For the most part, today's laptop designs offer limited DIY upgrade options at best, like RAM and storage. And at worst, just getting inside the thing can be a major chore, only to find the RAM is soldered to the motherboard, and that you tore a ribbon cable when you pried off the panel. A startup called Framework is taking a decidedly different approach with a modular laptop designed to make all sorts of upgrades easy.
Remember barebone whitebooks? That's what this effort reminds me of, but with modern hardware and a thinner build.
"The conventional wisdom in the industry is that making products repairable makes them thicker, heavier, uglier, less robust, and more expensive. We’re here to prove that wrong and fix consumer electronics, one category at a time," Framework explains (opens in new tab).
Framework's first effort consists of a 13.5-inch laptop that somewhat resembles a MacBook, but is built around Intel's 11th Gen Core processors, configurable with up to 64GB of DDR4 memory, 4TB (or even more) of PCIe 4.0 SSD storage, and Wi-Fi 6E wireless connectivity.
The milled aluminum and "precision formed" chassis measures 15.85mm (0.62 inches), and the weight checks in at just 1.3kg (2.87 pounds).
What really stands out, though, is the hyper focus on user customization, repairs, and upgrades. From socketed storage and RAM, to even the mainboard and display, Framework's promise is that it is all easy to access and rip out as needed.
"High-use parts like the battery, screen, keyboard, and color-customizable magnetic-attach bezel are easy to replace. QR codes on each item take you directly to guides and the listing in our web store," Framework says.
The feasibility of a modular laptop is predicated on Framework offering future hardware upgrades that will fit, and do that end, the company says it intends to offer new parts "regularly." It's also making this an open ecosystem so that other companies can sell compatible parts and modules.
Speaking of latter, there are four external bays users can populate with various modules. There will be a range of options available, including USB-C, USB-A, HDMI, DisplayPort, microSD, storage, a headphone amp, other modules that plug right into either side of the chassis.
Framework plans to offer different pre-configured models running Windows 10, as well as a Framework Laptop DIY Edition "available as a kit of modules that you can customize and assemble yourself." Either way, Framework will include a screwdriver in the box, to drive home the point it designed these systems to facilitate tinkering.
It's a neat concept and I applaud Framework embracing the right to repair. That said, this is still not on the level of a desktop, in that it does not sound like users will be able to swap out the CPU or GPU individually—either of those will likely require a wholesale mainboard swap. But hey, you have to start somewhere, right? Here's hoping Framework follows this up with a modular gaming laptop model. As it stands, the first 'Framework Laptop' will launch this summer.