Framework has been selling modular, repairable, and upgradeable laptops with 13.5 inch displays since 2021. But while you can replace the mainboard, battery, and most other components, there are a few things that are hard to do without introducing a new chassis: like adding a bigger display or support for discrete graphics.
Enter the Framework Laptop 16. Expected to go up for pre-order this spring and begin shipping later this year, the laptop has a bigger screen, a new expansion system that enables user-replaceable discrete graphics, and a modular input section that lets you decide whether you want a number pad or not, among other things.
The Framework Laptop 16 features a 16 inch, 2560 x 1600 pixel LCD display with a 165 Hz refresh rate and up to 500 nits brightness. But the display isn’t the only thing that’s changed.
Framework says the new 16 inch laptop has a slim metal chassis and a modular port system with 6 USB4 connectors that you can use to add USB, HDMI, DisplayPort, Ethernet, or audio jacks, among other things (there’s also support for SSD modules that let you expand your storage without opening up the chassis).
That’s two more modules than the 13.5 inch Framework Laptop supports… although the smaller model does have a built-in 3.5mm audio jack that’s absent on the Framework Laptop 16. Instead, Framework has introduced a new audio module that allows you to put the headset jack anywhere you want it (or leave it out if you don’t need it… or add up to 6 headphone jacks if you want a whole bunch of them for some reason).
One of the most exciting new features is an updated Expansion Bay that allows you to connect a discrete graphics module that hangs off the back of the laptop. This will be an optional feature, allowing folks who are happy with integrated graphics to stick with that, while folks who want more GPU horsepower will be able to opt for a removable eGPU model.
Since the GPU attaches to the back of the laptop, Framework says it will be possible to make modules in a variety of shapes and sizes (including width and depth), which gives the company flexibility to adapt to next-gen GPU requirements in the future.
So if these modules prove popular enough for Framework to keep producing new modules, you may be able to buy a laptop this year that features the latest discrete graphics available at the time and upgrade to an even more powerful GPU in a few years. And even if Framework goes out of business or stops offering GPU add-ons, the company open sources the specifications for its module designs, which means that ambitious hardware hackers might be able to make their own GPU upgrade modules.
Framework says its discrete graphics modules will also be usable independently of the Framework Laptop, allowing you to buy a GPU expansion system and plug it into other laptop or desktop computers for use as an eGPU.
And the company says the PCIe x8 interface that enables discrete graphics can also be used for other high-speed expansion modules. For example the company has developed a dual M.2 SSD interface that could be used to add up to 16TB of additional storage to the Framework Laptop 16. Other possible applications include AI accelerators, video capture devices, batteries, or card readers.
Another exciting new feature for the 16 inch model? A customizable input section.
Want a keyboard with a number pad on the right side? You can buy the standard keyboard plus an optional number pad and set it up like a traditional 16 inch notebook keyboard layout.
Don’t like number pads? No problem. Just pay for a system with a keyboard and slide it over to the center.
This modular system also makes it possible to put a number pad on the left side. And it’s theoretically possible to slot other input devices into the keyboard area, such as trackpads or touchscreen displays.
Framework says there will be a variety of Input modules in small, medium, and large sizes. Large modules will include things like the keyboard, while number pads fall into the medium category. Small modules could include things like custom color panels or functional modules like a haptic slider or LED matrix: it’s unclear how many of these modules will be made by Framework itself but, again, the designs are open source for anyone who wants to build custom panels.
As for the keyboards themselves, Framework plans to offer a number of options including single-color backlit keyboards with a variety of language layouts and RGB backlit options.
The company says many of its Input Modules are powered by a Raspberry Pi RP2040 microcontroller, and Framework is releasing the source code for the firmware (it’s based on QMK) that powers those modules, which should help makers who want to design their own inputs.
Framework hasn’t announced pricing details for the 16 inch laptop or its expansion modules yet, but we should know more in the coming months.
“And even if Framework goes out of business or stops offering GPU add-ons, the company open sources the specifications for its module designs, which means that ambitious hardware hackers might be able to make their own GPU upgrade modules.”
Errm, and how exactly would someone do that? Contact TSMC and make a contract? It’s not like someone with a solder iron could just make one. I don’t know, without more details about this expansion slot, it’s hard to say.
Would it just be like other eGPUs? Then it would be possible.
Aftermarket graphics cards for this thing would probably be a lot like aftermarket graphics cards for older models laptops with discrete graphics, before they started soldering the GPU to the motherboard. I suspect that if anyone ever does that they’ll probably be contracting with some factory that has the requisite machinery, using recycled GPUs.