2022 has been a very busy year for the channel with nearly 100 videos published. This year saw the beginning of many new projects, some that I have yet to announce and the continuation and expansion of others. To help celebrate, here are my Top Picks for each month of 2022.
The year started strong and it was a tough race between an interview I did with David Hill regarding the TrackPoint cap and the ThinkMods NVMe to Express Card Adapter. Since it is my list, I refuse to choose and give you both of those fantastic videos.
February saw the one-year anniversary of my Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano ownership which was a milestone to be sure. SaotoTech did steal the show a bit with their 3D-printed TrackPoint caps. See the video below to learn more about how to get a modern version of a classic TrackPoint cap.
This month was especially busy with lots of laptops and Think Design Stories. My favourite has to be David Hill’s story about the Hardened ThinkPad Concept. Special thanks to Brian Leonard for the best photos that exist of this important concept.
I finally looked at the IBM ThinkPad 600 which was a very important model for the ThinkPad lineup as it laid the groundwork for the T series that would shortly follow. Lots of design choices that are still with the ThinkPad brand started with this model. Special thanks to Tommy for getting this model to me.
This was a quieter month in terms of easily stand-out machines but it did see me tear down the ThinkPad E580 which went to show that good value still exists in series outside the T series.
June soldiered on and several machines came and went but one that couldn’t quite go fast enough is one of the least repairable laptops ever made, the Surface Laptop 2. It is impossible to over this device without destroying several components.
July was insane with 17 videos released. Two of my favourites from this time were my review of the Keychron K8 and Q0 keyboard and number pad. I did particularly enjoy the IBM ThinkPad A20m video as it gave me the chance to highlight Rob Herman’s work again as I finally got the chance to look at the first A Series on the channel.
This was easily the quietest month of the year since I was already hard at work on my celebratory planning for ThinkPad 30th’s birthday. A lot of work was going on behind the scene so the fewest videos were produced during this time. I did manage to squeeze in a few videos and the Lenovo ThinkPad E14 Gen 1 was one of the good ones..
September began the rolling release of the videos that celebrated ThinkPad’s 30th anniversary. I collaborated with not only David Hill, but Tom Hardy who shared some amazing stories about their time with ThinkPad and Design. Here are some of the many videos that were produced:
With the ThinkPad 30’s celebrations in full swing, there was a lot to talk about. I strongly recommend you check out the playlist of Interviews for all the goodies that were happening at that time.
Think Design Stories: Dr. Ted Selker, Interviewing the man behind TrackPoint
Think Design Stories: 21st Century Customer Engagement (ft. David Hill)
Think Design Stories: The Colour Black, The Challenges of Making ThinkPad Black (ft. Tom Hardy)
Think Design Stories: TrackPoint Origins, The story of how it became red (ft. Tom Hardy)
Think Design Stories: People Driving Design (ft. David Hill)
Think Design Stories: Developing ThinkPad, The People, Technology and Timing (ft. Tom Hardy)
Think Design Stories: Design Saves Branding (ft. David Hill)
Think Design Stories: IBM and Design, The Road to the Personal Computer (ft. Tom Hardy)
Think Design Short Stories: Zippers, TrackPoint Caps and Batman (ft. David Hill)
Think Design Stories: The Cut Corner: Purpose Revealed (ft. David Hill)
This year seemed to have been dominated by ThinkPads. November saw the examination of the X390 which was the last three-digit X model before they went to the X13 variants. It is a strange evolution that I got the pleasure of unpacking for the channel.
December and much of November were very busy months for me, unfortunately not channel related so there were many projects that I didn’t get started, or finished. I hope to start the next year strong and wanted to get two wonderful donations filmed. The Lenovo ThinkPad X61s and the Lenovo ThinkPad T430u. Thanks to Justin and Kemish for making that possible.
Looking into 2023 I feel like there is much left undone. I’ve been generously provided several donations I still need to film. I have several collaborations in the works that need to be continued that ideally, would be further along and I am definitely the slow factor. As I mentioned earlier in the article, things got busy outside of the channel and I never was able to claw that time back.
I’m excited and optimistic about the opportunities that are new that have also come my way that I cannot wait to share them with everyone. All of it, every success the channel has had this year and years previously has been a direct result of your kindness and support of what I do. Laptop Retrospective remains a wonderful hobby that I’m excited to work on every time I sit down to write notes for a video or edit together the next episode. I hope you will join me in the year ahead, we have so much to explore together.
Update: This article was updated on March 18, 2023 thanks to the help of Dan Basterfield who worked for IBM UK PC Company. His knowledge has helped increase the overall accuracy of this article.
ThinkPad enthusiasts will likely know that at the very beginning of the history of ThinkPad, black was not the only colour used for these iconic machines. As hard as it might be to believe there do exist Beige/Pebble Gray ThinkPads, it is a strange sight to behold. You can tell by looking at it that the hard work and consideration that Richard Sapper and Kazuhiko Yamazaki put into the design is impacted when the machine isn’t the colour it was designed to be. The Pebble Gray colour choice was available on several models, not just the 700C.
There was also a Japan-exclusive ThinkPad 330C (5523-JVB) that was beige. This was released on May 16, 1994 and did not feature a TrackPoint and other more recognizable ThinkPad features. We will talk more about that shortly.
It is worth noting that the different colour parts are shared between some models. For example, the 700 and 720 share the same housing components.
IBM ThinkPad 750/755 sitting on a Dock 1 Docking Station with a French-European keyboard. Image retrieved from Catawiki.com
ThinkPad 700c Andy, own photo, ThinkPad Museum Schwandorf
IBM ThinkPad 750Cs. Posted by tobiasg2603 via Reddit.
So where and why do these machines exist? Let me try and offer as complete of an answer as I can using the information I have collected, some of it recently.
The “Why?” question was partially answered by Arimasa Naitoh during the 20th Anniversary of ThinkPad.
The ThinkPad models in the 1990’s had documentation stating that they are to be made in black cases, in accordance with Richard Sapper’s guidelines set in his collaboration with the Boca Raton Team. Why were there variations from this, where, for instance, the 700/ C, 720C and 300 are in grey?
Naitoh-San: In the 1990’s, we had the retail models of ThinkPad painted in grey to be distinguished from the original enterprise models.
Naitoh-San is likely referring to the Japanese-exclusive ThinkPad 330C (5523-JVB) I mentioned earlier. You can see a gallery of photos of this device that were taken by ThinkPads.com Forum member Bondi.
IBM ThinkPad 330C (5523-JVB) by ThinkPad Forums user Bondi.
IBM ThinkPad 330C (5523-JVB) by ThinkPad Forums user Bondi.
IBM ThinkPad 330C (5523-JVB) by ThinkPad Forums user Bondi.
IBM ThinkPad 330C (5523-JVB) by ThinkPad Forums user Bondi.
IBM ThinkPad 330C (5523-JVB) by ThinkPad Forums user Bondi.
IBM ThinkPad 330C (5523-JVB) by ThinkPad Forums user Bondi.
IBM ThinkPad 330C (5523-JVB) by ThinkPad Forums user Bondi.
Official IBM documentation of the Beige/Pebble Gray ThinkPad is spotty at best. In the Personal Systems Reference IBM ThinkPad Notebooks 1992 to 2001 – withdrawn January 2001 – Version 214, the only model not listed as being offered in black was the ThinkPad 300 monochrome model and it was listed as “Charcoal grey” (page 4) as opposed to black. We know from the Hardware Maintenance Manuals from above that there was a more comprehensive offering of ThinkPad in Beige/Gray. This is likely to do with the markets they were sold—more on that in just a moment.
To answer the “Where?” part of the question, we can look at the keyboards and see that nearly all of the photographed examples have one item in common and that is a QWERTZ keyboard layout. I found one example sporting a French European keyboard layout. Both of these keyboard layouts are exclusive to Western/Central Europe and the QWERTZ layout is often simply referred to as the German keyboard layout. Now, this raises an interesting and somewhat plausible connection to the interview I did with Tom Hardy where he discusses the challenges he had with German DIN standards and IBM Germany at the time. See the video below for that whole story.
It is impossible to know how many of these machines were produced but it is highly likely the German DIN standards of the time had an impact on their creation. If we assume Naitoh-san is correct in the above statement at least as it pertains to the Japanese market, where the retail models were designated that colour, Dan Basterfield, a former IBM UK PC Company employee and ThinkPad collector who contacted me also shed some light on how all these histories can co-exist.
“Naitoh-san’s comments about the retail models being grey and business models being black were clearly true for the Japanese market, which saw a proliferation of ‘PS/Note’ branded models for both markets (many of which never made it to the US or EMEA), but not in the context of the non-black 700/720/750/755 models. Yes, the PS/Note 182 was grey, as was the ThinkPad 300, both of which were marketed outside Japan, both were entry-level machines. I acquired a 300 about eight years ago. It is nowhere near as sharp or as iconic as the 700/720, and side-by-side they are clearly different machines. I’d never seen one even in my time at IBM, and it feels disappointingly like a generic laptop dressed up with IBM badges and design cues; IIRC it was manufactured by a 3rd party. The odd texture and the fact that it wasn’t black only emphasised the ‘wrongness’ when I finally got hold of one.
The retail/commercial divide had nothing to do with the cream 700/720 and grey 750/755. These were all due, as you correctly surmised, to the German DIN regulations regarding contrast of visual display units which effectively precluded black (or white) screen surrounds. Not a problem for any of the desktop ranges then, as all the PS/1, PS/2, and ValuePoint monitors were acceptably cream, but a problem for the black ThinkPads, hence the non-black German-only variants. The manufacturing and localisation guys at Greenock confirmed this to me – I asked back then because I’d once had a close look at a peculiar beige/black hybrid ThinkPad, left on a desk in PC Co HQ back in Basingstoke in 1994: black keyboard sitting in a white chassis. I never saw another one like it, even with keeping my eyes open and having good access to oddities and curiosities. I thought it had been a prototype or development chassis, but realised then that this must have been a beige German-market 700/720 that had been retrofitted with a black non German keyboard – presumably UK layout for a UK user. I recently picked up a NOS grey 750/755 German keyboard, like you do, and of course it really is grey (not beige).
What I never even thought to ask about was whether the N33/N55 precursors of the 700/720 were ever sold in Germany (if so, what colour?) since the DIN standard you link to dates from 1984. A lot of big German companies and banks were very loyal IBM customers at that time. I do recall that the cream L40sx was sold in Germany, and I’m pretty sure the one I scrounged for the Helpcentre had a German keyboard. Perhaps IBM didn’t market the black pre-ThinkPads into Germany for this reason… but then again the ThinkPad 350 (re-badged Yamato PS/Note 425, successor to the N33/N51 in that same chassis) is listed in the HMM as having a German keyboard option but no grey casing options, so were presumably sold as standard black, in contravention of the DIN regulations. Maybe they didn’t offer the 350 in Germany, and the German keyboard option was for Switzerland, Austria, etc where presumably the DIN regulations did not apply?”
Study behind the DIN Standards.
Luminance Reflectance Values (LRV) allowed for PC components.
Here is a possibility of how all this comes together by working under the assumption that all the information we have is accurate.
Firstly, as Tom Hardy stated in the interview, the section of the German DIN standards that did not allow computers to be black was revoked sometime after the release of the ThinkPad 700C, this would mean that black could be used for Enterprise machines as Naitoh states in the interview. If the DIN standard was no longer required however then why spend the money to create the gray models for a German market that would no longer require them?
Changing standards takes time and I suspect between Tom Hardy leaving IBM and German businesses slowly moving away from the DIN Standard took just over a year. David Hill also mentioned that recalled some pushback against changing the standards to allow for black machines. If the last ThinkPad that was offered in gray was made in November of 1993 (began manufacture), the standard likely would have been revoked around that time. Some German businesses would be able/willing to overlook the standards and buy the black machine regardless, however, others might have not had that flexibility and the pebble gray was brought in to meet their needs. Perhaps IBM Germany just passed on the cost in the price of the machine.
I also suspect that Japan may have been stuck in the middle of these standards or perhaps wanted to diffeniate a “professional” machine from a consumer one.
After the product lifecycle was complete, it wouldn’t need to offer the gray/beige machines afterwards, standardizing the line and reducing manufacturing costs. Perhaps any remaining inventory was sold off as retail units as Naitoh stated in the interview above. What we can say for certain is, after 1994, no ThinkPads were made in the pebble gray/beige colour.
David Hill also stated in the book “ThinkPad: A Different Shade of Blue” there were other challenges to making ThinkPad the classic black we know today:
“There were a lot of barriers to getting the original IBM ThinkPad design approved. Many were opposed to using black as the color of the notebook. At the time, black was very radical in personal computing, even though it was accepted in earlier computer products. If you went back and looked at the IBM System 360 mainframe from the 1960s, it was primarily black. It was in the computer room behind glass windows and was supposed to look outstanding. The black color allowed clients to show off their prize possession to visitors.
“But personal computers weren’t black at the time. That’s because we wanted to make PCs fit naturally into the office so they wouldn’t be noticed. So, we made all of them in pearl white, a sort of cream color that no one would notice. But, then along comes the ThinkPad, and we wanted to make a bold statement that was just the opposite. We wanted everyone to notice it, so we adopted black. A lot of people objected to our using black as the color of ThinkPad, thinking it wasn’t like ‘IBM.’ Eventually everyone saw it as something that would really differentiate IBM.
-“ThinkPad: A Different Shade of Blue” by Deborah A. Dell and J. Gerery Purdy, Ph.D.
What do you think about these ThinkPads? Have you ever seen one in person? Let me know by @ me on Twitter. As always, if any new information is acquired, I will update this article accordingly.
Lenovo Tech World 2022 opened today with a flurry of announcements, keynotes and teasers. One of which that caught my eye is the rolling screen technology seen in the short YouTube video below:
Besides looking cool, the practical applications this has for phones and mobile devices intrigue me. This is actually because I’m not entirely sold on the idea of foldable mobile phones.
Full disclaimer, I’ve not used a folding phone or any similar device, let alone seen one in person but when it comes to phones, there are some big rocks I cannot quite get over that I think the rolling screen could actually solve.
Firstly, I do not like big and bulky devices. I’m one of those who likes a device that fits comfortably in various pockets. Phones bigger than my Pixel 4a or previous to that, my Samsung Galaxy S8 just seem overlarge. Folding phones while they are indeed small when folded, can be thicker and bulkier and depending on how they fold, challenging to fish out of a pocket.
Secondly, many folding devices need to be unfolded to actually be fully used. Companies have made several efforts to address this by putting an additional screen on the exterior but I feel that it just further goes to show that how we have used phones has changed fundamentally and a screen on the outside is a compromise. Granted I haven’t had any opportunity to try one out, but I remain skeptical.
Thirdly is getting around the issue of screen durability and creasing depends on how the device is folded and the screen stored. Different companies have spent significant research and development time and money to combat this to varying degrees of success.
How does the rolling screen address these issues? Easy. The device when the screen is rolled up appears to be a great handheld size. When you need the additional screen, it rolls out and the content automatically resizes with the screen, then when you are done, it can go back to its compact size. All the plus of a large phone with the benefits of it being able to fit into your pocket. It also addresses the issue where the main screen is always accessible. There isn’t a need for an extra exterior screen to reduce the need to open the device because it is always open. I would also imagine because the screen is rolled, creasing really isn’t a concern, nor would durability as there is something firm to support the screen at all stages.
Overall I’m pretty excited about the concept and hope it makes it to market so it can get tested in the real world. Could it overthrow the foldable as the new desirable form factor? I think the potential is very real.
These have captivated people and collectors for ages and now, it looks like Lenovo might be thinking about making another one.
I was diving into the patent database again and came across a new patent filed on September 27, 2022 with these drawings:
That patent also directly references the Lenovo ThinkPad W700, W700ds, W701 and 701ds Hardware Maintenance Manual under “Other Publications” strengthening the connection. But they aren’t stopping at just remaking the classic, it looks like they have plans on improving it as well.
The patent details this new system as rather than having a second screen, it is in fact a tablet computer. This isn’t too surprising looking at what Lenovo has been doing with their ThinkBook line and integrating a tablet into the palm rest. This, however, makes a lot more sense to me. The tablet can be used as an additional screen like the W700ds and W701ds but it can also possibly be removed and potentially reoriented or used in a wireless mode. It can be a bit tricky to tell what exactly the final product will look like from patents as they try and cover variations within the claims. This secondary screen or tablet also is mentioned to have its own web camera that would be activated once the secondary display is removed a certain distance from the housing.
It also appears from the description that it might be able to detect the position of the secondary screen/tablet and only use the exposed screen real-estate. Figures 7 through 15 illustrate the methodology of several screen states and their effect on how the secondary screen would behave.
Now which model this could ship on is anyone’s guess right now. Like many patented ideas, it might never come to pass. If I had to make a guess though, this seems like it would be at home on a workstation-class machine like a P-series. Time will tell if it makes it to production.
To see the complete patent, please click the link below and feel free to @ me on Twitter to let me know what you think about this new patent. If I learn anything new, I will update this article accordingly with new information or corrections.
Chris Harjadi is a sophomore student studying cognitive science. The focus of his studies includes how computer science and psychology connect via virtual reality/”metaverse” applications, as well as learning about the philosophy and linguistics of computer systems. In the article below, Chris shares his thoughts on the relationship between making computers intuitive to use, thinness and repairability. Feel free to reach out to Chris via email.
Would you like to contribute an article as a Guest Writer? Feel free to get in touch via the Contact button.
TL;DR (Too Long, Didn’t Read): More and more nontechnical users are using laptops; they would prefer sending them to a repair shop over DIY repair, and the market share of DIYers in both corporate and consumer buyers is dwindling.
So far, I would say that IT businesses have shifted mostly from individuals who repaired laptops on an individual basis (ex, laptop repair much like the “do it yourself” ethos of PC builders) to being outsourced to bigger repair shops (ex, Staples, Office Depot, Insight, etc) in the corporate world, leading for businesses not to really care about the repairability of the machines they are manufacturing. After all, a broken laptop, in an employee’s eyes, is broken and will often be repaired by the “tech guy.”
Since computer manufacturers want to give the consumer what they want, a computer that is easy to repair is not often a priority. If their customers don’t care about the repairability of the device, then it means the manufacturer doesn’t normally either. This gives laptop manufacturers a stronger incentive to “lock up” their computers and make them less repairable because it isn’t as important as it used to be. On the design side, larger manufacturers over the years including Lenovo, Apple, HP, Dell and more, want to outdo each other in providing what the consumer wants. This often means thinner and lighter devices (what is valued) at the cost of repairability (not as valued).
I think it could be due to manufacturers targeting non-technical users by giving them a seamless and intuitive user interface/hardware interface. This marketing has been pushed rather strongly by Apple compared to the Microsoft/Windows laptop market. Over the years Apple made several ads showing the ease with which a computer could be used and Microsoft felt the pressure to create a similar experience for its users. This means the overall skill ceiling to use a computer becomes lower and accessibility is greater. These are both good things, but they come with a price.
Since the number of non-technical users has increased over the years, the DIY ethos has less and less of a market share, leading to manufacturers to cut costs, first soldering chips to the motherboard, then soldering the RAM later on. Even mainline ThinkPads, like the ThinkPad T490 and later, only have one user-replaceable RAM slot. Interestingly enough, this feature now appears on the L series, which is geared towards smaller business consumers that might need to make their machines work for longer periods of time in between upgrades, making this feature more desirable at this price point. This leads to a cycle where non-technical employees and consumers enjoy slimmer and slimmer laptops, while sacrificing tech-friendly features like maintenance hatches and easy to replace RAM. David Hill said it well in an interview segment featured on Laptop Retrospective:
“It’s not as utilitarian as it once was but some of the need for some of that stuff is not so great. It used to be really, really important to swap out batteries, the hardfile [hard drive] and all this stuff. It’s a slightly different world now and to make a computer like that would make it thicker, more expensive, more complicated, layers upon layers upon layers of materials. I think that kind of thing, that time has somewhat passed. There may be a market for some of that but it’s a smaller market.”
Businesses buy these laptops because they are in demand and the computer technicians can fix them quickly by swapping larger components wasting less time on diagnosis. When they run out of warranty, the hard-to-repair laptops flood the refurbished market every 2-3 years. Many computer enthusiasts prefer to buy used hardware because they have the skill and knowledge to have them run good as new. Interestingly, HP and Dell have kept many of these features in their business-class laptops, yet they have also had to put internal batteries in laptops.
On the ground, I see that most tech enthusiasts and people who like to tinker tend to talk about the right to repair (which is an important movement), while other non-technical users will get outside help. In the end, it mainly impacts people who buy refurbished units or old laptops on eBay or other retailers, while businesses and employees tend to be generally happy with using their work laptops. Though theFramework laptophas helped revive the right to repair discussion for laptops, its features are only appreciated by technology enthusiasts. In short, repairable features of laptops are only appreciated by tech enthusiasts, which are making up a smaller and smaller share of the laptop market.
Thanks again to Chris for putting this together. If you’d like to read more about this subject, you might be interested in the articles below.
Like a few articles on this website, this was inspired by a tweet by a friend of mine Dave Kennedy. Dave is right. ThinkPads have been sporting modular, repairable and swappable parts as part of their original bento-box style design. To see one of the finest examples of this, see the video below. There has […]
Like a few articles on this website, this was inspired by a tweet by a friend of mine Dave Kennedy.
In the last few days we have seen announcements from two major brands that they are now producing new machines which can be user serviced…. which is nice.#ThinkPad have been user serviceable for almost 30 years. Its nice to see the industry catch up. #LenovoIN#Tech#Laptoppic.twitter.com/IpuQYS4jsG
Dave is right. ThinkPads have been sporting modular, repairable and swappable parts as part of their original bento-box style design. To see one of the finest examples of this, see the video below.
There has been a big change in how society views computers. They have gone from specialized hardware to an appliance. Appliances are disposable and do not require background knowledge to use. For example, you don’t need to know how your microwave or fridge works to operate it. In the early days of computing, not knowing how a computer worked meant it was difficult to use. This has led to them being more disposable. Mobile computers are especially prone to being disposable.
A modern mobile computer that is disposable cannot realistically be repaired outside of large component swaps. We are talking about everything being soldered onto a board. Due to this and a variety of other factors, you often see people replacing their mobile devices every three years or sooner, which coincidently is when the extended warranties also run out. Few companies are left that offer warranties beyond this point and this is an unattractive prospect for business customers that cannot go without. One might say that repairability is the answer, but it isn’t so simple. This is compounded further as business customers and the average consumer aren’t interested so much in repairability anymore as a feature. Other items like build materials, thinness, ports and power are more important. Few are concerned with making room for servicing. It also doesn’t help that definitions vary between groups. When I followed up with Dave about this article, he had this to say:
From a business perspective “serviceable” means more than fixable to many. Upgradeable to increase longevity, security where data on sensitive components can be removed and physically destroyed without killing the entire device. – Dave Kennedy
There are awesome channels out there that do a great job of documenting this process like Louis Rossmann who has become synonymous with the Right to Repair movement. He needs are unique in the sense he wants schematics and access to parts that companies like Apple are keeping from entering any kind of public supply chain. Make no mistake, this has a direct impact on the owner of electronic devices because it opens up choice for where you can get your device repaired, the level of repair and of course, the cost. Currently, many manufacturers will not do component repair and will only offer to swap out the board or larger parts that house that component. Right to Repair would give third-party repair the option to offer component repair to more devices.
Now that is a very quick and dirty summary of a very complex and ongoing issue and that brings me back to laptops. It is well known in tech circles that the least repairable devices are from Apple and any other company that prefers adhesive and soldered components. Many Surface devices from Microsoft are no better. Recently, there has been a resurgence of repairable laptops like the one offered from Framework which I’ve discussed on this site before.
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. 1. 1080 Webcam The Framework Laptop will have a 1080P 60fps camera. Produced by Partron in […]
This is really cool to see a company building a computer that is ‘completely’ user serviceable. But how much of an advantage do you really have over other laptops?
Now full disclosure, I have yet to have the opportunity to look at the Framework Laptop (I hope one day to do so), so this is not based on my personal time with it, but let us talk about the basic components that make up a laptop:
dGPU (if present)
Thanks to Intel and AMD, you cannot get a socketed CPU anymore in a laptop after the 4th generation of Intel. This is a pain point for a lot of older users that remember the days of swapping out a CPU and getting better performance. This is one of the factors that make the ThinkPad W540/541 and other machines of that era still desirable. It has a socketed CPU, four RAM slots along with nearly everything else being removable and user serviceable. While not “modern”, it has even more serviceable components than newer laptops that advertise a highly repairable device.
Since a socketed CPU is out, that only really leaves RAM, WiFi, LTE/5G and storage for upgrades. Framework is planning on possibly having motherboards/CPUs that you can swap out with the same screw points to reduce the need for you to buy a whole new PC; we will see how this works once the company has been around long enough to release another board revision. Beyond these components, most manufacturers have similar levels of repairability with the only distinguishing factor being how easy it is to access parts. Another benefit of course is a company that encourages you to tinker, upgrade and modify your device and is actively supporting third party development of expansion modules. One other item that doesn’t get a lot of discussion is ports wearing out that are soldered onto the mainboard of laptops and the Framework is currently no exception to that. The only really way around that is to make the ports socketed on the board itself or put them in smaller boards that connect to the main board. The expansion card system does potentially mitigate this, but only if you aren’t constantly swapping modules.
All that being said, I remain cautiously optimistic that this will be a return to more easily swappable, repairable components, but it could also be very possible the that industry has moved on from this being desirable (people willing to pay for these features or sacrifice other features) and this could just be a new niche or a passing moment. David Hill, the person that led ThinkPad design for decades in a Think Design Short Stories segment had this to say:
It’s not as utilitarian as it once was but some of the need for some of that stuff is not so great. It used to be really, really important to swap out batteries, the hardfile and all this stuff. It’s a slightly different world now and to make a computer like that would make it thicker, more expensive, more complicated, layers upon layers upon layers of materials. I think that kind of thing, that time has somewhat passed. There may be a market for some of that but it’s a smaller market.
Nobody really looses when a machine is easier to repair, except maybe the sale of a brand new machine which has a higher profit margin but at the same time, supporting older machines means a steady stream of sale of replacement parts as well. Perhaps we will see each major manufacturers sell a highly repairable and serviceable line for those customers that desire it just like those customers that desire other specific experiences. Time will tell and maybe we will find out as early as CES 2022.
Perhaps 2022 will the be year of the “repairables” category.
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.