Back at the beginning of my first semester at Texas A&M (a few days in), I received a Framework Laptop, a long-awaited purchase for me.
Spoiler alert: I absolutely love this thing.
For whatever reason, though, I never got around to writing up the full review of it I planned to. Now that the semester is over, here's a review of how it performed over time. That should be an even better indicator than a "first impressions" post to anyone considering buying their own.
where i came from
To give you some context on why I bought the Framework Laptop, let me tell you the horror story of my previous laptop.
I had a (gasp) Microsoft Surface Laptop, first generation. It was easily the worst laptop I have ever used, even to the point that for a couple months I preferentially used a Macbook that didn't have a functional battery or storage drive.
Why was it so terrible? Well, for one, it broke easily, but even worse, there was no way to fix the laptop. The first thing I remember going wrong was the trackpad popping out of place; when we went to the Microsoft website to look at repair options, the only one was "Out-of-Warranty Replacement," clearly not ideal. So I suffered with it.
The Surface power cords were also terrible. Even though they're magnetic, you can still accidentally yank your computer off a table if the cord is pulled at the right angle. Worse, they failed frustratingly quickly and were uncomfortably expensive to replace.
By the end, I was suffering through a popped-out trackpad, failed screen hinge (I propped up the lid with a bookend), a battery which occasionally disconnected, and terrible battery life. I finally gave up on the laptop when my fifth replacement power cord failed.
How about repairability? I said it was bad, but how bad? Well, here's what iFixit said when they tried to take it apart and fix things:
The Surface Laptop is finally
Verdict: The Surface Laptop is not a laptop. It’s a glue-filled monstrosity. There is nothing about it that is upgradable or long-lasting, and it literally can’t be opened without destroying it. (Show us the procedure, Microsoft, we’d love to be wrong.)
– Microsoft Surface Laptop Teardown - iFixit
You can see why a fully repairable and modular laptop that iFixit gave a repairability score of 10/10 (as opposed to the Surface Laptop's 0/10) appealed to me.
what i got
One nice thing about the Framework Laptop, there's a ton of options to customize exactly what you get, especially if you get the DIY edition (which I did). You can even source some of the parts like storage, RAM, and power cord yourself instead of buying from them (which I didn't).
So here's what I got:
- Intel i5-1240P 12th-generation CPU (4 P cores, 8 E cores; it was the cheapest option but still crazy impressive)
- 32 GB RAM (I know, it's overkill, especially since I now use a tiling WM and rarely go over 2 GB usage, but I didn't know I'd make that switch then and it's nice to have)
- 2 TB SN750 SSD
And my expansion cards?
- 4 USB C
- 2 USB A
- 1 HDMI
- 1 microSD
- 1 250GB storage expansion
The DIY edition doesn't come fully assembled, but no worries! The online guide was easy to follow as someone who'd never done anything like this before and I was up and running in 10-15 minutes. Here's a time lapse:
I started by trying out the i3 spin of Fedora and had trouble configuring it for the HiDPI display, so I switched to the regular GNOME Workstation edition of Fedora (I hadn't used i3 much, so I didn't really have a solid config yet and I just wanted to enjoy the laptop on something I was used to). I then installed sway alongside GNOME and would use it when coding.
Eventually I moved to NixOS with a sway-only setup, then went to Fedora (Server Edition) with Sway installed, then eventually went back to NixOS, where I remain happily at this time.
I've been asked a lot about the laptop, so here's some answers to the most-asked questions.
By far the most common question I got was about the Framework laptop's battery life.
It's mediocre. Not spectacular, but still easily sufficient for what I need.
I set a charge limit of 75% on the battery in the BIOS when I first set up the laptop; this helps increase the long-term life of the battery and lengthens the amount of time before I'll need to replace it. On this 75% of power, I usually have 3-4 hours of active time before I plug it in, at which point the battery is generally at about 25%. If I know I'll be needing the extra capacity, for example when taking a flight or a road trip, I'll increase the charge limit to 100% temporarily and that'll give me another couple hours of life.
As for the capacity after a semester's use, according to upower, I have 89.5% capacity of what it originally was (I haven't noticed any degradation myself). If I remember correctly, I lost the first few percent in the first few days and the loss has been slower since then.
I'll let those of you who know more about batteries interpret all this; all I know is that for my purposes, this battery life has been easily sufficient.
Keep in mind, though, that I now use a tiling window manager (Sway WM, to be specific), which in my experience uses a fair bit less battery than something heavier like GNOME. So your mileage may vary.
How well does the Framework Laptop support Linux?
If you have an up-to-date kernel, it's almost flawless. (There's a minimum kernel version for the graphics and another for proper P and E core usage.) That covers all the distros I like to use, since I prefer ones that have up-to-date kernels. This includes Fedora, NixOS (though it needed to specify the latest kernel), Arch (btw), and the like.
They also provide guides to setting up some Linux distributions, which is fantastic and sadly rare from other companies.
Some might wish that they would offer pre-installed Linux distributions, but personally I prefer it without anything installed. Even if it had come with my exact setup of choice installed, I probably would have reinstalled it myself just for the experience and the peace of mind.
The one issue with the Linux support: you can't have both the Ambient Light Sensor automatically adjusting the brightness and use the brightness keys on the keyboard. I prefer to set my brightness manually, so I blacklisted the sensor module in the kernel flags as explained on the Framework Linux setup guide for Fedora (and for NixOS independently found a guide on how to do that). I don't like things being automatically done for me anyway, so this worked out fine.
I don't think I have any other issues to report! All the firmware has upstream support in the kernel, so as long as your kernel is up-to-date enough, you'll be fine.
As for the fingerprint sensor, it works, but I didn't find it very useful. Something to do with the implementation in PAM I read about (I don't remember the details) requires you to hit enter before it starts checking for your fingerprint. Their reasoning makes sense, but I didn't find the fingerprint sensor useful with that limitation.
But maybe you'll think differently; it works in Linux, which is a win, whether it's useful to you or not.
You may notice I got a wide range of expansion cards. One question I've received is how useful they really are.
And it's true, I don't change around the configuration much. But I want to raise two points:
- It's extremely valuable to have your ports placed where you want them, whatever they are
- If I ever do want to change the configuration, I can!
My usual configuration:
- (left back) USB C
- (left front) 250 GB Storage Expansion
- (right back) USB C
- (right front) USB A
I usually use the left back for charging, which I usually do through a USB C dock I have, which also takes care of my keyboard and mouse.
I run hourly backups to the storage expansion card because why not? I can! It consists of a LUKS-encrypted btrfs partition where I run hourly backups via Borg (my current client is Vorta, though I'm looking around for a different one).
I don't use the right side's ports much; when I need to plug something in, I usually just use the USB C dock I mentioned, since it's convenient to have everything in one place. I'll use the USB A one occasionally if I need a Linux live USB or to plug in something to charge if I run out of USB A ports on my dock (which has three, one for mouse, one for keyboard, and one free). The second USB C port comes in handy if I need to charge my laptop while away from my dorm and the socket is on my right rather than the left. It's great to be able to use either side to charge my laptop; gone are the days of wrapping my charger around my body!
I haven't used the HDMI card yet, but it's good to have in case I need it. I haven't tested the microSD reader yet either, but I do have some devices (like my microphone and my Raspberry Pi) that use microSD, so I'm glad to have it for one I use those while at university; I just haven't gotten around to it yet.
One final question on this note: I've been asked how robust the cards are. They're pretty sturdy and don't slide out unless you're very intentional about it. They have a small latch and are supported by a ridge along the length of the card. I don't have the Ethernet card, which seems to be slightly different, so I can't speak on that one.
If you have other questions let me know and I'll do my best to help you out. I've run a few benchmarks for people and I'm happy to do so again.
some quick impressions
I'm honestly almost disappointed that nothing's broken, meaning I haven't gotten a chance to test the repairability! But that's actually very good news for the laptop; I've found when it comes to either software or hardware, it's best when it's boring. That way, you never have to worry about it not working.
A few minor nitpicks (keep in mind I love the laptop):
- The screen hinge isn't quite strong enough for my liking. When I move to a different spot, the lid will sometimes fall down. BUT: Framework sells a stronger screen hinge for those who want it; this doesn't bother me enough to go to the trouble and expense of ordering it, which shows it's not a huge issue.
- The speakers are angled down, which makes them quiet on my lap. I'm sure if flat on a surface it would work fine since it's a 45-degree tilt (look up product pictures to see what I mean) and the sound would bounce right, but I use a stand for my laptop when at my desk, so I don't get that effect. That said, AGAIN Framework does sell replacement speakers that are louder. However, they're not (currently) available in the US and again, I don't think I'm bothered enough to get new ones.
- I don't remember seeing any way to turn off the light on the power button; I don't care to have it on. There is a way to lower the brightness in the BIOS, which I've done, but it's still easily noticeable. I've gotten used to it, though.
- The boot menu isn't very easy to manage (though once you're set up, it's fine)
- The open source firmware is great, but I would love to have an Open Source BIOS too!
Some great things I wasn't expecting:
- The screwdriver it comes with is awesome; it has an interchangeable bit even though you only need one bit for the laptop's screws. The bit even has a regular Phillips head on the other side for convenience! This really drove in to me how much they're focused on sustainability and reusability.
- On that note, the box was really nice and I'm keeping it around. All the packaging materials were (as far as I could tell) recycled, including the included stickers.
- The privacy switches for the camera and microphone are great; I wasn't expecting to actually enjoy them. They're almost always off in my case. (I just have to remember to turn them back on when I need them!)
- The keyboard is pretty great for a laptop keyboard. My High School literature teacher (who got one shortly before I did) described it as "typing on a cloud." It isn't spectacular to me now that I use a mechanical keyboard, but it's still definitely comfortable to use and I type just as fast on it as my mechanical keyboard (which is in the 120 wpm range for short times and over 100 for 5 minute times). I'd been told it was great, but it really is great. One of the top two laptop keyboards I've used (the other being on the Dell Inspiron n411z).
- The build quality is fantastic; I love the aluminum chassis and it feels very professional, even more so than the modern Macbooks, in my opinion. Absolutely fantastic. I never imagined just holding a laptop could be such a great experience. This isn't just a tool, it's a work of art.
things i'd do differently
- I don't need 32 GB of RAM. Now that I'm on a tiling window manager, it's very rare for me to even pass 2 GB used. But it doesn't hurt to have it. I might get 16 GB just to have dual channel, but 32 GB is definitely too much.
- I might get a different charging cord. Then again, I might not; the one they sell is just fine. But if there was a high quality braided cord available for a similar price, I'd probably go with it, especially if the end is at a right angle like on the Framework one—that's really nice. But the current one is great.
I think that's it. It would be great if with the DIY edition you could get the firmer hinge and the louder speakers, because I'd probably do that, but it's fine that they don't offer that option; it makes things harder for them, I get it.
The Framework Laptop is easily the best laptop I've ever had. It's expensive, but that pays for itself with the repairability and quality of the laptop. Framework also provides unparalleled documentation and guides for everything related to maintenance of your laptop, which I deeply respect. Doing repair to your computer following their guides doesn't void your warranty either, which is also fantastic.
Hats off to you, Framework, you've made something amazing. I wish you great success and will be watching your new product releases with anticipation; I can't wait to see what you make in the future.