Framework laptop review
I've seen a few posts about the Framework Laptop on Tildes and since I received mine, I thought I'd do a write up for it.
I've been using the Framework laptop for a few weeks now and it's been great so far. I was originally skeptical but I decided that I would take a shot at it as I've been growing increasingly unhappy with the design decisions that Apple has been making with MacOS.
I ordered the DIY kit, which was nice since I already had an NVMe SSD I could use with it, so I ended up saving about $150. It only took about 20 minutes to get the RAM, SSD and wifi card installed.
- Intel i7-1165G7
- 32 GB of RAM
- Intel WiFi 6E card
Total cost: $1,422.03.
Unfortunately my first laptop arrived with a dead display. The Framework support team was pretty helpful and quickly sent out a new one, which works perfectly.
After toying around with Linux Mint and a few other distros, I ended up installing the Windows 11 beta. Getting the drivers installed was easy, since Framework offers a single download that runs one script to install all necessary drivers in unattended mode. Just hit one button and restart - all the drivers are installed. I wish all manufacturers offered something similar.
Overall construction is great. For something as modular as this, it feels extremely solid and well built. While the build quality isn't equal to something like a MacBook, I'd say it's on par with a Dell XPS or similar high end machine.
The screen is nice and bright, with accurate colors. I've always been a fan of 3:2 screens on laptops and moving from a MacBook Pro with a 16-inch 16:9 display to the 13.5-inch 3:2 display on the Framework doesn't feel like losing too much real estate. Having the taller display is great for sites like Tildes, where it can fit almost the same amount of content as a much larger screen.
The keyboard and trackpad are both great. The keys remind me of the older pre-2015 style MacBook keyboards before they switched to the butterfly mechanism. They are bouncy and responsive, with a nice feedback that doesn't feel too harsh like the butterfly keyboards do. The trackpad is pretty good and it uses the Windows Precision drivers, so it supports swiping and pinching if you like that. It does sound a bit louder than my MacBook Pro's trackpad.
The speakers are a bit disappointing. The max loudness is pretty anemic. Even in a normal acoustic environment (A/C running in a house), you have to actively listen to hear. Coming from a MacBook Pro 16-inch, I would say that the speakers are the biggest downgrade.
The main draw of the Framework is the expandability and upgradability.
The Framework modules are a fantastic idea and I love them. While they don't save you from having to carry around adapters, it is really nice to have those adapters slot in to your machine and feel more integrated. I purchased 2 USB-C, 2 full-sized USB, a DisplayPort, and an HDMI adapter. Being able to just slot in a USB A port and swap it for a display out one on the rare occasion that I need it has been great. I love being able to adapt the ports on my laptop to a situation without having to have dongles coming out of the side of my laptop.
The adapters are tiny and easily fit in any backpack or carrying case. I'm really curious to see what new adapters they offer in the future and what crazy niche ones third parties come up with. I'd love to see a cellular modem jammed into one of these things. Or maybe one that can hide a dongle for my wireless keyboard and mouse?
Battery life is...fine. It's an all day machine, but you'll definitely need to charge it every day if you're using it a good deal. The battery is on the smaller side, but it gets me through a normal work day so that's good enough. But when the battery goes bad (as all Lithium-Ion batteries do), it's an easy fix.
In terms of upgradability, getting into the laptop is dead simple. There's five screws on the bottom and then entire top deck (keyboard and trackpad) comes off. Everything is easily accessible and sensibly laid out. It's also all labeled with QR codes that take you to specific guides on how to install/upgrade those components. I think the educational component is great. It really shows people who would have never thought to upgrade their RAM or storage how easy it can be.
That's the big selling point for me. If I decide in a year or two that I need more than 1TB of storage, I can just buy a larger drive and stick it in there. Or if my display dies, I can get a one for a lot less than the cost of replacing the laptop. Or if the keyboard or trackpad dies, then I can easily replace just that component. On my MacBook Pro, replacing the keyboard is an $800+ repair, since it involves replacing the entire top case, which includes the motherboard and other expensive components.
For years we've been hearing from manufacturers that they can't make a laptop thin, light and upgradable. This laptop proves them wrong.
My biggest concern is the long term viability of the company. It's nice that they made an upgradable laptop, but if they aren't around in a year or two to keep selling replacement parts, then it doesn't matter much.
Overall, I'm pretty impressed with the Framework and I plan on keeping it and making it my daily driver.
EDIT: I forgot to mention my absolute favorite feature, one that I've missed ever since Apple went all USB-C on their laptops: It has a light on the side to tell you if it is currently charging or fully charged!
Overall - Love it.
I got my kid a framework laptop over Christmas. I've upgraded many laptops and desktops in the past, and thought it would be fun to teach my son to put together the DIY edition.
The expansion cards are utterly awesome. The freedom to switch USB-C to USB-A to HDMI to SD card reader is awesome.
There are physical off switches for the video camera and microphone.
Framework is not significantly easier to upgrade memory and storage than most windows laptops.
I hope Framework is successful, but it's unclear if we will ever be able to upgrade the processor or screen.
My kid removed the screws. The screws are... really unusual. They are not normal laptop screws. They don't fully remove. Four unscrew mostly but are not removeable, one screw is only a quarter turn. The odd screw out is apparently to lift the panel to make it easier to remove. I had to read the instructions before I understand how to remove the screws, which I've never had to do before. It's frankly a really weird design choice. The screws aren't removeable, so you are unsure when you have successfully unscrewed the screws, they just keep turning in place. The quarter turn screw makes you think something is cross threaded, as it looks just like all the other screws, but doesnt behave anything like a normal screw. I'm not a fan, TBH.
Installing the memory and storage was standard. I opted for a single stick of 16GB RAM, so I could buy a second stick of 16GB if we need more memory. Not sure why they even allow you to buy two sticks of 16GB ram, given that a single stick of 32GB is the same price and makes it significantly cheaper to upgrade to 64GB in the future. Most laptops had easily upgradeable memory and storage until Apple started soldering stuff in 2010ish, and Framework uses standard connectors. The storage is PCI, which is a little more fidly than SATA, but I still let my kid do this.
I've never installed a WIFI card before, so I watched a video first. This looked like a delicate operation, and I feared if the connectors broke I would need another motherboard, so I installed the WIFI card. That was a fidly operation.
Installing Windows 10: I bought Windows 10 Home (Download) from Framework but couldn't run the usb imaging tool on a Mac. You used to be able to download an image that could be written to USB via a Mac, but Windows no longer supports that. I didn't have a Windows machine handy to run the tool to create the install USB, so I bought a USB install from a third party. Official install CDs seemed kinda pricey. Overall install was smooth, but Microsoft insisted on a microsoft account to install windows, which is creepy, it felt more creepy when it wanted an email address for the secondary non-administrative account, and even more creepy when it kept persistently asking for more information such as a fingerprint and if I remember correctly even a PIN and a phone number. Then it started insisting on installing Edge. Not a fan.
Installing Drivers: Downloading the drivers from Framework was seamless and easy.
I had to contact Framework support for one issue. They were very responsive, but ultimately not helpful as the issue was more related to Western Digital. The Western Digital SN850 SSD gave sporadic blue screens “Default Boot Device Missing or Boot Failed.” There was a firmware patch for the SSD. The WD Dashboard used to update the SSD Firmware didn't run, all we got was a blank screen. Framework Support suggested uninstalling and reinstalling WD Dashboard, which did not help. Someone else had a similar issue on a different hardware device, and suggested installing an older version, which also did not help. Ultimately running Windows in safe mode which ran the WD Dashboard, but made connecting to the internet really tricky. It sounded like the issue was specific to me, perhaps because I used a bootleg windows installer.
Edit: My kid destroyed the keyboard. I was able to buy a new keyboard and replace it. It's not the easiest keyboard replacement I have ever performed. If you don't feel like dealing with 50 fiddly screws then spend the extra $60 and get the full top case replacement. He almost stripped one of the unremovable screws, which would be problematic.
Running in dual channel mode - which I believe is only possible with two separate DIMMs in this design - can lead to significant performance increases, especially when using the integrated graphics or on highly vectorized workloads (SSE and AVX usage).
Those are called "captive screws" and I find them awesome, because you won't loose them any time soon.
I've had a screw loose in a laptop before, so I understand the benefit of captive screws (didn't know they had a name tho.)
There are four captive screws (which usually surprise me, but after a few turns I usually figure it out) and then a fifth screw is used instead of something like a button to pop the panel off.
The fifth screw turns a quarter turn to elevates the panel so you can get a finger underneath it to lift it up then starts clicking weirdly when you turn it.
And yet it looks just like all the other captive screws.
I'm not the first person to get confused either...
I've been giving Framework some serious thought recently, as my System76 Oryx Pro is starting to get to the point where I can justify an upgrade. I'm torn on two things, though: I'd like a GPU to do a non-zero amount of higher-powered gaming, and I'd like a bigger model - probably 15" screen or so. Framework's lack of a dedicated GPU is somewhat tempered by the fact that everything is lacking dedicated GPUs nowadays... if I wanted to just upgrade my Oryx to a newer model, I can't - System76 has had no stock of all discrete-GPU models for months.
Do you mostly want to do gaming while docked at a desk? Because you could always go the eGPU route. Most mid/high end laptops nowadays feature at least one Thunderbolt 3/4 port.
You still need to acquire the discrete gpu. But it’s still a good suggestion.
True, and that can be a challenge these days, but it does give you (most of) the power of a desecrate GPU while still being portable.
Unfortunately no - I'm still going to be keeping my desktop around for most of that. It's mostly for travel - can I sit in my hotel while on vacation and play some games. It's definitely something I could live without, but I'm used to it at this point and don't want to go back to GPU-less.
I guess I’m lucky to have gotten a 1650Ti equipped galago pro. To be honest I’m not that happy with it but it’s getting the job done.
Thanks for this great review! I'm dying to get one of these; but similar to what @Eric_the_Cerise noted, I can't justify the purchase just yet. I'm hoping that in 1 ~ 1.5 years, I'll be ready...and of course by then, any bugs and nits from their initial versions should have been worked out by then...though it seems like even those are very minor. :-)
I'm willing to put my original model not working down to bad luck. Even if I wasn't, they sent me out a new one before I even sent the original back and were extremely helpful in troubleshooting.
But other than that, I haven't seen any major issues, only a few minor ones. And I know they've modified the design a little bit with the newer batches to avoid some of the issues.
That is doubly encouraging to hear! My hope is longevity for this product as well as continuation of their good behavior!
Thanks for the write-up. I have too many laptops as it is, so I can't justify $1500 for yet another one ... but in a year or two, I'll be in the market and this will be on my short list.
Did you try any Linux distros long enough to get a feel for battery life with any of them?
I was going to sarcastically ask how many laptops you had but then I realized that I have four of them around the house (Work MacBook Pro, personal MacBook Pro, Chromebook and the Framework) so...
Battery life was definitely less on Linux, but there is a great guide on the Framework website that has some tips for getting better battery life. If you follow the instructions there, it gets you pretty close to what you'd get on Windows.
I've been considering buying one of the storage expansion cards to run Linux on it.
2 personal, 1 for work, 1 older one currently serving media, 4 RPis in various stages of hobbies, 2 phones, 2 routers, prolly other stuff I'm forgetting ... oh yeah, a high-end desktop I built ... most of 'em <3 years old. I need to chill out a bit.
Be proud of your tech hoarding. It's far more ecofriendly than most other options.
I've got a 7 yr old Thinkpad serving as my diagnostic machine (small, light, has ethernet port and DVD drive).
I've got 2 older hand-me-down gaming laptops (6xx and 7xx NVIDIA GPUs) which are still perfectly servicable for non-AAA gaming. Great for portable LAN parties.
I've got a 12 yr old cheap Acer, with AMD Bulldozer CPU. It's still mostly usable with GNOME. Mostly just a toy for the pre-K kids to smash on while they watch me work.
2 Thinkpad x395 laptops for the adults. A gaming PC hooked to the TV. A frankenstein server built from hand-me-downs and big hard drives. A retired Dell workstation being setup to be an off-site backup.
3 raspberry pis in various stages of (re)implementation. 4 old phones and a tablet, one of which is the TV remote (I miss IR built in). A defunct Ryzen 1 setup of questionable stability. All sorts of random cables and parts.
And this has served myself and others well. One of those gaming laptops was a swap I did with my sister, whose gaming laptop was a gigantic desktop replacement she was lugging to school with bad battery life. I was able to swap her for equivalent performance in a smaller, lighter form factor. At the start of COVID I gave away another old gaming laptop as a living room video conference machine. Another older Thinkpad for remote working.
Most of these machines are either leftovers of my own, aquired used on ebay, or given to me by relatives who knew I could find a use for them. Having backup computers ready to use has been incredibly handy and has ultimately saved myself and others thousands in not needing to buy another machine to fill a new need.
I wasn't even including my NAS, desktop, Raspberry Pis, or the dozen old cell phones scattered around the house!