Into the Vault: My Own Ship of Theseus

Welcome back to the Vault.
Which actually makes no sense, it’s not even a vault.
It’s my basement.

My name is Matt Mutch.
I am a computer enthusiast.
I’d like to tell you a story…

Sometimes, things get placed out of sight and out of mind. Beyond the display I stare into nearly every day for longer than is probably healthy is a small metal case containing my primary computer. My daily driver.

I call it Ryzen, named for the CPU at its heart, but it would tell you it’s name is Skylake, because that’s the name it was born into and the name it retains.

Given some thought, it’s my own personal Ship of Theseus.

n200 case
That’s not a boat

I don’t know where I picked up the allegory but I’ve confirmed it through Wikipedia: “The ship of Theseus is a thought experiment that raises the question of whether an object that has had all of its components replaced remains fundamentally the same object.”

And so then, Skylake.

Skylake. Actually Skylake.

Skylake was constructed based on an Intel i5-6600k CPU on the 1151 socket of an Asrock Fatal1ty Z170 k4/d3 mainboard with 16 gigabytes of Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1600 MHz RAM in an NZXT Source 210 powered by a Corsair CX750 power supply which is funny because I never purposefully leaned toward Corsair’s products. I usually picked what was on sale and/or met my needs, such as the top of the line for the time SSD—the Samsung 850 Evo with a capacity of 500 gigabytes. The pricing on that model was rapidly falling, although it’s since plateaued.

I still remember Skylake, even though it’s gone. Bit by bit it went. The SSD was replaced when I caught a deal on a Samsung 970 m.2 drive.

When I was briefly transporting my PC between home and work, I decided I could do a little bit better than the Source 210 for a chassis and switched to a Corsair Spec-02 Case, again, favoring Corsair, coincidentally. It wasn’t much smaller but was a little bit shorter and easier to carry around.

Everything is reeeddddd!

A 3 terabyte hard drive was added as the 500 gigabytes was never going to be enough. The 1 terabyte SSD came later, actually doubling as an easily transportable drive being both small and generally resilient. I mounted it within the case, for access speed purposes, but it was and remains easily removable. I can just slip it in a USB enclosure and away it goes.

Ironically, the move to the microATX chassis was after the time when I was frequently moving the computer.

I suppose the analogy falls apart a bit around here. When one changes CPUs to something newer, the new CPU is on a new socket design and likely requires a new type of RAM, so although it continued to be a replacement of all parts, the last few, which are also the most significant, all happen at once. It’s less piece by piece and more one last fell swoop.

That’s when it all changed…

The first generation AMD Ryzens were on sale, since the second generation was well into its widespread adoption and the third generation was right around the corner. But, even an ordinary upgrade would have required a new mainboard, let alone a full platform switch. The price on the Ryzen 5 1600 was too good, maybe less than a hundred dollars. I’d be gaining two cores and four threads. Sure I’d have to splash out for a new motherboard and RAM but decent values were available on both counts. It would be more than I should have spent. But it made my usage of it more pleasant and capable, and who can put a price on that.

And still.

All pieces replaced, is it the same computer?

Still not a boat…

The Ship of Theseus has many “proposed resolutions”—answers to the question of whether it is the same. Frankly, it’s all a little heady, whether a ship is the materials it’s comprised of, or if it’s a concept, or if the ship exists at all in the first place. It’s all over the place.

But, just reviewing each of the propositions, none appears to account for any crew aboard the ship. I suppose that’s a whole other argument though. Ships, as they were, didn’t have operating systems or persistent digital data storage, which I feel sort of becomes the soul or at least a common thread that makes a computer the computer that it is. My data made it, fortunately through all of this change, without so much as a Windows reinstallation let alone a full catastrophic loss. Even the name of the machine, nebulous as it is as a concept, affirms it to be the same machine.

Then again, if the whole system went tomorrow, software wise, leaving the entire system to be rebuilt from bare metal, I do think I would still consider it to be the same machine as well. Let’s hope that doesn’t come to be tested, though.

And remember, always have a backup or two.

Whether or not the computer is the same as it was when the retention arm clamped the pads down on all 1151 pins and electricity crackled through all 1.7 billion transistors, or if it became something new and unique when the core got swapped for another manufacturer’s silicon, it remains my stalwart companion and tool for research and creation.

And it brought you this article.


Got an old computer or a new computer you like or hate or are indifferent to and want to talk about it?
I’m @geekadematt on Twitter and this has been “Into the Vault: My Own Ship of Theseus.”

Skylake, counter to its name, is currently built around an AMD Ryzen 5 3600 AM4 cpu sporting 6 processing cores computing 12 processing threads at up to 4.2 GHz cooled by a Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo, modified to use low noise Noctua fans. The cpu is paired with 16 gigabytes of DDR4-3200 MHz RAM in a 2x 8 GB configuration. Primary storage is handled by a 500 gigabyte Samsung 970 Evo m.2 format nvme drive. This is all mounted on the Gigabyte Aorus M microATX motherboard based on the AMD B450 chipset. The single m.2 slot is complimented by six SATA III ports, two of which are occupied: one by a 1 terabyte 2.5 inch format SSD and one by a 3.5 inch 3 terabyte rotational hard drive. Graphics are handled by an Asus Geforce GTX1060 with 6 gigabytes of GDDR5 RAM and it outputs to two Dell P2217H displays. Everything, save for the monitors, is powered by a Seasonic 650 watt power supply with 80+ Gold efficiency and housed inside a Cooler Master n200 microATX case. No component remains from its initial inception.

Matt Mutch

Image Acquisition Specialist and Computer Enthusiast. I like Sad Anime.

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