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Framework: Solving for Silicon Shortages (frame.work)
240 points by pimterry on Oct 23, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 65 comments

I don’t need my laptop right this moment. I am waiting with my wallet for a Ryzen 5000 series option here in Netherlands. Just saying here in case someone needs to know there are potential customers out here :-)

I heard somewhere, Intel is quite extensively helping small projects with hardware/board design. I assume that’s the reason they started with Intel (apart from AMD chip sourcing in the last 1 - 2 years), and if that’s the case, they may not have the actual capabilities to make an AMD/ARM board on their own yet - not a matter of wanting to. I doubt this a about a preference for Intel over AMD at all, otherwise. Especially with their target audience.

Considering how well their first machines are received, how outstanding their public image holds, I am sure they will not have troubles hiring passionate talent. Management, values, making an arguably thoughtful and desirable product, … seems like a dream job, when you work in that niche, no?

I kinda wish I had a need to buy a laptop. I'd love to support what they are doing, and the specs and features are pretty much what I would be looking for if I was buying a laptop.

I'm not concerned with the chip. Anything modern is plenty for my needs. I'm waiting for a 3k screen. That's what I spend all day staring at.

You won't catch me hunched over a laptop all day. I just need the screen for the few occasions where I am on the road or maybe in a meeting. Most of the time I will be docking my laptop. The ergonomics are just way better.

This became more obvious to me working from home though I should have realized it earlier. I was already using an external display (27") - then switched from that to a 43" inch (with the 27" moving to the side in rotated-portrait mode). The productivity gain was day and night - being able to glance at a 2x4 grid of code is a big jump from constant Alt-Tab. My only regret is not buying it before the prices started going north on account of wfh being wide-spread.

Fair. I built a desktop for the first time in a decade over the pandemic, so I'm looking for something that will basically never be hooked in to an external monitor.

I wonder if they’ll do a Ryzen option anytime soon. Connecting displays and some of their modules (e.g. HDMI) appear to need thunderbolt. Ryzen doesn’t ship with that, yet.

Didn’t intel release a Thunderbolt chipset for motherboard manufacturers to include? I thought some Ryzen motherboards had it to implement thunderbolt? Is it just not available in the low power-mobile category?

There are just a couple that have and the reviews have been lack luster. If framework is trying to get things off the ground I would not expect them to spend a bunch of time going down this rabbit hole.

There are rumors that future Ryzens will have Thunderbolt but we'll need to wait for those then get into motherboards that are for this. It won't be right away.

Are you sure it's thunderbolt and not USB-C/DP alternate mode?

Tbh. I tend to disable thunderbolt always due to security concerns which have more then once shown to be well founded.

It’s thunderbolt physically, but they don’t call it that because they aren’t certified, or something like that.

It's Thunderbolt. (Typing this reply from a Framework laptop connected to a Thunderbolt dock.)

TL;DR: Framework is switching its audio codec from Realtek ALC295 to Tempo 92HD95B.

While I don’t own a Framework I welcome this change and find it quite interesting, partly because it seems like every laptop and PC maker these days are putting an ALC chip on their boards. You also don’t see computer companies announcing “we’re ditching chip X for chip Y” often and this is very informative transparency.

It feels like Realtek puts a lot of red tape around its chips. Most notably, it’s very hard to look up a datasheet for an ALC chip unless it’s a very popular part. Realtek also seem to only provide stock and support to their biggest customers like Dell and Gigabyte, because it sounds like Framework struggled to secure stock, probably from a one-off source, for their first batches and couldn’t get in touch with Realtek to implement the Smart DSP feature.

The Tempo chip on their other hand is much more open. The datasheet is right on the product page, and the chip has first-class Linux support. In the integrated sound card market where Realtek is to codec as Clorox is to bleach, I welcome attempts to diversify the market share.

If anyone is looking for a hardware startup idea, there are a ton of "essential" chips in laptops, desktops, and servers that there are effectively only one or two suppliers for. None of these are ones that need particularly advanced IP or process technology. After what every OEM and ODM has experienced in 2020 and 2021 (and going into 2022), we're all looking for a diversified set of chip partners. Even when back-end fabs constraints will be the same, better partners to work with would be wonderful.

> particularly advanced IP

Wrt. to letting them being designed and produced by TSCM and similar, yes.

But if you wan to do production "from scratch" it's a complete different matter, even if the chip is "simple" you still need a proper chip production method, which is never simple.

There is a reason why we only have very few fabs today, even through there is a lot of demand for chips using "older" production methods (>28nm). It's often still not profitable to produce them even for companies which have all the necessary patents, know-how and even some older existing machinery. A thing the care industry was hit hard by.

I'm especially excited for this as Realtek codec support, at least from looking at the Linux driver, has a substantial quirks layer. The datasheet right there on the page makes it quite likely that if it doesn't work out of the box with the generic codec driver in Haiku, much more likely to get it working.

I do hope they don't switch back to the Realtek codec in the future.

Given that the Tempo codec works great as a feature parity replacement (which the Framework team anticipates), it’s quite likely they will stick with it.

The Tempo do lack the ALC’s smart features but they couldn’t get the latter to work anyway...

I wonder how much more expensive is the Tempo chip? I assume it sit somewhere in between RealTek and Cirrus Logic?

Tempo points to Mouser Electronics for "less than minimum order quantities," and they in turn list 980 for $4.43 ea. as the largest quantity without a quote (2500 for $4.29 ea. on a reel instead of a tray, whatever that means), so... probably less than that?

I have no idea how expensive the Realtek chip is or anything else to put that in context, though.

I’ve gathered from reading Bunnie’s blog that there are reels, tubes, tapes, trays, and possibly other kinds of feeder mechanism for surface mount parts, and which one you use depends on what your pick and place machine is equipped/designed to use, as well as what the schematic was designed for, as different feeder types for the same chip have different pin lengths and other variables which prevent swapping out chips like for like due to physical properties and constraints. There are also speed and reliability considerations with regard to feeder mechanisms, while some larger or irregularly shaped parts may need special handling which dictates the feeder and the type of placement hardware.

(I probably am using some or all of the technical words above incorrectly, but I am going mostly from memory and hope to be corrected as I don’t know much about hardware design or manufacturing.)



>I have no idea how expensive the Realtek chip is or anything else to put that in context, though.

Thanks. If those 2500 for $4.29 are "current" rate. ( Chip Shortage ) Then it should be cheaper than current Realtek. But in terms of normal pricing that is quite a bit more.

That's a great way to communicate around an engineering change order/notice!

So, when can we get these laptops in EU? Pretty please? :-)

Only if you sell the fairphone in the USA :P

Supposedly until the “end of the year”, but I would really like an update on that.

Would be quite pissed, if they’d sorry out mid December, as I am somewhat holding off for them.

For cultural differences, I can see a comparatively huge market in Europe. But I am sure the logistics are considerable. For what it’s worth: Framework, many people here would prefer the US keyboard layout for programming; there is a market for what you got already, no need to wait for QWERTZ, if hardware localization is an issue!

Yeah, throw in a universal charger and if necessary, provide a source for EU plug mains leads. German distributors Reichelt and ELV would probably be happy to help you out there.

Seconded! A rough ETA would be appreciated since my MBP2013 is on it's last legs and I'm holding out for the Framework because I love the philosophy behind it.

Oh yes please! My x230 is aging...

Yeah, I'm eagerly waiting

Felt like a legit update... Looking forward to putting these units up against the Surface line we currently deploy... I believe they have a good chance at crushing competition!

s/crushing competition/providing a great experience to their customers

That's how competition-crushing is done, ideally.

Normally though competition crushing is done through anti-competitive practices.


Or, more charitably (?), marketing.

The theme of the comment thread is that companies in the past (example: Microsoft) got in serious trouble for talking about crushing the competition. While companies want to do better than the competition because it means more sales and more revenue, they are meant to do it by providing better products or services rather than by causing competitor companies to go out of business granting the survivor a monopoly, even if either motivation leads to the same outcome.

"providing better products or services" and "causing competitor companies to go out of business" are related, though, not two wholly separate ways of doing business. If you provide a better product or service at a better price point, you'll win more and more of the market for the product or service.

If you offer a targeted price reduction to unsustainable levels in all areas a competitor operates and says you do it to crush the competition then you will have a really bad time in court. If you however said that you did it to provide better services to those poor people then at least you have a fighting chance.

I guess this change in wording is why we mostly stopped seeing companies taken to court over anti-competitive practices in USA. Since we reworded all the "crush the competition" to "provide better services" the courts are now unable to tell when companies are behaving in an anti-competitive manner.

Framework is such an interesting project. Especially from the perspective of a Linux user, there is tons of potential here and I cannot wait to see their next generation laptops.

> Tempo picked up their CODEC and IP catalog including the 92HD95B from IDT, which in turn acquired it from SigmaTel, one of the great old audio silicon design companies. The CODEC happens to have the exact set of capabilities needed for the Framework Laptop and is fully supported in both Windows and Linux.

Does having a "CODEC" that is supported by Linux mean that the entire audio chip that is being substituted is supported by Linux? I'm not sure if I am asking the right question, but I'm trying to avoid ordering a Framework laptop that has one of these new chips and somehow doesn't work out of the box with Ubuntu as expected.

Yep, it should work the same in Ubuntu as it does in Windows. this is actually different than the Realtek CODEC, which did have some functionality that the Windows driver enabled that the Linux one didn't (like mic beamforming, though the beamforming didn't work very well anyway).

Awesome. Thanks for the fast response! I love your work and am looking forward to what else you can disrupt in the future from an open computing and repairability perspective (smartphones please!).

I feel The Framework team is learning the "electronics manufacturing 101" the hard way.

Having shipped at least 20 devices in my life now, I can say most of the time you manufacture what you can, and not what you want.

For me most projects start not as a piece of a napkin genius startup idea, but a walk around electronics markets, distributors, thinking what is a good deal now, and if getting all parts together in given time is real, and feasible for one project, or another.

Luckily we all went through 101, 201, and some grad courses in building and scaling hardware the hard way in our previous companies. If not for that, we probably wouldn't have been able to ship anything in 2021.

Nirav, where do you do the final assembly these days? Still at Quanta in Taiwan?

Want to try doing assembly somewhere else?

Why do you think they are learning the hard way? Everyone is having the exact same sourcing issues right now. The EE team I work with is spending at least half their resources right now on resolving part shortages. I would be surprised if there was any hardware team out there right now that isn't scrambling to see how they can keep shipping product.

So much this.

It's always some mixture between amusing and depressing seeing software people try hardware.

Engineering for manufacturing is a different skillset from even EE, for example a pick and place machine can only run so many reels of components, so sometimes its more economical to use multiple resistors instead of one as you can then get the board made on the smaller and cheaper machine.

Sounds like an optimization problem that can be solved in CAD software.

Like all things it comes with industry experience.

Is the Framework team originally a software team?

they should make sound a module, then they could offer a high-end option with something like an akm ak4490 and users could go legacy free if they want

We considered it! Early in architecture, we had the CODEC on the headphone jack daughterboard instead of on the mainboard. It introduced a bunch of interface complexity, so we dropped that. In retrospect, it would have prepared us well for this silicon crunch though.

Tiger lake can use cellhpone codecs with soundwire interface.

Is framework open source?

Key selling point is that is fully repairable with schematics and spare parts available.

It does support Linux as well.

If you are talking about whether it is open hardware I am not sure.

No, but it's repairable and if you are a repair shop they do provide schematics for you allowing you to do "proper" repairs instead of just replacing large components.

Also the dimensions/interface around there interface modules is open so anyone can freely produce new ones.

I'm not sure what the hype is around framework laptops and reparability - having looked at a teardown video they are the same design as my Lenovo only each module is labelled with a QR code.

Lenovo already have full service manuals online which have explicit detail of replacement process and spare parts are cheap and readily available.

Yes Framework openly offer schematics, but my Lenovo has 3 year warranty, and once that is over its doubtful its economically viable to perform component level repair on the motherboard.

You mean besides:

- It not always being easy to get parts even through it's a very wide spread laptop.

- Lenovo not providing schematics for repair shops.

- Lenovo locking downs components with DRM.

- Lenovo acting against 3rd party manufacturers of components.

- officially only very few parts are CRU

- USB ports are soldered to the motherboard (a problem framework sidesteps with there interface modules as there is no physical stress in the inner ports they connect too)

- all the Lenovo it's repairable only really applies to their ThinkPad lineup, excluding variants like X or Yoga, but frameworks laptop is somewhat competing with exactly that X variants I think.

> It not always being easy to get parts even through it's a very wide spread laptop.

For any framework part you can easily get the equivalent Lenovo part from ebay in much larger quantities.

> Lenovo not providing schematics for repair shops.

After warranty is up its likely not cost effective to repair at component level.

Also full schematics are available on 3rd party sites such as alisaler.com.

> Lenovo locking downs components with DRM.

The radio card whitelist is for FCC compliance - the whitelisted cards wont let you run frequencies outside your home country. Agree they should just do like other manufacturers and not worry about it.

- Lenovo acting against 3rd party manufacturers of components.

Not sure what you are referring to here.

- officially only very few parts are CRU

But practically they are plentiful.

- USB ports are soldered to the motherboard (a problem framework sidesteps with there interface modules as there is no physical stress in the inner ports they connect too)

This also makes the laptop larger.

> all the Lenovo it's repairable only really applies to their ThinkPad lineup, excluding variants like X or Yoga, but frameworks laptop is somewhat competing with exactly that X variants I think.

So vote with your wallet and buy a thinkpad.

I wanted to look into this to see how they actually compare. A comparable thin-and-light laptop from Lenovo is the ThinkPad X13 (Gen 2). In the only manual I was able to find they have a small list of "Customer Replaceable Units" which is:

* Keyboard * Any M.2 parts * The cover assembly

And that's it. No battery, display, laptop body, CPU, ports, etc. From what it says in the manual this seems to be part of their warranty process, not for general repair.

> If you intend on installing a CRU, Lenovo will ship the CRU to you. CRU information and replacement instructions are shipped with your product and are available from Lenovo at any time upon request. You might be required to return the defective part that is replaced by the CRU.

After some more digging it looks like they do actually have repair guides for most if not all of the parts:


And they do seem to list all the parts for that laptop:


But the only things I'm able to actually order are the SSD and the power brick.

So it looks like the framework is a fair bit easier to repair (no popping key caps to unscrew the keyboard for instance), makes all their parts easily available (or at least it's easy to get notified when they become available), doesn't have 20 different versions for each part, but also doesn't offer the same kind of warranty and services that lenovo does.

I think you’re wrong about parts availability. Search part numbers for any major vendor product on eBay and you’ll find just about any component inside a modern laptop for sale. Sometimes you can even find new parts, though that’s hardly necessary for repair. I’ve done consumer electronics repair for a while, and I’m not trying to be dismissive. I’m pretty sure Framework parts are going to be hard to find secondhand, and that is concerning for repairability.

Yep, framework is better in theory, but in practise the sheer volume of Dell/HP/Lenovo laptops means there are plenty of scavenged second hand parts available from aliexpress or ebay.

They are a bit like lenovo from the ivy bridge era. That's not too bad and good as a first step. It would be more compelling if they were to offer coreboot, larger batteries, ecc memory either with xeon or amd, multiple ssds, etc. (i.e., features that are hard to find elsewhere).

No. They make computers using ordinary PC parts. But they are very Linux friendly and repairable.

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