The Framework Laptop

After months of debating about pre-ordering the Framework Laptop, I finally placed an order for the base DIY model as my next laptop, even though my portable preference has long been Apple laptops running macOS.

There are no real savings when going with the Framework Laptop. The pre-built base model is an i5 with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD for $999. That’s the same amount as the new M1 MacBook Air, with the same amount of memory and storage space.

And in the rest of the laptop market, there are some that have more bang for the buck. Best Buy is full of i5 laptops with either a 13" or 15" screen and equal or more memory and storage for around $700. Some at that price point even have a touch screen.

However, after thinking about it, I wanted to support the effort of shipping a modular, repairable laptop.

A Repairable Laptop

Putting the framework laptop together was a breeze and a bit of fun. There is a little LED between the expansion card slots that will blink out a code with the status of various subsystems and boot initialization steps if something goes wrong. The QR codes littered throughout the insides are a nice touch, and using the same CMS system as iFixit for their repair guides is also a great choice by the company.

The 10 out of 10 repairability doesn’t seem to affect the size or build quality. It’s not much thicker than a MacBook Pro, and there’s not much flex in the case. It doesn’t feel like it was put together in a DIY fashion or has been opened half a dozen times.

If it were not for the marketing and the fact that I took it apart a few times to swap out different components, I’m not sure I would have known from the outside that the Framework Laptop was designed with repairability in mind.

Evaluating the Laptop

My ultimate goal is to run Linux on this laptop. However, in order to give the hardware a fair comparison against my preference for a MacBook, I installed Windows 11 on it since that’s the default OS choice from Framework.

The driver package was an all-in-one install, and afterwards everything worked as expected. The fingerprint reader was fast, the trackpad gestures were smooth, and in Windows 11, they did almost exactly what I would expect the gesture to do based on my experience in macOS. While that isn’t specific to this laptop, it’s nice that the trackpad takes full advantage of the same Windows gestures as a Surface laptop.

The screen is great, and I don’t see any backlight leakage in my unit. This has been a concern of mine after trying a few different laptops at work from Dell and Microsoft that seem to have bright edges.

The 3:2 aspect ratio is a great choice instead of the more popular 16:9 found in other Windows laptops. However, the resolution is a little odd. Scaling is too small at 100% and too cramped at 200%. Windows feels fine at 150%, but text is less sharp than it could be at 200%, and in-between scaling might be a problem in Linux.

The fans are downward-facing and right in the middle of the bottom of the laptop. It stays cool and quiet until you expect it not to (like building a project in Visual Studio), but it’s easy to have the vents covered if it’s on your lap.

The speakers are also downward-firing and are a little hollow-sounding when using the laptop on your lap since the sound won’t bounce back up. But on a desk, they sound pretty good.

The keyboard feels great, especially coming from a butterfly-keyboard MacBook Pro. But I wish the arrow keys were in the inverted-T configuration.

At first, I thought the expansion cards were a novelty. They just seemed like dongles, but with no cable. However, they don’t feel slotted in, and after installing them, I just don’t think about them. I don’t think I’m going to carry any extras in my bag, but being able to decide on HDMI or Display Port, USB-A or USB-C, extra storage, or a microSD card slot makes the laptop feel more personal and purpose-built.

After using the framework laptop for a while, it seems silly to buy a laptop that doesn’t allow you to easily change out the memory, storage, battery, and other components. If you want to see more companies make their products repairable or customizable, support Framework and make this your next laptop.