As laptop computers have gotten thinner and lighter over the years, they’ve also gotten harder to repair and upgrade. Some models still have upgradeable memory or storage, but many do not. And good luck finding a modern thin and light notebook with a removable battery.

A new startup called Framework is looking to reverse that trend… and then some.

This summer the company will launch the Framework Laptop, a 2.9 pound notebook with a 13.5 inch display, an aluminum body that measures 15.85mm (0.62 inches) thick, and other features you’d expect from a premium notebook in 2021. But it’s also designed to be repairable and upgradeable.

Here are a few of the parts that are designed to be removed and replaced if you need to perform repairs due to wear and tear of if you want to upgrade to next-gen parts if and when they become available:

  • Battery
  • Screen
  • Bezels
  • Keyboard
  • Motherboard
  • Wireless card
  • Memory
  • Storage

Those last two aren’t that unusual, but in addition to featuring standard sockets for storage and two memory SODIMM slots, the Framework Laptop lets you remove the entire motherboard and replace it if you want to upgrade to a next-gen processor (sadly you can’t just remove the chip itself, as most laptop-class processors are designed to be soldered to a printed circuit board).

Want to change the ports on the Framework Laptop? You can do that too. It has an expansion card system that lets you choose from USB-C, USB-A, HDMI, DisplayPort, and microSD modules. A Gigabit Ethernet expansion card is also in the works, although it’ll be a bit thicker than the others.

Each module is a square square with a USB-C connector on one end and the port of your choice on the other. Slide it into one of four expansion card bays on the laptop and you can go all-in on USB, or choose video or storage.

The company also plans to release specifications and reference designs for the expansion card system, allowing third-party companies to produce their own modules that will be sold through Framework Marketplace.

When the Framework Laptop ships this summer, it’s expected to be powered by an unspecified 11th-gen Intel Core “Tiger Lake” processor and the notebook will be configurable with up to WiFi 6E, up to 64GB of RAM, and 4TB or more of PCIe NVMe Gen 4 storage. The laptop has a 55 Wh battery.

Its 13.5 inch display is a 2256 x 1504 pixel (3:2 aspect ratio) screen that comes with a 1080p webcam capable of shooting video at 60 frames per second, but there’s also a hardware privacy switch that disables the camera when you’re not using it.

Other features include a keyboard with 1.5mm travel, a Precision Touchpad with a matte glass surface, and a fingerprint sensor built into the power button.

Framework, which is founded by Nirav Patel, an early employee of Oculus, hasn’t announced the price yet – we’ll find out how much this modular laptop costs before it goes up for pre-order this spring. But I wouldn’t expect the Framework to be cheap.

It’s aimed at folks looking for a customizable computer that can be used for years and years with a bit of home repair work and/or upgrades. And if you’re buying a laptop that could theoretically have a lifespan of decades rather than a few years, then you’re probably going to pay a premium for it… although hopefully not too much of a premium. The company indicates that longevity itself isn’t built into the price structure.

One of the biggest challenges I can see for a startup like Framework is convincing consumers to invest in the idea. Other modular projects involving laptops, phones, and watches have come and gone in recent years, but none has really gained traction. And that includes projects from big-name companies including Intel, Google and LG.

Some smaller companies including FairPhone and Pine64 are keeping the modular dream alive by offering easily repairable phones with a variety of replacement parts, and even some upgrade modules for parts including the PinePhone Mainboard or the Fairphone 3 camera module. But those devices tend to feature mid-range or budget hardware. It’ll be interesting to see whether Framework can pull off something similar with a premium notebook.

Framework plans to ship the laptop to customers in the US and Canada starting this summer before making the Framework Laptop available to folks in parts of Europe and Asia later this year.

via Framework

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  1. Mr. Patel, please have an option for a non-glare (preferably) non-touch matte display that is bright enough to use in a well lit area without annoying glare and reflections. This sustainable product concept is long overdue as a physical reality, and I’m all-in with it as long as I can get it without a shiny glare-magnet display, and I can afford it. Remember, eliminating greedy and wasteful whole device planned obsolescence need not hurt profits. In reality the opposite can be true. A sustainable product line with long-term modular repair and upgrade ability will bring you loyal long-term customers with predictable run-rate purchasing potential. I wish you success.

  2. It’s nice to see a company focusing on repairability where even business notebooks have become less repairable nowadays. The swappable flush USB Type-C dongles are nice.

    At least with this specific notebook, I’m not really the target audience (I use a desktop + UMPC combo) but I wish them luck.

  3. Here’s the thing: It also needs to be a laptop that you want to keep using for years and years. That means they need to totally nail input, display, bugs, etc.

  4. I’m wondering what the possibility might be of modules that could be used for creative purposes, such as a high spec in and out audio interface for processing real-time audio, that sort of thing. It would be amazing to have a laptop for music making where your audio ins and outs are built-in and not have to be done through a separate USB audio interface.

    1. High end audio output with a great headphone DAC/amp is one Expansion Card currently on our roadmap. Data acquisition and similar use cases are interesting too.

      1. Hi Nirav, thanks for taking the time to reply. That sounds like a cool module. High quality audio in and out would be most of interest to me, but I guess there’d have to be enough interest in such a module. Have a good weekend! Tim

  5. Really sympathetic concept, and actually reasonably appealing to boot!
    It wish them a lot of success! (Currently, I’m going for a smaller device like the Onemix Yoga 4 recently mentioned here, but if this is around if/when I’m in need of a larger device, I’ll happily consider it).

    I guess a major hurdle to making laptops with modularised upgradability appealing enough is the lack of standardisation – which, unfortunately, is hard to avoid given the space constraints. This has implications for what I can do with a component after upgrading. If I upgrade anything on my PC, it is relatively simple to give away or sell the previous component to someone else, independently of which particular PC they have. If (fingers crossed) in a few years there are some upgraded mainboard/CPU modules available for the Framework, whether or not I’ll be able to find anything sensible to do with the old one depends on how many other people will have a compatible laptop (and would be interested in getting an older piece of hardware for it) or would like to build one from scratch and use the older mainboard in it. (The building from scratch part sounds really cool, but as long as this is only pursued by one rather small vendor, there’s unfortunately not that much added flexibility.)

    One thought, I could imagine it would be a good idea to offer a version of the keyboard with a trackpoint (and ideally qualitatively comparable to ThinkPads). The reason is that ThinkPad fans in my experience are among the most likely crowd to stick to a laptop they like for a long period of time and put a decent amount of effort and money into keeping their devices working, witness the various initiatives for new Intel 8th gen mainboards for older ThinkPads (I think there were versions for the X61 and the X230, maybe also some others). If you can manage to turn this concept into a viable proposition for trackpoint devotees, it might help in the long term… (In fact, if there was a smaller form factor laptops with trackpoint or if I was in the market for a laptop in the sizes offered by Lenovo, the trackpoint would always be a major point in favour of the Lenovo machines for me)

  6. Its a concept that I’ve been dreaming about for years. I’m glad to see some movement this direction.

    I have some concerns about a few of their choices.

    Doesn’t appear that there are any screws holding the swappable IO ports in place. Seems like they might come along with the cable when I unplug it?
    No AMD options, this will be a pass for me. My next laptop will be Ryzen 7 5000-series
    The decision to offer individual ports to swap out seems to leave the laptop sparsely equipped with ports. It might be a better idea to make these pieces wider, to fit 2 or 3 ports on each of them?

    It would also be great to see some alternative choices for the chassis/body. I’d love to see an option for a bulkier version with a durable plastic body (like the old school Thinkpads), and maybe a 2.5″ drive bay?

    1. Agreed, the lack of AMD options is a deal killer for me. I have a Ryzen 5000/Nvidia 3000 series laptop on order but who knows when I’ll get it.

    2. ThinkPads are traditionally made of some magnesium alloy aren’t they? Except for the budget models (called the E or L series) which are plastic if I’m not mistaken.

      1. Nirav, I’m happy to see that you’re interacting with the community. I like your concept but I do hope that initial purchase price is competitive and that there will be a commitment to providing long term updates/upgrades at reasonable costs. Having AMD APU options as well as dGPUs would also be a good idea as well IMO.

  7. Laptops without block modules for i/o could fit all of those things at once.
    And the screen is still glued into the frame. Since the war on bezels it’s been impossible to not have that, but I’d take an upgradable/replaceable screen module over the i/o modules. Given how often screens break, that would be very important for someone concerned about longevity! That kinda hinge would actually make it pretty easy, just put some pogo pins in it and a couple L shaped cross section spikes sticking out of the hinge to hold it on. I’m sure it’d get them more interest too, considering how people are so adamant about their display preferences.
    Might not be the best thing to promise in the middle of a screen shortage though.
    i/o aside, it’s about as modular as any laptop that isn’t glued shut and still lets you change out the RAM.

    1. And you know what else I just thought of? If they made it so you could put the screen on backwards and offered touchscreen modules, then it’d be tablet too.
      Alas, they didn’t.

    2. The screen is actually held in by fasteners to make it replaceable. The bezel is magnet-attach and also replaceable for color customization.

      In addition to storage, memory, the expansion cards, the display, and the battery, the mainboard is upgradeable to future CPU generations.

      1. Dang it, this is what I get for not reading the article close enough.
        Glad to hear that’s the case, genuinely didn’t think it was still possible with a bezel that small.

  8. I have a Pinebook Pro and I am confident that Pine64 will offer affordable upgrades over time. The problem with Fairphone (and others like Framework) is that both the initial costs and costs for replacement parts are high. For the product to be viable the total costs need to be less than just buying another phone or laptop in 3-5 years. Also, given that AMD components are the new hotness now, the lack of AMD options is another demerit for this new project.

    1. We haven’t announced pricing yet, but we won’t be making consumers pay a premium for longevity. We want it to always be the obvious choice to buy the upgradeable and repairable product, and for doing the upgrade or repair to be to clear win over buying a new machine.

      1. Nirav,

        Thanks for the heads up. I will definitely follow this project. I love the 13 inch form factor and value upgradability/repairability vs continuous replacement which increases costs and e-waste.

        One concept which I wish took off was the MXM graphics modules. These allowed for a laptop GPU upgrade path without having to replace the motherboard or laptop. I hope your team will consider similar dGPU module options in the future.