The Computer of Theseus

About 10 years ago I brought a prebuilt business PC. Yesterday I replaced the last original components. This made me pause for a moment. And a philosophical thought popped into my head. Is this still the same computer? I now have the Computer of Theseus.

The Ship of Theseus

The Ship of Theseus is a metaphysical philosophical thought experiment.

Imagine you have a ship. As parts become damaged you replace them. You see the sail is ripped, you replace it.  A plank of the hull cracks, you replace it. Over time less and less of the original parts remain. Until one day, there are no more original parts of the ship left.

So, is this the same ship? Or is it a completely new one?

It’s not just ships. I first heard this thought experiment as a broom instead of a ship. It can be applied to any object. If you replace all the individual parts is it still fundamentally the same object?

The Computer of Theseus

During my Master’s degree, I picked myself up a cheap, but powerful, desktop computer. Over the years I added bits. To improve and maintain it.

A graphics card.  A new case and power supply to house and fit the graphics card. Updated the operating system. Then the hard drive started failing. So I replaced that too.

Then we arrive at yesterday. With a lack of performance starting to become a problem. As well as a few times Windows 10 decided to take days to update. You heard me, days! I ordered a new motherboard, ram and processor.

These components replacing the last of the original ones.  I find myself with a completely different, yet the same, computer. I now own Theseus’s Computer.

My old motherboard
My old motherboard, complete with dust.
My new motherboard.
My new motherboard, without dust.

On another note, I’m now going to call my computer Theseus.

One Reply to “The Computer of Theseus”

  1. My Computer of Theseus reached 25 years of continues operation, and has gone through multiple cycles of part replacements, but never was rebuilt anew.

    The original configuration was a AMD 386 @ 40 MHz, 4 MB of asynchronous DRAM, a Trident VGA for the ISA bus, a 170 MB IDE HDD and two FDDs.

    The current configuration is a Xeon E3-1230v2 @ 3.3 GHz, 16 GB of DDR3-SDRAM, a GTX 750 Ti GPU, a 512 GB SATA3 SSD, a 4 TB SATA HDD and a Bluray writer.

    The original Slackware Linux installation dating back to 1994 was upgraded through the years as well. The other operating systems were reinstalled multiple times (of course) even on the same build.

    Notable hurdles in its history were the switch from the AT to ATX form factor and the transition from AGP to PCIe. Both could be averted by using a backwards-compatible ATX case together with a AT-PSU (which is the same size), so I could start with replacing the case instead of starting from scratch, then replace the mainboard together with PSU later. The transition from AGP to PCIe was done by using a mainboard, which accepted both interfaces, so the GPU could move over.

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