PCWorld (USA)

Framework laptop: This DIY laptop wants you to take it apart and repair it

It’s the ultimate ‘right to repair’ laptop.

- BY GORDON MAH UNG

Framework wants you to take its laptop apart and repair it. Seriously. While most laptops are difficult, even impossible, to repair or upgrade, not only can this debut product from Framework be dismantled and upgraded, but the company actually encourages you to do it.

We took an early-production Framework laptop for a whirl. While we have some issues with certain design choices, we have to say

it’s refreshing to see a laptop made for upgrading and serviceabi­lity.

For example, most laptop bezels and bodies are held together with plastic latches that snap the keyboard deck onto the bottom. While you can usually snap the two together after opening it to, say, swap out the SSD, do that enough times and the plastic latches will eventually break. Framework addresses this by using magnets to hold the bezel and body together. Once you’ve removed the five T5 screws on the bottom, you carefully pry the two pieces apart.

Framework’s screws use a T5 Torx head instead of the far more common Phillips head, which some will take as an anti-repair feature because few people have Torx drivers. To its credit, Framework includes a T5 Torx tool with a

plastic “spudger” on one end.

GO AHEAD, TAKE IT APART

With most laptop reviews, you start by testing it, and you may gingerly open it up later to look inside. With the Framework, we did the reverse: We took the laptop apart before testing it.

And we don’t mean we just opened it up. We actually decided to remove the

laptop’s motherboar­d to see how easy it was. Hint: It’s easy. Really easy. That’s helped by the clear instructio­ns Framework offers ( go. pcworld.com/frin).

INVERTED DESIGN

Interestin­gly, the design of the Framework laptop puts the pair of DDR4 SO-DIMMS and the PCIE Gen 4 M.2 under the keyboard. This is typically the most unfriendly place to position the most common components people change on a laptop, because removing the keyboard and trackpad runs the risk of tearing delicate ribbon cables.

With the Framework laptop, though, it’s not a problem. As we said, loosen the five T5 screws on the bottom—but don’t remove them. That’s because they’re captive screws, held in place when loosened. This is a particular­ly rare detail among laptops, but Framework knows you’ll be opening up its products, so it’s thinking of your needs.

Once you’ve loosened the screws, you use the plastic spudger to pry up the keyboard. Then you remove a single ribbon cable that carries the connection­s from the keyboard and trackpad. In many laptops, the trackpad and keyboard are connected by

their own cables, often so short that there’s barely enough clearance to remove them. Framework’s keyboard and trackpad cable is intentiona­lly long to aid and abet its user-tinkerer audience.

While Apple and some PC makers have moved to soldered-down Wi-fi, RAM, and even SSDS, the Framework is all modular. There are a few drawbacks, though. The Framework uses standard DDR4 SO-DIMMS, the kind you usually find in lower-cost laptops and larger gaming laptops. The LPDDR4 RAM that you typically find in ultraporta­ble laptops offers greater memory bandwidth and uses far less power when the laptop is in standby mode versus DDR4. However, LPDDR4 is required to be soldered down, so it obviously doesn’t fit into the Framework approach.

UPGRADE YOUR MOTHERBOAR­D?

Once you’ve removed the Wi-fi module, display connector, audio connectors, and battery connector, five more T5 screws hold the motherboar­d in place. Removing a motherboar­d on a laptop is possible (well, unless it’s glued down), but it’s just never been quite this easy on an ultrathin laptop.

Of course, you’re probably wondering, why even bother to remove the motherboar­d? For most laptops you’d do that only if a component on the motherboar­d died. With Framework, the pitch is that you’d buy it with your 11th-gen Core i7 CPU and then upgrade it to the 14th-gen Core i7 down the road. While there’s no AMD Ryzen option available, there’s nothing to prevent it from being available down the road. Framework has said it’s open to the possibilit­y.

That’s another radical departure for any laptop maker. The business is largely built on your having to buy a whole new laptop when yours gets too old or breaks.

UPGRADABLE PORTS

One feature left us less impressed: the upgradable ports. The company gives you four modular bays and lets you pick from an assortment of options, such as Displaypor­t, HDMI, microsd, USB-A, and USB-C. You can put the ports anywhere you want. The modules lock into place with small, secure retention latch. (Oddly, while Framework calls the USB-C ports “USB-C,” they’re actually Thunderbol­t 4, using the controller inside of the CPU).

On paper, this all sounds like a nifty idea. In practice we have some concerns. We’d rather just see USB-C on each side, plus one USB-A, because no one ever said they wanted fewer USB ports. We’d prefer that rather than making all four ports modular, Framework should let people swap out the microsd or HDMI or Displaypor­t. Also, even though the modular ports are flush, the visible seam irked us.

TOO GENERIC?

One area where Framework probably won’t win any prizes is in style. Other than the cog-shaped logo on the lid and a small hinge, it doesn’t have much pizzazz. No one will ever, ever confuse this with a Dell XPS, HP Spectre, Lenovo Thinkpad, or other laptops you can pick out from 50 feet away. While people may deny it to your face, aesthetics and style drive much of the laptop purchase decision these days.

With the lid swung open, the Framework looks about as generic as those fake laptops they have in furniture stores to show off the new Ikea Blurg standing desk. But hey, if

Crocs and Birkenstoc­ks ( go. pcworld.com/croc) are popular, why not generic-looking laptops? Don’t be a fashion victim.

Instead, look at the display.

The Framework offers a 13.5-inch glossy panel with a resolution of 2256x1504, and a dreamy aspect ratio of 3:2. That’s a taller aspect ratio than the typical 16:9, which mimics television­s. We’re a big fan of taller aspect ratios for doing actual work rather than bingeing Netflix. Another great thing about the Framework’s panel is its fairly high pixel density of 3.4 million, versus a typical 2 million pixels on a 1920x1080 display. As a result, you can fit more windows into the screen side by side and be more productive. The panel is rated to hit 400 nits, so it’s fairly bright as well. It’s made by BOE and appears to be an Ips-style panel, offering excellent off-axis viewing and crisp detail.

And yes, because of the magnetic bezel, replacing the panel, should you break it, should be a breeze. PRIVACY, TOO

There’s also a pretty nifty feature for the laptop’s camera and microphone. First, the webcam

is 1080p, which is higher resolution than most laptops’ 720p models. What we really appreciate are the built-in cutoff switches for both. We see plenty of privacy shutters on laptops today, and some even have dedicated mute buttons, but it looks like the Framework’s microphone can be completely cut off from the system. That doesn’t remove it from Windows Device Manager, but we believe it’s electrical­ly dead once you throw the switch.

PERFORMANC­E

We’re still running performanc­e tests on the laptop and doing a rundown of its decently sized 55-watt-hour battery, so we’ll update our story once we have a full set of figures. We can already tell you the Core i7-1185g7 performs in line with competing laptops we’ve seen with the same CPU.

It doesn’t look like it gets the same internal polish you might get from an OEM, though. Many laptops today allow you to select different fan profiles and performanc­e profiles based on tuning by the OEM. With the Framework, the OS and appearance of optimizati­ons look, well, as generic as its shell.

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Rather than using breakable plastic latches to hold the shell together, Framework relies on sturdy magnets.
Rather than using breakable plastic latches to hold the shell together, Framework relies on sturdy magnets.
 ??  ?? No T5 Torx? No problem: Framework includes one in the box.
No T5 Torx? No problem: Framework includes one in the box.
 ??  ?? The Framework laptop is an inverted design, which means the RAM and single M.2 bay are located under the keyboard.
The Framework laptop is an inverted design, which means the RAM and single M.2 bay are located under the keyboard.
 ??  ?? The DDR4 RAM slots are marked for folks who need some guidance.
The DDR4 RAM slots are marked for folks who need some guidance.
 ??  ?? Most ultrathin laptops have moved to soldered-down Wi-fi modules to save space, but Framework’s choice lets you swap modules to upgrade your Wi-fi.
Most ultrathin laptops have moved to soldered-down Wi-fi modules to save space, but Framework’s choice lets you swap modules to upgrade your Wi-fi.
 ??  ?? Modern laptop CPUS are soldered to the motherboar­d. Down the road, Framework hopes to sell you a new motherboar­d with a newer CPU in it as an upgrade.
Modern laptop CPUS are soldered to the motherboar­d. Down the road, Framework hopes to sell you a new motherboar­d with a newer CPU in it as an upgrade.
 ??  ?? You can pick the ports you want on the Framework, but those seams around the modules are off-putting.
You can pick the ports you want on the Framework, but those seams around the modules are off-putting.
 ??  ?? The lovely 3:2 aspect ratio panel offers 70 percent more pixel density and excellent off-axis viewing.
The lovely 3:2 aspect ratio panel offers 70 percent more pixel density and excellent off-axis viewing.
 ??  ?? Is the Framework too generic for many buyers? Probably.
Is the Framework too generic for many buyers? Probably.
 ??  ?? We wish more companies would adopt some of the design cues found in the Framework.
We wish more companies would adopt some of the design cues found in the Framework.
 ??  ?? The switches are a bit fiddly, but we love that you can cut off both the 1080p webcam and the microphone for increased security from snoopers.
The switches are a bit fiddly, but we love that you can cut off both the 1080p webcam and the microphone for increased security from snoopers.

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