The framework launched last year with the promise of building laptops so you can upgrade yourself with little more than a screwdriver and some patience. Now, 12 months after its debut, the company is shipping its first round of upgrade kits to keep these machines up to date. It’s a good start, as the machine makes good on its pledge to make a repairable modular machine and bring in existing users along with any future modifications to the system. After nearly replacing a first-generation motherboard with its replacement, I can say we’re approaching a whole new era of computing.
To show how easy it is to upgrade, the Framework sent its 2021-era model, which was powered by an 11th-generation Intel Core chip. In the package, but in a separate box, there was a new 12th generation Intel Core chip (Alder Lake) attached to the motherboard. The idea, simply put, is that you can pull out the main board that contains the CPU and I/O, while keeping pretty much everything else. The RAM, SSD, SSD, WiFi card, battery, audio equipment, screen, etc. can all be reused until it breaks or needs to be upgraded as well.
Upgrading or replacing any component within the Framework requires a Torx T5 screwdriver (included in the box). Of course, replacing the motherboard is the most involved update you can make as it requires you to disassemble everything else to get to it. Fortunately, the framework produces iFixit style guides to keep track of, and each component is either color-coded or labeled. There are QR codes on each unit that link to our instructional videos and support pages to help you get where you need to go.
The company announced earlier this year that it will introduce three new motherboard options that cater to all budgets. $499 gets you the 12th-generation i5-1240P, while $699 gets you the i7-1260P. If you’re eager to live in the cutting edge of action at all times, and have cash to spare, you can pick up the Core i7-1280P for $1,049. That’s steep, but the argument goes that buying an all-new laptop will cost you more. However, I don’t expect users to go crazy with these annual upgrades, but they will most likely look for a new motherboard every two or three years to keep up with the updates.
As for the upgrade process, not necessarily painBut there are two things worth reporting. If you are coming to this as a beginner, it will take much longer than the 15 minutes promised in the how-to guide. With practice, you will get faster, but I think these guides need to be friendlier to uninformed hobbyists. Likewise, I’m not a big fan of ZIF connectors, which require you to gently slide the ribbon cable no larger than your fingernail into the necessary installation. Especially since it’s small, and I’d be worried that one mistimed sneeze would cost you $699 of your own money.
At the same time, Framework is launching two other products that demonstrate its commitment to listening to its users and making sure that OG buyers are not left behind. The first is that the company is releasing its first new expansion card, a 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet switch. That’s, in short, pretty cool, ditching the all-metal chassis for a clear plastic casing that makes it look like one of those Game Boys specials from the ’90s. The cyberpunk aesthetic also helps cover the fact that in order to accommodate the Ethernet port itself, it’s much larger than the rest of the expansion cards – it sticks to the side of your laptop, but in a nice way.
This was very helpful during the install, as the missing WiFi driver (thanks, Microsoft) means I can’t connect to the internet after the initial upgrade. (This has since been resolved, but one of the drawbacks of testing the devices long before it hits the public is.) Being able to hack an ethernet port and connect it to my network to solve the problem was a godsend. Not to mention that, like all the backup expansion cards the company offers, it’s another step toward making the laptop look like a Swiss army knife.
Then there is the top cover. Now, I didn’t have many complaints about the amount of flex in the device when it launched last year. But the Framework engineers weren’t happy, so they redesigned the screen enclosure to be CNC milled from a solid block of aluminum. They add some extra stiffness to the frame, and are standard on all new laptops sold from now on, as well as being bundled in motherboard replacement kits. But, again, instead of leaving existing customers who don’t want a new CPU on the fence, you can also buy a standalone top cover for $89, and if the company can stick to that commitment of always bringing in existing buyers, that means it’ll earn a dedicated and loving fan base. .
Finally, with the upgrade over, there is a small matter of what users will do with the now deprecated motherboard. The framework offers users open source plans to build desktop-style containers for boards to encourage reuse, and hobbyists are already using them as the basis for their cool mod projects. For example, GitHub user Pink built an old motherboard terminal that looks like it fell from the back of a copy Drops. If I don’t have to send all this over again, and have any kind of skill in building things, I’m pretty sure I’ll try to build something cool myself.
And that’s probably another gift the Framework can continue to give – the idea that users should feel empowered to get their hands dirty after being told their devices have been off-limits for so long.
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