Frame laptop lets you swap out its main processor

When the Framework Laptop came out last year, it was a tech discovery with so little knowledge that you can replace hard drives or battery packs in many laptops, but even the most customizable among them weren’t designed with the average consumer in mind. A lot of technologies, including laptops, have become less convenient for DIY use over the past few decades due to companies making their own repair tools or methods.

But the framework grew out of the Right to Repair movement, which supports designs that encourage users to fix their technology and use it for as long as possible. Fixing your electronics doesn’t have to be a hard endeavour, and with a Framework laptop, it’s as simple as tightening a screw.

Buy Framework Laptop for $819

What is Laptop Framework?

Credit: Review / Adrien Ramirez

The expansion slots on the cardboard stand allow you to switch the ports available on your laptop.

Everything in the frame, from the battery to the screen, is interchangeable, and you can follow the QR codes placed on each component for detailed instructions on replacing or repairing. Even the motherboard, on which the central processor is located, is upgradable! We revised the original frame with an 11th-generation Intel Core i7 processor last year, and instead of having to buy an all-new laptop to review a model with a 12th-generation processor, we could just swap out the motherboard.

What is a motherboard and why is this better?

Screenshot from the back of the motherboard.
Credit: Review / Adrien Ramirez

Beware here – every small component on the back of this board is sensitive to electrical discharge. Handle the main board from the edges.

Mainboard is an umbrella term for the motherboard, processor, and cooling system of the Framework laptop. The motherboard is the computer’s central hub for communicating with every piece of hardware in the laptop—everything, from the screen image to the fan speed, is routed through the motherboard. The motherboard of the frame also connects a fan and heat transfer lines that keep the processor cool.

Compared to the original motherboard, the biggest upgrade of the new motherboard is a new processor, mostly; The 12th generation Intel Core processors are faster, more energy efficient, and contain more cores than their 11th generation predecessors. This translates to better performance and longer battery life. 12th generation processors also support DDR5 memory, although the framework isn’t selling memory upgrades yet, and DDR5 memory may not necessarily deliver significant performance gains over DDR4.

The 12th generation Intel chips are also making significant improvements over the 11th generation processors especially when it comes to multi-core processing. (If you do a lot of video work, the 12th generation is great for tasks like this.)

However, the eleventh generation is strong in its own right. The seven-hour battery life and performance on the original frame is perfect for productivity tasks away from home, and will meet most users’ needs for searching, web streaming, and document editing. Whether the performance gains or battery life for the 12th generation are worth the $450 to $1,050 upgrade is debatable.

What are my options?

Close-up of the WiFi module and storage drive.
Credit: Review / Adrien Ramirez

The storage drive is an M.2 NVMe 2280 SSD, readily available at major retailers.

There are three configurations available to replace the new motherboard, each with a distinct processor. An Intel Core i5-1240P configuration sells for $450, an Intel Core i7-1260P configuration sells for $700, and an Intel Core i7-1280P version sells for $1,050. You can also buy the pre-built Laptop Framework although the DIY versions are hundreds of dollars cheaper.

While all three processors are great for productivity tasks and light photo and video editing, their integrated graphics processors can’t handle anything beyond casual 3D modeling or gaming. P-line processors are Intel’s lightweight chipsets that prioritize efficiency and battery life over performance, so if you need a machine capable of processing heavy processing work, you’ll want to look elsewhere for more power-hungry Intel and AMD processors or stick to the Framework to expand your options. Healer.

Meanwhile, the integrated graphics are suitable for low-resolution games, such as Stardu Valley or outlet3D graphics quickly became a chore for this PC. The Framework will need to increase discrete graphics processors if it is to compete with gaming laptops or workstations.

What do I need to install the motherboard?

Top shot of a bare laptop with the motherboard out.
Credit: Review / Adrien Ramirez

The T5 screwdriver is all I used to disassemble the laptop in about ten minutes.

You will need a Framework laptop, a new motherboard, and a frame screwdriver. (The T5 uses bits, which most people probably don’t have, but you can easily find a screwdriver with the same at your local hardware store.) The switching procedure should take about 15 minutes, from start to finish. Here are the step-by-step instructions from the Framework.

Any tips for the installation process?

Close-up of memory cards.
Credit: Review / Adrien Ramirez

Two memory slots mean you can expand the memory later.

As with any technical repair, remember to keep liquids away from the workspace, and start with clean hands. While the framework makes no mention of grounding yourself and your workspace, it is a good practice to work on an anti-static mat or surface and ensure that you are properly grounded to avoid shorting any components if you are a static magnet. Grounding, the practice of directing unwanted electrical current away from a closed circuit (or just touching a metal object to discharge static electricity), gets rid of any charge difference between you and your workspace and laptop.)

Be especially careful with the battery, as the hole can cause it to leak and create a fire hazard, and keep the magnets away from any exposed components. The framework expects users to work with the internals of this laptop, so the components are reasonably resistant to rough handling and require no special handling.

Is replacing the motherboard easy?

Screenshot of the main board interface.
Credit: Review / Adrien Ramirez

The motherboard inserts the processor behind the large fan and heat pipe.

Removing the motherboard is fairly straightforward, as it often involves unscrewing the components and gently pulling the parts to separate them from the laptop. It requires no more skill or strength than connecting USB cables to a computer. Remember to turn off your laptop before you begin, and be gentle when removing parts or connecting cables. Remove all extraneous parts, such as expansion cards and power cables as well.

When you unscrew the bottom cover, you need to turn the laptop right-side up and remove the keyboard cover to access the main board – make sure to pull it gently, as the keyboard cover will still be connected to the main board with a cable.

The next steps are to separate each part of the motherboard: battery, speaker, sound board, screen, webcam, Wi-Fi module, memory, and storage. (Don’t worry, the frame guide offers detailed instructions and visuals to remove everything quickly and painlessly.)

After swapping out the bare motherboard, you perform the same steps in reverse and connect each part to its appropriate slot.

Once you’re done and reattach the keyboard cover, you’re ready to turn on your laptop. The boot will take a few minutes as it performs initial checks and memory training to make sure your laptop is working properly. When you log into Windows, make sure you update your drivers and BIOS after installation.

What do I do with the old motherboard?

Screenshot of a custom project using the motherboard of the Framework.
Credit: Richard Sutherland

This DIYer tool transformed an old motherboard into a laptop made with custom parts.

Don’t throw it away! You can give it to a friend so they can build their own laptop, or you can turn it into a completely new technology. The Framework has released a ton of open source documentation for repairers to create all kinds of cool new projects, like this old little PC or this laptop.

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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