A Framework Upgrade Tale

I woke up today thinking about my Framework laptop. That’s probably not such a weird thing around here - I suspect many of us fall into the “computer geek” spectrum of tech nerdery. Otherwise, we’d be buying our laptops at Best Buy and just using it and not thinking about how it was made, and wondering how easy it might be to take apart, and if you bought the pieces for what you intend to use it for, and so on, and so on. So as I’m sitting here with a cup of Rooibos tea on the Saturday of a long US Holiday weekend, I thought I would share a ramble on computing in general and how and where Framework fits into all of that.

I was born in 1977. Ok, we’re not going back THAT far. :slight_smile: But I was born in 1977 - the year of Star Wars. Of the death* of Elvis (I was born 3 days later…coincidence?) and in my mind, the year and decade of the birth of the home computer. I’ll be 47 next month and I’ve been enamored with computer technology for as long as I can remember, be it from the Atari 2600 to the old Xerox business machines, to the much loved Commodore 64/128, and onward and upward. I started disassembling my parents’ Packard Bell 386SX and 486DX PCs in the early 90s so I could boost that cruddy machine’s processing with new Sound Blaster and CD-ROM powers, because X-Wing and TIE Fighter were calling for me, and I discovered BBSes through the need to download the TIE Fighter demo from LucasArts directly. I COULD CONNECT TO LUCASARTS, DIRECTLY. I wanted to be INSIDE the PC, like TRON. The GRID was calling to me. That felt like magic, and computers felt magical.

I ended up going to school for Computer Science back in 1995, and after a bit of a winding road ended up finishing in 2002 with a CS degree (and less oddly sounding now than it was back end, the majority of an English minor, because life is about stories if nothing else,) fully aware I wasn’t and am still not much of a coder, but always with a love of computing. I worked through part of college at a local computer shop, where for 5 years I was exposed to all of the ins and outs of the small business and home computing PC industry. We did consumer repair. We did new custom PC builds for bored techie grandmas, and for local businesses and organizations, and for GAMERS (the true purpose of PC building, at least to my 20 year old brain.) Getting a pile of random parts and assembling them, powering it on for the first time, and…success? Failure? It’s still one of my favorite parts of the PC building experience, and likely part of the reason I never became an Apple guy. Pffft, who wants an already built machine when you can create your own! From there loading your CHOICE of operating system to make it truly something personal and something you want to experience in your own way…again, that felt magical. And my newly gained computer science knowledge made me all the more fascinated that ANY of it worked at all. I still think of these machines as a giant house of cards that should do absolutely nothing and yet here I am typing my thoughts into a screen with ASCII letters pouring across the display, preparing to send it across the wires and routers and virtual spaces into the ether of the web. Biodigital Jazz I tell you - Flynn had it right.

Working at a small PC shop doesn’t pay the bills for long though in a new relationship, and my girlfriend-and-future-wife and I decided it was time to leave the PC building business, and find a “real” job with that fancy new Computer Science degree. The Silicon Valley boom (and crash) was happening and we lived close enough to the Bay Area that I could in theory find a job at one of the tech behemoths…but I’m an anti-social home body at my core, who watched his Dad and Stepdad commute for many, many years, and I swore I would find something local instead. I ended up in a swing shift Computer Operator role at a local hospital, where I was amazed and delighted and aghast to find one of my duties would be swapping reel-to-reel tapes for backups. In 2003. Over time I worked myself into a Data Center Tech position, and then finally my seemingly true calling role of Systems Engineer. In all, I spent 17 years with that company in various IT roles, until corporate consolidation came knocking, along with COVID, and I leapt at a chance for a juicy 17 year severance to both ride out the worst of COVID and more importantly, do a mental reset and explore a bit of what else was out there.

The Grid came knocking in my subconscious once again, and I thought this was it, this is my chance. I can move into VR work. People are working remotely, I’ve bought just about every mainstream VR headset I could for a while, and of course it’s the next phase of computing and it brings me closer to being INSIDE the computer. Ah but wait, Facebook had other plans, and away went Oculus. And here came crypto. And VR peaked into its “Meta”-stage, and here we are. And that’s right - I’m a crap programmer. What kind of VR developer am I going to be after having to take Linear Algebra twice (ok, three times) back in college and still loving the idea of programming far more than actually doing it? Alright, time to strap on the Systems Engineer and IT guy boots once again - and since the end of 2022, and some family loss and trauma in the surrounding years, I’m back playing the Systems IT guy, only this time on a much larger scale, helping to build the foundation that so many other companies rely on to build their clouds and of course now, their shudder AI models.

In the background across all of this time, of course I’m still building PCs. My franken-system of old and new parts on my main personal rig is stable, fast, and never quite top-of-the-line - but well-performing and reliable. It is my workhorse, my gaming beast, my Baldur’s Gate and Cyberpunk virtual exploration machine. At the start of COVID and the work-and-school from home boom, my nephew needed something to get him through the shift, so of course I volunteered to put something together for him, and maybe I’ll throw an RTX 2060 in there so I can somewhat selfishly convince him to game online more with me. :wink: And this year I find the home theater PC I built years ago isn’t quite working out, so hey, why not repurpose it as my new virtual server and home test lab? There’s always a project to find, as we all know, and I’m always chasing that “bringing a pile of parts to life” dragon and creating computing LIFE thrill.

And so, July 4th, 2024, instead of going out into the blistering California heatwave and enjoying fireworks (which doesn’t seem necessary any more since we have plenty of neighbors who don’t seem to understand wildfire danger and 110F temps = DANGER, but I digress…) we stayed home and resurrected a Framework laptop. I bought one of the early Intel 11th Gen Framework models, and overall I loved it! I of course bought the DIY edition because I CAN ACTUALLY PIECE TOGETHER MY OWN LAPTOP!!! I truthfully have not considering buying another laptop or recommending a laptop from another company since that first Framework model arrived and I realized this could actually work - assuming the company can survive.

Here we are a few years later, and I’ve since upgraded my Intel 11th gen Framework to the AMD Ryzen 7000 series, and I very much love using it. I then bought the Cooler Master case for the old Intel 11th gen board thinking I might use it as a VMware ESXi test machine, but that didn’t quite pan out, and other projects took its place. Recent moves in the Microsoft space has fired up my “maybe I should go full Linux” brain-space as it seems to do more and more often these days, and I saw an opportunity to go backwards in my Framework experience and create a NEW Framework laptop for my wife out of the old Intel 11th Gen board! All of that led to this July 4th, and after a few hours of baseball and laptop assembly, we finally had our 2nd new*ly built Framework 13 in the house. My wife started the build, and in the end I ended up finishing it for her with some of the more fiddly bits (wifi antennae wiring, I’m looking at you.)

And this morning I found myself thinking - was it worth it?

Which going back to the wandering tale of my journey up above, you might think of course it is! You love computers and you just brought another piece of tech to life!

Yes, but was it WORTH it? Was it time well spent and was it even gulp cost effective? (Damn corporate life has sunken its talons into my brain, just a bit.) So here is the part of the story where we look at what it cost and does it make sense for a home user to plan on a Framework upgrade path.

I started with an Intel 11th Gen mainboard, with 16GB of RAM (2x 8GB) and a 512GB NVMe SSD. I had nothing else beyond a few spare USB expansion cards from my failed VMware ESXi experiment. Going to the Framework Marketplace I was somewhat surprised to not find any bundles for this scenario. Surely Framework would have thought other users upgrading their 1st and 2nd gen Framework laptops might think to create a second laptop from their old mainboard? With no bundle existing, I decided to email support in case I was just missing something, and a day or two later I received a very nice response mentioning that no such bundle exists but I should be able piece it together from the individual parts available. I thanked them and asked maybe to send that request up the food chain to make it a more seamless experience for others going down this path because over time, there are only going to be more Framework mainboards out there in the wild.

My piece by piece purchase looked like this:

Framework Laptop 13 Bottom Cover Kit - $99.00
Input Cover Kit - US English - $99.00
Framework Laptop 13 Battery - 55Wh - $49.00
Framework Laptop 13 Display Kit - Matte - $159.00
Framework Laptop 13 Hinge Kit (2nd Gen) - 3.5kg - $24.00
Framework Laptop 13 Top Cover - CNC - $89.00
Intel® Wi-Fi 6E AX210 No vPro® - $18.00
Framework Laptop 13 Fastener Kit - Bottom Cover and Mainboard - $5.00
Framework Laptop 13 Fastener Kit - Input Cover and Keyboard - $5.00
Framework Laptop 13 Fastener Kit - Top Cover - $5.00
Framework Laptop 13 Webcam Module (11th Gen Intel Core) - $15.00
HDMI (3rd Gen) Expansion Card - $19.00
USB-A Expansion Card - $9.00
Total = $656.81

Anyone catch the missing piece? We have a functional laptop with the existing mainboard and all of the pieces above, but we now have a lavender Framework 13 bezel on the way, so add another $62.35 to that total. (Which frankly seems like too much for a bezel, and it’s the one piece that made me cringe a bit when adding it to the shopping cart - hopefully we can see the price of that come down over time to the $20-$30 range.)

All in then, my wife’s laptop will have cost us $719.16. I was able to reuse my old mainboard, and I spent a total of about 1 hour of ordering and email time, 3 hours of assembly, plus another 2 hours or so of OS install and reconfiguration.

I could have purchased a brand new Framework 13 AMD Ryzen or Intel 13th Gen for $949. Or, checking a random Best Buy 4th of July sale ad, we could have bought a Dell 2-in-1 with a touchscreen, 16GB of RAM, and 1TB SSD for almost the same price.


Would it be as repairable? Almost certainly no. Did I enjoy the experience of building a Framework of her own with my wife? Of course I did - and seeing her realize that a M.2 SSD was the “hard drive” now and watching her mind being blown was cool to witness. But all in all, I could have bought her that Dell laptop and she would have been just as happy with it, and actually gained some touchscreen functionality, more storage capacity, all with a newer, more performant CPU and GPU. In the end as much as I love bringing all of this technology together, it’s what we do with it that matters.

I’m left thinking for a business, Framework laptops are a no-brainer. If the costs are close to the Dells and HPs of the world, and you can buy a bulk order of these very repairable machines and maintain them yourself (assuming you have people with the skills to do so of course, which seems to be more and more rare with the next generation of tech-that-just-works GenZ group who are now entering their late high school and early college years - the people who would have been me working in that computer shop 25 years ago.) But I just don’t know if the average consumer is going to get the point where it makes sense for them. My family will be buying Framework machines whenever we can, because they have me in their lives. Other people we know…they just go buy a new machine and move on. I don’t know how we change that mindset beyond Framework, but the Right to Repair laws, the EU fines for companies not taking Right to Repair seriously, the somewhat growing consciousness of average consumers that we are often renters of our devices and services, and not owners, it’s an improving trend. But how do we get to the next step? Going through this process left me with more questions about the future of a computing industry that is ever-more consolidated, creating even highly integrated devices that may have even fewer repairable parts - it’s a difficult road. Getting people to CARE is difficult when everyone has so many other things going on in their lives. My hope is that the big companies learn from Framework and start moving in that direction as much as possible, and my long-term hope is that Framework can continue to grow but at a steady, slow, cautious pace that is sustainable for the long-term.

Thanks for the TED talk. Have a good weekend everyone, and enjoy your computing, my fellow programs.


That was a fun read and helped me with my monday syndrome, thank you!


Good! Nothing worse than Monday syndrome. :slight_smile:

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