Framework Computer is Repairable and Upgradable

DIY computing comes to the notebook computer.

Framework Computer open


We love our MacBooks, so sleek and thin and shiny. On the other hand, they are difficult to repair and consistently get the lowest repairability scores from iFixit. Upgrading the hardware is almost impossible too; this has consistently been our biggest complaint about them. Apple, on the other hand, claims that this is how they are able to make them so sleek and thin.

A lot of people aren't happy with the Apple business model; that's why Europeans can buy Fairphones that can be opened up and upgraded. The Framework computer, just announced and promised for this summer, is like a Fairphone computer; you can open it up (they even supply a screwdriver!) and swap out the parts inside. You can order it with your choice of chips and RAM and keyboards, just like many people used to do when we built our own computers in big boxes.

It has excellent specs for a Windows or Linux machine, with swappable ports on the side of the computer; with "four bays, you can select from USB-C, USB-A, HDMI, DisplayPort, MicroSD, ultra-fast storage, a high-end headphone amp, and more," according to the Framework site.

Inside a Framework computer

When I used to build my own computers, they were like the Ship of Theseus; I would replace all the parts inside, and then I would change the case so that there was nothing that was original. You could do that because everything from the screw holes in the motherboard to the sockets for the RAM were standardized. This is not the case today with notebook computers, but the Framework computer may well get a standard framework; the team says "In addition to releasing new upgrades regularly, we’re opening up the ecosystem to enable a community of partners to build and sell compatible modules through the Framework Marketplace." Founder Nirav Patel writes:

"One of the core design principles of the Framework Laptop is performance upgradability. Not only are the memory and storage replaceable, but the entire mainboard can be removed and replaced with any of the compatible ones we’ll be building in the same form factor. Desktop PCs have been designed this way for decades, but until now the notebook industry has been stuck in a locked down mode requiring wasteful full device replacements. We architected the mainboard to maximize adaptability to future generations of x86 and ARM (and we hope eventually RISC-V!) CPUs. We also carefully selected and minimized the number of internal connectors to simplify installation and keep the system thin."

About the only thing I can complain about here is the use of the word "architected" – I am an actual architect and never architected, I designed. I don't know which is worse, the appropriation or the verbing,

When Apple introduced the new Macbook Air in 2018 they made a big deal (and got big applause) for using their own preconsumer waste aluminum to make the new computers. Treehugger was not impressed, noting that this is more about increasing production efficiency, that "having lots of pre-consumer waste means that you are probably doing something wrong.” More impressively, Framework uses 50% post-consumer recycled aluminum for its housing. As to whether the 50% virgin aluminum was made with water or coal-fired electricity, Founder Nirav Patel told Treehugger: not yet.

"We're pushing as far as we can on sustainable materials sourcing. At our current scale, that largely means sourcing the most sustainable materials available "off the shelf" to input into our manufacturing partners. Today, that is 50% PCR aluminum, with the remaining 50% coming from the open market, which processed through a mix of energy sources. Over time, we will continue to improve that and use our purchasing power to drive improvements in the supply chain."
Framework Closed

Since we have always been told that our MacBooks are designed the way they are so that they can be thin and light, the specifications for the Framework computer are surprising. My new MacBook Pro is 15.6 millimeters thick; the Framework is 15.85, negligibly thicker. The MacBook weighs 1.4 kilograms; the Framework weighs in at 1.3 kilograms. As well, the keyboards on the Framework have a full 1.5-millimeter travel and the camera is 1080p. The screen resolution on the Framework is just a teensy bit lower than the MacBook, and the battery just a teensy bit smaller (55Wh vs Mac's 58.2Wh) It's hard to believe that they can actually do this. After all, as they note,

"The conventional wisdom in the industry is that making products repairable makes them thicker, heavier, uglier, less robust, and more expensive. We’re here to prove that wrong and fix consumer electronics, one category at a time."
Adding board

Framework also acknowledges that "these are big claims and consumer electronics is littered with the graves of companies with grand ideas and failed executions." Let's hope that this one succeeds in its execution. Patel notes that we generate 50 million tons of e-waste each year, but that doesn't begin to take into account the upstream waste to make the product in the first place, the 75 pounds of ore that are reduced to a couple of ounces of iPhone. This is why it is so important that we design our electronics to last as long as possible, and be easily repairable and upgradable.

If Framework can pull this off in a computer that is almost as thin, sleek, and light as a MacBook, it will be a remarkable achievement.

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