The Framework Laptop

About a month ago, I pre-ordered the Framework Laptop, specifically the DIY edition. This laptop isn’t exactly what I want in a laptop, but it does have a lot going for it, so I figured I would write up a summary of why I went with this one, especially as it’s expected to arrive tomorrow.

The Bottom Line: Right to Repair

Right to repair isn’t a topic I’ve discussed much, well, ever, but it’s an important issue for reasons I covered in the most recent episode of Shop Talk. I also plan to have a lengthier write-up sometime soon which covers my thoughts on the topic, but the really short version is that I want to maximize options for choice when it comes to property I own, and right to repair extends the sphere of possible choices.

The Framework team has put a lot of effort into making their laptop repairable and upgradable. They have a series of support guides which walk you, step by step, through the process of component replacement. For example, if you need to replace your mainboard, there’s a guide for that.

They’re also making schematics available to third-party repair shops, a rarity in the computing world. The sad part is that, several decades ago, schematics tended to be included in the giant product manuals for hardware; now, we consider it laudable that a company doesn’t consider this top-secret information.

The Top Line: Good Specs at an OK Price

When making my decision, I knew that I could find a similarly-spec’d laptop at a lower price, but that bottom line is worth a fair amount to me. In case you’re curious about the specs I chose, here goes:

  • Intel i7-1165G7. They offer an option with the i7-1185G7 but I don’t think the tiny performance difference is worth the big price difference.
  • 2 TB Western Digital SN750 NVMe
  • 64 GB DDR-3200 RAM. To date, my laptops have all been 16 GB of RAM, which works fine on its own, but once I feel the urge to spin up a Kubernetes pod or a few Docker containers, that RAM disappears fast.
  • HDMI expansion card, 2 USB-C expansion cards, 2 USB-A expansion cards. One of the most clever choices the Framework team made was the modular design for their expansion cards. The laptop has four expansion card bays and because the expansion cards are really just USB-C ports, they’re hot-swappable. There’s also the possibility in the future of additional expansion card types fitting this common form factor, extending the lifespan of this laptop.

The Middle Line: It’s Not Perfect

When purchasing any laptop, you’re going to make a series of trade-offs. You can get desktop computer power and a full-sized keyboard with number pad if you’re willing to haul around a 17″ monstrosity which weighs more than a newborn and acts like a space heater. If you want something extremely light (like I prefer), you’re typically going to settle for a mediocre keyboard, 12-13″ of screen space, and a limited amount of RAM.

All of this is to say that the Framework Laptop is a compromise option, especially considering that this is a new startup hardware vendor, so they’re only going to have a couple options available. Yeah, it’d be nice to have an AMD chipset, a touchscreen, a monitor which supports higher resolutions, and a keyboard with the four keys (Home, End, Page Up, Page Down) as separate keys. But going back to the bottom line: unlike with other laptops, there’s actually a chance that I can resolve each of these over time. The Framework Marketplace has launched and although it only has the DIY options today, there’s the possibility of new monitor varieties, swappable keyboards, and more in the future. Sure, some of this may be a “2 years later” scenario but that’s still considerably better than I could ever hope for with any other laptop.

The Penultimate Line: Linux on the Laptop

One other factor I haven’t mentioned is that I’ve been itching to put Linux on my primary laptop for a while. I’ve avoided this mostly because of its atrocious support for touchscreens and my love of the same. But without a touchscreen option, I decided to take another dive. In case you’re curious, I’m planning on using elementary OS, a distro built off of Ubuntu that I’ve used in the past and enjoyed. Yeah, I could use Ubuntu 21.10 (scheduled to release the same day I get my laptop, so what could possibly go wrong?), but one of the co-founders of elementary OS is a Framework Laptop user and has a great post covering setup and I enjoyed elementary the last time I had it running on a laptop.

The Conclusion

No computer is going to be perfect, and laptops are particularly trade-off heavy. That said, I was happy enough with the options available with the Framework Laptop—and impressed enough with their stance in favor of right to repair—that I decided to take the plunge. I’d like to see more companies move toward making schematics available and making repair options easy, so if all other things are close enough to equal, I’ll go with the repair-friendly company over the repair-resistant company.