It’s not often that a new company enters a highly competitive market and delivers something that truly stands out. But that’s exactly what Framework did when the startup introduced its first laptop last year. It’s a sleek, sturdy notebook with an excellent display, keyboard, and touchpad. But it’s also a modular laptop that lets you choose exactly which ports you want to use (and allows you to swap them out at any time). And it’s a repairable, upgradeable notebook – not only can you replace the memory and storage, but even the mainboard and processor can be upgraded.
The original Framework Laptop shipped with an 11th-gen Intel Core U series processor. Now Framework is selling 2nd-gen models powered by 12th-gen Intel Core P series chips that deliver even more performance. Already have a first-gen Framework Laptop? You don’t need to buy a whole new computer to get the upgrades: you can just swap out the old mainboard for a new model.
I’ve been using a 2nd-gen Framework Laptop for the past few weeks, and I’m very impressed with what the company has pulled off. While the ability to swap out ports could come across as a gimmick, the expansion card modules are well designed and reasonably priced. Once you set up your ports, odds are that you won’t change them very often, but it’s nice to know that you can.
Meanwhile, the laptop is clearly designed with repairability in mind, something that cannot be said of most notebooks. Framework loaned me a Framework Laptop DIY Edition that ships with the mainboard pre-installed, but which allows users to supply their own memory, storage, and operating system. The laptop came with a single tool that has a screwdriver on one end and a prying tool on the other. It’s the only tool you need to open the case and perform upgrades, since every screw on the inside and outside is the same size and the prying tool helps lift the keyboard away from the bottom of the laptop to reveal the internals.
While many customers would probably prefer to buy one of the models that comes pre-configured with memory, storage, and RAM, it’s nice to have the options of buying a barebones model that you can customize yourself. Framework offers installation guides and a downloadable driver pack for folks that plan to install Windows. And the company even makes it easy to run several popular GNU/Linux distributions by offering install guides and firmware update utilities for Linux as well.
The demo unit I’m testing shipped with an Intel Core i7-1260P processor, which is a 28-watt, 12-core, 16-thread chip with Intel Iris Xe graphics. It’s one of the most powerful laptop processors I’ve used to date, achieving high scores in synthetic benchmarks and offering more than enough horsepower for most day to day tasks and even some more extreme activities like gaming or professional audio or video editing.
And while you might think that the flip side to modularity and repairability would a bulkier, heavier design, that’s not the case. The Framework Laptop weighs about 2.9 pounds and measures just over 0.6 inches thick. It has a sturdy aluminum body, a well-designed backlit keyboard with 1.5mm key travel and a large Precision touchpad with support for multitouch gestures and excellent palm rejection. There’s a fingerprint sensor in the power button, and some of the best stereo speakers I’ve heard on a compact notebook (which isn’t saying much, but it’s saying something). There are also privacy switches that disable the webcam and microphones when you’re not using them.
In my testing, I did find a few weak points for the Framework Laptop with a Core i7-1260P processor. Battery life during mixed use is underwhelming. And while the laptop’s 13.5 inch, 2256 x 1504 pixel LCD display looks excellent from all angles and supports an impressive range of brightness levels, Framework doesn’t offer a touchscreen option, which is a little disappointing.
I’m also not entirely sold on the 3:2 aspect ratio of this display. While this sort of design gives you extra vertical space that comes in handy when running full-screen software, it doesn’t provide as much horizontal space as I’m used to when I’m multitasking. That means that, for example, that web pages will show less information when viewed in two side-by-side browser windows.
Some folks might also not appreciate the fact that the laptop has a glossy display, but does not feature edge-to-edge glass: the screen is recessed a bit from the bezel around the display, which could allow dust to accumulate in the edges.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Framework Laptop isn’t exactly cheap. While prices start as low as $819 for a DIY Edition with a 12th-gen Intel processor, that’s the price for an entry-level model with an Intel Core i5-1240P processor and no memory, storage, or operating system. Prices start at $1049 for a fully-configured model with the same processor, and substantially higher if you want to upgrade to an Intel Core i7 processor.
Specs & Pricing
|Framework Laptop specs|
2256 x 1504 pixels
3:2 aspect ratio
100% sRGB color gamut
400 nits peak brightness
|Processor||Intel Core i5-1240P (4P + 8E cores)|
Intel Core i7-1260P (4P + 8E cores)
Intel Core i7-1280P (6P + 8E cores)
Intel Iris Xe graphics
|RAM||8GB to 64GB|
2 x SODIMM slots
|Storage||250GB to 8TB|
PCIe Gen 4 NVMe SSD
|OS||Windows 11 Home|
Windows 11 Pro
BYO (Linux or other)
|Ports||1 x 3.5mm audio jack|
4 x Expansion card ports (with USB4 connectors)
|Audio||2 x 2W speakers|
2 x microphones (with hardware privacy switch)
1 x 3.5mm audio jack
|Charger||60W GaN USB-C|
|Webcam||1080p @ 60 fps|
80 degree field of view
Hardware privacy switch
1.5mm key travel
|Touchpad||115 x 76.6mm (4.5″ x 3″)|
Windows Precision touchpad
|Security||Fingerprint sensor (in power button)|
|Dimensions||296.6 x 229 x 15.9mm|
11.7″ x 9″ x 0.6″
Pricing varies depending on a bunch of things, including which expansion cards you choose to have shipped with the laptop. But here’s a high-level overview of the starting prices for a Framework Laptop with a 12th-gen Intel Core processor:
|Core i5-1240P/8GB/256GB/Win11 Home||$1049|
|Core i7-1260P/16GB/512GB/Win11 Home||$1449|
|Core i7-1280P/32GB/1TB/Win11 Pro||$2049|
|Core i5-1240P DIY Edition||$819|
|Core i7-1260P DIY Edition||$1,119|
|Core i7-1280P DIY Edition||$1529|
Note that the base prices for the DIY Edition models don’t include any expansion cards or an AC power adapter. If you’ve already got a USB-C laptop charger, then you may not need another one. But you’ll probably want to add at least $45 to the starting price of a Framework Laptop DIY Edition to cover the cost of four USB ports (or a little more if you want HDMI, DisplayPort, microSD, or Ethernet ports).
The model featured in this review includes an Intel Core i5-1260P processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 500GB SSD plus Windows 11 Home software. Framework also shipped my demo unit with HDMI, DisplayPort, USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A, and Ethernet modules, plus two USB Type-C modules. A similarly-configured system would sell for about $1490.
The Framework Laptop features a grey aluminum body with a black keyboard and a black bezel around the display (although you can also buy grey or orange bezels if you’d like to change the look of the laptop). It’d be easy to mistake it at first glance for a MacBook or any other premium notebook released in the past decade or so.
But look a little closer and you’ll find a few distinctive features. Framework’s logo (which looks like a gear icon) on the lid is the only visible branding on the laptop. The lid open at up to a 180 degree angle.
There are hardware switches above the display that don’t just cover the camera and microphones, but completely disable them (camera apps won’t even detect a camera when the camera switch is in the off position). And perhaps most notably, when you look at the ports you’ll see lines around each expansion card that makes it clear that this is not a normal laptop.
The expansion card system makes use of what are essentially four USB4 Type-C ports that are inset, allowing you to slide cards of your choice into each slot depending on your needs. Users who want four USB Type-C ports can configure the laptop to have just those ports. Those who want HDMI, DisplayPort, 2.5 Gbps Ethernet, USB Type-A, or microSD card ports can add those to the mix.
Want more storage without the need to open up the chassis? Framework sells SSD expansion cards with 250GB to 1TB of additional storage. And you don’t have to pick just four – you can buy as many cards as you’d like and mix and match them at any time.
While the Framework Laptop’s USB4 ports support 40 Gbps data transfer speeds, they weren’t officially Thunderbolt 4 certified at launch. But As of November 2022, Framework Laptops with 12th-gen Intel Core chips are certified to support Thunderbolt 4 accessories.
Cards are held firmly in place thanks to a locking mechanism, but they can be released by pushing a button and pulling the card to slide it out and replace it with a different module. This allows you to change out a USB port for an HDMI port when you need it, for example, and replace the USB port again when you’re away from your external display. Or if you’re in a location where it makes sense to plug the laptop’s power adapter into the left side instead of the right, all you need to is switch the location of your USB Type-C port.
Not only does this system allow you to choose the ports you need today, but it also opens the door to adding more ports in the future without the need to rely on a USB dongle adapter. When Framework launched its first-gen laptop in 2021 the company didn’t offer an Ethernet expansion card. But in response to customer demand, the company developed one that’s now available for $39.
Since the Ethernet port is thicker than the body of the laptop, this card is the only one that doesn’t fit snugly against the side of the Framework Laptop, instead extending a bit from the edge. But at least there’s now an option to add an Ethernet port. Perhaps additional options will be available in the future. And Framework encourages the development of third-party expansion cards: you can find CAD designs for designing modules at GitHub, and Framework even allows developers to apply for funding to fabricate prototypes.
I did notice that sometimes I had to press the release button a few times before I could get an expansion card to slide out. But since swapping modules is unlikely to be something you do every day, I’d rather have a laptop where it’s a little hard to release a card than one where the button is to easy to press and cards start to come loose unexpectedly.
As far as more traditional laptop features, Framework Laptop’s compact, lightweight design makes it easy to throw in a bag and carry with you, while it’s aluminum body feels sturdy enough to stand up to a bit of wear and tear (I’ve only been using it for about two weeks at this point, but I haven’t noticed any major blemishes or even oil stains on the keyboard, palm rest, or lid).
The display may top out at around 400 nits peak brightness, but I’ve found that even at lower brightness settings, it’s easy to see the screen in a room with decent lighting. I often kept the screen brightness at around 30 or 35%. And if you want to use the computer in the dark, the screen can get much dimmer than most laptops when you reduce the brightness level to its lowest setting.
One thing to keep in mind is that a 13.5 inch, 2256 x 1504 pixel display has a pixel density of just about 200 pixels per inch. That’s not quite what Apple calls a “Retina” level display, but it is pretty sharp compared to a similarly-sized 1080p display. Too sharp to comfortably view text on the screen if the display scaling is set to 100%. I’ve found that 125% or 150% scaling make for much more comfortable viewing.
The keyboard is comfortable to type on with good key spacing and travel. And the backlit keys support three different brightness levels (or four if you count “off” as a level).
The top row of Fn keys also have some useful keyboard shortcuts for volume and brightness adjustments, media playback controls, and Framework button on the F12 key that opens the Framework website in your default browser by default in Windows 11, but which can be remapped to perform other functions using PowerToys or other software.
While the 2nd-gen Framework Laptop looks nearly identical to the original version that began shipping in 2021, there is one difference. The new model has an updated top cover that Framework says is manufactured using a CNC process for improved rigidity. It’s also made using 75% pre-consumer-recycled aluminum, although the company is looking into sourcing post-consumer material in the future.
Just like the new mainboard though, the new Top Cover can be purchased without paying for a whole new laptop. So if you really wanted to turn a 1st-gen Framework Laptop into a 2nd-gen model, all you’d need to do is buy a new mainboard and Top Cover and perform a little surgery.
That said, I’m not sure it’s really worth spending $449 or more to replace a mainboard with an 11th-gen Intel Core processor with a new model featuring a 12th-gen chip. You will most likely see a performance boost, but it may not be large enough to justify the upgrade unless you’re already planning to repair a broken part (or perhaps planning to upgrade from an 11th-gen Intel Core i5 chip to a 12th-gen Core i7 processor). But what’s truly exciting is the prospect that a few years from now you may be able to upgrade to a 14th or 15th-gen processor.
In other words, instead of buying a new laptop every 3-5 years, imagine being able to buy a new mainboard instead. This allows you to save money and cut down on e-waste by only purchasing the new hardware you need while keeping the perfectly functional keyboard, touchpad, display, ports, and other components that you already have. And if anything does break or need upgrading in the meantime, it’s fairly easy to do that thanks to the laptop’s highly repairable design.
On the bottom of the laptop you’ll find five Torx screws with a 6-sided star design. While that means you can’t use a typical Phillips or flathead screwdriver to open the case, Framework ships the laptop with a Torx screwdriver that’s the only needed to perform repairs.
Just loosen each of those five screws (they don’t come all the way out, which makes them harder to lose), and then flip the opening tool around and squeeze the flat edge into the small gap between the keyboard/palm rest and the bottom of the notebook and slide your way around until you find a good spot to use it as a lever to start lifting the keyboard away from the base of the laptop. Note that this is usually easier to do if you flip the laptop over first so that the keyboard is facing upward.
Since the bottom is held in place with just magnets and the five screws you’ve removed, you should be able to lift the keyboard upward with just a little pressure once you’ve used the prying tool to find a good place to get a grip. As a result, it only takes a minute or two to open the Framework Laptop.
One thing to notes is that the cable that connects the keyboard to the mainboard will most likely come detached when you lift the keyboard so that you can actually access the memory, storage, and other components. But it’s pretty obvious where that cable connects, so you can just snap it back in place before closing up the laptop and you shouldn’t have any problems using the keyboard and touchpad when the notebook is reassembled.
Once open, you’ll see two SODIMM slots with support for up to 32GB of DDR4-3200 memory each. There’s also an M.2 2280 slot for PCIe Gen 4 NVMe solid state storage. Framework provided me with a 500GB WD Black SN850 SSD with theoretical top read/write speeds of 7,000 MB/s and 5,300 MB/s, respectively and two 8GB sticks of Crucial DDR4-3200 memory for a total of 16GB and it took just a few seconds to slot them into place: the same screwdriver that you use to open the case can be used to remove the screw that holds the SSD in place and then to tighten it once the SSD is inserted.
That same screwdriver can be used to remove the battery, speakers, wireless card, fan, or just about anything else inside the computer, including the mainboard itself. There are even QR codes on most of those items which you can scan with your phone to find repair guides for each part. And you can find replacement parts for just about each of the laptop’s components at the Framework Marketplace, including the display, keyboard, webcam, fingerprint sensor, cables, and top and bottom cover kits. You can even buy replacement keyboard kits with different language/region layouts.
All told, while the starting price for the Framework Laptop is a bit on the high side when compared with PCs from some other companies, the cost over time could end up being much lower thanks to the company’s commitment to offering spare parts and DIY repair guides as well as upgrade options
And there is actually a way to save a little money on a Framework Laptop in 2022. Buy last year’s model. You can currently pick up a Framework Laptop DIY Kit with an 11th-gen Intel Core processor for $679 and up or buy a fully configured model for $899 and up. You won’t get quite as much performance as you would from a model with a 12th-gen chip, this option lowers the starting price for buying into the Framework ecosystem, while giving you the option to upgrade the mainboard and other components a few years from now.
Speaking of performance, let’s dig into a few key areas: synthetic benchmark scores, real-world performance, battery life, and what it’s like to actually use the notebook.
Let’s start with a few subjective observations. I spend most of my work day in a web browser with dozens of tabs open as I research and write articles for Liliputing. Other software I frequently run for work including Irfanview and GIMP for image editing. And I tend to stream music while I work, so I’ve installed the Tidal app from the Microsoft Store, which tends to run in the background most of the day while I work.
I’ve had absolutely no problems performing any of those tasks with the Framework Laptop, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the sound delivered by the laptop’s stereo speakers, which are located on the left and right sides of the computer, just where the bottom starts to curve up to meet the palm rest area. This position means that the speakers are never covered by a lap, desk, or table and while you won’t get the deep bass or full detail from these laptop speakers that you might expect from a larger computer, audio comes through loud and clear with little noticeable distortion even at the highest volumes.
Speaking of audio, before I became a tech blogger I was a radio journalist, and these days I also have a side gig editing and mixing podcasts, which involves running some resource-intensive software like the Izotope RX audio repair suite of tools. While dealing with software licenses is a hassle so I don’t always bother testing professional audio software on laptops I review, I was curious to see how the Framework Laptop with a 28 watt Intel Core i7-1260P processor handled a task that takes a small eternity to complete on my primary work machine, which is a Dell Vostro laptop with a 45-watt Intel Core i7-9750H processor: using the Izotope RX Dialog Isolate tool.
The result? An hour-long recording that took about 18 minutes to process on the Dell laptop completed in about 10 minutes on Framework Laptop. Not bad for a thinner, lighter notebook with a chip designed to run at lower power.
Those impressive results were largely in line with what I saw from synthetic benchmarks.
When compared with other PCs I’ve tested in the past year or so, the Framework Laptop with an Intel Core i7-1260P processor achieved top scores in GeekBench and Cinebench multi-core performance tests and it also was either at the head of the pack of near the head with single-core performance in those tests.
But those are CPU-specific tests. When you factor in graphics performance, things look a little different. The HP Pavilion Aero 13 laptop that I reviewed last year had a 15-watt AMD Ryzen 7 5800U processor with Radeon Vega 8 graphics, and its strong combination of CPU and graphics performance helped it take the lead in PCMark and PassMark, two tests which look at performance across a wide range of everyday computing tasks.
In gaming benchmarks like 3DMark Night Raid, Time Spy, and Fire strike, the HP Pavilion Aero 13 and Framework Laptop ran neck-and-neck.
So while Intel’s Core i7-1260P processor is certainly no slouch, I can’t help but wish that Framework offered an AMD Ryzen processor & mainboard option for its laptop, especially since the HP Pavilion Aero 13 offers significantly better battery life, at least for the way that I use a computer.
While the HP laptops has just a 43 Wh battery to the Framework Laptop’s 55 Wh battery, the HP Pavilion Aero 13 ran for up to 7 hours at a time when I used it for researching and writing articles for Liliputing. The Framework Laptop lasted just about 4 hours under the same conditions.
Battery life is longer when performing less demanding tasks… but not much better in my tests. While Framework claims the notebook should get up to 10 hours of battery life, it lasted for just 5 hours and 12 minutes while streaming video from YouTube over WiFi with the screen set to 30 percent brightness. The HP laptop lasted for about 10 hours when streaming YouTube video.
One possible reason for that difference is that not only is the Intel Core i7-1260P processor nominally a 28-watt chip, but that the number only refers to the processor base power. The chip actually uses up to 64 watts for brief periods of time when the processor is using Intel’s turbo boost technology, which can cut down battery life under heavy load.
This rapid battery drain isn’t a problem that’s unique to the Framework Laptop: I recently reviewed a One Netbook T1 tablet with an Intel Core i5-1240P processor and a 46.2 Wh battery, and it also suffered from underwhelming battery life (just about 5 hours of YouTube video streaming). While there’s a chance that future driver updates from Intel could help reduce energy use and extend battery life, right now the Framework Laptop with a 12th-gen Core processor is a speedy laptop with mediocre battery life.
Fortunately Framework’s 65W USB-C power adapter is a compact charger that won’t take up too much space if you need to pack it in your bag, and it does a pretty good job of topping up the battery quickly. You can also use third-party USB-C chargers or power banks as long a they support USB Power Delivery. I was able to charge the Framework Laptop using a 45W power bank, for example.
One other thing that can affect performance (and the experience of using the laptop) is how it handles heat. The good news is that the Framework Laptop has a fan that provides active cooling that seems to do a pretty good job of keeping the system from overheating and throttling performance. The less good news is that the fan can get rather loud under heavy load.
During the first week that I used the laptop, the fan noise would get annoyingly loud rather often. But after installing an updated set of Windows drivers from Framework, the fan kicks into high gear a lot less frequently and becomes significantly less noticeable.
The palm rest and keyboard area of the notebook can get a little warm under heavy load. While I didn’t really notice much heat after several hours of working on the laptop, all it took was a few minutes of running Prime95 for system to get warm to the touch. The bottom gets even warmer, but I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say it’s uncomfortably hot.
With an air intake on the bottom of the laptop and a vent positioned at the back near the hinge that holds the lid in place, you’re unlikely to ever feel hot air being expelled from the notebook.
Software (Windows and Linux support)
Customers have the option of buying a Framework Laptop with Windows 11 Home or Pro software pre-installed, or buying a Framework Laptop DIY Kit that’s available with or without Windows.
If you buy a model with Windows 11, it will come with Framework’s hardware drivers pre-installed, but that’s it for special software. Everything else is stock Windows.
Since the company sent me a DIY Kit with no operating system, after I installed the memory and storage, I went to another computer and used Microsoft’s utility to make a bootable USB flash drive for installing Windows 11 and then followed the instructions in the Framework Laptop Quick Start guide to download a pack of Windows 11 drivers in order to ensure that the touchpad, keyboard, display, and processor work properly.
But Framework’s laptops are also compatible with GNU/Linux distributions including Fedora 36, Ubuntu 22.04 LTS, and Manjaro Xfce 21.31. You can find installation instructions for each of those operating systems at frame.work/linux. The company notes that WiFi and Bluetooth work out of the box on all three operating systems, while the fingerprint reader works with Ubuntu and Fedora, but requires a workaround before it’ll function properly with Manjaro.
In other words, you could probably even ignore the installation guides and just install the Linux distro of your choice, but it’s probably worth checking out Framework’s documentation anyway because there are some tweaks described that may help with battery life in some situations, among other things. And you’ll find out if a kernel upgrade or any other adjustments are recommended for specific Linux-based operating systems.
There’s documentation for using an even larger number of Linux distributions with the original Framework Laptop featuring 11th-gen Intel Core processors, so don’t be surprised to see Linux resources for models with 12th-gen chips expand in the future as Intel’s latest processors become more common.
When I took Ubuntu for a spin on the Framework Laptop I did find a few small quirks. The volume shortcuts on the keyboard worked as expected, for example, but the screen brightness keys did not. That’s not much of an issue, as I could quickly adjust brightness using Ubuntu’s slider.
Sliding the privacy switches over the camera and microphone don’t just cover the camera. They completely disable it. That means that whether you’re using Windows or Linux, opening a camera application when the privacy switch is covering the camera means that the app won’t recognize the camera at all. It’s as if you had unplugged a USB webcam. So when you want to use the camera, just slide the privacy switch to the off setting and when you don’t want to be spied on, just slide it closed.
Speaking of the camera, I was able to use Ubuntu’s Cheese camera app to snap photos which looked fine. But the viewfinder for the app showed a preview that was grey with black and green lines running down the middle. I suspect developers may need to do a little more work to ensure Ubuntu is fully compatible with the camera app before you’d want to use it for anything more serious than a quick snapshot, like placing video calls.
Buying a thing and light laptop these days usually means picking a model with all the specs and features you want today, in hopes that it will still meet your needs in the years to come. But the Framework Laptop promises a different future, where it’s not only easy to repair just about anything that breaks on your laptop, but where you can even rearrange ports on the fly or add new features in the future via the expansion card system. And you can even upgrade the processor and mainboard without replacing the rest of the computer.
When Framework launched their first laptop a little over a year ago, the company’s vision showed a lot of promise. Now Framework has shown it can deliver on that promise. Over the past year Framework has launched a Marketplace where you can buy all sorts of spare parts including mainboards, grown its support documentation for Windows and Linux users, added new expansion cards, and now released a 2nd-gen Framework Laptop with an upgraded set of processor options and a new mainboard option that can be slotted into a 1st-gen laptop.
Buying a thin and light laptop these days usually means picking a model with all the specs you want in hopes that they’ll be good enough for years to come. While it’s still a little too early to say whether this startup will still be around in five or ten years, it would be amazing if a laptop you bought today could be upgraded that far in the future when the processor or other components are starting to show their age. At the very least, it’s nice to see a company committed to selling the spare laptop batteries that are really necessary to extend the life of a mobile computer (they’re not available yet, but they’re coming soon for $59).
A handful of companies have come to dominate the PC market, and while we’ve some innovative ideas in recent years like foldable tablets, extraordinarily speedy (and efficient) processors, it’s exciting to see something truly different from a startup like Framework… especially when the company not only delivers on the promise of a modular, repairable, and upgradeable laptop, but also one that’s lightweight and durable, offers strong performance, and is generally a pleasure to use.
While I tend to be a bargain hunter when buying laptops, I’m definitely considering splurging on a Framework Laptop the next time I need a new computer. The only thing holding me back is that I’m not entirely sold on the benefits of a 3:2 aspect ratio display on a laptop with a 13.5 inch screen, as I’d prefer a little more horizontal space.
I also wouldn’t be mad if Framework decided to begin offering a touchscreen option, but that’s not a dealbreaker for me and given that the company basically only offers one computer (that comes with a variety of different processor options and stellar support).
The Framework Laptop with 12th-gen Intel Core processor options is now available for $819 and up, or for $679 and up if you opt for a model with an 11th-gen Intel chip.