Framework was launched last year with the promise of building laptops that you can upgrade yourself with a little more than a screwdriver and a little patience. Now, 12 months after its debut, the company is releasing its first round of upgrade kits to keep these machines up to date. This is a good start, as the outfit fulfills its promise to create a modular, repairable machine and to bring existing users together with any future adaptations to the system. After almost airily replacing a first-generation motherboard to replace it, I can say that we are approaching a whole new era of computing.
To show how easy it is to upgrade, Framework released its 2021-era model, powered by an 11th-generation Intel Core chip. In the package, but in a separate box, was a brand new 12th generation (Alder Lake) Intel Core chip attached to a motherboard. The idea, simply put, is that you can pull out the motherboard that holds the CPU and I / O, while preserving pretty much everything else. Existing RAM, SSD, WiFi card, battery, audio equipment, monitor and so on, can all be reused until they break or otherwise need upgrading as well.
Upgrading or replacing a component inside the Frameworks chassis requires the use of a Torx T5 screwdriver (included in the box). Of course, replacing the motherboard is the most involved upgrade you can do since it requires you to separate everything else to access it. Fortunately, Framework produces iFixit-style guides that you can follow, and each component is either color-coded or labeled. And there are QR codes on each device that link to tutorial videos and support pages to help you get where you are going.
The company announced earlier this year that it would offer a trio of new motherboard options for different budgets. $ 499 gives you a 12th generation i5-1240P, while $ 699 gives you an i7-1260P. If you are eager to live ahead of time and have money left over, you can choose the Core i7-1280P for $ 1049. It’s steep, but the argument goes that buying a brand new laptop will cost you more. That said, I do not expect users to go crazy for these annual upgrades, but more likely I look for a new motherboard every two or three years to stay up to date.
As for the upgrade process, I do not necessarily have a grip, but a few things worth flagging. If you come to this as a beginner, you will take much longer than the 15 minutes promised in the guide. With training you get faster, but I think these guides need to be a little more friendly for the uninformed amateur. Similarly, I’m not a big fan of ZIF connectors, which require you to gently push in a ribbon cable that is no larger than your nail for the required fastening. Especially since they are small and I would be worried that a sneeze with the wrong time would end up costing you $ 699 of your own money.
At the same time, Framework is launching two other products that show their commitment to listening to users and ensuring that OG buyers are not left behind. The first is that the company is releasing its first new expansion card, which is a 2.5-gigabit Ethernet adapter. This is, in a word, very cool, and removes the standard body in metal for a transparent plastic shell that makes it look like one of these special editions Game Boys from the 90s. The cyberpunk aesthetic also helps to cover the fact that, in order to accommodate the Ethernet port itself, it is significantly larger than the rest of the expansion cards – it protrudes on the side of the laptop, but in a cool way.
It was quite useful during my installation, since a missing WiFi driver (thanks, Microsoft) meant I could not connect to the internet after my first upgrade. (This has since been resolved, but one of the pitfalls of testing hardware long before it reaches the public). Being able to plug in an Ethernet port and connect it to my network to solve the problem was a gift. Not to mention that, like all the extra expansion cards the company offers, it’s another step towards making your laptop something more like a Swiss Army knife.
And then there’s the top cover. Now I did not have many complaints about the amount of flex in the machine when it was launched last year. But Framework’s engineers were not happy, and redesigned the display case to be CNC milled from a solid aluminum block. It adds a little extra rigidity to the frame, and is available as standard on all new Framework laptops sold in the future, as well as being bundled with motherboard replacement kits. But again, instead of letting existing customers who do not want a new CPU on the fence, you can also buy a free-standing top cover for $ 89, and if the company can keep this commitment to always include existing buyers, then it’s going to to serve a devoted and loving fanbase.
Finally, with the upgrade complete, it’s the small matter of what users will do with the now discarded motherboard. Framework offers users open source plans to build desktop-style cabinets for the boards to encourage reuse, and hobbyists are already using them as the basis for their own super-cool modding projects. GitHub user Penk, for example, has built this retro motherboard terminal that looks like it’s dropped on the back of a copy of Fall out. If I did not have to send all this back, and I had some kind of skill to build things, I’m pretty sure I would have tried to build something super cool myself.
And perhaps this is the second gift that Framework can continue to give – the notion that users should feel empowered to get their hands dirty after being told that their machines have been banned for so long.
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