If you haven’t seen the interview I did with Rob Herman, I will link in directly below.
If you’d like to just listen to the interview, here is an mp3 of our talk.
It was really great to speak with Rob and learn about his unique perspective in the creative process. Every person that makes up the team that gives us a machine has a part to play and it was very interesting to hear his thoughts on some of the classic and upcoming ThinkPads that have been released. It has certainly brought a newfound appreciation for the process and all the steps involved.
With pre-orders open to most countries for the Framework Laptop, I’ve been reading some criticism (some serious, some not) on the module design that Framework has created.
Some have stated that the creation of these “pockets” in the body of the laptop is a gimmick and does not truly add meaningful functionality, but I am tempted to disagree. While the concept is simple to execute, it has large implications on how these machines can be configured.
One way to look at this is to peer back into history when, not at computers, but military load-bearing equipment or LBE for short. It wasn’t until recently that this equipment adopted a similar idea to the Framework Laptop known as modularity. Many armies traditionally have had bags or satchels and at best, sewn on pockets to a vest or harness, but these pockets could not be moved or swapped out, so every soldier had the same equipment, but not the same mission.
Over time this got better, but the position and availability of the pockets were often limited to proprietary systems that offered no interchangeability.
The standard practice of MOLLE and other systems brought about huge change in how a soldier could configure their gear. Using a “basket-weaving” style method, you could now swap pouches and pockets to change up the load of equipment you carried without too much difficulty. To me, this is what Framework is trying to do with their laptop.
In short, I am hoping more people are willing to give this concept a chance. It has a lot of merit to be able to configure the machine to perform in a variety of different situations and tasks where ports truly matter. It could also impact how businesses would deploy a fleet of machines and be able to swap ports between them. Not to mention if a module is used frequently, it could also reduce wear on the USB-C port that would otherwise be used with a dongle on a frequent basis.
Since I first posted about the Framework Laptop, many details have been released. Here is everything we know so far about this laptop. Currently, Framework is preparing for pre-orders. You can find out more information in their article here.
Modularity is something we haven’t truly seen in laptops since Intel decided to stop offering socketed mobile CPUs. Manufacturers often shoulder the blame on that, unfairly in my mind, but that is a topic for another article. Many users miss the days of taking apart every component of their laptop and replacing or upgrading components […]
1. 1080 Webcam
The Framework Laptop will have a 1080P 60fps camera. Produced by Partron in South Korea, it will have the following specifications:
1/6″ OmniVision OV2740 sensor
80° diagonal f/2.0 four-element lens, using a blue glass IR filter for improved colour performance
Realtek RTS5853 camera controller
Hardware privacy switch for the camera and microphone array
2. The Motherboard
The motherboard planned is designed to be removed and replaced with other motherboards of the same form factor. It also sports:
Removable memory modules
Tiger Lake CPUs at launch (i5-1135G7, i7-1165G7, i7-1185G7)
You can buy the Framework Laptop without RAM, SSD or WiFi so you can use your own parts
M.2 2280 PCIe Gen 4 NVMe (up to 7,000MB/s and write speeds of up to 5,300MB/s)
Prebuilt models will ship with Western Digital’s SN730
2 SO-DIMM sockets supporting DDR4 DRAM at up to DDR4-3200. Maximum of 64GB of RAM over 32GB modules
Prebuilt models will ship with Samsung, SK Hynix, and Micron
WiFi is handled by support for 2×2 WiFi 6 and WiFi 6E modules through an M.2 2230 socket
3. The Keyboard
The keyboard of any laptop is an essential component as you spend more time touching it than any other part of the machine. Here is what we know about the keyboard on the Framework laptop:
1.5mm key travel
Keyboard and top decks will be available for purchase
US English, UK English, International English, French, French Canadian, Korean, Chinese Pinyin, Chinese Traditional, Japanese, German, Italian, Spanish, Latin American, and Dutch Belgian variants are being planned
Completely black and clear keyboards will also be available
4. Storage Expansion Cards
One of the eye-catching design choices of the Framework Laptop is the expansion modules. These allow for functionality and ports to be swapped on the fly through the use of the USB-C form-factor. Several modules like USB-C, USB-A, HDMI, DisplayPort, MicroSD are already planned and now they have added storage to this list. 250GB and 1TB are the current sizes being tested.
Cards being made by BizLink and Phison
U17 Flash Controller, N28 NAND
1TB card exceeds 1000MB/s read and write
250GB clocks in at 1000MB/s read and 375 MB/s write
5. 3:2 Display
Let’s get right to the point. This display looks amazing. To remove it, simply remove a magnetic bezel and four fasteners.
BOE’s 13.5” 2256×1504 LCD
100% coverage of sRGB
Lay flat design (180-degree hinge)
Ambient light sensor
DC mode backlight controller to avoid flicker
Bezel colour options available
6. The Power Adapter
Power adapters are important, for without them, you have a paperweight. Here is what we know about the adapter that will be bundled with the Framework Laptop:
60W 20V/3A USB-C (USB-PD 3.0 and PPS)
Developed in partnership with Phihong
58mm x 58mm x 27mm
Modular cable options for different regions and is replaceable from both ends or the brick itself
I first encountered the name Steve Hamm when I was doing research on a ThinkPad to track down and cover for the channel. I had consulted several lists to see what would be some fun and unique models to try and acquire that weren’t overly expensive. There are some really cool ThinkPads out there, but some are simply not being sold online or if they are, go for significant amounts of money, ready for museums.
I settled on learning more about the ThinkPad X300 and quickly, after a few searches in a variety of places, one of them being YouTube, I found there was little in the way of recent coverage and discussion about the X300 and its underappreciated role in laptop design. However, one of the items I did find was a talk that Steve Hamm gave on the Microsoft Research channel. You can find the full video below.
After watching the first hour of Steve’s talk, I was intrigued. Steve had been a technology journalist for over 20 years at the point to wrote “The Race for Perfect: Inside the Quest to Design the Ultimate Portable Computer.” Then I saw the cover of the book and found a digital copy of the dust jacket. The book was primarily focused on the X300, I thought I couldn’t have asked for a better resource. At the end of the project, it was a tie between the treasure-trove of the book and talking to David Hill (who was the head of design at the time for IBM/Lenovo) about the X300.
One thing you need to understand is the book is more than just about the X300. If you want to understand the history of portable computing or ThinkPad development, you need to read this book. The stories and people that he interviewed for the book at first might not seem interconnected but it helps you build an understanding and appreciation for what Lenovo was able to accomplish in the X300. Going all the way back to the early days of portable computing up to what was the present day at the time of publishing gives a crystal clear picture of the significance of computers like the X300. This isn’t just about one laptop, it is a history of mobile computing.
Steve had exclusive access to multiple key people on the X300 project, David Hill included. Originally he was at Lenovo to interview the chairman who just recently completed the purchase of IBM’s PC division. His schedule was packed, but he had a few minutes where he was taken down to the design lab, this is where he and David would meet for the first time. When I spoke to David Hill, he told me about how far Steve’s access went.
They brought him down to the design lab and said, “Hey, this is Steve Hamm, he is from BusinessWeek Magazine, he’s got like, 20 minutes, can you show him something?”
I’m like, okay. So I said, “So what can I show him?”
“Well he’s on a Non-Disclosure-Agreement so you can show him anything.”
So I showed him what were were doing and he was so fascinated with it, he said, “I want to write a book about it.”
So we gave him a complete, insider view of exactly what was happening. He went to Japan and he went to Italy and he met with Richard Sapper, he met with Naihtoh-son. It was kind of funny, I had an interlock call with Naihtoh-son we had a regular kind of call when meeting about various kinds of topics and he said, “Hey do you know this guy Steve Hamm?” and I said “Yeah I do.”
“I met him in Japan, he knows everything.”
I said, “Yeah, he does. We’ve been talking to him and showing him all this stuff. What did you do?”
“Well I figured it must be okay, so I showed him everything.”
David Hill would go on to say that this was completely counter to anything that IBM would have ever allowed. If you haven’t seen my video review of this book, please consider watching it below.
Steve mentions this in the Microsoft Research video above when he talks about the book, but one of the great things about “The Race for Perfect” is he was able to interview and get these accounts first hand from the people that were there with very few exceptions. I will leave the final word with Steve Hamm as it personifies how I felt when I sat down with David Hill to talk to him regarding his role in the X300.
These people are incredible inventors and they need to be remembered.
I hope you enjoy the interview, it was a lot of fun talking to Steve and I am infinitely grateful for the generous gift of his time and sharing. For those looking for an audio version of the interview, you can find it below or click here for the mp3.
It isn’t a secret that most claims of laptop battery life need to be taken with a grain of salt. From my experience, the average consumer doesn’t realize how much exactly battery life can vary based on
Machine specifications (Display size and resolution, CPU/GPU configurations)
Battery size (WHr)
Battery technology (Most are Lithium-based but battery technology is constantly improving)
Power Draw (How many Watts each component is drawing at any given time and for how long)
Usage (The processes the end-user is running, their intensity and duration)
Claims listed on manufacturer websites occasionally will not include the specific conditions or tests that result in the numbers that they post. I’ve also read several posts of some very suspect claims of older machines getting very high hour counts for battery life. The one exception to this might be the individual that put actual Tesla Model 3 cells into their ThinkPad T420S to give them 129.7Wh with 0.2V under a 60W load.
Assuming that this modification might not be for you, there are a few things to think about when looking at battery life statistics.
Get multiple sources of data.
While the manufacturer “should” be a reliable source of information on the product that they have created, battery statistics are often theoretical maximums and not “regular usage.” You will note that nearly every brand will list their battery life with the words: “Up to X.X hours” because they know as well as I do that you can drain any battery to flat under the right conditions in record time (Notebook Check drained the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano under maximum load under two hours). This isn’t entirely their fault or even misleading. Since how computers are used is varied so much, it would be exceedingly difficult to come up with a number that could be agreed upon as “normal use” that would apply to every user.
By using a theoretical maximum it gives the consumer an idea of what the machine can be stretched to do in terms of energy conservation. If a laptop functioning at its leanest cannot produce the battery life you desire, you know it isn’t in the running. At the same time, knowing those lean conditions and deciding if they are acceptable for you are also a key part of the decisions. Some battery tests are far more theoretical than others. This is where reading and watching multiple detailed reviews to get an average is the most reliable method.
Try to find use cases and configurations similar to your own.
When looking for those reviews or videos, try to find similar configurations to the machine you are looking to purchase and similar use cases if possible. For example, the difference between a 1080p panel, 2K panel and 4K panel is quite significant when it comes to battery life. This can actually be the difference of up to 50% of your battery life. In 2017 Joshua Goldman published an article for CNET.com that showed this issue. It is also illustrated in the screenshot of the 9310 XPS 13.
For example, Dell’s XPS 13 outfitted with its QHD touchscreen lasts for just about 8 hours in our tests. Get the full HD display instead, though, and you’re able to get more than 10.5 hours of battery life. It’s the same for the HP Spectre x360, which is rated at 8 hours for the 4K version, but 16 hours with a full HD screen.
Set realistic expectations.
Battery technology has come a long way, but some of the claims of 19 -20+ hours haven’t reached realistic use cases in my opinion. Those numbers are often achieved with WiFi off, the machine on but idling or running a simple task and with screen brightness set to a very low level to reduce power consumption. Take a look at the PC Mag statistics and test data above to see that while impressive, how realistic is this situation for all users?
Understand it is a balance of finite resources.
When it comes to laptops, it is ALWAYS a compromise. It is a tug-of-war between weight, size, performance, affordability, durability, endurance and more. Resist the urge to believe what you know you shouldn’t to avoid disappointment and returns. Focus on what you really and truly need and how it fits within your budget. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.
Consider the power of Rapid Charge technology.
Many higher-end laptops are now coming with some kind of Rapid Charge technology that gets you to full battery in record time. Rapid Charge often gets you the major of your battery back in 30 minutes to an hour, or your average lunch break. This is a significant factor to consider because if you have this technology at your fingertips, you might just need to consider how long your battery lasts for half the day, not the full day. My new ThinkPad X1 Nano has about half of the battery capacity of the Surface Book 2, but it is gentler on power consumption and the ability to Rapid Charge means I haven’t missed it at all.
Are there other topics relating to laptop design that you’d like me to write about? Feel free to send me an email with your idea using the Contact form on this website or hit me up on Twitter. Thanks for reading.
Rumours have been circulating for a while now that Titanium will be used on the new X1 and X1 Yoga models. In a recent contest on Twitter, Lenovo has essentially confirmed that they are coming, probably at CES 2021.
Our 6-day countdown until #LenovoCES announcements begins NOW!
Follow the TrackPoint, spot the highlighted letters, and then unscramble the word. Comment the answer below for your chance to win a surprise! #CES2021
However, as I discuss in a recently released video on the channel, this isn’t the first time they have used Titanium on a laptop.
I really hope that Lenovo has learned their lessons on how to best use this material as it does have some significant drawbacks as seen in the video. Granted manufacturing technology has improved significantly since then, I would be very mindful about what sort of abuse I would put a chassis that has this metal at its core.
Another thing to consider is that materials in engineering, even from my limited understanding, are rarely interchangeable and equal. I occasionally watch Ian McCollum’s Forgotten Weapons YouTube channel to hear about design decisions in the firearm industry. While I don’t have a major interest in firearms beyond interesting trivia, I feel like one can learn a lot about design from a fellow like Ian. He is involved with a joint venture with a firearms manufacturing company to create a polymer lower to the AR-15 platform and has documented that it isn’t as simple as casting the same part using a different material.
All that to say, I’m curious to see what, if any considerations exist between the build process between the regular X1 and X1 Yoga variants and their newer Titanium counterparts.