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Framework Laptop Preview | PCMag

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Manufacturers such as Acer and Asus have been experimenting with radically new laptop layouts (twin screens, or pop-up keyboards and slide-out keyboards) these days, but Framework laptops are completely different. A notebook built on true modularity and component interchangeability. The first iteration of this totally unique machine gave us some hands-on time early on. It won the TechX Award for tackling laptop upgradeability and sustainability in the most aggressive way ever.

Fully focused on easy repair and long-term viability, this 13.5-inch ultra-portable is designed to open from the beginning, replace parts, and be used by owners for years to come. This counters the waste of the environment and the idea that the entire laptop needs to be scrapped or recycled in the event of a partial failure or need for an upgrade. Almost all core components of framework laptops are easily accessible and modifiable.

It may be hard to imagine this, but don’t be afraid. Recorded hands-on sessions to showcase design, module, and component replacement. Check out the video below to see a lot of chat about builds and features, and first impressions …

More details on this unusual and innovative computer can be found below.

Introducing the framework computer

Framework Laptop isn’t from a major manufacturer, but the San Francisco-based company Framework Computer is specifically about this product (unless you know it by name). This concept was born when both the promotion of the “right to repair” (the ability of end users to maintain and upgrade technology purchases rather than disposing of them) and the more environmentally friendly are firmly rooted in the zeitgeist. increase. In fact, just a few weeks before we wrote this, the Biden administration announced a plan for an executive order to address the nasty repair restrictions of certain products, including the type of technology.

(Photo: Molly Flores)

Framework Computer claims that most modern laptops aren’t very suitable for upgrades and are built to be scrapped after years of use, which is bad for both the environment and the consumer. It’s hard to discuss it. At best, some notebooks offer the ability to add or replace RAM or storage, but nonetheless, and most are reserved for larger gaming or workstation-grade models. As parts get older, they can’t really be modified or upgraded like desktop PCs, and most users eventually take over or discard the machine.

(Photo: Molly Flores)

Theoretically, this is not the case for framework laptops designed to allow users to order new parts, have easy access to the interior, and replace what needs to be replaced. What’s more, the chassis is constructed from 50% recycled aluminum and has a fully recyclable package. Weighing only 2.8 lbs, it’s perfect for the Ultra Portable class.

For clarity, laptops are sold with Windows and components and are fully functional to boot. You can choose from three preset models: $ 999 (the framework’s “base” model), $ 1,399 (the “performance” model), and $ 1,999 (the “professional”). The base model includes a Core i5-1135G7 CPU, 8 GB of memory, and 256 GB of storage, and the other models are either of the two flavors of the Core i7 CPU (Core i7-1165G7 or Core i7-1185G7, respectively). Will be. 32GB memory and 1TB storage.

(Photo: Molly Flores)

The display is a 13.5-inch 3: 2 screen with native resolution of 2,256 x 1,504 pixels. The sample is a middle performance configuration with Core i7-1165G7, 16 GB of memory, 512 GB of SSD, and Windows 10 Home.

(Photo: Molly Flores)

You can also buy a DIY version of the framework laptop you need to assemble for $ 749. If you choose this starting point, you can either select individual parts of the order or remove some components from the order and provide your own, then use the option to roll your own operating system, including Linux. , Assemble the kit yourself. Distribution.

Replace everything from ports to parts

Making all laptop components and parts interchangeable is a difficult question, but Framework Computer is dedicated to it. First, on the external chassis side, you can change the bezel frame of the screen to a different color. (The review sample comes with a black frame.) You need to gently pry open the frame. The plastic is flexible and is secured by a strong magnet. Opening the screen 180 degrees flat makes it easier. The hardest part is removing the lower bezel that wraps around the hinge area, but it’s easy enough with care.

(Photo: Molly Flores)

More importantly, the four actual port connections contained in the module can be replaced with the other modules included in the module. For example, you can change the module to switch the USB Type-A port for a USB-C connection, or insert one of the video output options (HDMI or DisplayPort) if you need to connect a different display (although ,Please do not connect). Must always be).

(Photo: Molly Flores) (Photo: Molly Flores)

The chassis has bays for these four modules around the body, leaving the required combination and changing it as needed. These port modules (the framework calls them “expansion cards”) are specialized because they can be manually pulled out of the slots (press the button on the bottom of the laptop to release each pair) and replace in seconds. No knowledge required. The interface of all modules to the system is USB-C on the inside.

(Photo: Molly Flores)

The port module in the box contains two USB-C connections, one USB-A connection, HDMI and DisplayPort modules, and a microSD card module. They come in a small cardboard box that fits in the slot of the shipping box.

(Photo: Molly Flores)

The Framework also offers 250GB and 1TB SSD storage modules that can be replaced in any of these bays. This essentially allows you to install additional storage in the form of a kind of “internal / external” SSD that connects to your PC via USB-C. The storage module was not included in the review unit.

(Photo: Molly Flores)

As mentioned earlier, the screen bezel is magnetically attached and can be easily pulled apart. This is just an aesthetic, and Framework Laptop says you can choose from multiple colors. Below the bezel, you’ll see the built-in webcam hardware. This laptop includes a 1080p, 60fps webcam, which is also above average quality. In this era of remote work and endless zoom conferencing, this is a big plus (although it’s not one of the aspects you can change yourself). It also gets the hardware cutoff for the camera and built-in microphone.

Interior upgrade options are much more accessible, but a bit more complex than the average laptop gut. All you need is a single framework tool (included) to access and remove parts.

(Photo: Molly Flores)

You need to use one end of the tool to loosen the five starhead chassis screws from the bottom. The other spade tip / spudger helps you pry open the keyboard deck from the bottom half of the chassis. It’s easy.

(Photo: Molly Flores)

After a slight pry to loosen the screws, the keyboard can be quickly lifted from the keyboard deck. Once the keyboard deck is free from the base, simply unplug a delicate ribbon cable from the motherboard and it will be lifted and cleared …

(Photo: Molly Flores)

You can now clean or replace the keyboard to access the components under the deck. This is what the underside of the keyboard looks like …

(Photo: Molly Flores)

Here is the component layout for the rest of the laptop in the lower half of the chassis …

(Photo: Molly Flores)

The layout of the parts below is very clean and impressive given the accessibility of everything. Laptop manufacturers have optimized cooling by taking full advantage of the ever-slimming chassis. This is because the end user did not have to make everything removable. You need to do a thorough test to see how the thermal works, but the layout is nice, most of the parts are on one plane and it’s easy to remove and see.

Full component accessibility

In a clever way, every replaceable component of a Framework laptop has a QR code that displays instructions on how to replace it. This is a clever evolution of the increasingly common method used on desktop motherboards, the manual contains a QR code for the procedure (or the entire manual is found online via the QR code in the box). can do). Credits are also included in the corner of the board, showing the name of the person who developed the laptop.

(Photo: Molly Flores)

You can remove not only storage and memory, but also obvious options such as battery and speakers. As you can see here, there are two SO-DIMM slots that can use up to 64GB of main system memory …

(Photo: Molly Flores)

However, the preconfigured model only comes with a maximum of 32GB (and the $ 1,999 model).

The internal storage is not soldered, but is instead implemented as an M.2 PCI Express module. Framework Computer states that thanks to the 11th generation Intel “Tiger Lake” CPU platform, the slots support PCI Express 4.0 speeds and use modules up to 8TB (available in the aftermarket). The slot is M.2 Type-2280 and works with M.2 SSD modules up to 80mm in length. If you choose a model with pre-installed storage, the company will use the WD PC SN730 SSD. The tester comes with a 512GB module.

(Photo: Molly Flores)

The framework also plans to make the entire mainboard replaceable, so it can be upgraded to future CPU generations rather than being permanently locked in. The mainboard has its own replacement QR code …

(Photo: Molly Flores)

Since the laptop CPU is not connected to a socket, the only way to replace such an ultra-portable CPU is to replace the entire board. However, the problem is that laptop board designs are often customized to the chassis and cannot be upgraded. This is a big difference from framework laptops. At least in theory, we plan to publish a future laptop mainboard that works with existing chassis, along with other components. (Of course, whether there is a demand for the Framework to actually do this within a year or three is also a big “if”.)

Replacing the motherboard is not as easy as replacing other components of the Framework laptop. The framework provides a guide on replacing the motherboard. It is rated as “medium” difficulty and consists of 32 steps. We didn’t try it ourselves (only the motherboard is installed), but it seems to require some patience and delicate manipulation (such as removing the Wi-Fi card and its antenna wire). However, the process is well documented and has the property of running only once or twice during the life of this machine.

Expansion of framework coverage in the future

In addition to these pictures, you can see all of them in more detail in the video at the top of this story. Take your laptop out of the box and check the complete walkthrough, down to the details inside.

(Photo: Molly Flores)

The Framework laptop sample shown here was received just days before the first release of Framework, so we still don’t have time to run the full pace of the benchmark. Pre-orders for framework laptops are currently available. Get a framework laptop on the lab bench, provide a complete benchmark workout for your test configuration, and experiment with different ports and modules to increase the coverage of your framework laptop.

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