Dell’s Bold Idea: A Laptop You Can Actually Repair

It’s a lagging response to the “right to repair” movement

3 min read
An illustration of an exploded view of a laptop.
Dell Technologies

In December 2021, just before CES, the world’s leading tech event, Dell introduced Concept Luna, a reimagining of the laptop PC that focuses on repairability.

Modern laptops are notoriously difficult (and sometimes impossible) to repair, a problem Luna’s designers address by reducing the number of screws to four and avoiding permanent adhesives. Instead, many components lock into place. Dell has set itself the goal of reusing or recycling one equivalent product for every product it sells. Luna, a laptop that can be disassembled and repurposed, could help achieve that goal.

Repairability dovetails with the larger goal of sustainability. Luna looks like Dell’s latest XPS 13, but clever tweaks have slimmed its carbon footprint. It’s designed for on-demand production to reduce waste from unsold inventory. The motherboard, among the most resource-intensive components, is shaved to a quarter of its typical size. The stamped aluminum is designed to minimize scrap and may be recycled at the laptop’s end of life.

Dell isn’t alone in its focus on sustainability. LG announced at CES 2022 that its new OLED TVs will use more recyclable materials and shave down packaging waste, and Lenovo introduced a Yoga laptop partially constructed from recycled plastics. These steps follow a trend set by Apple, which uses recycled aluminum in several devices including the MacBook Air and iPad.

These efforts strike a chord with the public. Among people in advanced economies, 72 percent are concerned that global climate change will harm them, according to a Pew survey. Only 46 percent had confidence in efforts to reduce the effects of global climate change. And climate change isn’t the only problem worth worrying about. Consumer electronics can cause deadly pollution by degrading into hazardous materials (including lead, mercury, and arsenic) when left in landfills.

Modern electronics often remain relevant for at least five years; routers, displays, and high-end computers can be useful for a decade or more.

Sustainable, repairable devices may help consumers feel they’re contributing less to these long-term problems, but there’s also an immediate advantage: lifespan. Modern electronics often remain relevant for at least five years; routers, displays, and high-end computers can be useful for a decade or more.

Unfortunately, a device’s life is often cut short by a problem that should be (but isn’t) repairable, such as an aging battery or broken charging port. Luna would let users replace or upgrade components after purchasing, prolonging the life of the laptop. A stuck key or bulging battery would no longer be a death sentence.

Framework, a startup that released its first laptop in 2021, is already putting this idea into practice. The company’s namesake laptop is designed for easy access to its internal hardware. Owners can replace the hard drive, battery, or Wi-Fi adapter, and expansion cards let owners replace or swap ports. Framework’s laptop is not as compact or modular as Dell’s concept, but it has the key advantage that you can buy it right now.

Apple, too, is preparing a Self Service Repair program that will sell parts for iPhones, iPads, and Macs directly to consumers. Owners will be able to fix their devices with new, official repair manuals. In the case of iPhone and iPad, these will be the first official repair manuals ever released.

The cynic in me must point out that these steps, though welcome, are insignificant next to the deep, global change needed to stop the progress of climate change. Repairing the screen in an iPhone will not halt a heat dome.

Still, progress should not be overlooked. Consumer electronics won’t change overnight, but that doesn’t mean change is impossible. It’s important that Dell, and other companies in consumer electronics, know we want sustainable materials. We want modular design. We want devices we can fix and continue using for a decade or more.

These changes, small by themselves, are each just one step in the marathon effort to curb climate change, but they take us in the right direction, all the same.

This article appears in the March 2022 print issue as “Dell’s Proposed Laptop is Fit to be Fixed.”

The Conversation (3)
Robert Partridge07 Mar, 2022

I'm just curious how this is "Dell's Bold Idea" when they were inspired by someone else already doing it (Framework) ... it was announced 6 months after Linus Sebastian did a video about the Framework laptop praising the entire concept. Headlines matter. By the time you get to mentioning Framework 2/3 of the way into the piece you'll have lost many people who don't finish reading.I'm sure there's a way to write the headline in a way that gives Dell deserved credit for being the 1st major laptop maker to pursue the strategy without making it seem like they originated the idea in the first place.

Timothy Oakley18 Feb, 2022

If you are worried about climate change: Lead by example, not dictate others actions.

William Adams14 Mar, 2022

Matthew hypes global warming as a problem waay too much.

We have had hotter and colder times in the millions of years earth has been here.

Was not long ago when they were saying we were going to have a new ice age.

ALL climate is caused by earth orbit and inclination plus solar activity. Not SUVs or people.

And if they really thought people were the cause they would call for fewer people not for destroying our economy.

You could melt every ice berg, ice floe, ice cube, and ice cap, yet the oceans would not rise more than a few inches.

All the climate hype claiming it is a problem is based on bad statistics using dirty data, as well as faked data, and cherry picked data, to help cause a problem for politicians to 'solve' to benefit certain politicians.

And when they fail, as they can't change the climate any more than they can stop the tides, they will just say we did not throw enough money at the problem.

Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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