Framework first impressions

The Framework laptop allows a user to replace the internal components which should extend the life of the machine and reduce e-waste

Finally after six years my 2016 MacBook pro is slowing to a halt and while I don’t need a portable machine now that I’m working from home, most of the time I like the options that the portability of a laptop gives me.

After moving away from Apple for my main machine and buying a Dell a couple of years ago I was hesitant to buy another Macbook, as the lack of being able to upgrade the machine after purchase means I’d have to buy a machine that would continue to meet my means for the next six years and that would be expensive.

My initial plan was to purchase a Dell XPS 13 or Lenovo Carbon X1 as these machines run Linux well, but the ability to upgrade the machines post-purchase isn’t much better than a Macbook.

Looking into primarily Linux-based laptops such as System76 and Framework it seemed that there was no means to buy directly from the UK but luckily Framework announced their launch in the UK in December 2021.

The Framework was already high up on my list of potential replacements because of the ability to replace every component in the machine, which would allow for upgrading the machine or replacing failing components over the years.

Because Framework is a new company and the laptop is the first revision there was a risk associated with buying the laptop only for the company to cease operating or supporting the machine, but given the situation I’d be in with the other vendors and the fact that I could still replace parts with off-the-shelf components, I felt this gamble was justified.

I put my pre-order in for the DIY edition and towards the end of February I had the Framework in my hands — Here’s my first impressions.

Some assembly required

The internals of the Framework laptop are clearly marked which makes it easy for the user to perform maintenance

One of the main selling points of the Framework was that it felt like the ‘Lego of Laptops’ with the DIY version of the machine shipping with a shell that would be assembled by the customer.

The machine is shipped with a screwdriver and the hardware in three boxes; charger, internal components and the ‘shell’ itself. Underneath the laptop ‘shell’ there is a simple getting started guide with a QR code that redirects to instructions on how to build everything (although there’s no URL printed so you have to scan it — it goes to https://guides.frame.work/Guide/Framework+Laptop+DIY+Edition+Quick+Start+Guide/57)

I was really looking forward to building the laptop but much to my surprise there wasn’t much to assemble, requiring just the storage and memory to be installed. Some machines also require the WiFi card to be installed but on my machine this was already done.

The internals of the machine are clearly labelled which makes it really easy to add and replace parts of the system and compared to other machines I’ve built it’s been a nice surprise to see some UX sensibilities applied to the hardware side of the computer.

The expansion cards (another selling point of the laptop), that allow for ports to be swapped in and out quickly are easy to insert and remove but I would have liked the machine to have shipped with blank expansion cards so that there’s the option to fill the empty slots for aesthetic reasons.

Running Ubuntu on the Framework laptop

On Framework’s setup guide they list instructions for installing Windows, Fedora and Ubuntu with Fedora being the most-supported of the two Linux options as Ubuntu requires some additional steps to configure the machine properly.

I’m more of an Ubuntu fan and more than comfortable with the additional steps (it’s Linux, if you’re not breaking your machine and/or learning to rebuild and configure it then you’re not doing it right) so I opted to install that OS.

I flashed Ubuntu 21.10 onto a USB and booted the machine up and installed the OS. I had a little surprise when after the initial install I had a secure boot menu popup which wasn’t detailed in the Framework guide but this was easy to deal with.

Once I had Ubuntu on the machine I then had to set up the additional configuration to sort out the trackpad issue (it’s prone to freeze) and enabled the headphone port. While the documentation makes it seem like there’s a lot of effort involved there’s not much more than updating two files and rebooting.

Given the support for Linux on the Framework I would have hoped that the super key wouldn’t have had the Windows logo but once the Framework marketplace is available in the UK I’m hoping there may be a replacement keyboard I can buy.

Setting up a new machine

Since I’ve been moving towards a more self-hosted setup there’s a bunch of apps and setup I need to install to support this setup. For the most part this is no different than the setup that I have for my other Ubuntu machine but there was one aspect that was different.

I’ve not used a trackpad with Linux for a long time so had to configure the trackpad to work with the primary button on the right instead of the left to emulate the Macbook-like manner I’m used to.

After installing Ubuntu 21.10 I found one issue that my older installation didn’t have which was that Firefox was installed via snap which caused issues with getting KeePassXC’s browser integration working so I had to uninstall the snap version and re-install via apt.

Summary

My first week with the Framework laptop has been really enjoyable, I spent an evening setting it up and have been really impressed by the build quality. The keyboard is similar to my old 2013 Macbook Pro which was better than the 2016 model, and the trackpad after a bit of configuration is equally as good.

While I went into the purchase knowing that there was a potential for there to be issues later on if the company stops operating or supplying replacement parts, the build quality is enough for me to feel happy that I could keep the machine running by upgrading the storage (I’ve already maxed out the RAM) overtime if I need to and just treat the machine as yet another ‘throw away’ machine similar to the Macbook, once the speed of the machine becomes a problem.

While I can’t compare the Framework to a machine from System76 or other vendors due to a lack of availability in the UK I think the Framework is a great Linux laptop that should give many years of use.

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