How Framework's New Cooler Master Case Helps Repurpose Your Old Laptop Parts

Rebuilding is better than recycling or re-buying

  • Framework will soon sell a $39 desktop case to repurpose old laptop parts. 
  • Recycling is little more than an excuse to feel better about buying new things. 
  • The greenest option is to keep using old tech as long as possible.
Someone holding a motherboard that has been removed from a laptop computer.

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Imagine that when your old, tired laptop finally gives up the ghost, you could harvest its parts and transplant them into a small desktop box. With Framework's computers, that's exactly what you can do. 

It's far, far better to reuse and repurpose technology rather than recycle it, and modular laptop-maker Framework will soon sell you a $39 case that can rehouse your used laptop components, turning them into a kind of PC Mac mini. You could then hand this off to a friend or family member or use it for pretty much anything that might otherwise require buying yet another gadget. 

"I firmly believe that reusing is far more important than recycling when it comes to reducing our impact on the planet. While recycling can certainly be helpful in terms of reducing waste and minimizing the environmental harm caused by the disposal of products, it is ultimately a last resort. Instead, we should prioritize finding ways to reuse products and materials as much as possible in order to minimize waste and reduce the demand for new resources," computer science expert and education tech developer Simon Bacher told Lifewire via email. 

The Problem With Recycling

We tend to think that recycling is a way to neutralize our environmental impact, but while it's generally better than not recycling, it has its own problems. For a start, few materials are truly recyclable. Aluminum can typically be melted and reused as new, along with a few plastics, but mostly you end up with a reduced-quality product. Old water bottles don't usually end up as new water bottles, for example. 

Someone out in nature collecting trash, placing a discarded water bottle into a trash bag.

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Even if all that trash could be perfectly recycled, it still takes plenty of energy to collect, transport, and process the trash. And perhaps the psychological comfort actually makes us buy and use more. For example, would so many people use disposable coffee capsules like Keurig and Nespresso if they weren't recyclable?

And finally, even if recycling was 100% efficient, from the transport to the melting down to the ability to magically recreate a virgin material, there's the manufacturing problem. Most energy in a product's lifecycle is used to make and ship it to you. Apple's environmental reports show that almost 80% of the M1 MacBook Air's lifecycle carbon emissions come from manufacturing and shipping. Emissions from you using it are just 19% of the total. 

This is to say, short of dumping it in a river, recycling is up there with the worst things you can do with an old laptop. 

Framework's Plan to Repurpose Old Laptops

The best possible alternative for your laptop is to keep using it. After that, you might give it away. And after that, how about repurposing it? Framework's laptops are totally modular, to the extent that you can swap in new screens, "mainboards," speakers, anything. This means that you can keep the same machine ticking along for years, replacing parts as they wear out or upgrading the bits that no longer keep up. 

Framework's new Cooler Master case for repurposing old computer parts.


It could end up like the tech equivalent of "Trigger's broom," a computer that has lasted for a decade or more, even though you have replaced every part, but it still beats recycling an entire machine just to get a faster CPU or more storage. 

Now, Framework even has a way to use those old parts that still work but are surplus to requirements. If you upgrade the CPU or storage, the old stuff might still work, only slower. Soon you will be able to snap them into a tiny $39 desktop case designed by Cooler Master. This could become a server, a kids' or family computer, and so on. 

The only downside is that it's not as easy as just tossing out the old computer and buying a new one. 

Closeup on Framework's Cooler Master case with parts installed.


"The process of taking apart an old laptop to extract and re-use its parts can be time-consuming and technically challenging for those without experience in computer hardware," Kyle MacDonald, VP at mobile device deployment company Mojio, told Lifewire via email. "Additionally, some consumers may be hesitant to invest in a modular system that requires a certain level of technical knowledge to assemble and maintain, preferring instead to purchase a pre-built desktop computer that comes with technical support and a warrant."

Our whole world is set up for disposability and buying new. One way to combat that is to learn how to fix things, and Framework makes this easier than anybody else.

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