The ThinkPad with two screens might live again in the discovery of a new patent application for a dual-screen laptop.

The ThinkPad W700DS and W701DS are insane systems to behold for two reasons:

  1. They are one of the largest, working production ThinkPads out there.
  2. They have a pull-out screen for extra productivity. You can see it demonstrated below.

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.

US-11455015-B2_I

A Sticker

If you are like me, you have spent some time looking through Hardware Maintenance Manuals for ThinkPads. It was actually while looking at the HMM for the T41 to disassemble and remove the WLAN card that I noted some interesting references to LG-IBM branding. Specifically, stickers were to be placed over any replacement parts bearing the ThinkPad branding for the South Korean market.

One of many references to the LG-IBM models in the T40 HMM.
LG-IBM R40.
Photo generously provided by Hidde J.

A friend and avid ThinkPad collector Tasurinchi shared an article with me that mentioned the breakup of the deal. This was clearly the tip of the iceberg of an interesting story. We both knew about the Acer partnership where Acer was contracted out to build several laptops under the ThinkPad brand. However, it would appear that the ThinkPad R40 and R40e (pictured above) were built in South Korea in LG owned factories. The sticker located on the bottom of my R40 confirms this (Made in Korea) and the schematics as discovered by Thinkpads.com forum user Screamer found the manufacturers were “LG Gryphon” and “LG D3 Entry” respectively for these two machines.

Bottom label showcasing the LG-IBM branding.
Photo generously provided by Hidde J.

So where did it all begin?

A Partnership

In 1996, IBM entered into a partnership with LG to break into the Korean market. The arrangement created LG-IBM and saw IBM owning 51% of the company controlling the manufacturing and marketing of PCs while LG’s 49% was focused on other consumer electronics. This allowed IBM to break into the market, shipping their PC solutions and it gave LG an excellent opportunity to learn everything it could from IBM.

The LG-IBM PC LKB 0107 was seen at a thrift store. Photo by moghismv (https://www.reddit.com/r/MechanicalKeyboards/comments/jegu7j/anybody_know_how_much_this_keyboard_is_worth_lg/)
Top case of R40.
Photo generously provided by Hidde J.
The top case of an i-Series ThinkPad with the LG-IBM sticker. From Kbench.com

 

A Scandal

In 2004 the announcement came that the two companies would be splitting off, each essentially retaining their own rights to their respective properties. IBM would retain their rights to all of their trademarked properties like ThinkPad and LG would continue developing their own line of laptops called the Xnote. Interestingly enough, both IBM, LG-IBM and LG were targets of a bribery scandal that both parties claimed was unrelated to the announcement to split.

The two companies said the separation was unrelated to the indictments early this year of three officials of LG IBM and three from IBM’s Korea unit on charges of bribing government officials in order to win contracts to supply computer parts and services.

After the indictments were issued, IBM said that it had dismissed its three officials and that the three from LG IBM were no longer working there. The three former IBM Korea employees were convicted by a Seoul court in February, according to Reuters news agency. – Wall Street Journal September 15, 2004

The company was hit with a bribery scandal early this year. Former executives of IBM Korea have been jailed for bribing government clients and rigging bids, while officials of LG Electronics were fined. – Korea JoongAng Daily August 30, 2004

While these types of scandals weren’t unique to LG or IBM and weren’t likely directly related to the ending of the partnership, the details of these bribery scandals need to be read to be believed.

From 1998 to 2003, over $207,000 USD was paid in cash or gifts to officials by IBM-Korea and LG-IBM. These payments were delivered in large LG-IBM branded envelopes to shopping bags and exchanged in locations including but not limited to parking lots near the managers’ and officials’ places of work or home and on one occasion a parking lot of a local Japanese restaurant. All of these bribes were targeted at individuals making purchase decisions, ensuring that LG-IBM would win the contracts. These contracts were worth tens of millions of dollars leading to an “improper gift” of $9,546USD landing a contract valued at $1.3 million USD. IBM-China also had similar issues with bribery. For more details, see this document which outlines the details of these scandals. 

There is a more likely reason for the end of the partnership beyond these issues.

A Deal

During this time, IBM was in active talks with both Texas Pacific Group and Lenovo to sell off IBM’s PC division. Dell was also a contender for a brief amount of time. IBM CEO Samuel j. Palmisano the summer of 2004 was hammering out a complex deal with Yang Yuanqing (Lenovo) and it isn’t too hard to imagine that part of the preparations for negotiations would have involved complete ownership of control of all the markets IBM was present. This would be especially true for a purchasing company that was already established in that area. This would mean that LG-IBM would need to be renegotiated or simply cease to exist. It isn’t too hard to see which makes more sense to both parties to create a clean and tidy deal.

IBM would sell Lenovo PCs through its sales force and distribution network. IBM also would provide services for Lenovo PCs—and allow Lenovo to use the vaunted IBM brand name for five years. In turn, Lenovo, leveraging its connections with the government’s Chinese Academy of Sciences, would help IBM in the fast-growing China market. – The Race for Perfect: Inside the Quest to Design the Ultimate Portable Computer, Steve Hamm

An Ending

So overall the historic deal between IBM and LG seemed to be mutually beneficial to both parties. IBM gained access to another market (under a different brand) and LG gained access to IBM’s information and experience. When it came time for IBM to sell its PC Division though, it was clear that IBM would need to distance itself from IBM-Korea and LG-IBM as quickly as possible to ensure that the scandals and exclusive access to the South Korean market wouldn’t sour any potential deal with an interested party.

But what about the penalties for the previously mentioned scandals? Who had to take responsibility?

Ultimately that would fall to IBM. While they didn’t own several of the assets that would have been involved, it makes no sense for the new owners to be fined for the mistakes of the previous owners.

On March 18, 2011, without admitting or denying the SEC‘s allegations, IBM consented to the entry of a final judgment that permanently enjoins the company from violating the books and records and internal control provisions of the FCPA. In addition, IBM consented to pay disgorgement of $5,300,000, $2,700,000 in prejudgment interest, and a $2,000,000 civil penalty.

Steps Taken by State Parties to Implement and Enforce the Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in
International Business Transactions
AS OF JUNE 2011 WORKING GROUP ON BRIBERY MEETING

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

It would appear the LG and ThinkPad story is not over yet. Fast forward to the year 2021 and it seems that LG might have run afoul with Lenovo with LG’s ThinQ branding coming a bit too close to the well-established Think branding they inherited from IBM. To read the case details, including court documents and its status, follow this link. or you can head right to the source at the United States Trademark and Patent Office.

Lenovo has been promoting this short trailer over the last few days and many believe it points to the teasing of a new X1 Fold.

After taking a look at the trailer a few times and snooping around, here are some possible reasons to look forward to the new X1 Fold and some of the technology that could be included. Keep in mind these are all varying levels of speculation.

Not the same size

There is reason to believe that the device teased in the trailer might actually be 16″ in size as opposed to the original. A Reddit post several months ago details devices called 21ES and 21ET (ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 Gen 1) which implies the possibility of a larger size. This would allow for a full-size keyboard to be created and fit inside the device once it is folded if they are still going that route. The trailer also uses the words “next big thing” which could be a sly reference to the size of the device as well, but that is a reach.

The TrackPoint

The TrackPoint was a noticed absence from the original X1 Fold. I suspect that the keyboard was too thin or the screen durability having the TrackPoint next to it was a pain point. That or any working prototype was not a great experience. We do get an extreme close-up during the above video of a keyboard that does indeed feature a TrackPoint, but no wide shots hide its implementation.

A Butterfly Keyboard

There is a small chance, based on the patent filed a while back that this new device might have a butterfly-style keyboard along with the TrackPoint. The patent details that it was designed for a tablet device and would put an end to the problem of the Gen 1 having too small a keyboard. Maybe it will be part of a special 30th Anniversary edition? To learn more about that patent, see the article below. However, this isn’t likely needed if the 16″ rumour is true.

Jun
26

Will Butterflies fly again?

This article has been updated on 27 June 2021 to include new information. It appears last year Lenovo filed a new Butterfly-style keyboard patent and it was recently approved earlier this month by the US Patent Office. You can look it up on your own using the #11,029,723 and unsurprisingly it references John Karidis’ existing […]

A Screen that folds both ways

I went digging through the patent archives again and found US11294565 B2  (filed Aug 2020, date of patent Apr 5, 2022) which details a device with a folding screen bending backwards into a tent mode-like configuration. The only existing device that looks even remotely like this made by Lenovo is the X1 Fold. Could they have perfected the hinge and screen technology to the point where it can now flex back and forth? The still image from the trailer I used as the featured image for this article doesn’t appear to feature the folio style case that was integrated into the X1 Fold Gen 1 which might inhibit the integration of this feature.

No More Folio Case

It would appear given the one shot we get in the trailer of the back of the device, specifically the logo it showcases some kind of textured backing that is very close to the metal edge implying it is a thin coating. The ThinkPad and X1 logos seem to be made out of the same metal and are raised up from this surface.

The Rest

Based on the image we get at the end of the trailer, the following also seems to be possible

  • On the left-hand side, we see a possible cut-out to allow for easier removal of the keyboard.
  • If the device is larger, better cooling/CPUs and longer battery life due to more space to put a battery are possible. We also see mention of Intel vPro in the trailer which isn’t available on the lighter-weight CPUs generally speaking.
  • Thinner bezels overall.
  • The volume rocker (and power button?) on the top right-hand side
  • One USB-C port is on the bottom left. (Likely another one on the top?)
  • There is something strange going on at the very bottom of the device where it appears the image extends beyond the bezel, not sure what that might be about.

Do you think the announcement is about the new X1 Fold? Do you think these ideas or others might be included in its release? Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter or the Contact page to share your ideas.

For those unfamiliar, Moore’s Law is an observation that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years.

By Max Roser, Hannah Ritchie – https://ourworldindata.org/uploads/2020/11/Transistor-Count-over-time.png, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=98219918

In 2005, Moore stated that this projection cannot be sustained indefinitely and in 2016 the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors moved away from this style of road mapping. Moore further said that the Law that he helped develop would likely end around 2025.

So what does this have to do with laptops and computers?

Simple. It shows a fundamental and unnecessary need to purchase a brand new machine based on CPU performance alone, at least for the majority of users. One thing that has been made clear is, that outside of certain chip requirements like TPM 2.0 for Windows 11, some laptops that are over 12 years old are still fully capable of doing the tasks that their owners require them to do. That of course is before you introduce Linux into the equation which further extends the usefulness of some older hardware.

Even if you do require Windows 11 and need a TPM 2.0 chip to ensure it is officially supported, you are still left with 5 generations of CPUs that are able to meet those requirements.

In recent years, one of the best things about CPU advancement has been power efficiency and the battery technology to support it. This is one of the reasons that laptops with 50Whr batteries can outlast their predecessors that had 99Whr batteries. But how much better are our CPUs for handling modern tasks? I would suggest outside of a very small group of people, the majority do not benefit directly and immediately from the incremental updates to chipsets that are currently taking place outside of video rendering technology (graphics cards) and even those advancements are likely debatable. We also have multiple cores now within a single CPU socket that, if the software is built to take advantage of, can lead to further performance gains but not usually at the scale we’d expect of two cores doing double what a single core would. That is a topic for another day.

Therefore it isn’t too much of a stretch of the imagination that buying a used computer or laptop is actually viable. This was further exemplified at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting chip shortages. Used laptops increased in value not only because the supply of parts to assemble new ones was depleted, but older laptops were still capable of fulfilling their required role for many users. Again, there will always be the exception of those that need one of the new features coming in the latest Intel or AMD chipset, but for people who need a reliable computer for email, coding, document production and other tasks that older CPUs are more than capable of handling, it makes these processes more accessible to a wider audience and potentially help individuals take their next steps. I’ve had the pleasure over the years to read many comments on my channel about people doing exactly this; buying, finding or being gifted a cheap laptop to do the work that they needed to do and move forward.

All this taken together, the final message to deliver is that the majority of people don’t NEED a newer computer, they might WANT a newer one though. This could be based on a real or imagined need that the new piece of technology solved, but making that choice in part is a privilege that consumers shouldn’t take lightly. I’ve been using my used ThinkPad X220 since 2018 around the house running Linux for a variety of different tasks and it continues to perform admirably. To see my journey of upgrades and mods, see the playlist below.

If you want to see how far your dollars can stretch entering the world of used, quality hardware, I suggest this fantastic ThinkPad Price Guide to get you started.

ThinkPad Price Guide V6.1

 

This post is a short accompanying piece to the recent video I released on the channel

In that video, David Hill shared with me the design concept that Richard Sapper put together to create a rugged or hardened ThinkPad. ThinkPads were already known for being more durable than the competition, but what if that was taken to the next level. Originally, when we were working on the video, there was only one photograph known to exist of the model that Sapper built that David posted on his Instagram years ago. No other images existed.

An AI upscaled version of the photo originally posted by David Hill.

Until now.

Thanks to David, we now have several images of the concept that Sapper built. Brian Leonard, the current VP of Design at Lenovo was kind enough to go into the archives and take some photographs of the model to help tell the story. They appeared in the video, but I have put them below for archival purposes.

The Hardened ThinkPad Concept, closed.
The Hardened ThinkPad Concept, left side.
The Hardened ThinkPad Concept, left side with port door open.
The Hardened ThinkPad Concept, right side with port door open.
The Hardened ThinkPad Concept, right side with port door open.

In a not at all surprising twist, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is getting another round of updates that should keep it the king of the pack in terms of ultraportable. Some  notable updates to this generation of X1 Carbon include:

  • Up to 12th generation Intel® Core™ i7 vPro® U and P Series processors, up to 14-core
  • Up to Windows 11 Pro, Linux Ubuntu, or Fedora
  • FHD Webcamera now standard in a new Communications Bar
  • Up to 32GB LPDDR5
  • Up to 2TB Gen 4 performance PCIe NVMe SSD
  • 57 Whr battery
  • Intel® Wi-Fi 6E (requires Windows 11)
  • Bluetooth® 5.2
  • NFC
  • New screen options, see below for details
A breakdown showing the new FHD webcamera setup. A much needed upgrade.

Ports include:

  • 2x Thunderbolt™ 4
  • 2x USB 3.2 Type-A Gen 1
  • 1x HDMI 2.0b
  • 1x Audio (Headphone and Microphone Combo Jack)
  • 1x Nano SIM
A new range of impressive screens are not available.

More screen options than you can shake a stick at listed below:

  • 14” WUXGA 16:10 (1920×1200) IPS LP AG
    (400nit, 100%sRGB, Eyesafe)
  • 14” WUXGA 16:10 (1920×1200) IPS LP AG Touch
    (400nit, 100%sRGB, Eyesafe)
  • 14” WUXGA 16:10 (1920×1200) IPS LP AG Touch with Privacy Guard
    (500nit, 100%sRGB, TUV ePrivacy Cert)
  • 14” 2.2K 16:10 (2240×1400) IPS AG
    (300nit, 100% sRGB)
  • 14” 2.8K 16:10 (2880×1800) OLED AGARAS
    (400nit, 100% DCI-P3, Eyesafe)
  • 14” WQUXGA 16:10 (3840×2400) IPS LP Glare
    (500nit, 100% DCI-P3, HDR400, Dolby® Vision™, Eyesafe)
  • 14” WQUXGA 16:10 (3840×2400) IPS LP AOFT Touch AGAR

Overall this appears to be a great machine and would likely give me pause if I were buying a new laptop today. If I had the choice between a ThinkPad X1 Carbon or an X1 Nano, I think I’d go with this now that it has the nicer display options.

Lenovo has announced the next generation of ThinkPad X1 Nano with some tasteful updates:

  • Intel vPro® with 12th Gen Intel® Core™ i7 processors
  • up to 32GB LPDDR5 memory
  • a larger capacity 49.6 Whr battery
  • Up to Windows 11 Pro, Fedora, and Ubuntu Linux
  • FHD webcam now standard
  • Up to 2TB PCIe SSD
  • Intel® Wi-Fi 6E (requires Windows 11)
Note the redesigned Communications Bar.

The rest remains unchanged and that is fine by me as I still enjoy my Gen 1 device. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. This should also do some interesting things to the prices of the X1 Nano Gen 1 which is still a fantastic device. I’m happy to see that this line continues as I think more people will appreciate this exceptional thin and light laptop.

Lenovo is bringing back the ThinkPad Z series this year at CES 2022.

Back in the day, the ThinkPad Z series was the first of the ThinkPad line to use the 16:10 screen which was adopted on every other line afterwards. It was also the first time a ThinkPad featured the use of titanium. If you want to learn more about the Z series, see the two videos below where I take a look at the Z61t and hear about the creation from the project manager, Rob Herman.

Aug
19

Rob Herman Interview (Product Manager of i , A, R, Z, P Series and the X tablet)

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 […]

The original ThinkPad Z series had a slew of multimedia-centric features and it looks like the new generation is following in its footsteps. The ThinkPad Z series is returning in two flavours in a slim 14mm chassis, the Z13 and Z16. Images also show a leather-like cover very similar to the Reserve Edition that was available for the 15th Anniversary. Both new machines feature a bump at the top (called the Communications Bar) that houses the cameras (regular and IR) which are now FHD and include a microphone array. 

The  Z13 will offer a 13.3″ 16:10 setup with two display options. (WUXGA IPS 400nit Low Power (touch option) or WQXGA OLED 400nit, Touch, Dolby Vision, Low Blue Light) The Z13 will house a 50Whr battery. 2x USB-C (4.0) ports and a audio jack are present.

The  Z16 will offer a 16″ 16:10 setup with two display options. (WUXGA IPS 400nit Low Power (touch option) or WQXGA OLED 400nit, Touch, Dolby Vision, Low Blue Light) The Z16 will house a 70Whr battery. 3x USB-C (4.0) ports and a audio jack are present. The Z16 is the only model with an SD Card slot.

These laptops will come in the following colour options:

  • Z13: Black Recycled Vegan Leather/Bronze AL, Arctic Grey Recycled AL, Black Recycled AL
  • Z16: Arctic Grey Recycled AL

Other important features include AMD Ryzen Pro 6000 series CPUs (with an exclusive Ryzen 7 Pro 6760Z) with no Intel option currently announced. The Z16 can also be configured with the AMD Radeon™ RX 6500M discrete graphics card. Memory will be Up to 32GB LPDDR5

Z13 is powered by AMD Ryzen PRO U-Series processors with integrated AMD Radeon graphics plus Microsoft Pluton security processor. Z13 is also available with an exclusive AMD Ryzen PRO 6860Z processor

Z16 is powered by AMD Ryzen PRO H-Series processors with integrated AMD Radeon graphics or optional AMD Radeon RX 6500M discrete graphics, and include the Microsoft Pluton security processor

AMD Ryzen PRO 6000 Series processors with Qualcomm® FastConnect 6900 offer advanced manageability and industry leading Wi-Fi connectivity on Z13 and Z16. Additionally, Qualcomm® 4-stream Dual Band Simultaneousi (DBS) on AMD Ryzen™ PRO 6000 Series processors enables sustained low latency potential of Wi-Fi Dual Station, natively supported on Windows 11

Haptic ForcePad and fingerprint reader on the Z16. The Z13 has a keyboard that goes right to the edge and has a different speaker configuration.

The eagle-eyed users will note a TrackPoint but no dedicated buttons and be concerned. However, this laptop features a similar haptic feedback pad that was released on the X1 Titanium last year. Speaking of the TrackPoint, it can now be double-tapped to access a Communications menu for common microphone and camera settings. This isn’t the first time that tapping the TrackPoint had a function and this is a welcomed return.

ThinkPad Z13 will be available from May 2022, starting from $1549
ThinkPad Z16 will be available from May 2022, starting from $2099

For more information, see the following launch video from Lenovo.

The TrackPoint is a polarizing way to interact with your computer. You either love it or hate it. Several journalists and technology writers have said that it seems out of place on a modern computer with TrackPads now being the norm. However, the TrackPad is not always as useful as the TrackPoint, especially in certain circumstances. As you might know from a previous article on this website, I like TrackPoints.

Jul
22

TrackPoint Keyboards

If you are looking for a greater, in-depth article, please consider checking out this fantastic summary of several of the keyboards below here. PS/2 Era or Earlier IBM Model M13 A classic with Buckling springs. Very rare with no active listings on eBay. For more information on this beauty, check out LGR’s episode where he […]

So as I was doing some digging around for patent drawings and such, I found some really cool documents and photos. These were found on a Microsoft Research website archive called the Buxton Collection and I am uploading them below just in case the page is ever removed. This article will also serve as a companion piece to a video that I am currently editing that is related to this subject, but wouldn’t really focus on some of these neat little details.

IBM T. J. Watson Research Paper TrackPoint IBM

TrackPoint Interact 90

Buxton Collection Story(PDF of website above)

The following images below come from an issue of Interactions, September-October 1997 “A Conversation with Ted Selker” and give some insight to ideas they had for TrackPoint’s future.

For more information on the TrackPoint Mouse, check out the following links to the G1, G2 and G3 variants. I’m not sure if any of these three examples exist in the wild, but ScrollPoint technology was developed and released to the general public which is similar but not identical. The ScrollPoint II and onward series has the most in common with the G3 type which featured a different cap/interface. The ScrollPoint I more closely resembles the G1 and G2.

As an added bonus, here is a launch video for the TrackPoint. This promotional video by IBM features Ted Selker introducing the TrackPoint in its early stages before it would make its most memorable appearance on the ThinkPad 700C.

I’ve also recently found this video that was submitted as part of a Issues 55-56 of ACM SIGGRAPH Video Review.

In-Keyboard Analog Pointing Device – A Case for the Pointing Stick Joe Rutledge, Ted Selker, IBM

CHI ’90 Technical Video Program

Session: New Techniques

Abstract A pointing device which can be operated from typing position avoids time loss and distraction. We have built and investigated force-sensitive devices for this purpose. The critical link is the force-to-motion mapping. We have found principals which enable a force joystick to match the function and approach the performance of a mouse in pure pointing tasks, and to best it in mixed tasks, such as editing. Examples take into account task, user strategy and perceptual- motor limitations.

If you follow me on Twitter, consider posting your favourite TrackPoint photo on this thread:

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 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.

May
09

Framework Laptop- What we know so far

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:

  • Case
  • Display
  • CPU
  • Cooling solution
  • Battery/Charging system
  • RAM
  • Motherboard
  • dGPU (if present)
  • Keyboard
  • Ports
  • Mouse/Pointing device
  • WiFi, LTE/5G
  • Storage
  • Speakers
  • Microphone
  • Camera

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.