Framework brings updated Intel and AMD chips to its modular laptop | Engadget
If there was a question hovering over Framework’s much-lauded modular laptop, it was for how long the company would keep supporting it. After all, companies talk a good game about being green and sustainable at launch, only to abandon those plans a year or two later. Now, we’re three chip generations deep, and today we’re getting new mainboards carrying Intel’s 13th generation Core CPUs. Even better, users will soon have the option to ditch Intel in favor of AMD’s rival products, both for new machines and to upgrade in all of the models already shipped. It’s a remarkable sign of confidence in its platform, and a signal to users that Framework is in this business, with this chassis, for the long haul.
Intel’s 13th generation Core CPUs were first announced at CES in January and Framework is rolling them out along with a number of other updates to its laptop. Since it sells (or sold) only one model of laptop, these changes will appear in the product from now on. And these annual updates are designed to address the criticisms that some users have had with the hardware thus far. That includes a new hinge that’s been redesigned to be more rigid compared to the ones found in units up until now. And, more importantly, a new, bigger 61Wh battery with a slew of firmware updates that should increase the laptop’s runtime by between 20 and 30 percent depending on how intense your workload is.
The focus on addressing user complaints stretches to the display cover, which will now be matte as opposed to glossy. Similarly, Framework will now incorporate the 80dB louder speakers it offered in its Chromebook to some of its mainline laptops. All of these innovations will, as per Framework’s usual commitment to supporting its existing users, will also be able to buy as standalone parts. And, as I outlined last year, even someone with next-to-no aptitude for upgrading computer parts can make these fixes with relatively little fuss. Customers can now select their display bezel color and keyboard options at the buying stage, saving them from having to double purchase.
The other change that we’ll need to address is that this machine has been rechristened as the Framework Laptop 13. That’s because it’s now sitting alongside the company’s new 16-inch gaming machine, which was announced today.
I asked founder Nirav Patel if there wasn’t a temptation, since we’re now three generations in, to start messing with the chassis. “We plan to stick with it, we haven’t seen anything that makes us want to change it,” he said, “it’s really just being able to upgrade those modules.” He said that one of the key pillars of feedback he’s received is that users “actually just want stability” in their purchases rather than a constant stream of new hardware. He added that Framework’s pledge to keep supporting the same laptop chassis for so long is a good signal to would-be buyers that they’re investing in a “stable ecosystem.”
Framework has promised price parity between Intel and AMD’s mainboards, which will offer a Ryzen 7040 in either a Ryzen 5 or Ryzen 7 flavor. Pre-orders will open at the same time for both, although it’s thought that the AMD version might ship a little later. Framework will open pre-orders to users looking for a new machine and just the new mainboards at the same time. Those in the latter camp, who want to ditch Intel in their existing Framework 13 for AMD, will also need to buy new RAM and a new WiFi card. The one other downside for would-be switchers is that, as Patel explains, “the port configuration is different in terms of what the expansion cards actually support.” This is because the Intel boards universally support Thunderbolt 4, while the AMD model offers two USB 4.0, one USB 3.2 plus DisplayPort, and one vanilla USB 3.2 port.
There will be some changes and tweaks depending on which model you opt for, since the different chip options mean different default builds. For instance, the new Intel models will get the louder speakers, while the AMD units do not, although those quieter speakers have been tuned for better performance. Similarly, the base models with Core i5 and Ryzen 5 will keep the older 55Wh battery, while the i7 and Ryzen 7 options will get the newer 61Wh option. As such, you might want to examine the pre-order pages in more detail to make sure you know what you’re getting.
As users upgrade their existing laptops with new mainboards, Framework is acutely aware there will be a raft of functional boards potentially left unused. Rather than create a new stream of e-waste, the company has so far worked to support 3D-printed cases and hobby projects. “We released these open-source design files where people could 3D-print their own case,” said Patel, “but most people don’t have 3D printers.” Which is why Framework has teamed up with PC case maker CoolerMaster to produce the first official standalone case for its mainboards.
The case is a similar thickness to the laptop deck at present, and is designed so a user can “take that mainboard, drop it in, and [they] now have this nice simple little second PC,” said Patel. It will also accommodate the same expansion cards as the Framework Laptop 13, and all the user needs to provide is a USB-C power supply of 45W or higher. It includes both its own stand and the option to VESA mount the machine, tucking it neatly behind whatever display you choose to connect it to. It’ll be affordable, too, as it’ll cost just $39 when it launches later in Spring.
Patel also expects plenty of Framework owners to upgrade their batteries for the new and improved model. He explained that the company is demonstrating “a proof of concept that turns the [first-generation Framework laptop] battery into a USB-C power bank that can power any device, including a laptop.”And you might expect that this, too, will get refined and polished by Framework’s committed community into something that plenty of people can experiment with.
On that subject, the company is also announcing support for Fedora 38 and Ubuntu 22.04 Linux, both of which will work “fantastically out of the box” for both AMD and Intel models. Manjaro XFCE 22.0 and Mint 21.1 are also at an advanced stage of support, and the company says both are “working great” on the new hardware.
The pre-built base model configurations of both Intel and AMD versions of the Framework Laptop 13 (2023) with Windows 11 will cost $1,049 before build-to-order upgrades. All units can be pre-ordered from today for the usual $100 deposit, with shipments for both expected to start at some point in May. In addition, Framework also announced that it would begin shipping to Belgium, Italy, Spain and Taiwan later in the year.