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"Framework Laptop Impressions"

Posted: 11 January, 2023

I've been on the fence about buying a Framework laptop for the last few months. Technically I don't need to upgrade; I have a very serviceable XPS15, but it runs hot, the fans are super noisy, and it's a bit too heavy when I'm single-bagging a trip abroad. Ideally, I want something like my old X1 Carbon: light, with good battery life and an excellent keyboard.

Since it's Xmas (was) I specced out one of the i12 options "just to see", then realised I could cover the cost by selling the XPS and end up with money to spare. And... here we are.

It took five days to arrive, and much to my disappointment, I didn't have to build the entire machine from scratch. Instead, the DIY option means "stick the RAM, and Nvme drive in", which is fun, but not the full Mechano build I was hoping for.

That said, opening up this laptop is lovely...

Every part has a QR code attached—even the USB-C cable for the power adaptor (!) and the UK 3-pin plug(!!)—screws are standardised, and the internals have printed notes/comments dotted about to identify edge connectors and core parts. It's confidence-inspiring if you don't know your way around laptop internals.

Mine didn't come with an OS installed. I opted for Fedora, which, having checked the forum, offers the best out-of-the-box experience. After setup, I went through the notes to install TLP and Powertop and added the arguments to Grub to enable the keyboard brightness controls. On reboot, everything was fine and worked as expected. From cold, the entire setup process took less than 15 minutes.

Wow. This laptop boots faster than anything else I have in the house, except maybe my Amiga. Lovely!

I'm only on my second charge, but the battery looks like it'll cruise past 6 hours tonight. I'd like to see how long it lasts when I'm programming/compiling frequently, but I'm confident it'll smash the XPS, which rarely broke past 3.

Sleep and Hibernate seem to be working, which is also something the XPS struggled with—it never missed an opportunity to cook itself in my bag, unless I switched it off—but it's still early days...

The screen is glossy, which I'm generally not a fan of, but it's bright, the picture quality is great, and in my usage so far, the reflections haven't been noticeable. Wayland's scaling can lead to a soft look on certain apps that don't scale themselves, but I've not found that particularly offensive or out of place. The screen has a soft-ish look, anyway.

I've done a few things to push it and force the fans on, and (I'm pleased to say) under heavy load, it's pretty quiet. I can't hear it over the TV. The top's remained cool, and the bottom is warm but not bollock cooking. Again, a massive improvement over the XPS.

The trackpad is OK but could be better. Fingers glide well, and it responds to left and right clicks better than some I've used, but if I had any grumble, it'd be that the area for right-clicking is too small. In practice, I hit it when I need it, but this feels like something that needs a tweak. Also, it'll be interesting to see how long it lasts. It's not cheap, exactly, but it feels less robust than everything else.

The keyboard is excellent. Possibly the closest in feel to my old X1 carbon (my favourite laptop keyboard) that I've come across. The control key is easy to reach, and home/end/page up and down are mapped as FN's on the cursor cluster, which reminds me of the Mac. Very usable and extremely comfortable. It's going to be great to program on, which I'm pleased about.

In terms of ports, I bought 3xUSB C, 1xMicroSD and 1xHDMI. I've yet to try hot-swapping them (in fact, I've no idea if that's even possible), but I like having an HDMI port in my bag for those occasions when I need to hook up to something.

Of course, the real test is whether I can upgrade this machine in the future. I held off up to now because of the "will they, won't they" question of parts and support, but I feel a lot more confident having seen the mainboard upgrades Framework released for i11 to i12. If they came out with an AMD option, I'd be all over it like a rash...

I desperately want to cut down on my e-waste, so it'd be amazing to keep this machine running for the next ten years, upgrading bits and pieces as I go. I'm still rocking a 2013 Retina MBP for DJing, so it should be possible...Right?

But, even if this dies on the vine, it's the cheapest laptop I've ever bought. It's light, good looking, and first impressions are very, very good.

Let's see how I get on...