Almost a year ago today, Dell announced the “Concept Luna”, a fully repairable and upgradable laptop incorporating sustainable materials. With everything removable and replaceable, from the memory and SSD to the keyboard and the screen, it looked to be a similar concept to the groundbreaking Framework Laptop — and potentially a huge win for both sustainability and right-to-repair advocates. The problem: it was not anywhere close to a real thing you could buy.
Well, it’s been a year. Concept Luna is still not on shelves. Dell still has no concrete plans to put it on shelves.
However, Dell does claim it’s made some progress on it. Specifically, it has “worked over the last year to further refine the modular design of Concept Luna, eliminating the need for adhesives and cables, and minimizing the use of screws.” What this all adds up to is a system that can be disassembled in “mere minutes,” the company claims.
That’s a lofty proposition, but Dell does, at least, have something to show for it. At a recent demonstration, I got a look at an actual physical Concept Luna model. I was also able to watch a bunch of robots take the device apart, which is — let’s be honest — way more fun than watching a human do it.
As you can see above, we were able to pop out pretty much every part of the Concept Luna prototype that Dell had with bare hands. You don’t need tools, screws, or any of that nonsense. (Even the Framework Laptop, which received a rave review and rare 10 out of 10 from iFixit, requires a screwdriver for parts of its disassembly.) You can remove the keyboard, you can remove the speakers, and you can remove the battery and fan. We also watched Dell’s robots smoothly disassemble and reassemble the laptop, flashing various statistics about each component on a screen as they did so. While I wasn’t timing and only had a short slot in the room to observe, “minutes” seemed accurate.
You may notice that the parts have QR codes on them. These, Dell’s representatives confirmed to me, would lead you to a purchase page for replacement parts if scanned.
“Would” is, of course, doing a lot of work in that sentence. That’s because, despite the various innovations Dell claims to have made, Concept Luna remains a concept. Dell didn’t give me a timeline for when it plans to release a product like this.
In fact, it’s not even clear that it actually does plan to release a product like this. It certainly hasn’t committed to doing so. Throughout the Luna demonstration, Dell’s representatives emphasized to me that they’re still basically playing around with the idea of a fully repairable laptop — they’re not sure which line it would belong to, for example, or which customer segment it would target. Perhaps the end result of this project would be increased repairability across many different Dell products rather than one fully repairable device. The significance of Luna, I was told, is that Dell is thinking about repairability. 2022’s Latitudes and Inspirons may be chock-full of pesky screws but, you know, they’re working on it.
So yeah, that’s the company’s pitch. Of course, I have a number of questions. Mainly, I wanted to know what the holdup is. A fully repairable laptop is not some aspirational device of the future (as some of Dell’s weirder ideas, like its Concept Nyx, might be). You can already buy the Framework Laptop, and it’s so DIY-friendly that you can literally build it yourself from the ground up. Now, the Framework does have screws here and there, but it’s pretty close to what Dell is talking about.
So, if Dell is so committed to repairability, why not manufacture and sell the damn thing? I asked representatives and mostly got the aforementioned claims in response — that the company is still looking into the idea, that they’re hoping to learn more, etc.
What I suspect Dell isn’t saying is that there’s a lot more than hardware prowess involved in getting a device like this right. A number of companies — Dell included — could probably sell something similar to a Concept Luna tomorrow. But solid hardware alone doesn’t make for a solid repairable laptop — it requires solid commitment to ecosystem support.
There’s no point in popping the mainboard out of my Concept Luna laptop unless there’s, you know, a new mainboard out there that I can put in to replace it. And a guide that shows me how to put that mainboard in. And a guy I can call for help if my replacement process goes horribly wrong. You may remember that Alienware tried this whole upgradability thing with its Area-51m gaming laptop a few years ago, gave up almost right away, and then got sued. That had nothing to do with the Area-51m itself — Alienware just didn’t end up releasing Intel’s 10th Gen processors for customers who had bought 9th Gen systems. They provided a laptop but didn’t provide an ecosystem.
Framework is perhaps the only company that’s done that part well. There’s a whole library of repair and replacement how-to guides on its website, including lists of supported parts, screwdriver specifications, etc. There’s a vast meticulously categorized marketplace where I can buy every component I might need. Framework released an Intel 12th Gen mainboard that those who bought an 11th Gen kit can now swap in (which is what Alienware and pretty much every other company that’s tried this sort of thing has failed to do). It’s all a massive undertaking, and it’s commendable that Framework got it done.
This is also what Dell would need to do in order to make a Concept Luna laptop a really great product. I’d much rather they take their time with it than rush into another Area-51 fiasco.