gram 14 14-inch, Full-HD+ Intel Core i7-1165G7 16GB 512GB SSD Intel Iris Xe S$2,299
MSI Prestige 14 Evo 14-inch, Full-HD Intel Core i7-1185G7 16GB 512GB SSD Intel Iris Xe S$2,349
Razer Book 13 13.4-inch, 4K+, touchscreen Intel Core i7-1165G7 16GB 512GB SSD Intel Iris Xe S$3,299

Now then, what to make of this deluge of numbers and graphs? Despite most of these notebooks having very similar specifications, the numbers can vary quite wildly. There’s an explanation for this: manufacturers have the freedom to set thermal thresholds for their products. What this means is that even though two notebooks might have the same processor, notebook A might be quicker than notebook B if only because its maker decided to let it run hotter for longer. This also explains why cooling solutions matter. All in all, the tests should give readers a good idea of which notebook performs best.

The standout performer was the Acer Swift 5. It came in first in most of the benchmarks and its all-round performance was very good. Also commendable is the Lenovo Yoga Slim 7i Carbon which wasn’t far off the pace. What’s remarkable about these two notebooks is how they were able to maintain consistent numbers even when taxed. Look at how consistent their frame rates were in Tomb Raider compared to rivals.

Also impressive was the Huawei MateBook 14 AMD. It may only have a Ryzen 5 processor but its overall performance was mostly competitive (alright, graphics performance was lacking) especially when you remember that it’s the most affordable notebook by a considerable margin. 

If any notebook’s performance could be described as disappointing then it would be the MSI Prestige 14 Evo. Maybe MSI was being conservative but its performance did not commensurate with the fact that it is equipped with, what’s on paper, the most powerful processor. Fortunately, raw performance alone does not make a good ultraportable notebook so let’s take a look now at battery life.


Battery life

Note: Battery tests were conducted using PCMark 10's battery benchmark with display set to 100% brightness.

The battery lives of these new notebooks were generally quite good. Even with their displays at maximum brightness and running a multitude of tasks, most of them managed to last well over 6 hours. 

The standout performers were the Acer Swift 5 and LG gram 14. The Swift 5’s long battery life is even more impressive when you consider the fact that it doesn’t have the largest battery. Looking at the power consumption figures, we can see that it sips power at a very remarkable rate. The only other notebook that comes close enough to match its efficiency was the Lenovo Yoga Slim 7i Carbon. The Lenovo would have lasted longer if only it had a larger battery – its 50Wh battery is the smallest of the bunch. 

Another takeaway from this test is how the display affects power efficiency. In the Modern Office workload, the most power-hungry notebooks were often those with high-resolution displays. The Razer Book 13, which has a bright 4K display, consumed battery at a rate that was easily double those of other notebooks with Full-HD displays. Having said that, credit must be given to the Dell XPS 13 for keeping power consumption reasonable even if it also has a 4K display. The Lenovo Yoga Slim 7i Carbon also deserves a mention. It has a QHD resolution display but it was still one of the most power-efficient notebooks.

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