Dell has announced a new design concept for a laptop. Dubbed ‘Concept Luna,’ the proof-of-concept laptop is designed to last longer, be easier to fix and have less impact on the climate. While there’s not a new ‘product’ yet, Dell’s design team has shown off some impressive designs and ideas, including a flax-based PCB and a motherboard mounted behind the display.
Dell wants to make repairing and maintaining its computers easier. There are many good reasons for this, including limiting waste and reducing its impact on the environment. It’s also good for consumers who want to fix their computers. As electronics, especially laptops and smartphones, become sleeker and more advanced, they typically also become much harder to fix. Components that used to be user-replaceable are more frequently soldered into place or attached to expensive, impossible-to-fix components. Dell hopes that users can disassemble and replace components in Luna in about an hour and a half.
Luna is a front-end concept, per Dell design strategist Drew Tosh, and with Luna, Dell hopes to address e-waste and climate change. In principle, it makes sense that if a laptop is easier to repair and upgrade, consumers are less likely to buy an all-new machine. A new machine that requires resources to make. And where does an old, replaced computer go? Ideally, it is recycled. However, not all components are easy to recycle. Luna addresses that too. When it’s inevitably replaced, hopefully later than other laptops, it will be easier to break down and harvest components from. Dell wants users to order new parts, install them, and then send back old components.
Tosh told The Verge, ‘We’re really focused on reuse and recycle. And really, it would be more like reuse, reuse, reuse, and recycle only when we really have to.’
Dell has made several prototype versions of the Luna laptop. The one they’ve unveiled today is sleek and looks modern, which has proven to be a difficult balance for many manufacturers to achieve without sacrificing repairability. Of course, the path from a sleek concept to a sleek mass-produced product is a long and challenging one.
Generally, Dell has done a good job of making reasonably repairable computers. Different models include common types of screws, for example, which is something of a rarity. Dell publishes repair manuals, too. That said, Dell wants to do better. Concept Luna uses ten times fewer screws than the Dell Latitude 7300 AE laptop and uses keystones for Luna’s display and keyboard assembly. Taylor Dixon, a teardown engineer at iFixit, says that ‘If you can just use your hand to take something apart, that’s better than screws or adhesives.’
Dell told The Verge that the Concept Luna’s board ‘doesn’t have any more soldered on or integrated components than a typical laptop we sell today,’ but that isn’t necessarily a great situation to begin with. Integrated chips like Apple’s M1 series deliver great performance in a compact form and with minimal energy demands, but the user can’t upgrade memory or graphics. What you purchase is what you have. The longevity of Concept Luna could be negatively impacted by using integrated parts.
Concept Luna focuses on more than repairability and upgradeability. It also focuses on reducing climate impact. For example, the aluminum used for the chassis is smelted using hydroelectric power. The motherboard is smaller and therefore has a smaller carbon footprint. When considering the Latitude 7300 AE, 65 percent of the laptop’s climate impact was at the manufacturing stage. A reduction in climate impact here is significant.
However, don’t expect Dell’s Concept Luna to be available anytime soon. Dell hopes that the ideas featured in Concept Luna will make their way into consumer products over the coming years. By 2030, hopefully many of them will be fully implemented.