I may have changed my mind about buying a Framework Laptop 13 this year, but that’s just me not done raving about the company’s products. Heck, I’m more excited than ever – because it looks like Framework is serious about letting us snap a second removable battery into a laptop.
A week ago today, the modular laptop company announced a 16-inch notebook that promises you can swap the whole butt for one that can fit a discrete graphics chip, extra fans, or a pair of SSDs — and/or swap out the Framework’s entire keyboard deck. from Laptop 16 to add a numpad or fancy LEDs or virtual piano keys for example. It promised more details later this year.
But Framework didn’t actually stop at that tease: it also published design specs on his GitHub for all to see. Here’s what I learned by digging through it.
If you want a graphics card you can slide it right into the back of a laptop – power, data, the work – you might want a lot of pins. As you’re about to see, the Framework Laptop 16’s expansion bay does 148 contacts between the laptop motherboard and the daughterboard are located in each module. And Framework has already revealed what they do.
On GitHub, Framework shares the full pinoutand I would like to draw your attention to No. 41 and No. 63: the first “allows power to be fed from the Expansion Bay back to the laptop in an Extended Battery scenario“while the second can”check 2nd battery discharge,” among other things. Oh, and pin No. 62 is specifically labeled as a “I/O pin for 2nd battery.”
While the pinout also suggests that the Framework Laptop 16 may be able to use the same paths to charge itself via a USB-C PD port built into an Expansion Bay module, it is sure sounds as if the company thinks you can use two batteries with this laptop.
Big charging chops?
Speaking of USB-C PD power, another part of the pinout suggests that Framework expects this laptop to exceed 100W charging at some point. Pin No. 39″will be high when connected to the PD power source >=180W”, the company reveals.
Plus, pin #1 states that “while on AC with power adapter, Vsys will be 20V, with maximum current up to 10.5A“ meaning Framework expects a power adapter as large as 210W to plug into this machine – though it’s possible those modules will use a barrel jack for power rather than a 240W USB-C PD 2.1 cable.
You might also be pleased to learn that there’s a dedicated PWM speed control for two independent cooling fans – so you should theoretically be able to tune the sound level of an expansion module – and a pin that can be controlled “to keep the GPU in minimum power mode.” As with many laptops, you may be able to save battery by switching to integrated graphics, even with the discrete GPU connected.
The pinout also confirms how much bandwidth you can expect from expansion bay modules. In case you missed it in the CEO’s blog post, you get eight lanes of PCI-Express for your GPU and SSDs. It’s not the 16 lanes you’d get from a desktop, but it’s better than the PCIe x4 that held back early external GPUs.
Hey module makers: the entire keyboard deck is up for grabs
It didn’t quite sink in until I looked the Linus Tech Tips video, but the entire deck of this laptop is Input Module City. It’s a huge canvas. Here’s a screenshot of Linus’s video because (as an investor in the company) he’s the only one Framework has shown it to so far:
On GitHub, the company explains that you can build three different types of modules, all of which use the same row of spring contacts you see in the middle.
Keyboard-sized modules (283.16 mm wide)
Numpad-sized modules (67.85 mm wide)
Half-size modules (33.825 mm wide)
They are each limited to 3.7mm high and about 114.35mm deep and can draw up to 500mA of 5V current and 100mA of 3.3V current. The system can tell them when the computer is sleeping and provide them with minimal power, just like a normal laptop touchpad and keyboard waits for your tap to wake the machine up again.
The modules don’t need powered by the way! At Framework’s event last week, I saw small strips of wood, metal, plastic, and even marble that can be slipped next to your keyboard or touchpad to make your machine look unique.
But Framework has also made a few powerful example modules for those who want the juice, each running on a Raspberry Pi RP2040 chip. And Linus got to touch one we didn’t try last week: an incredibly power-efficient secondary screen.
Framework calls this prototype module the B1 display, and it’s a 4.2-inch, 300 x 400 pixel black-and-white display, which sounds a bit ho-hum at first – except that this panel isn’t backlit and is designed to only refresh once per second (or optionally up to 32 fps) for ultra-low power consumption. Think original PalmPilot or Game Boy.
It can display your animated GIFs, switch to a color-reversed dark mode, and use a screensaver by default, in part because “the current panel is prone to image retention,” writes Framework.
Looking for something smaller or brighter? Checking out Framework’s LED matrix. The company’s GitHub reveals that it has nine columns and 34 rows for a total of 306 LEDs, supports both grayscale and black-and-white graphics, and can already play animated patterns, scroll vertically through content, display a clock, or even some very simple games.
Here’s just a moment of it Pong:
It can also walk Tetris, Snakeand even a working copy of Conway’s Game of Life, according to the documentation. Yes, in theory you could run multiple Turing-complete simulations alongside your keyboard as you type.
When the laptop goes to sleep, it is programmed to slowly turn off the LEDs. Here’s the back of the prototype LED Matrix module so you can see how it’s all laid out:
Mind you, it’s not clear how many modules Framework will build itself or which ones it would actually decide to sell. The 40-person company historically hasn’t thrown its money into every opportunity and hasn’t released it so much already modules themselves. The reason it made the documentation public and unveiled the Framework Laptop 16 early is because it doesn’t want to go it alone. It wants everyone – from big companies to individual hackers – to build cool new parts for this ecosystem.
The Framework Laptop 16 is the coolest computing concept I’ve seen in years, so I really hope it succeeds. We’ll bring you full official specs, price and more later this year.