Laptop Framework test: choose your ports

There are plenty of 13 and 14 inch laptops out there, but very few offer a lot of user upgrade options. Framework, a startup based in San Francisco, sees it as an opening in the market. The new 13.5-inch Framework Laptop allows customers to upgrade and replace not only internal parts (RAM, battery, storage), but also external components (keyboard, bezels, and ports).

If you are very picky about your specifications, you can also order a “DIY edition”, including any parts you want, and assemble the laptop yourself. I suspect most people will go for one of the three pre-built systems offered by Framework, which can then be modified as needed.

Apart from its customization, the Framework is a fairly standard productivity ultraportable. It’s a bit smaller than a MacBook Pro M1, at 2.87 pounds and 0.62 inches thick. The frame incorporates recycled materials. There’s a pretty bright 3: 2 screen (no touch option at the moment), and a usable keyboard and touchpad. You’ll get decent performance from the 11th Gen Intel processors and decent (but not too exciting) battery life.

In other words, scalability is the reason to buy the Framework Laptop – there’s not much else to discuss here. And while that sounds like a good package from where I’m standing, a lot of its value proposition hinges on whether the company delivers on its promise to support the device for years to come.

Prebuilt systems should cover most use cases. I tested the base model, which costs $ 999 and includes a Core i5-1135G7, 8GB of memory, 256GB of storage, and Windows 10 Home. The Performance model at $ 1,399 has a Core i7-1165G7, 16 GB of memory and 512 GB of storage, while the professional model charges $ 1,999 for a Core i7-1185G7, 32 GB of memory and 1 TB of storage, as well as Windows 10 Pro and vPro. Note that the last two models won’t ship until August, while the base model won’t arrive until September – you can pre-order all three now with a $ 100 deposit. DIY kits start at $ 749 and prices vary depending on the components you select.

The most unique advantage offered by Framework is the ability to customize ports. The chassis has four bays, but you can order as many expansion cards as you want, including USB-C, USB-A, microSD, HDMI, DP, and storage expansion (250GB or 1TB). The frame indicates that more options are to come. I stuck in a USB-A, USB-C, HDMI, and some extra storage, and it was a very easy task. Cards are basically dongles – they slide right inside and you can swap them out while the computer is on.

I was also able to exchange the dark glasses of the model that was sent to me for white glasses. It took about 10 seconds. The top and side frames attach to the chassis via magnets, and there are adhesive strips along the bottom edge, so just remove one frame and glue another – you can do that while the computer laptop works. (The frame claims the adhesive is reusable, so you can swap the frames back and forth.) You can also replace the keyboard, touchpad, and fingerprint reader, both individually and as a leaf.

The open Framework laptop, outdoors, on a red tablecloth with a garden and a house wall in the background.  The screen displays a mountainous landscape.

Here is the black bezel – you can also put white ones.

Then you can remove the keyboard to tinker with the internal components, even the motherboard. It’s pretty easy to do, but one downside is that the chassis is held in place with T5 screws, which won’t work well with a standard Phillips screwdriver. (Framework says this is because the T5 avoids the stripping issues that can occur with Phillips screws.) If you don’t already have a kit with a T5 screwdriver, you’d better make sure you don’t lose the tool that Framework sends with the laptop (and it’s small – I’m sure I’d lose it).

In theory, all these spare parts will be available in a centralized market which is also open to third-party manufacturers. Each of the different components has a QR code that, when scanned, will display a purchase page for the replacement of the part. This marketplace is not live yet, so I can’t speak to what will actually be available there – Framework says it will be available in August.

That sort of underscores a theme of this review, which is that much of this laptop’s value depends on what its promised ecosystem and support network will actually look like. There are a few guides on the Framework website – for setting up the pre-built and DIY kit, replacing the bezels, replacing the keyboard, and replacing the motherboard – but some processes that people will probably want are still missing at the time of release. writing this article. There is no guide to replacing memory, for example (you have to find it in the motherboard replacement guide). The executive says it’s coming soon.

I also haven’t been able to find a list of supported parts, or a list of each screw and its size, which could make losing a screw a nightmare. Framework says the old list is coming soon and will add screw specifications to its repair guides “as we go”.

The closed Framework laptop, upside down on a red tablecloth.  One of its four port slots is empty.  An expansion card sits next to the empty port, upside down with its QR code facing up.

There is a USB-C inside each case.

The Framework Laptop fingerprint sensor on a red cable.

The fingerprint sensor is in a handy place, but it was a bit finicky and had trouble reading my finger at times.

The build quality of the Framework is a bit inferior to that of the best competitors at this price point; you pay a little more for the promise of sustainability of the Framework. The whole thing has a plastic feel – it’s not cheap, but it feels closer to the Acer Aspire than the Dell XPS. And there is a certain fragility. Specifically, there is a bit of flexibility in the keyboard and a whole lot in the screen. (I was actually worried about breaking the latter and didn’t tighten it as much as I could have.) And while I never worried that the magnetic glasses would fall off, they are not. too much difficult to detach, and I could certainly see them catching on things or collecting debris underneath. I like that recycled materials are used here, including 50 percent PCR aluminum in the housing, “on average” 30 percent PCR plastics, and 80 percent PCR packaging.

Another thing to note is the 3: 2 display. This is one of the few parts of this laptop that currently cannot be upgraded; you’re stuck with a 2256 x 1504 non-touch screen. It hit 391 nits of brightness in my tests, which is pretty good, and generally provided a crisp picture – and the 3: 2 aspect ratio offers a lot more light. vertical space than the 16: 9 panels you find on many 13 inch notebooks. It is, however, quite bright and gives off a bit more glare than I’m used to seeing on panels in this price range.

The Framework Laptop in a garden above a red tablecloth, opposite the camera, open, tilted to the left.

To see? It seems good. Like, that’s good.

I’ll go through the rest of the laptop; What should still be remembered is that repairability is the executive’s only real business card. The keyboard is nicely backlit, almost bleeding free, and comfortable with 1.5mm travel. There’s a 1080p webcam with a physical shutter – its image is an improvement over the price of a traditional 720p laptop. But neither is so surprisingly good that I would buy the Framework just to get it.

From a performance standpoint, the base model was fine. The bottom would get hot sometimes under my load of a dozen Chrome tabs and apps, but it was never uncomfortable to use in my lap. Fans were sometimes audible, but mostly silent.

All three processor options come with Intel’s integrated Iris Xe graphics card – there is no GPU option. The integrated GPU is not enough to run very demanding games, but it should do a good job with League of Legends and things like that. I did light photo retouching with no issues, although it wasn’t as fast as I’ve seen on Core i7 machines.

The battery life was just as acceptable but unremarkable. I averaged about six hours and 12 minutes of continuous work with the screen at 200 nits of brightness. You can get a lot more from these specs: We saw seven to eight hours of the Surface Pro 7 Plus, which is $ 300 more for a Core i5 model.

First of all: it’s admirable what Framework is trying to do. It’s a laptop computer DIY enthusiasts have been waiting for. And there is certainly a lot of promise here. Ports and frames are easy to swap out, even if you’ve never upgraded a computer before – and it’s a legitimately unique feature. Also, the fact that the RAM is not soldered, in a chassis of this size, is in itself a victory for scalability.

But this community has already been burned. From Intel’s Ghost Canyon NUC to Alienware’s Area-51m, the virtual graveyard is littered with promised modular computers that never worked because the company stopped making hardware for them. Dell was recently sued for allegedly promising that the Area-51m R1 could be upgraded to future Intel processors and Nvidia GPUs, which ultimately was not the case. This type of device is difficult to manufacture and even more difficult to support over time.

I asked Framework how many generations of Intel processors it was committed to supporting, and the company didn’t give a direct answer. A spokesperson said: “We are evaluating the next roadmaps for silicon and see nothing of concern to us about compatibility with our current chassis. We will continue to support the existing chassis for the foreseeable future. ”

Sure. But until I have an Alder Lake motherboard in my hands, I hesitate to get too excited. Whether the Framework is a good buy will depend on the company’s ability to move forward with this chassis, how long it continues to release new modules, and its ability to build a robust library of media. It will also depend on the quality of the promised market and the robustness of the component selections. These are the real advantages of this device. Without them, the Framework is mostly a run-of-the-mill laptop with lots of QR codes.

Photograph by Monica Chin / The Verge

Source link