Framework Laptop review: Buy now, upgrade and repair later
The most customizable laptop around.
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It happens almost in slow motion. You’re walking through the parking lot when a friend claps you on the shoulder. Your laptop drops, almost hovering in mid-air for a split-second before crashing into the pavement. When you pick it up, the screen is cracked. So now you’re crunching the numbers, figuring out how much you can afford to spend on a new laptop because you already know that fixing the damage yourself is out of the question.
It shouldn’t be, though.
The Framework Laptop—a new repairable, upgradable productivity notebook—is designed specifically for people who want to extend the lives of their laptops with upgrades and repairs. It’s slim and powerful enough for most daily computing at work and at home. More importantly, its customizability and forward-thinking design make it incredibly versatile and (hopefully) long-lasting. You’ll still need to be comfortable working with computer parts, but its combination of user-friendly engineering and practical how-to guides make everything from upgrading memory to swapping out a broken display possible without buying a new PC, or even turning to a repair shop. “Framework” is a fitting name: It is a computer, but also a vision for a more sustainable, consumer-friendly future for the world of computing.
What makes the Framework laptop special
The philosophy behind the Framework is simple: When you buy a PC, it belongs to you, which means you should be able to upgrade or repair it however you please. Though many are comfortable sending in their machines and hoping for the best when there’s a problem, there are times when it would make more sense to repair a laptop, rather than replace it. Many issues with laptop wear—shorter battery life, slower processing, and so on—could be fixed with incremental upgrades and replacements. Even the nightmare scenario of a cracked screen or a coffee-fried motherboard could be solved for less money if you had the tools and expertise to crack the case open and swap out some parts.
Unfortunately, this often isn’t possible with modern laptops. In pursuit of streamlined designs, deeply striated product lines, and increased profits, many laptop manufacturers have made the upgrade and repair processes impossible for most people. Even basic upgrades, like installing a higher capacity SSD, are often hidden behind special tools and specialized knowledge about that machine in particular. Certain manufacturers, including Microsoft and Apple, are changing their policies around user repairs in response to pressure from consumers and governments advocating for the “right to repair,” but we’re a long way from giving people the freedom to fix their own tech.
The Framework not only allows users to make upgrades and repairs, but also sells modular components that you can slot in and out with moderate technical expertise. Everything is up for grabs, from memory and storage, to the keyboard, display, and motherboard. You can buy whatever you need, new or, in time, used, from Framework’s Marketplace storefront and install the parts from the comfort of your own home. That’s just not possible on other laptops.
No screwdriver? No problem
The Framework puts upgradability and modularity at the very center of its design. There are only five screws on the bottom of the case. It comes with a small multitool, a combination screwdriver and mini-spudger, which can open/facilitate all of its modular replacements.
Accessing the interior of this customizable laptop requires a little handiness, but should be easy for most people, even those without much PC-building experience. Simply undo the five screws on the bottom, then use the spudger to cleanly lift the bottom panel right off.
The interior of the Framework and its components are also designed to facilitate repairs. The core components—including the motherboard, RAM, and SSD—are labeled and stamped with QR codes, which take you directly to illustrated step-by-step guides for removing and replacing them.
Tinkering with a laptop for the first time is undoubtedly intimidating, but the Framework is meticulously crafted to offer support for inexperienced users attempting upgrades and repairs for the first (or second) time. There’s only one big cable to detach when disconnecting the keyboard, and it uses a big, resilient header instead of a finicky, easy-to-break ribbon cable. The most common replacements, memory and storage, are positioned front and center for easy access, though the SSD oddly doesn’t have the same big label as the memory and battery. Nearly all of the screws use the same head, so you won’t need to change bits, and those that are different simply require you to turn it to the other side. Framework has gone so far as to color-code the screws so you don’t accidentally swap them with the wrong component. There are even extra screws near the top of the motherboard in case any go missing.
These nuanced design choices won’t suddenly empower everyone. The instructions may not be enough to ease the worried minds of those intimidated by the prospect of fixing an expensive piece of equipment. Still, being able to easily buy replacement parts from the Framework Marketplace or upgrade your laptop at will, all on your own, allows you to extend the life of your laptop in a way that’s simply not possible elsewhere. And, if you’re willing to dive and learn, the Framework will help you almost every step of the way.
The power of ports
The Framework makes it especially easy to change the set of ports on the laptop, using a series of modular USB-C expansion cards to let you quickly swap connectors whenever you want. Out of the box, the laptop comes without any cards installed, leaving two big gaps on either side of the machine. This lets you choose what your default I/O setup will be from a set of expansion cards, including USB-A, USB-C, DisplayPort, and a microSD card reader.
Like its internal design, this modularity makes customization and expansion easy, even for a new tinkerer. The ability to pick and choose what you need and where you want it at any given moment is very welcome. If you’re editing photos or working on a large spreadsheet, swapping to an external monitor can be a helpful option. But when you’re not working with a second display, you can transform that slot into a card reader or extra USB port. Likewise, if you use a mouse instead of the trackpad like me, you can insert your USB port on the left, keeping the cable out of the way of your mouse hand.
Despite offering so many options, you are limited to four ports, which isn’t always enough. You need to use at least one USB-C port installed to charge the laptop, so sometimes it feels more like three. Plus, there are lots of useful extra cards, like an HDMI port or an external SSD. With so many options, it’s easy to see how creative users could find themselves running out of slots.
That’s all very cool, but is it a good laptop?
The Framework’s unique features are certainly novel, but that wouldn’t mean much if it wasn’t usable. Thankfully, the vision for a modular laptop future doesn’t impede its ability to be an effective machine for day-to-day use today, especially if you’re looking for something that’s thin, light, and easy to carry.
With its 13.5-inch screen, the Framework is on the smaller side, but that’s a plus for portability, especially if you don’t need the larger screen size. That compact design complements its exceptionally thin and lightweight construction. At only 0.6-inches thick, the laptop will have no trouble sliding into a bag or backpack and, at only 2.9 pounds, it’s light enough you might forget it’s even there as you carry it through the day.
The build quality feels robust. The aluminum frame also helps dissipate heat and keep the fan from becoming too loud. The keyboard is backlit and has a pleasant tactility that helps to avoid typos. The 4.5- by 3-inch touchpad is on the large side for my taste but feels undeniably nice to use thanks to its glass surface and satisfyingly clicky embedded buttons. There’s also a fingerprint reader built into the power button, opening the door to biometric login and advanced security.
The Framework laptop is a good fit for taking Zoom meetings thanks to its excellent built-in webcam. While most competing laptops, such as the Dell XPS 13, still feature 720p cameras, the Framework’s features a strong streaming webcam that records in 1080p at 60 FPS for ultra-smooth video. There are also physical switches above the display to disable both the camera and microphone to prevent any embarrassing slip-ups when you think you’re off-air. If you’re taking classes online, the conferencing quality, portability, and added security features make it one of the best laptops for college.
The display itself is remarkably good. It features a resolution of 2256×1504 that surpasses 1080p, but in a slightly unusual 3:2 aspect ratio. The screen is bright and vibrant, peaking at an impressive 400 nits, putting it above even some pricey gaming laptops, and covers 100 percent of the sRGB color spectrum.
The Framework is available in three configurations. I tested the Base version, which includes an 11th generation Core i5 processor, 8GB of DDR4 memory, and 256GB of NVMe storage for $999. For $1,399, you can upgrade to the Performance build, which bumps you to a Core i7 processor, 16GB of DDR4, and 512GB of NVMe storage. The $1,999 Professional model nets you a slightly faster i7 CPU, double the RAM and storage, and an upgrade to Windows 10 Pro from Home, and vPro support for enterprise users.
Even with the less powerful Base model, the Framework scored surprisingly well in my battery of benchmarking tests. In PCMark 10, it scored a very solid, but not impressive 4778. My MSI Stealth 15M—which has a same-generation Core i7 CPU, 16GB of memory, and a dedicated GPU—only scored 6086, so you can see that the Framework is making good use of its hardware.
I ran the laptop through multiple rounds of Cinebench R23’s benchmark and found that its single-core and multi-core scores were quite impressive for the starter model. The lower-performance CPU really didn’t seem to handicap it in any meaningful way. It lagged slightly behind the Performance model’s Core i7 (1532 vs 1358) in the single-core test but actually outperformed it in multi-core performance by more than 600 points (5579 vs 4904).
In day-to-day use, I found the laptop to be snappy and responsive. For browsing the web and working in Google Docs, it worked perfectly with no noticeable lag. The same was true of watching videos on Netflix and YouTube, though the built-in speakers leave a lot to be desired. They’re tinny, weak, and left me reaching for a pair of headphones.
Battery life is mediocre. Framework promises its battery will get you “through the workday on a single charge,” but with only a 55wHr capacity, that’s a tall order without significantly dropping screen brightness. Using PCMark’s Modern Office battery test at 50-percent brightness, I was able to run for just over seven-and-a-half hours. That’s not bad, but if you like a brighter screen, it’s not enough to consistently use for an entire eight-hour workday.
Thankfully, the charger is equally slim and easy to carry. Framework opted for a USB-C GaN charger, which is significantly smaller than the usual bulky power brick that comes with most laptops. It’s one extra thing to carry if you work all day on your laptop, but it’s certainly a big improvement from traditional laptop chargers.
Sorry gamers, this isn’t for you
Simply put, the Framework is not a gaming laptop. Pushing the laptop beyond basic office work and web browsing causes things to fall apart quickly, so all but the most lightweight gaming is out of the question. The Framework relies on integrated Iris Xe graphics, which is an effective way to keep costs down but leaves it with a very low threshold for any kind of graphics-related computing, including games and creative endeavors like video editing.
I tested the Framework with a mix of benchmark tests. Synthetic benchmarks, or artificial tools used to compare laptops against one another, revealed the laptop offered below-average performance rendering three-dimensional graphics akin to games.
In dedicated, or “synthetic” benchmarks like 3DMark Time Spy and Fire Strike, the Framework produced acceptable scores: 1160 in 3DMark Time Spy and 2583 in Fire Strike. In more practical tests, however, things immediately took a turn for the worse. Borderlands 3 wouldn’t even run at the native resolution and very low settings. Dropping as close to 1080p as possible (1920×1200), the game was only slightly better than a slideshow and still wasn’t playable at 720p. Older games might be possible, but this isn’t a laptop capable of great gaming performance, at least with the basic configuration.
Though the 8GB of memory on the base model is impactful, the lack of dedicated GPU is really the Achilles heel for gaming performance. If that’s what you’re in the market for, it’s best to look elsewhere—at least until Framework releases a model that’s more suited to the task.
So, who should buy the Framework laptop?
The Framework laptop is a unique and exciting laptop. It’s well-built and filled with consumer-friendly features at a reasonable price. It’s thin and lightweight, making it perfect for anyone that needs a laptop they can throw in a bag and forget they’re even carrying, without sacrificing productivity and performance.
It is also a machine for anyone looking to break the wasteful cycle of replacing and upgrading their machines every couple of years. The modularity and repairability of the Framework are unprecedented in modern notebooks. It challenges the design conventions that have pervaded the industry, forcing users into expensive RMAs and third-party repair services.
So the Framework is for people with an average computing workload, and slightly above-average tech savvy (or interest). Like many things made for an “average” consumer, that means it isn’t for everyone. It isn’t for gamers, or “creators,” who need more graphics-intensive computing power. It isn’t for specialists who need a ton of ports. (Though, realistically, those people can get a USB hub like everyone else.) But for tinkers, remote workers, students, and anyone who slings a laptop bag over their shoulder and carries it for hours a day, this is an impressive PC that shows that it is possible to build a better, more sustainable laptop without compromising performance.