How Framework Laptop Broke The Hacker Ceiling

We’ve been keeping an eye on the Framework laptop over the past two years – back in 2021, they’ve announced a vision for a repairable and hacker-friendly laptop based on the x86 architecture. They’re not claiming to be either open-source or libre hardware, but despite that, they have very much delivered on repairability and fostered a hacker community around the laptop, while sticking to pretty ambitious standards for building upgradable hardware that lasts.

I’ve long had a passion for laptop hardware, and when Hackaday covered Framework announcing the motherboards-for-makers program, I submitted my application, then dove into the ecosystem and started poking at the hardware internals every now and then. A year has passed since then, and I’ve been using a Framework as a daily driver, reading the forums on the regular, hanging out in the Discord server, and even developed a few Framework accessories along the way. I’d like to talk about what I’ve seen unfold in this ecosystem, both from Framework and the hackers that joined their effort, because I feel like we have something to learn from it.

If you have a hacker mindset, you might be wondering – just how much is there to hack on? And, if you have a business mindset, you might be wondering – how much can a consumer-oriented tech company achieve by creating a hacker-friendly environment? Today, I’d like to give you some insights and show cool things I’ve seen happen as an involved observer, as well as highlight the path that Framework is embarking upon with its new Framework 16.

As Community Expands, So Do The Options

Continue reading “How Framework Laptop Broke The Hacker Ceiling”

Framework Motherboard Turned Cyberdeck

The beauty of a modular ecosystem lies in how it allows individuals to repurpose components in unconventional ways. This is precisely what [Ben Makes Everything] has achieved by using a Framework laptop’s motherboard and battery to create a slab-style cyberdeck. (Video, embedded below.)

The Framework motherboard presents an excellent choice for custom portable computer projects due to its relatively compact size and built-in modular I/O port options, all based on USB-C. Framework even released additional documentation to support this use-case. It’s significantly more powerful than the standard Raspberry PI, which is typically employed in similar projects. Ben chose a 2400 x 900 IPS display that can draw power and video through a single USB-C cable. For user input, he opted for an Apple keyboard and an optical trackball with a PS2 interface. He utilized a Arduino Pro Micro as a PS2-to-USB adaptor, using the remaining pins on the Arduino as a versatile interface for electronic projects.

The enclosure is crafted from machined aluminum plates with 3D printed spacers to secure all components. The screen can be tilted up to 45 degrees for more ergonomic desktop use. The Framework motherboard is equipped with four USB-C ports for peripheral devices; [Ben] allocated one for the display and another for a USB hub which connects the keyboard, Arduino, and external USB and HDMI connectors. The remaining USB-C ports are still available for original Framework expansion cards.

The completed project not only looks fantastic but may also be highly functional. It would have been a great entry in our recent Cyberdeck Challenge.

The ThinkPad You All Wish You Had, With A Brain That’s Not Ancient

An IBM (or, later, Lenovo) ThinkPad is a popular choice in our community. They’re prized for their rugged design, longevity, and good software support. Over the many years that the line has been available, there have been a few models which have captured the attention more than others, and among those, probably the most sought-after is the ThinkPad 701c. It would be an unremarkable mid-1990s 486 laptop were it not for the party piece of that flip-out butterfly keyboard (see video, below). [Karl Buchka] has one that’s profoundly dead, and rather than use it as a novelty paperweight, he’s giving it a new lease of life with a Framework motherboard.

This is very much a work in progress, so there will be plenty more to come, but so far, he’s taken the display panel from an iPad and made it work with the Framework board, and designed an entirely new lower case for the Thinkpad. This will hold the Framework board with its USB-C ports at the edge, so in the place of its USB-based expansion modules, he’s made a custom external port replicator. Meanwhile, a Teensy handles that unique keyboard. We’re told that the design files will all eventually be put online should anyone else want to try.

We’d normally be slightly upset were someone to butcher something as unusual as a 701c, however, in thic ase we can see that it turns a broken computer into one that should see quite a bit of use.  We can’t help envying him this project.

Understandably not many 701c owners have dived inside their machines, but we have previously brought you a contemporary processor upgrade. If you’ve never seen the 701c’s keyboard — or you just want to see it again — here you go:

Thanks [Ł. Juszczak] for the tip.

Building An All-in-One Desktop Out Of Framework Parts

The Framework laptop prides itself on having reusable parts, and hackers all around routinely challenge the claims by building projects reusing them. Yet again, [whatthefilament] puts the Framework hardware to the test, by taking all the laptop internals and building an AiO (All-in-One) desktop computer with it. Hot on the heels of his Framework tablet project we covered a few months ago, this desktop reuses as much as possible – the mainboard, the display and the expansion cards in particular, and even one of the hinges is reused for adjusting the monitor’s angle.

Of course, this build required a custom case – and [whatthefilament]’s design is fully 3D-printed, with STLs and assembly instructions available for anyone interested. Parts of the desktop are held by magnets for ease of assembly and maintenance, with a few parts requiring screws held in by heat-set inserts. Complete with a webcam, speakers and even a WiFi card, all it needs for completeness is an external keyboard&mouse combo, making for a sleek desktop that anyone in possession of a few Framework parts can build.

Laptop-to-desktop builds are nice – take the X-PC project, starting with a pile of school laptops and rebuilding them into colourful and sturdy desktops for classroom use. We’ve seen quite a few fancy Framework projects already, and that’s because they provided motherboards to hackers for specifically project purposes, kickstarting a fair few creations to grace our pages. Other hacker-friendly laptops didn’t lag behind, either – for instance, here’s the hacker favourite, Novena, getting the desktop treatment.

All About USB-C: Framework Laptop

Talking about high-quality USB-C implementations, there’s a product that has multiple selling points designed around USB-C, and is arguably a shining example of how to do USB-C right. It’s the Framework laptop, where the USB-C expansion cards take the center stage.

Full disclosure – this article is being typed on a Framework laptop, and I got it free from Framework. I didn’t get it for Hackaday coverage – I develop Framework-aimed hardware as hobby, specifically, boards that hack upon aspects of this laptop in fun ways. As part of their community developer support effort, they’ve provided me with a laptop that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to get for such a hobby. By now, I’m part of the Framework community, I have my own set of things I like about this laptop, and a set of things I dislike.

This is not an article about how I’m satisfied or dissatisfied with the Framework laptop – there’s plenty of those around, and it would not be fair for me to write one – I haven’t paid for it in anything except having lots of fun designing boards and hanging out with other people designing cool things, which is something I do willingly. I’m an all-things-laptops enthusiast, and the reason I’d like to talk about Framework is that there is no better example of USB-C, and everything you can do with it, in the wild. Continue reading “All About USB-C: Framework Laptop”

A grey keyboard with orange and dark grey accents is angled away from the camera. The keys nearby are clearly distinguishable in the foreground but blurry toward the back/right. The keyboard is quite thick as it also contains a computer motherboard.

Mechanical Keyboard With A Framework Inside

Like the Commodore 64 and other keyboard computers of yore, the [Elevated Systems]’s CJ64 fits all of its processing and I/O into a single keyboard-shaped package.

This iteration of the project takes it to the next level with an enclosure milled out of aluminum instead of the mere 3D printed enclosure of the previous versions. With a Framework mainboard, the ports are configurable via the Framework expansion card system giving you even more options to customize this build. To round it out, this keyboard PC doesn’t scrimp on the keyboard part either with mechanical switches and MT3 profile keycaps.

If you’d like to build one of these for yourself, [Elevated Systems] has uploaded the 3D printed enclosure files to his GitHub repository. The files for machining are available as well, but only to patrons.

For some more Framework-based mods, check out this Framework Tablet, the Framedeck, or this other retro-inspired Framework build. If you want an all-in-keyboard slabtop, then maybe check out Are Slabtops the Future of Computing?

Continue reading “Mechanical Keyboard With A Framework Inside”

Build A Tablet Out Of Your Framework Motherboard

The Framework laptop project is known for quite a few hacker-friendly aspects. For example, they encourage you to reuse its motherboard as a single-board computer – making it into a viable option for your own x86-powered projects. They have published a set of CAD files for that, and people have been working on their own Framework motherboard-based creations ever since; our hacker, [whatthefilament], has already built a few projects around these motherboards. Today, he’s showing us the high-effort design that is the FrameTablet – a 15″ device packing an i5 processor, all in a fully 3D printed chassis. The cool part is – thanks to his instructions, you can build one yourself!

This tablet sports a FullHD touchscreen IPS display and shows some well-thought-out component mounting, using heat-set inserts and screws, increasing such a build’s mechanical longevity. You lose one of the expansion card slots to the USB-C-connected display, but it’s a worthwhile tradeoff, and the touchscreen functionality works wonders in Windows. [whatthefilament] has also published a desk holder and a wall mount to accompany this design – if it’s a bit too large for you to hold in some situations, you can mount it in a more friendly, hands-free way. This is a solid and surprisingly practical tablet, and unlike the Raspberry Pi tablet builds we’ve seen, its x86 heart packs enough power to let you do things like CAD on the go.

With STLs and STEPs available, his build is a decent option for when you’ll want to replace your Framework’s motherboard with a new, upgraded one. You might’ve already noticed a few high-effort projects with these motherboards on our pages – perhaps, this transparent shell handheld with a mech keyboard and trackball, or this personal terminal with a futuristic-looking round display. This project is part of the “send 100 motherboards to hackers” initiative that Framework organized a few months ago, and we can’t say it hasn’t been working out for them!