Manufacturers such as Acer and Asus have been experimenting with radical new laptop layouts of late—twin screens, or pop-up and slide-out keyboards—but the Framework Laptop is something else entirely: a notebook built around true modularity and component swappability. We were able to get some early hands-on time with the first iteration of this utterly unique machine, which earns our TechX award for tackling upgradability and sustainability among laptops in the most aggressive way yet.
Fully focused on easy repair and long-term viability, this 13.5-inch ultraportable is designed from the ground up to be opened up, part-swapped, and used by its owner for years to come. This combats environmental waste, and the idea that you need to throw out or recycle your whole laptop when one part goes bad, or when you need an upgrade. Almost every core component in the Framework Laptop is easy to access and change out.
This may be difficult to envision, but fear not: We recorded a hands-on session to show off the design, modules, and component swapping. Check out the video below for a look at the build and features, plus plenty of chatter about our initial impressions…
Let’s also break out the details of this unusual, innovative computer below.
Introducing Framework Computer
The Framework Laptop comes not from a major manufacturer, but Framework Computer, a San Francisco-based company that (if you couldn’t tell from the name) is all about this product in particular. The concept comes along at a time when both the “right to repair” push (the ability for end users to maintain and upgrade their tech purchases rather than dispose of them) and being more environmentally friendly are firmly in the zeitgeist. Indeed, just a few weeks before we wrote this, the Biden administration announced plans for an executive order addressing onerous repair restrictions on certain products, including types of tech.
Framework Computer’s argument is that most modern laptops aren’t terribly upgrade-friendly, built to be thrown away after a few years of use, and that this is bad for both the environment and consumers. It’s hard to argue with that; at most, some notebooks offer the ability to add or swap out the RAM or storage, but even that’s not a given, and mostly reserved for larger gaming or workstation-grade models. When the parts get old, you can’t really change or upgrade them as you might on a desktop PC, and most users will eventually pass along or retire the machine.
In theory, this will not be the case with the Framework Laptop, which is made for users to be able to order new parts, easily access the interior, and replace what needs replacing. On top of that, the chassis is built with 50% post-consumer recycled aluminum and has fully recyclable packaging. It weighs just 2.8 pounds, placing it squarely in the ultraportable class.
To be clear, the laptop is sold with Windows and components, and is fully functional to start. You can select among three pre-configured models, at $999 (the Framework “Base” model), $1,399 (the “Performance” model), and $1,999 (the “Pro”). The Base model includes a Core i5-1135G7 CPU, 8GB of memory, and 256GB storage, while the others bump up to one of two flavors of Core i7 CPU (the Core i7-1165G7 or Core i7-1185G7, respectively), and as much as 32GB of memory and 1TB of storage.
The display is a 13.5-inch 3:2 screen with a 2,256-by-1,504-pixel native resolution. Our sample is the middle Performance configuration, with the Core i7-1165G7, 16GB of memory, a 512GB SSD, and Windows 10 Home.
You can also buy an assembly-required DIY version of the Framework Laptop at $749. If you choose this starting point, you pick individual parts for your order, or leave some components out of the order and provide your own, and then assemble the kit yourself, with the option to roll your own operating system, as well, including Linux distributions.
Swap It All, From Ports to Parts
It’s a tough ask to make every laptop component and part swappable, but Framework Computer is dedicated to exactly that. To start, on the exterior chassis side, you can change out the screen’s bezel frame for one of a different color. (Our review sample came with a black frame.) You need to pry off the frame gently; the plastic is flexible and held on by strong magnets. Opening the screen to 180 degrees flat makes it easier; the hardest part is disengaging the bottom bezel, which wraps around the hinge area, but it’s simple enough if you take care.
More crucially, you can swap out the four actual port connections, which are housed in modules, for other modules that come in the box. For example, you can switch out a USB Type-A port for a USB-C connection by changing the modules, or insert one of the video-out options (HDMI or DisplayPort) if you need to connect another display (but don’t always need to).
The chassis has bays for four of these modules around the body, letting you leave the combination you need in place and change it up when needed. These port modules (which Framework dubs “Expansion Cards”) can be pulled right out of their slots by hand (you press a button on the laptop underside to release each pair) and swapped in seconds, so this really requires no expertise. The interface with the system for all modules is USB-C on the inner side.
The port modules in the box include two USB-C connections, one USB-A connection, HDMI and DisplayPort modules, and a microSD card module. They come in small cardboard boxes that fit into slots in the shipping box.
Framework also offers 250GB and 1TB SSD storage modules that you can swap into any of these bays. This, in essence, lets you install extra storage in the form of a sort-of “internal external” SSD connecting to the PC via USB-C. The storage modules were not included with our review unit.
As noted, the screen bezel is magnetically attached and pulls away with ease. This is just aesthetic, and Framework Laptop says it will have multiple colors to choose from. Underneath the bezel, you can see the guts of the webcam hardware. The laptop includes a 1080p, 60fps-capable webcam, which is also above-average quality. In this age of remote work and endless Zoom meetings, this is a big plus (though not one of the aspects you can change yourself). You also get a hardware cutoff for the camera and the built-in mic.
The interior upgrade options are more numerous, and a little more complicated, though still way more accessible than the guts of your average laptop. All you need is Framework’s single tool (included) to access and remove any of the parts.
You’ll need to loosen five star-head chassis screws from the underside using one end of the tool, and the spade tip/spudger on the other will help you pry off the keyboard deck from the lower half of the chassis. It’s easy.
The keyboard lifts right off the keyboard deck after unfastening the screws with a little prying. Once the keyboard deck is freed from the base, you simply unplug one delicate ribbon cable from the motherboard and it lifts clear…
Now, you can clean or swap the keyboard, and get to the components beneath the deck. This is a look at the underside of the keyboard…
And here is the component layout of the rest of the laptop, in the lower half of the chassis…
The layout of the parts beneath is super-neat, and impressive considering the sheer accessibility of everything. Laptop makers have been squeezing the most out of increasingly slim chassis and optimizing cooling, and that was without having to make everything removable by end users. We’ll have to see how the thermals perform in full testing, but the layout is admirable, with most of the parts on one plane and easy to remove and see.
Full Component Accessibility
In a clever turn, every replaceable component in the Framework Laptop has a QR code on it, which will take you to instructions on how to replace it. This is a clever evolution of the increasingly common practice used in desktop motherboards, where the manual will include QR codes for instructions (or the entire manual can be found online via a QR code in the box). One corner of the board even includes credits, showing the names of the people who developed the laptop, a nice touch.
You can remove the obvious options like the storage and memory, but also the battery and speakers. As you can see here, you get two SO-DIMM slots, capable to taking up to 64GB of main system memory…
The preconfigured models, however, come with only up to 32GB (and that in the $1,999 model).
The internal storage is not soldered down but is instead implemented as an M.2 PCI Express module. Framework Computer notes that the slot, thanks to the 11th Generation Intel “Tiger Lake” CPU platform, supports PCI Express 4.0 speeds, and takes up to an 8TB module (available aftermarket). The slot is an M.2 Type-2280, working with M.2 SSD modules up to 80mm long. The company uses WD PC SN730 SSDs if you opt for a model with pre-installed storage. Our tester came with a 512GB module.
Framework even plans for the whole mainboard itself to be replaceable, allowing you to upgrade to future CPU generations rather than being locked in permanently. The mainboard has its own replacement QR code…
Because laptop CPUs aren’t socketed, there’s no other way to change out a CPU in an ultraportable like this than a full board swap. The catch, though, is that board designs in laptops are almost always custom to the chassis and thus not upgradable. This is a huge distinction with the Framework Laptop: The plan, at least in theory, is of the company issuing future laptop mainboards that will work in the existing chassis with other components that will be held behind. (Of course, it’s also a big “if” whether the demand will exist in a year or three for Framework to indeed make this happen.)
A motherboard swap is not as trivial as the other component changeouts in the Framework Laptop. Framework points to its guide to motherboard swaps, which it rates as “Moderate” difficulty and comprises 32 steps. We didn’t attempt it ourselves (we have only the installed motherboard on hand), but it looks to require some patience and delicate maneuvering (such as removing the Wi-Fi card and its antenna wires). But the process is well documented, and it is something by nature you’d do only once or twice in this machine’s lifespan, if at all.
More Framework Coverage to Come
Outside of these photos, you can again see all of this in more detail in the video up top of this story. Check it out for a full walkthrough, from taking the laptop out of the box down to the details of the interior.
We received the Framework Laptop sample you see here just a few days before Framework’s initial launch, so we haven’t had time yet to put it through its full benchmark paces. Pre-orders of the Framework Laptop are available now, and stay tuned for more coverage of the Framework Laptop as we get it on our lab bench and give our test configuration a full benchmarking workout, as well as try out the various ports and modules.