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.

Diagram of the Canadian ’82 Pattern web gear. While somewhat configurable, you were limited to the pockets that were created for it and placement on the belt only.
The Canadian Forces “Tac Vest” that was issued after the ’82 Pattern was not a large improvement. All pouches were sewn on with the exception of the bayonet carrier and two large side pouches. There was no compatibility with other systems.

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.

The MODULAR FIGHTING ORDER CARRIER RIG (MOFOCR) from CP Gear. This can be configured and reconfigured in any way the user requires. Only limited to the pouches they have on hand. Compatible with multiple systems.

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.

Feb
25

The Framework Laptop, a modular laptop in 2021

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
The camera and microphone array. Image from Framework Blog.

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)
  • Thermal system designed for 28W continuous load
  • 65mm x 5.5mm cooling fan
The motherboard from the Framework laptop. Note the larger cooling fan and dual memory modules on the same side of the board. Image from Framework Blog.

In terms of other items such as SSDs, WiFi cards and more, see the summary below:

  • 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
  • Backlit
  • 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
The keyboard of the Framework laptop. Image from Framework Blog.

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
Storage card about to be inserted into one of the slots on the Framework Laptop. Image from Framework Blog.

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
  • 1500:1 contrast
  • 100% coverage of sRGB
  • Lay flat design (180-degree hinge)
  • Ambient light sensor
  • DC mode backlight controller to avoid flicker
  • 400 nit 
  • Bezel colour options available
The Framework Laptop flat on a table with its 180-degree hinge. Image from Framework Blog.

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
The inside of the Framework charger. Image from Framework Blog.

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 inside without having high levels of training in soldering and electrical engineering.

Enter the Framework Laptop announced today by a company of the same name. To see their press release, you can visit the link here. This small, but the growing team has revealed their plan to make a modular laptop available for purchase and plans to make it available in the summer of 2021. You will be able to buy the laptop pre-assembled or as a kit you put together yourself, which, I’m not going to lie, sounds like a blast.

One of the items that make the Framework Laptop unique instantly is its use of Expansion Cards. These appear to be USB-C connections that are recessed into the machine and allow the laptop to be configured with whatever ports you want, when you want. This reminds me of when the MOLLE system was introduced to the military and law enforcement community.

The Expansion Card. Available in a variety of configurations like USB-C pictured here, USB-A, HDMI, DisplayPort, MicroSD and more are planned.

This is a very exciting machine with a lot of potential. Framework has plans to set up a module marketplace where different components could be built and used with this machine to increase the longevity of the machine. It is certainly an ambitious project that I will be watching closely.