There are a lot of 13-inch and 14-inch laptops out there, but very few offer a lot of user upgradeability. Framework, a San Francisco-based startup, is seeing market opening. The new 13.5-inch laptop allows customers to upgrade and replace not only internal components (RAM, battery, storage) but also external components (keyboard, frames, and ports).
If you are very careful about the technical data, you can also order a “DIY Edition” including the parts you choose and assemble the laptop yourself. I suspect that most people will choose one of the three ready-made systems offered by the Framework, which can then be modified as needed.
In addition to scalability, the Framework has a fairly standard productivity ultraportable. It is slightly smaller than the M1 MacBook Pro, 2.87 pounds and 0.62 inches thick. The substrate contains recycled materials. It has a reasonably bright 3: 2 screen (no touch option at the moment) as well as a usable keyboard and touchpad. You get decent performance from Intel’s 11th generation processors and decent (but non-exciting) battery life.
In other words, upgradeability is the reason to buy a Framework laptop – there’s not much else to discuss here. And while it looks like a good package where I stand, much of its value proposition depends on the company fulfilling its promise to support the device in the years to come.
Prefabricated systems should cover most use cases. I tested the base model, which costs $ 999 and includes the Core i5-1135G7, 8GB of memory, 256GB of storage, and Windows 10 Home. The $ 1,399 performance model has a Core i7-1165G7, 16GB of memory and 512GB of storage, while the Professional model asks for $ 1,999 for the Core i7-1185G7, 32GB of memory and 1TB of storage, as well as Windows 10 Pro and vPro. Please note that the latter two models will not be available until August, while the base model will not arrive until September – you can order all three now with a $ 100 deposit. DIY packages start at $ 749, and pricing varies depending on the components you choose.
The most unique advantage that the Framework offers is the ability to customize ports. The chassis has four slots, but you can order as many expansion cards as you want, including USB-C, USB-A, microSD, HDMI, DP, and a storage expansion (250GB or 1TB). Framework says more options are coming. I liked USB-A, USB-C, HDMI, and some extra storage, and it was a very easy task. The cards are essentially dongles – they slide straight in, and you can change them while the computer is on.
I was also able to change the black frames of the submitted model to white. This took about 10 seconds. The top and side panels attach to the frame via magnets, and there are adhesive tapes at the bottom, so all you have to do is pull one frame off and attach the other – you can do it while your laptop is running. (Framework claims that the glue is reusable, so you can swap frames back and forth.) You can also swap the keyboard, touch pad, and fingerprint reader both individually and as sheets.
Then you can drop the keyboard to hone the internal components – even the motherboard. This is easy enough to do, but one annoying is that the base is held together with the T5 screws, which doesn’t work with a great standard Phillips screwdriver. (According to the Framework, this is because the T5 avoids detachment problems that can be caused by Phillips screws.) If you don’t already have a set with a T5 screwdriver, make sure you don’t lose the tool that the Framework sends with your laptop (and it’s small – I’m sure i lose it).
In theory, all of these spare parts are available in a central marketplace that is also open to third-party manufacturers. Each component has a QR code that, when scanned, raises a portion of the purchase page for replacement. This marketplace isn’t in use yet, so I can’t talk about what’s really going to be there – Framework says it’s August.
Such highlights the theme of this review, which is that so much of the value of this laptop depends on what its promised ecosystem and support network really look like. Is a few guide On the Framework website – to set up the prep and DIY package, change the frames, replace the keyboard, and replace the motherboard – but some of the processes people are likely to want are still missing from this post. For example, there is no guide to replacing memory (you must find it in the motherboard replacement guide). Framework says it is coming soon.
Nor have I found a list of supported parts or a list of each screw and its size, which could make losing a screw a nightmare. The Framework says the former list is coming soon and that it will add screw information to its repair guides “as we go”.
The quality quality of the Framework is slightly lower than that of the best competitors at this price point; you pay a little extra for a promise to support the future of the framework. The whole thing is plastic – it’s not cheap, but it feels closer to the Acer Aspire than the Dell XPS. And there is some weakness. In particular, the keyboard has little flexibility and a whole host of screens. (I was actually worried about clicking the latter and I didn’t twist it as much as I could.) And while I’m never worried about the magnetic frames falling, they aren’t too hard to pull off, and I could definitely see them sticking to objects or collecting debris under it. I like that recycled material is used here, including 50 percent PCR aluminum in the case, “on average” 30 percent PCR plastics, and 80 percent PCR packaging.
Another thing to call is a 3: 2 screen. It is one of the few parts of this laptop that cannot be upgraded at this time; you are stuck with a 2256 x 1504 touch screen. It achieved 391 nits of brightness in my testing, which is pretty good, and gave a generally sharp picture – and the 3: 2 aspect ratio offers a lot more vertical space than the 16: 9 panels you’ll find on many 13-inch notebooks. However, it’s pretty glossy and kicks in a little more glare than I’m used to seeing from this Price Range panels.
I go through the rest of the laptop; The takeaway is again that fixability is the only real business card in the Framework. The keyboard is beautifully backlit, almost without leaks and comfortable on the 1.5 mm travel. It has a 1080p webcam with a physical shutter – its image is an improvement over a traditional 720p laptop. But neither is so amazingly good that I would buy a frame just to get it.
In terms of performance, the basic model was great. The bottom was sometimes toasty under about ten Chrome tabs and an app load, but it was never uncomfortable to wear on my lap. Fans were sometimes audible, but mostly silent.
All three processor options have Intel’s integrated Iris Xe graphics card – there is no GPU option. An integrated GPU isn’t enough to run very demanding games, but it should do a good job League of Legends and such. I got some light image processing with no problems, even though it wasn’t quite as fast as I’ve seen on Core i7 machines.
Battery life was similarly acceptable but inconspicuous. I used an average of about six hours and 12 minutes of continuous working with the monitor at 200 nits. You get a lot more out of this information: we saw seven to eight hours Surface Pro 7 Plus, what is $ 300 more For Core i5.
First of all: it’s admirable what Framework is trying to do. This is the laptop that DIY computing enthusiasts have been waiting for. And there is certainly a lot of promise here. Ports and frames are easy to change, even if you’ve never upgraded your computer before – and it’s a legally unique feature. In addition, the fact that RAM is not soldered to a substrate of this size is in itself an upgradeable gain.
But this community has been burned in the past. From Intel’s Ghost Canyon NUC that Alienware area – 51m, the virtual cemetery is full of promised modular computers that were never moved out because the company stopped making hardware for them. Dell has been sued recently the alleged promise that the Area-51m R1 could be upgraded to future Intel and Nvidia processors, which was ultimately not the case. Such a device is difficult to make and even more difficult to support over time.
I asked Framework how many generations of Intel processors it had committed to support, and the company didn’t give a direct answer. The spokesman said: “We have evaluated future silicon roadmaps and see nothing that would cause us to worry about compatibility with our current platform. We will continue to support the existing platform in the near future.”
Sure. But until I actually have an Alder Lake platform, I’m hesitant to get too excited. Whether the Framework is a good purchase depends on whether the company can really promote this platform – how long it will continue to release new modules and whether it will be able to build a solid library of support materials. It also depends on how good the promised marketplace is and how robust the component choices are. These are the real benefits of this device. Without them, the frame is mostly an unobtrusive laptop with a lot of QR codes.
Photographer: Monica Chin / The Verge