The Framework Laptop Could Revolutionize Repairability. We Hope It Does. – The New York Times

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We’ve added a line noting that the Framework Marketplace has launched since we originally wrote this review.
If you purchase a Framework Laptop, you’re buying both a capable computer right now and a promise of something remarkable in the future. Cracking the Framework Laptop open for the first time, you’ll find a well-organized and well-labeled set of parts, every one replaceable. If the promise works out, you have an heirloom laptop that’s repairable and upgradable for a decade. If Framework—the company making the Framework Laptop—fails, you might replace it in a few years, as you would any other laptop.
The majority of laptops aren’t easy to repair or upgrade, and some are practically impossible. When taking photos for this guide, for example, we planned on snapping a photo of the inside of a 2017 MacBook Pro, but aside from a special screwdriver, you also need a suction cup and a plastic pick to remove that model’s bottom panel. In some cases, laptop makers glue or solder parts together, and as a result, if one part breaks, everything needs to be replaced. This restriction is especially problematic with batteries, which are often tough to service despite needing to be replaced every few years.
Laptop makers often do such things in pursuit of thinness and lightness, though we’ve seen diminishing returns in that regard over the years. Even Apple’s MacBook Air—once the defining thin-and-light laptop—hasn’t shrunk much since launch, shaving off only a few millimeters and a few grams over three major redesigns.
As the repair site iFixit notes, laptop makers have a few reasons to use glue and other more cumbersome construction techniques (waterproofing components, for example). A more conspiratorial view is that all that glue and solder is a cover for planned obsolescence—that is, the companies are making repair costs prohibitive so as to force you to buy a new laptop altogether. I’ve always assumed that the truth lies somewhere in the middle: Some executive somewhere thinks people need an impossibly thin-and-light laptop, and they need it to be as cheap as possible.
I’ve been taking apart electronics for decades, and I’ve never seen anything like the inside of the Framework Laptop.
Meanwhile, a movement called “right to repair” has grown in the past few years to push for laws demanding a certain baseline of repairability from electronics makers, including for laptops. Right-to-repair advocates push for electronics manufacturers to make repair documentation available, to make replacement parts and tools, and to accommodate repair ideals in their product design. Currently no major laptop manufacturer meets all of those objectives.
The Framework Laptop exists to fill the void. It is the first laptop to receive a 10 out of 10 repairability score from iFixit. PCWorld’s teardown produced similar findings. I read that coverage, and I saw the photos, of course, but even so it was wild to have the Framework Laptop laid out in front of me in person. When I took it apart for the first time, I was shocked at how well-labeled and easy to tweak the insides were.
As much as you’re buying a promise of the future with a Framework Laptop, you’re also buying into an admission of defeat: Namely, you’re agreeing that laptop designs peaked years ago—somewhere around the 2012 MacBook, say—and no amount of gimmicks or tricks will change that. In that spirit, the Framework Laptop is a clamshell laptop in an aluminum case, and if you can continue to upgrade it for the next decade, that’s what it’ll continue to be. I don’t disagree with the concept, but if you’re a fan of the latest tricks—a two-in-one convertible design, for instance, or a second screen embedded in the keyboard—you won’t find them here. That’s not what the Framework Laptop is about. It’s supposed to be Old Faithful, a laptop that keeps on doing its thing even as you Frankenstein different parts into it year after year as necessary.
The Framework Laptop’s components are fine, though not without their quirks. The keyboard is squishier than something like a Dell XPS 13 keyboard, but it’s still a pleasure to type on. While the trackpad is smooth and responsive, the click feels mushy and hollow compared with that of other laptops in this price range. The chassis is a little more flexible than on most $1,000 laptops—you can press down around the keyboard and feel it flex—but not so much that we’re worried about the case’s longevity.
The news is better elsewhere. The Framework Laptop’s webcam—which features a physical hardware toggle to disable it (the mic has one, as well)—is 1080p, so it produces a much nicer image than you get with most ultrabook webcams. The power button doubles as a fingerprint reader, so logging in is quick and secure.
The screen measures 13.5 inches and has a 3:2 ratio, so it’s more square than the common widescreen display. At 2256×1504, it has a higher resolution than most ultrabook screens do, and it’s vibrant and bright. (Framework currently doesn’t offer a touchscreen option.) I sat outside on a sunny day in Los Angeles and was able to continue using it. While the laptop and I were outside in the heat, the fans kicked on frequently and at high volumes, but the effect was comparable to that of other slim notebooks. The power supply is a bit clunkier and heavier than you might want with an ultrabook, but in sticking with the general philosophy of this laptop, Framework doesn’t require you to buy one of its own—you can use any 60-watt USB-C power supply.
Instead of building ports into the body, Framework uses customizable “expansion cards” in its laptop, so you can decide what ports your laptop has as you need them. Right now, the selection includes options for USB-C, USB-A, microSD, HDMI, DisplayPort, and external storage, but Framework plans on releasing more in the future.
If you decide to pick an option with Windows installed, it comes with no extra bloatware, and if Windows isn’t your thing, you can install Linux instead.
The biggest downside lies in the Framework Laptop’s terrible battery life in comparison with its competition. In our test running a script to simulate web browsing, the Framework had only seven hours of battery life, which stinks next to the Dell XPS 13’s mark of 12.5 hours. The results were so bad, we ran the test twice out of concern that we had gotten something wrong, but the results were the same the second time. If battery life is your main priority, don’t buy this laptop.
In both price and configuration, the Framework Laptop is in line with most ultrabooks. Considering all the compromises laptop companies make regarding weight and thickness, you might think that something repairable like the Framework Laptop would be impossible to make thin-and-light. But the Framework weighs 2.8 pounds—an exact match for the weight of Apple’s MacBook Air—and it’s only about 1 cm thicker than our top Windows pick, the Dell XPS 13.
I imagine that from a hardware perspective, although the Framework Laptop is serviceable, it won’t be anyone’s favorite laptop to use, but that’s not really the point. Ars Technica, CNET, Engadget, NotebookCheck, PCMag, Tom’s Hardware, and The Verge all came to a similar conclusion.
Recommended configuration
From ordering to fixing, Framework’s entire process differs from what you might be used to.
Before you even have the laptop in your hands, Framework diverges from most other laptop companies. It offers two buying experiences: a DIY option and a prebuilt option. The DIY option allows you to pick (or decline) your own storage, memory, CPU, Wi-Fi card, and operating system, and then you assemble the laptop yourself. The prebuilt option is the one most people should take, but even that offers more choice than many other laptops out there, allowing you to pick from different CPU and storage options, upgrade any of those, and select which expansion cards you want.
Because of the way this ordering process works, you also get to choose what not to include. Already have a copy of Windows, or a power supply, or a storage drive sitting around? You don’t have to order one. That cuts down on both cost and waste.
There is a catch. Framework is a small company, and due to the bespoke nature of each laptop, it takes a while for buyers to get their orders. Right now, lead times are one to two months, depending on the model. Though the delays are attributable to supply-chain constraints around the world, some of our laptop recommendations are taking even longer to arrive.
The interior of the Framework Laptop is cleverly designed, and it suggests that other laptop makers, in their quest for thinness, simply haven’t been trying hard enough. Framework is so confident in its laptop’s repairability, it includes a screwdriver—the only one you’ll need—inside the box. Opening the Framework Laptop for the first time feels like opening a heavily footnoted book, where most of the knowledge you need is contained within the object itself. After removing five screws, you’re greeted by the wonderfully organized interior of the Framework Laptop, where each component has a label with a QR code that you can scan to go to a guide for replacing it.
I’ve been taking apart electronics for decades, and I’ve never seen anything like the inside of the Framework. Repairability extends to places rarely seen on laptops, such as the screen: Remove the magnetic bezel, and you get access to the display, webcam, and mic. (And perhaps just as important, that design choice suggests that you’ll be able to buy stylish replacement bezels in fun colors to customize your laptop.) The same goes for the keyboard, which is easy to replace and is also in line for more customizability options from Framework at some point in the future.
Opening the Framework Laptop for the first time feels like opening a heavily footnoted book, where most of the knowledge you need is contained within the object itself.
Some facets of the Framework system are still a little clunky. For one thing, Framework solders the CPU onto the motherboard, so to replace it, you’d have to replace the entire board.
Not everything is industry-redefining, of course. As on most laptops, the Framework Laptop warranty lasts only one year. Customer support is available only via email, though the community forum is easier to navigate than similar sites for other laptop companies. You have 30 days to return the Framework Laptop for a full refund, minus the return shipping costs, if you decide it’s not for you.
It’s early days for Framework as a company, and there will be growing pains. Those might manifest as customer support issues, hardware failures, or other problems. The worst-case scenario is that the company goes under. If you buy a laptop from HP or Lenovo, say, you have a (reasonable) guarantee that the company will continue to exist for the lifespan of that laptop. That is not the case with Framework, and you could be left with a laptop that, while repairable, isn’t easy to find parts for.
Speaking of parts, Framework’s parts store—called the Framework Marketplace—has most of the basics for replacements, like heatsinks and some of the expansion cards, but none of the extras, like replacement keyboards or display bezels. The expansion-card selection is still lacking a few options, too, such as a full SD Card port and an Ethernet connection.
The best way to cut down on e-waste and contribute to sustainable tech consumption is to use what you have as long as possible.
But what is here is impressive, and the Framework Laptop represents an idea we can get behind. It’s just important to understand that buying one today comes with risks. We can rave about how thoughtfully the Framework Laptop’s internals are laid out, and it’s easy to imagine how repairs and upgrades might work in the future. But that’s assuming the market for repairable laptops exists in the future, along with the company itself.
If you’re shopping for a new laptop and you don’t have qualms about being an early adopter, the Framework Laptop is worth considering. If it were me, I’d consider it—I put a higher emphasis on repairability than other people might, and I have long preferred the standard clamshell laptop over its more experimental siblings. But if the idea of giving $1,000 to an unproven company for a first-generation device that is sure to have some quirks during its lifespan makes you queasy, it can’t hurt to wait for an update or two. Perhaps most important: If the laptop you already own is plugging along well enough, you should keep using that machine. The right-to-repair philosophy that drove the Framework Laptop’s release aims to make consumer hardware less disposable—and the best way to cut down on e-waste and contribute to sustainable tech consumption is to use what you have as long as possible.
Thorin Klosowski
Thorin Klosowski is the editor of privacy and security topics at Wirecutter. He has been writing about technology for over a decade, with an emphasis on learning by doing—which is to say, breaking things as often as possible to see how they work. For better or worse, he applies that same DIY approach to his reporting.
Further reading
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