The Upgradeable Mainboard

One of the core design principles of the Framework Laptop is performance upgradability. Not only are the memory and storage replaceable, but the entire mainboard can be removed and replaced with any of the compatible ones we’ll be building in the same form factor. Desktop PCs have been designed this way for decades, but until now the notebook industry has been stuck in a locked down mode requiring wasteful full device replacements. We architected the mainboard to maximize adaptability to future generations of x86 and ARM (and we hope eventually RISC-V!) CPUs. We also carefully selected and minimized the number of internal connectors to simplify installation and keep the system thin.

We’re launching the Framework Laptop with Intel’s 11th generation Core Processors, also known by their code name of Tiger Lake. We’re offering mainboards using the i5-1135G7, i7-1165G7, and i7-1185G7, all of which are 10nm quad-core, eight-thread CPUs with Intel’s latest Iris Xe graphics. They differ primarily on base and turbo frequencies as well as GPU EUs and cache. The i7-1185G7 also includes vPro support for enterprise use cases. Tiger Lake features a fantastic peripheral set, which allows us to enable super-fast PCIe 4.0 SSDs, four USB4 ports, and four simultaneous displays.

Many notebooks utilize high-end CPUs but squander the performance benefits by integrating undersized cooling systems. We’ve designed the thermal system in the Framework Laptop to handle 28W continuous processor load. By making space for an unusually large 65mmx5.5mm cooling fan and carefully designing our airflow paths, we’ve done this without sacrificing quietness. Our dual 5mm heatpipes and copper fin pack allows the CPU to run up to 60W turbo. We’ve also enabled multiple power profiles in Windows 10 to allow you to choose and adjust your preferred balance of performance, silence, and battery life.

One additional design consideration we emphasized is maximizing reusability. The mainboard is fully functional by itself outside of the system. This means that if you upgrade the mainboard in your Framework Laptop, you can take the replaced one and use it as a high performance single board computer. The mainboard is sized ideally for modders to craft interesting projects like keyboard PCs and cyberdecks. We’ll offer the mainboard by itself in the Framework Marketplace for anyone who wants to try this, and we’ll be posting more detailed documentation soon. We’re looking forward to seeing the incredible and unique builds that people come up with.

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That would make an interesting machine for being hooked to an external display. No keyboard just a housing for motherboard and expansion to connect to projector and be mouse driven with onscreen keyboard or voice activation.

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While, I guess, not being an official standard, will you open source the format to allow others to produce replacement mainboards?

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We want to enable 3rd party development of mainboards. Exactly the path for that is still TBD, as this is a much more complex module than developing an Expansion Card (which we’re doing a reference design release on soon).

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I have several questions

  1. Is the size of the motherboard something Frame.work would keep the same in terms of dimension?

  2. What happens if there’s a new standard like a new USB 4.0 or DDR5 Ram or a new SSD form factor? In theory, can we just switch the mainboard and everything should work?

  3. I don’t see wireless modules like Bluetooth and Wifi. Is it integrated into the mainboard or as a separate module? Same question again if there’s Bluetooth 6.0 or Wifi 7 (whatever new standard is called). Can I just switch the mainboard or even better just the wireless module?

  4. I don’t really know much about battery technology, all I know is it packs more power in a given space as technology improves. In theory did Frame.work provide a better battery over time and we can swap the old one out?

  5. I have seen the new NUC connected to the PCI-e slot which enabled GPU. I wonder if there’s any connection like that in the mainboard?

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Yes, we’ll be maintaining compatibility with the same enclosure, and updating to new standards as they become available. The WiFi/Bluetooth module is socketed using a standard M.2 socket.

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An extended cooling solution (just a bit more thermal mass) and maybe configurable TDP options in the BIOS could really help unlocking CPU potential in a desktop scenario.

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It would be interesting to see someone make the main board into a super tiny desktop machine.

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Using the dimensions of the fan, and eyeballing the board, it looks like the dimensions of the motherboard as a whole are approximately 200x100x5.5 mm. Might be slightly smaller than that, but I’m pretty sure it’s not larger than those dimensions. Can you confirm what the actual board dimensions are? Also have you considered giving a name to this motherboard form factor (a la ATX, ITX, etc.)? Near as I have been able to discover nobody actually defines those names being apparently de facto standards, so it seems like whoever makes a new one just sort of slaps whatever *TX name they want on it and then everybody else just copies them.

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FTX, seems like a natural choice :thinking:

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Hah, no name yet, though maybe we could do that. The dimensions are ~230x105mm.

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I’m curious how much a Mother board/CPU on there own is going to cost? :thinking:

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Why not call it the ECO-TX :laughing:

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LS-TX : Laptop Sustainable

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I like this one :point_up_2: but SL-TX rolls off the tongue better. :stuck_out_tongue:

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I must say, it would be really good to have a name for the motherboard standard. Otherwise, if other manufacturers make mainboards they will have to say something like compatible with the framework laptop ecosystem or something like that rather than (standard name).

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Real standards like in “industry standard” take a lot of time and money to be released. I don’t think there will be something like this anytime soon.

they can, but really its just a company needs to release the specs for the “standard” and other companies need to adopt it. Take bluetooth for example it was a play by IBM to sell more laptops saying, “our laptops can integrate with your mobile phone” then shared the specs for bluetooth and motorola is like, “oh we wanna sell more phones so we’ll incorporate that!” then more and more companies did the same.

Really to be a standard it just needs to have the specs freely available and other companies just need to pick up those and build more products shaped to those specs.

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so… based on this small except

Theoretically, one could attempt to reuse these components to make another device like… a laptop in another old laptop shell big enough to fit these components (assuming one has the engineering and tech-savvy knowledge) and make it all work? :smirk:

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Yep!
Probably something which could be accomplished with a dremel and some threaded inserts, hahaha. You would want to make sure that the display you have in the old laptop could be hooked up to the same board connection as this one though. I’m not sure what Framework said they’re using, but most laptops in the last few years I’ve seen (although I haven’t seen many, mainly mine and family laptops from the mid 2010’s) have had a 40 pin LVDS connector. If Framework’s using the same connector I imagine the old laptop’s screen could probably be driven without too much drama.

After that point it would be a matter of getting the I/O ports hooked up to the outside of the old dinosaur. That could be done relatively sexy, or with a hot glue gun and a budget USB-C PD hub, hahaha.

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