Early Impressions Of The Framework Laptop


In 2018 I ended 5 years of using Linux after buying my first MacBook because I saw my co-worker use it to seamlessly connect his iPhone to it and I thought that was cool. After messing around with it for about a week, I blogged my first impressions on it in this post.

What is most interesting to me about the post is the ending where, as an "open-source software enthusiast", I felt like I had to justify switching from Linux so I wrote what is probably the most common argument against Linux.

[…] MacOS, with all it's shitty proprietary software restrictions, is incredibly easy to use. Even though most of my issues with Linux are mainly from using a distro like Arch, it's been a whole week I haven't had any problems with it. I haven't had to mess with any drivers or config files, everything just worked out of the box.

A few years ago I probably would have hated this, because I preferred constantly breaking my computer and learning how to fix it. But now I have a job and actual things to do. I don't have time to spend a whole weekend reading man pages. Although I would say I have learnt enough where I could fix a problem that would have taken me a day to now only take a few minutes, I can't be bothered with it any more.

It's interesting because I've gone full circle again.

This may just be a coincidence but since I switched to MacOS I've become increasingly negative towards technology in general. In fact, apart from some programming languages, I can only recall one time I've said something with outright positivity about a piece of tech on this blog.

My opinions of Apple and the general tech industry have changed a lot since I've written that post. I no longer see a shiny new gadget and wonder how it can improve the lives of people, but how it will be used to rent seek and extract money from its' users in the most exploitive ways possible using every dark pattern some marketing team A/B tested to maximise user domestication.

I don't have that exact MacBook any more as I bought an M1 Mac early last year, so that's what I'm going to be comparing it to with the Framework laptop I've been using for a week.

And finally, we're at what this post is supposed to be about. Framework promises a laptop that is fully modular and user-serviceable by focusing on ease of replacement and availability of frequently replaced parts, including the battery, screen, keyboard, and bezel.

If you've ever built a PC using individual parts, imagine that but for a laptop.

The laptop hasn't started shipping in Australia yet, but I got tired of waiting and got it shipped here using a US delivery forwarder. After paying a stupid amount for import fees, I was ready to see what the fuss was about.

The first thing you need to do after(1) opening the box is assemble the laptop. Which is a great way to see if they delivered on their promise of being user-maintainable.

(1) At least if you buy the DIY edition where you specify what parts to buy.

And holy shit did they fucking deliver.

Standard sockets are used for almost everything - NVMe, RAM, even the WiFi card. I could just go out to any computer shop and buy replacements for these right now. The only thing missing from that list to make a computer is the CPU, which makes sense since Intel and AMD don't make socketed CPUs for laptops.

The mainboard is still very easily replaceable however so you can buy a different one if you wanted to change CPUs. There are QR codes on all high use parts (battery, screen, touchpad, etc.) to take you to guides on how to replace them.

And the expansions ports, my god. My 2021 MacBook has two USB-C ports. TWO. AND I WAS OKAY WITH THAT.(2) Framework has four ports that you can change between USB-C, USB-A, HDMI, DisplayPort, MicroSD, and a fucking SSD so there's no reason to carry adapters anymore.

(2) And my 2018 MacBook had four so I have no idea why I thought that was acceptable.

The build quality is a lot nicer than I expected. I don't think anything could beat the metal chassis of a MacBook, but it's certainly better than most non-Apple laptops I've touched. The trackpad in particular feels very good and the only other trackpad I've ever liked are the ones on MacBooks.

So after assembling the laptop, next step is to turn it on and install Linux on it (I certainly wouldn't put Windows on any machine I don't intend to use for gaming). Normally saying "turn on the machine" would be a given and I wouldn't need to say it except in this instance I'm highlighting it because… mine didn't turn on.

After a bit of messing around with the parts and looking on the Internet I had to reset the mainboard state, which was a bit annoying but a lot easier than it sounded at first.

Now with that sorted, it's time to install Linux. I've been eyeing NixOS for a while as well, so might as well try that out.

Yeah that didn't work too, couldn't boot from the USB I put NixOS on.

Not sure whose fault that was (the USB, NixOS, or Framework) but since I could boot from a Manjaro USB just fine, I decided to install that instead.

With all my things setup, let's talk about performance. Does this stack up with an M1 MacBook?

What? Fuck no. Why would you ever think that?

I've mentioned that I can only recall one that I've talked positively about technology. That time was with Apple Silicon.

The M1 Mac is the biggest jump in laptop hardware I have ever seen. It is almost unrivalled in performance and power efficiency, and a lot of that (as I said in my post) is because it's an SoC (System on Chip) where all the parts are on a single system.

But in order to "fix" or "upgrade" an SoC you need to get an entirely new SoC and that means buying a new laptop.

Framework could never compete with Apple on performance in a post Apple Silicon world. But when I realised that 8GB of RAM wasn't enough in my 2018 MacBook I had to wait 3 years and spend $2700 on an entirely new laptop to be able to increase it, so I'm thinking maybe it's better this way.

What else is great is that I don't have to use MacOS any more. I said in my MacBook impressions that I liked MacOS because it was easy to use and I don't have to configure everything. That was before I started configuring everything.

Turns out I like to tinker with my things, and MacOS constantly got in my way of doing that.

I once tried programmatically managing my displays and windows(3) like you can with i3wm. That didn't work out.

(3) Because having perfect window placement is the most important thing for a software engineer.

Updates require a reboot and take several minutes.

I also wanted to be able to force my display into a vertical orientation so I can play SDVX the correct way. Nope, can't do that.

One time iTunes started crashing on launch for some reason and I was told to update to OSX Catalina (which was still in public beta at that time) to fix it.

Updating did fix it, but only because Apple removed iTunes in Catalina and replaced it with Apple Music.

MacOS keeps trying to do things that are "convenient" like switching the audio input to your AirPods from your iPhone to Mac but is actually just fucking annoying.

Homebrew kinda sucks as a package manager and Nix needs a stupid hack to get working with the "security features" of Darwin (and is still not that good when compared to Nix on Linux).

Safari is trash but it gives the best battery performance out of all the browsers so I feel forced to use it.

You pay Apple to spy on you and you can't stop it.

I've actually wanted to switch back to Linux for years now, but Apple Silicon kept me in the ecosystem. I never thought it would be worth it to downgrade to a worse system just for an OS.

Unless… unless there was a laptop that appealed to my tinkering tendencies and let me change it however I wished, just like with my gaming PC. Maybe then it would be worth it.

In unrelated news, today Framework announced that they have raised $18 million in a Series A, which is great for them and I hope they will be grow the company in exciting ways. Unfortunately, I don't actually trust any company that gets VC money(4) to stay true to their mission.

(4) Ignore the fact that I work for one.

Making re-useable and repairable consumer goods isn't exactly the best way of making money, and Framework is going to have to create returns for their investors somehow. I fully expect them to become "evil" at some point. Whether that be from being bought out, or going back on their promises and creating a closed ecosystem.

But this laptop is re-useable and repairable. When I won't want to support Framework anymore, that doesn't mean I will be forced to stop using this thing. Apart from if the chassis starts breaking apart, there's no reason that I'll need to buy anything specifically from Framework.

Anyway let's talk about Linux. It's been a long time since I've used it as a daily driver, and I was a little worried that MacOS ruined me and I wouldn't remember how to do anything.

So I'm back on Manjaro now as I still can't really be bothered with Arch. But even though it has more batteries included, I still crave configuring it myself and making it my own.

I've been using Sway which is the i3wm replacement for Wayland that I wanted to try because I hate Xorg. And I'm quite surprised that my muscle memory for keyboard hotkeys is still there.

And I've also been redoing my dotfiles from scratch. Neovim in particular has gone through a big change, with the entire config in lua now.

On all my previous Linux installs, I've had one little different issue that took a while to fix(5) because I refuse to use "normie distros" like Ubuntu where things just work. HAH, can you imagine that? A Linux distro you don't have to spend 3 hours in the Arch wiki to get working? Disgusting.

(5) Not because they were hard issues to fix, but I was just kinda lazy and they didn't bother me that much.

But these have been things like - Bluetooth not working, PulseAudio being PulseAudio, and the computer not recognising external drives. The good shit.

And it seems that this tradition will still continue as I can't get deep sleep working correctly which means my battery drains faster than it should while the computer is suspended.

Apart from that, it's been stable even with all the things I'm changing constantly. I don't know when or what I'm going to do to break it, but at I know that I will at least be able to fix it.

I've missed this. It's good to be back.

By the way, Windows still sucks. Hopefully with the Steam Deck running on Arch Linux,(6) more games will start to support Linux and I can move my gaming PC off that garbage fire hellscape people refer to as an "Operating System" but is actually just an NSA backdoor.

(6) I seriously can't believe Valve chose Arch.