Startup designs modular and repairable laptop


As devices become less repairable, it’s always encouraging to see companies building devices with sustainability in mind. After all, repairing the machine you already own will almost always be more environmentally friendly than buying a new one. Framework is a hardware startup, founded by former Oculus engineer Nirav Patel, which seeks to take the Fairphone model and bring it to laptops, even shipped with a screwdriver in the box.

Today, the company is announcing its first product, the Framework Laptop, a 13.5-inch laptop with a number of modular parts. The idea is that users can replace multiple components when they break or upgrade them as the technology evolves. Now, repairable laptops are not a new invention, but the goal here seems to be to make this as user-friendly as possible for newbies.

The Framework laptop packs a 13.5-inch, 2256 x 1504 3: 2 display that’s hidden behind a series of magnetic bezels, making it easy to replace. It also packs a 1080p, 60fps webcam with a hardware privacy switch and a keyboard with 1.5mm key travel. As for the chip, you will have the option to select an 11th generation quad-core Intel Core processor with WiFi 6, up to 64GB of DDR4 and up to 4TB of NVME Gen4 SSD storage.

Almost all of the machine’s components including the display, battery, keyboard, and display bezels are replaceable. Inside, you’ll also find that SSDs, memory modules, and WiFi all use industry standard outlets; the only thing that isn’t is the processor, actually. If you want to upgrade this, you will need to remove and return the motherboard, newer versions of which will be available in the Framework store when new chip options arrive.

Patel said each module “uses a single labeled connector” and most of them have “pull tabs to make them easy to handle.” He added that among the components that can be replaced, the only problem is the motherboard itself, as you have to disconnect whatever it connects to before removing it. But, he added, ripping the heart out of the machine would be a fairly rare event.

Naturally, whenever people discuss repairability, there is always the idea that this is a vegetable eating situation, with low end specs and clunky performance. Patel says that’s not the situation here, saying he wants to meet or beat the ThinkPad T, Surface Laptop, and XPS 13 in terms of performance.

Frame

One of the most interesting elements of the Framework’s design is the way the company manages the ports on both sides of the machine. Rather than correcting the port selection and running the risk of obsolescence, the company has built what it calls “expansion cards”. These are small boxes with the ability to add a USB-C, USB-A, HDMI, DisplayPort, MicroSD, additional SSD, or a discrete headphone amp to the chassis. In order to make these expansion cards universal, the company built USB-C ports directly on the motherboard of the laptop. Making them, basically, more like dongles than actual hardware ports.

Beyond the commitment to make the laptop easy to upgrade and repair, Framework is also burning its other environmental credentials. It says the machine is made of up to 50% post-consumer recycled aluminum and up to 30% post-consumer recycled plastic. Oh, and the packaging is recyclable, single-use plastic free, and all shipments are carbon offset.

The Laptop frame will start shipping at some point this summer for an as yet unspecified price, although Patel said buyers won’t pay “a premium for longevity.” Instead, the hardware will be “on par with other well-rated laptops with similar silicon.” Users can opt for a number of preconfigured models running Windows 10 Home or Pro, while a DIY edition will ship to you unassembled.

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