Framework's Modular Laptop : Discuss!

I’ve just watched Tested’s very recent interview with the CEO of Framework. They are now releasing a fully modular laptop that not only ticks all the right boxes (repairable, open-source, etc…) but also manages to look just as cool as a Surface Laptop. And it’s not even expensive.

I strongly suggest you watch the video, there are many other interesting features such as :

  • Install your own OS
  • User-customizable USB ports (even with the laptop on)
  • Plans for a used parts marketplace
  • No f$*#-ing glue !

This is almost too good to be true. Take every anti-repair thing Apple and Microsoft have been doing and go the opposite direction, that’s the laptop you’ll end-up at.

Still, it does seem too good to be true… so what do you guys think ? I’m seriously considering this as my next laptop. I’m surprised there doesn’t seem to be a thread about this laptop already.

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The recessed trackpad kills it for me a bit, but I guess having it flush would require it being built into the palm rest assembly.

I pre-ordered one in the first batch, and will report in on it. I went with the DIY. I already have RAM and an SSD, so I left those out. With 2 USB-A, 2 USB-C, and an HDMI (I may add on flash storage and a display port, just for testing), it came to $813 or something like that.

They are testing it with Fedora and Ubuntu primarily, although I’ll probably run openSUSE on it. They are planning on using LVFS which is really exciting and means Linux will be pretty much a first class citizen. They aren’t expecting Linux support for the fingerprint reader at launch, however.

The biggest downside for me is that the mainboard and CPU are tied together, and that there appears to be no way to add a GPU to this chassis (I expect the cooling would never be modular for that). Obviously these are physical limitations - short of a giant Clevo, you aren’t going to get that. I’m also hoping for Ryzen chips because of obvious power and thermals reasons.

One thing I’m very excited about is having multiple OS on 250 GB flash memory, and use the internal M.2 as a home folder or storage folder. That would theoretically make it super easy to dual boot by just swapping out the flash memory module (similar to how you can roll SD cards in the PinePhone).

EDIT: One big question mark is also whether they will get Thunderbolt certification for the ports. The “internal” ports are all USB 4 already .

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Interesting point. I hadn’t noticed while watching the video. I’ve gone back and checked all my laptops and it turns out I’ve never had one with a flush trackpad. Is that a Mac thing ? What machine are you using ?

I think the closest to flush I got is my Surface Pro 4 : the trackpad is maybe 0.5 mm lower than the palm rest (probably the thickness of the Alcantara). It’s never bothered me but I think that’s because I’ve always used the pen or my finger or a mouse.

I wonder : if the pad is flush, doesn’t your finger sometimes slide off it and you don’t notice ? Or is the material different under your finger ?

Anyway, this leads me to notice there’s no touchscreen option. Although the display is replaceable too so it might happen, down the line.

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I’m looking forward to your report !

Regarding the GPU, I must say I have no idea how good that “Iris Xe graphics” thing is. I guess they could add a modular GPU if this was a larger machine, at least a 15’’. I’ve had a Dell XPS 17 with discrete graphics, that felt like the right size to fit a dGPU. 13.5’’ is so tiny ! :sweat_smile:

If I were to design such a machine, I think I’d leave a cutout in the bottom of the chassis where the GPU card goes, so that it can use a thicker heatsink with better access to outside air. Either that or find a way to use the chassis as the heatsink.

I’m not up to date on USB (who is ? :sweat_smile:) Do you mean that USB 4 is Thunderbolt-compatible ?

I like the modular connectors, though they seem to have limited the concept to passive pass-through connectors. I hope in the future they design PCMCIA-style peripherals like an Ethernet NIC. This could become the first laptop with multiple NIC’s.

In theory, yes. It still needs to be certified by whatever the body is that certifies Thunderbolt (I can’t remember offhand who does that). They currently do not have the certification. But on the hardware level, everything is there, to my knowledge.

They are planning an ethernet adapter, although it will protrude slightly from the chassis is my understanding. They are also planning a DAC adapter, and an Arduino (or some other micro-controller) adapter. Having integrated GPIO would be amazing. (The source on these is from their CEO in a HN thread on pre-orders being available).

Ooh boy, that would totally be a selling point for me and for half my friends :grin:

Current laptop is a Macbook, but was the same on the XPS 15 and 12 before that, and the HP DM1 before that. Even the HP G70 I had in like 2009 had it integrated into the palmrest, but the rest itself was recessed.

There’s still enough of a lip there to be noticeable, even without a texture change. Fingers are pretty sensitive. On the the HP DM1, it was just a texture change.

This is another thing that puts me off. A single piece of glass would be lovely, but again, that would mean replacing the entire assembly.

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Not sure what you mean by “assembly”. The bezel is held by magnets and gives access to the display, which the CEO made a point of explaining you can replace without taking off the whole lid.

For a different project, years ago, I found laptop-size eDP panels that have a touchscreen already laminated on. eDP carries USB, IIRC, and that’s what’s used to interface the touch sensor.

Which reminds me, I need to check what the display interface is on this laptop. eDP makes the most sense in this application, but LVDS is still prevalent.

That lol

Main problem would be securing to the lid while having a display without a bezel ontop. Normally it would be glued, but the could potentially have it screw into the lid from the hinge side, with lips holding it in at the top. Would mean more money though, and I’m sure the target audience don’t actually care about this at all haha

I don’t get what you’re saying. I’ve worked with a lot of LCD panels, you can mount them very easily without glue. All except the thinnest (smartphone) have a thin metal frame with threaded holes for that very purpose. Most laptop manufacturers use thin sheet metal to adapt from those threaded holes to whatever structural component is in the laptop’s lid. In some cases it’s actually a thinner assembly than using glue.

It would be more expensive than glue, though… by several whole cents :wink:

On the contrary. This is evidently aimed at the “right to repair” crowd. Ask Louis Rossmann if he prefers glue over screws :sweat_smile:

I know I hate glue. Except thread-locker, in rare exceptions. Too permanent and too messy.

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What is your concern with this? Thickness? The dimensions are public, I believe it’s the same size as a MacBook Pro

Purely aesthetic

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I love this idea, and I would happily make this my principal business machine.

Eagerly await your comments.

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Perhaps not immediately. This is their very first product, there might be some kinks. On the plus side, however, if one of its modules has a design issue, you won’t need to replace the whole laptop.

Once it’s mature, it’ll make a TON of sense for businesses, though. I’ve just had this notion pop up in my head : imagine you’re a company’s IT department and you have a fleet of hundreds of laptops, maybe thousands. You might be able to recycle laptops ad-infinitum.

Basically, every new employee, temp, consultant, etc… might get a laptop that looks brand new even though its innards might have been used many times already. You could get a new keyboard which is quite a sanitary “plus”… something the crap we all know ends-up in keyboards.

Plus, since you can remove storage easily, you don’t have to worry about data from a previous user still present in a laptop when you re-issue it to someone else. In sensitive industries there’s actually a requirement to track HDD’s and SSD’s from first deployment all the way to physical destruction.

When the storage is soldered to the device, that means you need to destroy the whole device. And that’s why you never see machines like a Surface Pro in an actual business setting even though the price isn’t a problem at all.

If modular laptops were to go mainstream, there would be plenty of big, unexpected markets. I believe the guys at Framework are betting precisely on that.

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When it comes to laptops, that does matter. I still remember the first time a brand (maybe Apple) decided to put its logo on the lid upside-down so that we you open the laptop, people in front of you see the logo right-side-up. They wrote articles about that back in the 90’s.

I think Framework should have a nice logo on their lids that makes it clear that the owner is “not a big fan of planned obsolescence” :grin:

EDIT : it’s come back to me, it was not Apple who came up with the upside-down lid logo, it was Sony, back when were making those sexay, sexay VAIO laptops. And if you remember those, the VAIO logo was sometimes the size of the entire lid AND had LED backlight.

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Maybe. I’d chance it. I’ve got a history of early adopting new tech, even in production.

I’m kind of an idiot.

This is EXACTLY what I was thinking. I’ve been infrastructure manager, I’ve managed the fleet of hundreds of machines. This would have saved me SO much time money and pain. Especially if Framework are supportive of this kind of chopping and changing of parts, and I will be absolutely gobsmacked if they’re not.

Dell used to sell parts kits at scale - i bet Framework will. Mobos, keyboards, trackpads etc.

This is potentially the perfect fleet machine.

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A truly modular laptop cross vendor standard would be invaluable for government, large educational & very large enterprise who could set requirements to tender for larger volume purchases.

  • Set the size of screen to be A4 paper size plus border/frame for tablets and laptops and A3 paper size plus border/frame for all in one.
  • Create a combination lightweight A4 sized chromebook/style low power CPU tablet with standardised pogo-plug to laptop base for external power/hdmi/touchscreen/network/filesync.
  • Most CPU intensive tasks are done with the CPU and OS in the base laptop.
  • Important directories in Laptop/Tablet units are git archive style file synced when connected, greatly mitigating document/file loss.
  • Have both Tablet and Base/AIO unit be able to KVM into each other remotely over the network if there is a problem. Given that either unit will be running different CPUs and OSs then is a very good chance of fixing any faulty software remotely and provide remote support without needing to grant admin level access.

Awesome thoughts, but I will make a couple of observations just for devil’s advocacy and for my own thoughts:

This will only work for the UK an Europe. Our friends in the United States and associated areas will expect the “Letter” format, and inch standard.

That said, an A4 standard screen is an amazing idea in principle. Not sure if endusers would 100% benefit from it outside of graphics types.

Theoretically this already exists. I haven’t done any unit testing, but I would expect if you had a suitably power efficient device, but windows 10 in S mode should yield lower power consumption.
It also works on ARM, so as W10 ARM develops this could be a dream combination for that ultra low power experience.

Are you talking about for charging the device, or for connecting elements of the device?
For charging, I would argue this already exists in the form of USB-PD. Particularly with the 240w standard just around the corner.

I would argue most organisations, including government ones in the UK, Europe, and the United States are going to achieve this with M365, Gsuite or similar. Git, Syncthing etc might be acceptable solutions for organizations and individuals on this forum, but I think most government, corporate and NGO types are going to want the sort of management infrastructure afforded by M365.

I deliver this sort of service for a living, and you wouldn’t (or maybe you would!) believe the sort of documentation I have to produce just for utterly trivial solutions.

Like some kind of key exchange / key signing thing? Add my laptop and my tablet and my phone to the “Device manager” and they have keys etc?

That’s a good idea, and could also help with theft management: Laptop has been stolen so login on phone and mark it so, all its keys are revoked and it can’t be used anymore.

Edit: I mean that it can’t be used with YOUR data - ie can’t access your phone and tablet, is dropped out of “Cloud Services A through B” etc
Edit of the Edit: I am presuming Intune / RMS will handle the corporate data

Good on them for the reparability. If they exist long enough to actually sell upgraded mainboards, great!

But I am not a fan of the “modularity”, as that seems to mostly mean their USB-C modules.
I can see very niche use-cases, yes. But all other cases of standardized ports would be solved better by dropping the modularity.
In the space they need for 2 of their modules you could easily fit 2 USB-C Ports and a USB-A or HDMI port, maybe even all 4.
Swapping storage as a module (in proprietary casing) also seems quite specialized and would make more sense to me as small M.2 slot on a notebook so optimized for teardowns.

On the other hand, my current notebook only has USB-C ports, so clearly I do not see a great need for legacy ports anyway…

Sad thing is, if they actually want to develop upgradeable boards, this incentivizes not changing the IO on future models, because it most likely would break compatibility or require multiple SKUs just for rare upgrades of existing models.

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