Saturday, July 24, 2021

How Framework plans to break the curse of upgradeable laptops

An upgradeable laptop has long been the Holy Grail of laptop features. And much like the famed Grail, it’s never been found.

Many have tried and all have failed. The most recent attempt was Alienware’s Area 51m R1, which launched with lofty goals but ultimately never offered meaningful upgrades.

Enter Framework, which pledges to finally bring the Holy Grail home to Camelot with a modular, do-it-yourself and upgradeable laptop. Being a witness to all of the prior quest failures, well, we have our doubts. Many of them.

But after talking at length with Framework founder Nirav Patel we again found our hope rekindled and maybe, just maybe this time someone will succeed. Patel seems to have answers for most of the problems that brought down everyone else, including TDP limits and consumers simply breaking the things while building them.

Below, you’ll find a breakdown of the Framework laptop’s specifications, followed by our Q&A with Patel. It’s insightful.

Framework specs

  • CPU: Intel 11th-gen 
  • GPU: Iris Xe integrated graphics
  • RAM: DDR4/3200 in two SO-DIMM slots
  • Storage: Standard M.2
  • Battery: 55Whr
  • Keyboard: 1.5mm travel dome
  • Webcam: 1080p 60fps
  • Networking Wi-Fi 6E
  • Display: 13.5-inch 3:2 2256 x 1504 resolution
  • Availability: Summer of 2021
  • OS: Linux or Windows

The Framework will be sold as built laptops or DIY kits to consumers.

Framework laptop Q&A with Nirav Patel

PCWorld: Can you share more details on how it can be ‘upgraded’ and repaired? I’m guessing the mainboard can be can swapped out down the road—but that largely means the company has to do the QA and fulfillment of boards which I’m going to guess are custom. How can you account for power and thermal requirements down the road?

Patel: Every module in the system is end-user replaceable for upgrade or repair purposes, and parts are made available through the Framework Marketplace. Our Expansion Cards slide and click into place in the housing. The replaceable bezel is magnetic attach. For the internal modules, each uses a single labeled connector and a minimal number of fasteners. The only module that is more complex to replace is the mainboard that everything connects into, which would be a more rare item to change (and something that no other notebook currently offers).

In general, mobile CPUs are designed by Intel and AMD to target the thermal constraints of specific form factors. We’ve designed in a thermal budget to max out Intel’s “U” thermal tier, 28W continuous load at the CPU with boost levels above that. We’re developing additional mainboards with new CPU platforms ourselves at Framework as well as opening up our specs for third parties to be able to develop compatible ones and offer them through the Framework Marketplace.

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