Can framework make a modular docking station?

Hey, I love the design of framework products and I wish they made a modular docking station.

I use a lenovo dock to switch between multiple work and personal computers throughout the day, it’s neat to only need to move one cable and have my desk set up work across all of them. That said the market is saturated with 100-in-1 products that are super expensive and almost never fit my needs perfectly with most of that I/O going unused. That’s when I realized what if we could have a dock with a bunch of slots for framework style expansion cards?!

The idea being you only buy the I/O you need an upgrade/modify over time. Upgraded to a display-port only monitor? Swap the hdmi slots. Don’t need usb-a? Get only usb-c slots. Need a memory card reader every once in a while? Swap it with the audio jack. Etc…

Please tell me someone’s working on this!

PS sorry if someone else brought this up before, I looked and could only find people asking for dock recommendations (which tells me there’s a market for this :wink:)

It’s been suggested a few times here and there. Often in What should we build next?

No announcement from Framework that they are working on one. But it would be an easy thing for them to make. It would just be a thunderbolt 4 hub with slots for the Framework modules.

Someone could DIY even. If you find a thunderbolt 4 hub with ports spaced far enough apart it would be very easy, just 3d print a shell to hold the Framework modules so that they look nice.

And are also made of money XD. Actual thunderbolt hubs are extremely expensive and a pain to produce cause you need intel ndas and stuff


Since usb4 is like thunderbolt but without all intel nda, could they just make an usb4 dock. If not, is there a major performance loss between usb4 and thunderbolt ?

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Technically tb4 is usb4 (with stricter rules) not the other way around.

Once usb4 chips actually start existing, probably. Still for a dock just providing a lot of fixed ports is probably better than a few expensive flexible ones. Performance really isn’t the issue here.

In the laptop you can do the flexibility stuff because you already get the ports from the cpu so the extra cost is limited, they would have had a lot harder time making the framework as it is before they added tb/usb4 to the cpu/chipset.

You can get a usb-c dock with 1 display output, a couple usb ports, ethernet and pd passthrough for like 20 bucks. If you need more screens you’ll need tb or displayport mst which isn’t cheap (well there are cheap mst hubs but they are pretty low bandwidth) and tb is just straight up expensive af.

Thank you for the link. I forgot the title and used ‘products’ as my search keyword.

I saw product packaging that said ready for USB 4 today.

Yes please to a Framework hub and/or KVMP unit. I was at a Microcenter today looking for a hub. Navigating the options was time consuming and kind of challenging. Do I future proof and spend more money solving a problem that may never occur? Even the going cheap route was going to cost me a hundred dollars or more for a solution I would definitely replace sooner rather than later.

It is a joke that ‘universal’ seems to currently be used as a marketing term meaning ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. Those hubs typically have 1 of each port. What happens when someone needs multiple port connections that are being phased out of the market?

Framework could and should build a truly universal I/O connection unit. E waste was bad enough when product casing was plastic but now products are being cased in metal. People buy products for value, and I definitely see value in purchasing something as few times as possible and keeping my current hardware interconnected.

The main obstacle would probably be how to keep up with protocol standards at the hardware level? Do you swap boards like the laptops? I think this might be a nice use case for a FPGA but I am not sure on the details.

The funny part of product packaging is that you can write pretty much whatever you want on it XD (though there are a few non intel usb4 device chipsets). Plus the problem with usb4 is that all the fun stuff is optional(especially for a device) so what you have seen may have been essentially a fancy usb3.2 (10gbit) hub. That is kind of what makes tb4 good, it’s the same thing as full featured usb4 but you know what you get.

Afaik none of the non intel usb4 chipsets support downstream usb4 so those are out for the moment.

Yeah that is a pretty big problem.

What “Truly universal” means to you may not be the same as someone else. USB4 docking solutions may last a bit longer than the purpose built ones before that only lasted a few generations because usb4(.0 or whatever they’ll end up renaming it to) backwards compatibility is likely going to be a thing for a while but it may not be forever.

Something “simple” as a backbone like a usb4 device with a bunch of usb3.2 outs, one DP1.4 and pd pass-through (like what the VL830 usb4 device chipset does) as a backbone would probably be pretty good, then you could use most of the expansion cards in the usb3.2 ports and either one display directly in the dp port or add a special (probably bigger) dp 1.4 mst hub card to get 3+ display outputs.

Like what?

Probably would, but an fpga that can handle that much throughput is probably even more expensive as the full tb solution, not to mention probably using more power than the laptop itself. Also would require someone to write updates for it and even then it’d age out eventually.

Truly universal in the context of the current market. Having a PCB board you don’t need to replace is probably a pipe dream.

The used monitors I purchased support VGA or Display Port. The cables the monitors came with were VGA. The only dual VGA output device I found also accepted a VGA input. Now I need a third VGA cable and a USB C to VGA adapter. It is like a runaway train that costs a significant percentage of buying newer cables and a KVMP. For Framework to build the latest and greatest hub or KVMP seems fairly redundant at least in the short term. If you consider the fact that monitors typically outlast their counterparts then creating a dock would add value to their product ecosystem.

As long as you don’t replace it you don’t need to replace it I guess but future proofing is usually not all that easy or reliable

Displayport isn’t going anywhere, hell it’s basically the default on laptops these days (and imo the best of the display output standards, hdmi can go die in a fire). VGA is mostly dead and appart from some enthusiast niche stuff the monitors that only have vga in are barely worth the power they are consuming plus dp to vga adabters are like a couple bucks. you can easily do hdmi or dvi (with passive adabters or cables) from displayport too and the cables cost pretty much the same as dp to dp do so I don’t really see the problem here. And yeah good KVM switches are straight up expensive, I think the level one one can take mst hubs so you could get 3 displays and usb3.2 for like 400ish bucks but that’s still expensive.

like those ‘designed for windows new’ stickers that got slapped on the previous generation of laptop the second the new version of windows dropped. Hence you ended up with a laptop that claimed to be designed for windows x but in reality was barely capable of running it.

VGA is great because it’s analogue and you can hook basically anything to it easily. that’s why it’s still around, it’s still useful.

Be careful with your comment about DVI to VGA adaptors, there’s two variants of DVI and only one of them can be passively converted to VGA. The other is digital only and requires an active converter which costs a whole lot more than a passive one. Many newer graphics cards with DVI were digital only.

HDMI is basically DVI with added audio and DRM IIRC. I have a passive cable that will convert between the two. In my experience consumer laptops have hdmi, professional/business grade ones have displayport.

I don’t know of a lot of modern displays with vga but a lot of the old ones did support it and it was great during the analog era, that’s over though. If you do a lot of work with really old hardware having a cheap dp to vga adabter in your kit can’t hurt.

I said nothing about dvi to vga, I was talking about DP to vga. I know the difference between DVI-D and DVI-I.

Jup and DP can do HDMI and DVI with a passive adabter.

I was thinking more along the lines of microcontrollers, fpgas, embedded hardware etc rather than old computers. VGA is very simple to implement on limited hardware resources, compared to later interfaces/standards

Those are outputs not inputs though, to connect that to the dock you’d need a capture card anyway not an output.

Love to see all the ideas from the community!
Thunderbolt support would be great but I was thinking of this to be more like a plastic or aluminum shell, with a bunch of usb3/4 slots for expansion cards, that we would be able to modify in terms of I/O and also upgrade in the future by swapping the mainboard to an usb5(?) one.

I imagine there will be some limitations, I don’t think you can have every slot support video output. But I imagine they could label slots that support XYZ, or have multiple SKUs for different amounts of video outputs.

The main thing is I’m tired of having VGA, HDMI, mini DP, ethernet or SD card slots I’ll never use :weary:
Just let me spec out my hub however I please :pray:

That part sounds a lot more reasonable, asuming consumers can deal with different port capabilities, guess we’ll see how that works out when the amd version comes out.

If it turns out the general consumer can deal with the different capabilities I think my idea of the couple usb3 only expansion card slots + one displayport (usb plus single dsiplayport can be done relatively cheaply so the base dock would not be that expensive) and then an optional 1 to 3 displayport mst hub that takes expansion cards that nicely fits would be a pretty neat solution. To be fair due to the large size of the expansion cards it’s probably still going to be bulkier than a “just a bunch of everything” dock you can allready buy but it would be modular.

An usb hub that takes expansion cards is probably even diy able.

My current hub is already like 2 inches tall and very wide so that’s fine by me. Pictured below:

just that you’d just get about 4 connections out of it instead of the bunch you get there but for stationary bulk isn’t that big a concern I guess.

Agreed. I would love to see a more universal port system with something like swappable boards or an FPGA but something basic is also what I had in mind.

To me a hub is the portable, pocketable port adapter.

Docks are designed to be fixed on a desktop like the photo Janiel posted.

The current swappable port system Framework has in play functions most like a hub since laptops are designed to be portable. However, a dock has a very strong use case for extending functionality and creating additional value to the swappable port system. Any port that needs the latest support can be swapped in and out of the laptop. A dock with swappable ports would provide excellent utility and product differentiation in the market.

Screw it, usb4 device and a plx chip and like 16 pcie 4x slots. want usb, add pcie usb card, want network, network card, want display gpu. Doesn’t get more universal than that XD.

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Lol. Yea man. Give me the tech and pour some gravy all over it. AMD needs to get it together and put their Xilinx acquisition to work and develop a FPGA that listens to power input and self-tunes. It will probably have to be analog/digital signal hybrid but then we can have a truly universal I/O hub.