Laptops these days are slimmer, sleeker, and lighter than ever—but their repairability and configurability are taking enormous hits in the process. Framework is seeking to roll back the clock in a good way with its first product, the upcoming Framework 13.5-inch laptop.
Following the lead of companies like Fairphone, the startup is focused on respecting users’ right to repair by building systems focused on modular design, with components that are easily configured, replaced, and even upgraded.
Not some massive block
Although Framework’s raison d’être revolves around modularity, the company clearly understands that it can’t sacrifice sleek, lightweight design if it wants to maintain a wide appeal. It describes its first product, the upcoming Framework laptop, as “similar to a Dell XPS… thin, not some massive block.” The early product shots and specifications seem to bear that out:
- 13.5-inch 3:2 screen @ 2256×1504
- 1.3kg (2.9lb) milled aluminum chassis
- 15.9mm thick
- configurable Intel Tiger Lake (11th gen) CPU
- configurable Wi-Fi up to Wi-Fi 6E
- configurable RAM up to 64GiB DDR4
- configurable NVMe storage “4TB or more”
- 1080p webcam @ 60fps
- 57Wh battery
Framework’s off-the-cuff comparison seems pretty reasonable, with specs equivalent to or slightly better than those available on Dell’s XPS 13. It is 0.1kg heavier and 1.1mm thicker than the XPS 13—but we don’t think that’s going to be a deal breaker for most people.
You can go a long way toward making a laptop repairable by simply including standard sockets rather than soldering everything down to the board. I’ve been personally frustrated with the latter practice many times this year—soldered components not only prevent you from repairing laptops when they fail, but in many cases, they stop you from even configuring machines as you’d prefer.
Framework pledges to do away with all of that—specifications, product shots, and even video shared with us in confidence show easily accessible sockets for RAM, storage, and Wi-Fi. The company also pledges to offer future motherboard swaps to allow for upgrading the CPU without replacing the entire laptop—although frankly, we’re a bit extra-skeptical about that claim until we see it in action; it’s difficult to predict how physical layouts and thermal needs will change with entire future hardware generations.
Beyond the standard sockets we used to expect from laptops, Framework will introduce the concept of configurable external ports. Instead of building the chassis with a specific port layout, the machine has been designed with four bays that fit what the company is calling “Expansion Cards”—these offer USB-C, USB-A, HDMI, DisplayPort, microSD, and even 3.5mm headphone ports. With this system, users will be able to decide for themselves not only what ports they need but which side of the laptop to put them on.
Finally, the company pledges to make the Framework laptop user-serviceable by focusing on ease of replacement—and availability—of frequently replaced parts, including battery, screen, keyboard, and bezel. The company also pledges to open up its hardware ecosystem to third parties, which will be able to design, build, and sell compatible modules via a Framework Marketplace.
Too good to be true?
Framework is promising an awful lot in its very first product—”thin as an XPS 13, repairable as a custom-built gaming PC” is a pretty tall order to live up to. We very much want to believe, but it’s going to take a full Ars Technica teardown before we’re completely convinced.
Although we’re skeptical, we are hopeful—the fledgling company does have a pretty solid pedigree. Framework founder Nirav Patel was Oculus VR’s head of hardware from 2012 to 2017, and he was a Facebook director of engineering beyond that. The company’s team also includes design, engineering, and operations people hailing from Apple, Google, and Lenovo.
The Framework laptop is expected to become widely available this summer—and a company representative promised us a hands-on review unit as soon as one becomes available.