The WorkBook Laptop (ThinkPad x Framework 16)

A fusion of Classic ThinkPad aesthetics and the TrackPoint keyboard with the new Framework 16 Laptop (Work-In-Progress)

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Any laptop enthusiast knows:
- Classic ThinkPads have the best keyboards ever, and the TrackPoint is non-negotiable
- The Framework laptops have the best repairability of any modern laptop
Lets combine the two!

The main components of this project will be:
- Converting a classic ThinkPad keyboard into an 'input module' for the Framework 16 laptop
- Modelling, 3D printing, and assembling: palmrest around the ThinkPad keyboard, bezel pieces to accommodate extra height and "work lights", and extended length hinges

If anyone is interested or has thoughts on it, please feel free to tell me!

Q: Will you lose interest in the project and fizzle out?
A: No. I have an aging x230 to replace and I will never compromise on the TrackPoint, classic keyboard, or easily upgradable parts. These goals can only be achieved with the completion of this project.

2023.10.13: Getting equipment to fold sheet metal to any degree of neatness might get out of hand quickly. My new plan is to model bezel pieces, which will fit to the "lip" of the official Framework lid and extend the hinges (that will be the challenging part). However, this will mean thick bezels (without converting eDP to LVDS, the next size down is a 14" 16:10 LCD).

Tl;DR: All custom components will be in the "middle of the sandwich", i.e. bezel, hinge, keyboard, palmrest. The main point of this project is to *elegantly* get a ThinkPad keyboard in a Framework laptop.

So what?

In recent years, ThinkPads have gradually lost their upgradability, serviciability, keyboard feel, and swappable batteries, with the various product lines converging on a sleek design that appeals to modern computing trends. Unfortunately, it is the enterprise customers keen on 'good looks' that make Lenovo profit. We enthusiasts are stuck with classic ThinkPads can only be upgraded so far with battery life that will doesn't quite keep up with the latest offerings

And so Framework rises to capture the throne that the ThinkPad once occupied. Alas, it has no TrackPoint! And it is plenty lamentable that people now value filthy trackpads over our blessed TrackPoint. Regardless, the Framework laptop deserves all the praise it gets, with modular everything and readily available replacement parts. So I will base my project around a Framework mainboard, particularly the Framework 16, which will release later in the year with modular dedicated graphics.

And why not xytech's X2100, T700, etc? While xytech's efforts are also very deserving of praise, the custom-made boards are not only expensive, but also very limited in stock. Meanwhile, Framework laptops get chassis-compatible mainboard updates regularly. Furthermore, old ThinkPad chassis are a finite resource, like the time I'm using for this to procrastinate more important responsibilities.

I want something that is practical, repairable, reproducible, and marries the merits of the ThinkPad with the Framework laptop.

Design constraints:

  • Unfortunately, I cannot think of a possible arrangement for built-in ethernet or wireless switch
  • The OEM display assembly for the Framework laptop seems to have tight tolerances. With custom bezels, I will play it safe and step down to the next smallest size, 14" at 1920*1200. Unfortunately, this will also mean very thick bezels. 15.4 would be ideal, but that requires playing with eDP to LVDS conversion.
  • I will not be testing a trackpad configuration as I have only used the TrackPoint in recent memory
  • While I support the development of swappable / extended batteries with 18650 cells, I will put this goal on the back burner as I have yet to begin understanding the proper design of a custom BMS. Maybe someone could ask KingSener about a battery that fits into the Framework expansion bay?
  • Repairs and component swaps will be less polished than with the stock Framework chassis and parts. Only one deck arrangement will be possible without further extensive tweaking.
  • I don't want any 3D printed part to feel flimsy. Hence, I will optimize it for resin printing. However, the palmrest, bezel must be broken into pieces lest we use very expensive large-format resin printers.

What is holding up the project:

  • Waiting for individual Framework 16 parts to become available, as I will have no use for the official display, keyboard, and input modules that are currently mandatory.
  • 3D CAD skills and the time to learn them
  • Time. I will be realistic: I have a head start in basic electronics and computer skills, but need to build my 3D modelling and microcontroller skills for this project from the ground up. The slivers of free time available to me in the next two years might be enough to put all of this together. All I know is that I want a new laptop in the next three years and nothing off-the-shelf fits my needs.

And there we theoretically have it, a laptop combining...

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  • 1 × Framework 16 mainboard Items from Framework
  • 1 × Mainboard supporting components Items from Framework
  • 1 × LVDS cable Items from Framework
  • 6 × Framework 16 lower chassis Items from Framework
  • 2 × Display Hinges Items from Framework

View all 15 components

  • Theoretical approach to an extended battery

    Peter Mac11/10/2023 at 22:47 0 comments

    I have been spoiled for choice when it comes to batteries on older ThinkPads. At present, Framework laptops have only one internal battery that is rumored to be middling in terms of capacity relative to power consumption and not swappable without tools.

    Assuming no other third parties release a battery pack for the Framework 16 expansion bay in the next 5 years and the expansion bay power delivery system supports charging input, I may consider building my own based on the guide:

    Mostly just a note to myself so I don't just forget about the work of a very dedicated Raspberry Pi owner to make SMBus charging work for him. I say this because I had long thought that making my own battery pack that reports battery percentage to the OS would be unrealistic.

  • Preliminary Timeline

    Peter Mac07/17/2023 at 20:29 0 comments

    I do want to have an upgrade to my aging X230 laptop ready in the next couple of years, so

    • I don't anticipate this fizzling out, added that I refuse to give up the TrackPoint and classic keyboard
    • I do anticipate the timeline changing depending on my available free time

    Here's the timeline on my mind:

    Spring 2024: I get my hands on the Framework 16 laptop

    Summer 2024: Make measurements, test out parts, start playing with CAD

    Fall 2024: Start running test prints and fine tune parts

    Winter 2024: Put everything together, final testing and fitting, take glamour shots, polish up the write-up, and publish everything

    Mid-2025: Probable actual completion date. Good thing that Framework promises to release case-compatible mainboard updates so this won't immediately become irrelevant once I finish.

View all 2 project logs

  • 1
    Preliminary instructions
    • Create or adapt an existing design for a controller board that converts the classic ThinkPad keyboard to the USB-based 8-pin input module interface on the Framework laptop
    • Wire it up to a ThinkPad keyboard
    • Break out power to work light LEDs
    • Screw everything in, wire it up, and cross fingers
  • 2
    If we haven't set anything on fire yet, we can improve it
    • Create and refine a 3D model of the palmrest, bezel pieces, and any small structural support components, ensuring that they comply with the input deck fitment
    • Print out 3D components in resin
    • Paint it all grey for the 90s look

View all instructions

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