The Framework Laptop is the latest attempt at a true modular laptop

nanoguy

Posts: 721   +12
Staff member
Something to look forward to: In a sea of laptops that are becoming less upgradeable or repairable every year, a small company called Framework is trying to carve a new niche with a work laptop that offers a lot of customization options and is partially made of recycled aluminum and plastic. Here's to hoping they decide to make a gaming laptop in the future.

One of the major complaints about laptops introduced in the last few years has been that manufacturers are almost always prioritizing thin and light designs over upgradeability and repairability. Many PC laptops still have replaceable and/or upgradeable components like RAM and SSD storage, but in the case of MacBook owners these are all soldered to the logic board, while other things like the battery and Touch Bar are tricky even for repair professionals to deal with.

In the smartphone land, consumers have to deal with a similar phenomenon, but there are some companies like Pine64 and Fairphone that push back against the current with repairable, modular, and even eco-friendly designs. This week, a startup called Framework announced a laptop built on similar principles, with components that are easy for users to replace or upgrade as needed.

The new laptop comes with a 13.5-inch, 3:2 ratio display with a resolution of 2256 by 1504 pixels and over 400 nits of brightness. Its components are housed inside an aluminum chassis that is a hair under 16 mm thick, for a total weight of up to 2.9 lbs (1.3 kg). You can configure it with one of three 11th-gen Intel Tiger Lake processors with Xe integrated graphics -- i5-1135G7, i7-1165G7, or i7-1185G7 -- and up to a Wi-Fi 6E module for wireless connectivity.

The CPU is the one notable component that can't be replaced as it's designed as a BGA package that's soldered onto the motherboard. However, the Framework team says it will release new motherboards in the future when newer CPUs come out, so theoretically that shouldn't be that big of a problem. And thanks to the lessons learned with the Alienware Area-51m R1, it's ultimately up to Intel to make things easier in that department.

You can pair the processor with up to two 32 GB DDR4-3200 RAM modules for a total of 64 GB, and for storage you can configure up to a spacious, 4TB M.2 2280 NVMe SSD. The slot supports four-lane PCIe 4.0 drives, so you can install any of the fastest consumer SSDs out there.

For connectivity, the Framework team came up with a nifty solution to the USB-C transition -- the four ports are recessed into the case to allow the installation of whatever ports you need for your use case via removable modules. Since these connect through USB-C, you can probably lend them to a friend or colleague in need of a USB-A, HDMI, microSD slot, DisplayPort, and even a headphone jack. This system also allows you to choose which side those ports are on, which can come in handy more often that you'd imagine.

The screen is also replaceable, as is the magnetically-attached bezel that houses the 1080p webcam and microphone with physical privacy switches for both. The keyboard offers a 1.5 mm key travel, and you can choose a localized version if needed. Powering all the components in the Framework laptop is a 55 Wh battery that is also user-replaceable, as it's not glued to the case.

The Framework team plans to offer this laptop with Windows 10 or Linux, starting this summer. There's no pricing information yet, but we do know it will also be offered as a "DIY" kit for those of you who want to assemble the laptop yourselves. As for the many user-replaceable parts, they'll be available in the Framework marketplace, which will be open to third party sellers of components.

Permalink to story.

 

VitalyT

Posts: 5,442   +4,960
It would have to be dirt-cheap to pick up any interest.

When people want a premium all-in-one, hardware + OS, nicely packed, with a blue ribbon, they go for Macbook Pro. When you want something on the opposite end of the spectrum - very cheap and expandable, you can get Raspberry Pi. There isn't much in between however, I don't see people buying a laptop constructor, unless it is incredibly cheap, which it probably won't be. I mean, do you really want to spend more more than $100 on something that will give more headache than function?

The bottom line, modern production lines for laptops are incredibly high-tech. Which means that whatever you put together yourself, by hand, is gonna be flimsy as hell, to the point when you won't enjoy using it.
 
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Theinsanegamer

Posts: 2,334   +3,316
Honestly this isnt any more modular then your typical business notebook, where the battery isnt glued down, the wifi, memory, SSD, camera, screen, and keyboard can be removed. A dell 7390 can have a motherboard replaced in 15 minutes.

When I hear "Modular" laptop, I think the older gaming laptops that had MXM GPUs and socketed CPUs. And perhaps some type fo standardized motherboard layout
 

Reehahs

Posts: 1,149   +780
Honestly this isnt any more modular then your typical business notebook, where the battery isnt glued down, the wifi, memory, SSD, camera, screen, and keyboard can be removed. A dell 7390 can have a motherboard replaced in 15 minutes.

When I hear "Modular" laptop, I think the older gaming laptops that had MXM GPUs and socketed CPUs. And perhaps some type fo standardized motherboard layout

Or squeeze components inside in a desktop style manner.
 

Avro Arrow

Posts: 1,033   +1,160
TechSpot Elite
For me, the problem isn't about the difficulty involved (although it may be a big chunk for many). I've changed the motherboard of an OLD craptop before which basically meant rebuilding the thing but it worked and I was able to take my Acer Llano-based craptop apart to change the thermal paste on the exposed die.

The problem is a lack of standardised parts that are made by several different manufacturers all competing with each other. I mean, sure, this craptop may be modular but at the end of the day, if I only have one source for replacement parts (the OEM), then the biggest point of having a modular computer is lost, be it desktop, craptop, etc. because I can guarantee you that the cost of the parts will make it not worth it. What do you do if you want a new case?

The idea is great but the reason that it never caught on is because it didn't have a single incredibly dominant player with god-like power such as IBM enforcing the use of standardised parts in the same way that the desktop market did. IBM's insistence on the use of open architecture and standards is what gave rise to the clone industry and the home-built parts industry. Just try and think of another computer type that has this kind of versatility. The x86-based desktop computer has become as customisable as the automobile with a plethora of "aftermarket" parts made by several huge corporations.

Until that kind of ecosystem is created for the craptop, it will remain the craptop that we all know and some love. :D
 

sreams

Posts: 117   +185
It would have to be dirt-cheap to pick up any interest.

When people want a premium all-in-one, hardware + OS, nicely packed, with a blue ribbon, they go for Macbook Pro. When you want something on the opposite end of the spectrum - very cheap and expandable, you can get Raspberry Pi. There isn't much in between however, I don't see people buying a laptop constructor, unless it is incredibly cheap, which it probably won't be. I mean, do you really want to spend more more than $100 on something that will give more headache than function?

The bottom line, modern production lines for laptops are incredibly high-tech. Which means that whatever you put together yourself, by hand, is gonna be flimsy as hell, to the point when you won't enjoy using it.

Not much in between a Macbook Pro and a Raspberry Pi? Neither are very capable gaming machines. Running an ASUS laptop here with a Ryzen 5900HX and RTX 3070. Neither of the machines you listed comes remotely close to being as capable (graphics performance for the highest-end Macbook Pro is about 1/3-1/2 that of laptops equipped with RTX 3xxx GPUs).

Actually... reading back what I just wrote, I suppose you are right. The most capable notebooks are not between your two examples, but rather, outside of / beyond that spectrum.

 

waclark

Posts: 29   +16
It would have to be dirt-cheap to pick up any interest.

When people want a premium all-in-one, hardware + OS, nicely packed, with a blue ribbon, they go for Macbook Pro. When you want something on the opposite end of the spectrum - very cheap and expandable, you can get Raspberry Pi. There isn't much in between however, I don't see people buying a laptop constructor, unless it is incredibly cheap, which it probably won't be. I mean, do you really want to spend more more than $100 on something that will give more headache than function?

The bottom line, modern production lines for laptops are incredibly high-tech. Which means that whatever you put together yourself, by hand, is gonna be flimsy as hell, to the point when you won't enjoy using it.
Why do you assume that it will give more headaches than function? Lots of people have been building PCs at home for years. This could be an evolution of that. The real question is whether the parts will be standard or custom. If they are custom then this has less appeal. On the other hand, if you can get off-the-shelf parts then maybe it has some legs.
 

arrowflash

Posts: 313   +312
I never understood why an ATX-style open standard for laptops where you'd be able to swap CPUs, motherboards, screens and even the cases, with several sources for parts from different manufacturers that would allow enthusiasts to even build custom laptops, has never caught on. I'm pretty sure it's technically viable. Especially when the desktop PC market was also completely builder-locked before the 1990s, with builders using custom-designed motherboards, ram, sometimes even the power supply and hard drive. I used to think this standard would eventually come but it never did.
 

toooooot

Posts: 1,456   +729
Is it so hard to make thinner interface for both dedicated GPUs and cpus for laptops? If we are about less garbage, more recycling, CPUs and GPUs in laptops should be upgradable, even if it is harder and requires more experience.
 

Nobina

Posts: 2,960   +2,729
Most of the popular and desired laptops are soldered-everything, unrepairable and unexpandable meaning there isn't a demand for modular laptops.

Personally, I find things like this interesting more than another flat and boring MacBook without ports designed to appeal to women.
 

waclark

Posts: 29   +16
I never understood why an ATX-style open standard for laptops where you'd be able to swap CPUs, motherboards, screens and even the cases, with several sources for parts from different manufacturers that would allow enthusiasts to even build custom laptops, has never caught on. I'm pretty sure it's technically viable. Especially when the desktop PC market was also completely builder-locked before the 1990s, with builders using custom-designed motherboards, ram, sometimes even the power supply and hard drive. I used to think this standard would eventually come but it never did.
I'm guessing it had to do with cramming all those components into a small case and modularity like a desktop wasn't as feasible. I think we are getting closer now, though we still don't have standard parts you can buy at the electronics store.
 

mrvco

Posts: 117   +109
For me, the problem isn't about the difficulty involved (although it may be a big chunk for many). I've changed the motherboard of an OLD craptop before which basically meant rebuilding the thing but it worked and I was able to take my Acer Llano-based craptop apart to change the thermal paste on the exposed die.

The problem is a lack of standardised parts that are made by several different manufacturers all competing with each other. I mean, sure, this craptop may be modular but at the end of the day, if I only have one source for replacement parts (the OEM), then the biggest point of having a modular computer is lost, be it desktop, craptop, etc. because I can guarantee you that the cost of the parts will make it not worth it. What do you do if you want a new case?

The idea is great but the reason that it never caught on is because it didn't have a single incredibly dominant player with god-like power such as IBM enforcing the use of standardised parts in the same way that the desktop market did. IBM's insistence on the use of open architecture and standards is what gave rise to the clone industry and the home-built parts industry. Just try and think of another computer type that has this kind of versatility. The x86-based desktop computer has become as customisable as the automobile with a plethora of "aftermarket" parts made by several huge corporations.

Until that kind of ecosystem is created for the craptop, it will remain the craptop that we all know and some love. :D

Hard not to imagine you giggling to yourself every time you type 'craptop'.
 

VEGGIM

Posts: 34   +7
Is it so hard to make thinner interface for both dedicated GPUs and cpus for laptops? If we are about less garbage, more recycling, CPUs and GPUs in laptops should be upgradable, even if it is harder and requires more experience.
1 is thickness, 2 is cooling. Each chassis would have to be assumed as the limit is being done. Also no mxm gpu for 3000 series exist yet. And there's not a universal standard for it, its useless. Remember how old gen laptops were a bit hard to open since you couldn't just pull off the back cover for some but you had to open the keyboard area. Also back then socketed mobile prts existed. But they don't exist anymore. only desktop socketed parts. Especially for power consumption. Battery life, goodbye. Most laptops have something with nvidia optimus. No igpu then it wont work.
 
Better than modular ports that you have to swap : having directly the ports on the machine.
1 modular port takes the space of 2 integrated ports.
 

PEnnn

Posts: 599   +566
From article:
"You can configure it with one of three 11th-gen Intel Tiger Lake processors with Xe integrated graphics -- i5-1135G7, i7-1165G7, or i7-1185G7 The CPU is the one notable component that can't be replaced as it's designed as a BGA package that's soldered onto the motherboard."

Also from article: "it's ultimately up to Intel to make things easier in that department."

CPU cannot be replaced, neither the motherboard, and we all know how much Intel loves to have new motherboards each time it gives birth to a new CPU...

So what's left that can be replaced?? Ah yes, RAM and the GPU.....Well, good luck with that "modular" laptop!!


 

dylannnnnn

Posts: 30   +22
From article:
"You can configure it with one of three 11th-gen Intel Tiger Lake processors with Xe integrated graphics -- i5-1135G7, i7-1165G7, or i7-1185G7 The CPU is the one notable component that can't be replaced as it's designed as a BGA package that's soldered onto the motherboard."

Also from article: "it's ultimately up to Intel to make things easier in that department."

CPU cannot be replaced, neither the motherboard, and we all know how much Intel loves to have new motherboards each time it gives birth to a new CPU...

So what's left that can be replaced?? Ah yes, RAM and the GPU.....Well, good luck with that "modular" laptop!!

I get the feeling you didn't bother to read the whole article....
 

arrowflash

Posts: 313   +312
I'm guessing it had to do with cramming all those components into a small case and modularity like a desktop wasn't as feasible. I think we are getting closer now, though we still don't have standard parts you can buy at the electronics store.

I think it's been feasible for a long time, at least since the mid 2000s which is when I expected tech like this would surface. Of course laptops following this standard would (and will) probably be a bit bulkier and heavier than vendor-locked designs, and like others pointed out, building one would probably be more difficult and require more experience and care than building a desktop...

But the possibilities are amazing and maybe even more interesting than custom desktops. Say for example, you want a laptop that can be used for days without recharging and it doesn't have to be powerful - you just build it with the most power-saving components you can, together with the beefiest battery in the market. Or on the contrary, you just want a powerful desktop replacement to save space that won't be moved around, you could build a laptop without even adding a battery.
 

amghwk

Posts: 1,004   +917
I still remember during the early days of Dell online-only custom laptop purchasing, we were given huge amount of choices. Almost every part can be changed or upgraded. We were almost spoilt for choices. Only money was the limiting factor.

Nowadays...sigh...even if you have moderate amount of money, you can't have it the way you like.
 

Avro Arrow

Posts: 1,033   +1,160
TechSpot Elite
Is it so hard to make thinner interface for both dedicated GPUs and cpus for laptops? If we are about less garbage, more recycling, CPUs and GPUs in laptops should be upgradable, even if it is harder and requires more experience.
I would even go so far as to say, I don't care if a craptop weighs double what some of these "thin as paper" (as I like to call them) craptops weigh, I'd be much happier with a larger craptop that I could swap parts out of (including an easy-to-change display) because that would definitely save environmental-wise.

My ASUS craptop is much thinner than my old Acer and I was impressed with how light it is but at the same time, who cares? It's not like my acer from 2012 was exactly heavy. Carrying it around with one hand was effortless. With my ASUS, it's so light that it could fall out of my hand and I might not even notice. I think that you'd agree that these thin as paper craptops just aren't worth the hassle of getting them serviced. It's like owning a BMW in which half the car must come off just to change the radiator while a Honda's rad just slides up and out with two bolts on the rad restraining brackets holding it in. I'll take the Honda any day.
 

trents

Posts: 18   +3
As one who had built his own desktops for many years, I welcome this concept. And I have a feeling that in time a third party market for components compatible with this system would develop if the parent company's offering became popular enough. I like the idea of having control over what goes into my machine. I don't care a hoot about thinner and lighter beyond a certain point and thinner and lighter has made it impossible to replace components with better ones. A classic example is that almost all new laptops you see in Amazon come only with a 256gb SSD. Many people want more storage than that but you're stuck with it if it's soldered to the laptop motherboard in order to make it thinner and lighter.
 

Vladislav

Posts: 17   +4
I get the feeling the Intel reference triggered something in you...
You made series of completely incorrect statements. Obviously the CPU can not be replaced (it is not socketed), but the motherboard can ("will release new motherboards in the future"). No, it it not "only" RAM and GPU that can be replaced (BTW, GPU is not replaceable), try: removable connectivity modules (you can choose which side the ports are on), screen, battery, motherboard, webcam and microphone module, etc. Also the system modules specs will be open to third party sellers of components. Somehow I also get the feeling you didn't bother to read the whole article....
 

PEnnn

Posts: 599   +566
You made series of completely incorrect statements. Obviously the CPU can not be replaced (it is not socketed), but the motherboard can ("will release new motherboards in the future"). No, it it not "only" RAM and GPU that can be replaced (BTW, GPU is not replaceable), try: removable connectivity modules (you can choose which side the ports are on), screen, battery, motherboard, webcam and microphone module, etc. Also the system modules specs will be open to third party sellers of components. Somehow I also get the feeling you didn't bother to read the whole article....

" The CPU is the one notable component that can't be replaced as it's designed as a BGA package that's soldered onto the motherboard. "

So, replacing the motherboard means it'll force you to replace the CPU.

Somehow I also get the feeling you read the whole article....and yet you fail to understand what that means!! Or maybe the word "soldered" is foreign to you....