The PC of Theseus

Trigger: This old broom’s had seventeen new heads and fourteen new handles in its time.
Sid: How the hell can it be the same bl**dy broom then?!
Trigger: There’s the picture, what more proof do you need?
Only Fools and Horses (1996 Xmas special, “Heroes and Villains”)

beavbuttpcI know I’ve still got some way to go, especially in terms of finding someone special (I think I’ve reached the level of being a bit sick of going on first dates, as I’d rather be at home doing my own thing!), but I’m still the master of my destiny when it comes to computers.  Not only am I finally in a job I enjoy, helping people with their work PCs, but thanks to a great deal of work, my own computer is now a force to be reckoned with.

Never mind all the old PCs I’ve had in the past, starting with the ex-Inland Revenue one I got in 1999 and upgraded over the years, or my first multi-gigahertz one in 2004, or the first one I built from scratch in 2006; no, my current PC effectively came into being in May 2011, when the previous one conked out, the C-drive dying after a night of Call of Duty: Black Ops.  I’d been planning to buy a whole new setup for ages, and this was my excuse to splash out.

However, much like Theseus’ thought experiment about whether a ship that is replaced bit-by-bit is still the same ship, the only original aspects of the computer I put together in 2011 are the motherboard (for the uninitiated, the bit everything else plugs into) and my Windows 7 install, as every other component has at some point been replaced.  In some cases the pieces have gone on to form other PCs, in other cases they’ve brought me credit at Computer Exchange (plug plug), and in a few cases they’ve gone on the scrapheap.  And last month, I spent more on PC components than I’d done in a long time — less than if I’d upgraded to modern components, but still, here’s a summary of my PC’s situation…

(Sorry, this is the geeky bit — but take heart, at least you don’t visit any of those web forums where you’d read something like this in every nerd’s signature!)

  • CPU: starting with an i5 in that new system in 2011, I upgraded to an i7 in 2014, around the time I was in that unpaid internship; I made a mistake back then, buying a processor that couldn’t be overclocked (and thus not making the most of my memory’s available speed), and so I bought the overclockable equivalent (3770K) last month for my birthday.  If all goes according to plan, the previous CPU will go in a PC I intend to build for my mother this Christmas.
  • RAM: the original 8GB of memory I bought in 2011 died in 2014 (shortly before I upgraded the processor), or at least one module did; I was lucky to get them replaced under RMA, though since I’d had to buy new RAM anyway for the duration, I sold the replacement on.  During my birthday month this year, however, I bought another 8GB (as 2016 Doom was filling up what I had) — but I’ve had to take off the huge heatsink on my CPU, which was blocking one memory slot.  In all cases it’s been Corsair Vengeance DDR3 modules with big radiators on them (as cooling is very important in PC terms).
  • GPU: the GTX 460 I originally bought at the very end of 2010 was replaced by a 580 in 2012 (it was a target of opportunity in CEX) and a 680 in 2014 (I saw one in CEX but was too late to buy it, and so got it online).  In my birthday month this year, I bought a Titan (again from CEX), which, being on the 700 level, means I’ve gone up one level of nVidia graphics cards roughly every two years, and so am falling behind (and still can’t really have “Hairworks” turned on in The Witcher 3) — but it works, so what?  As with the CPU, I feel I’ve put the mistakes of late 2014 away at long last…
  • PSU: the power supply I had in 2011 was the Cooler Master one I’d bought originally in 2009, or rather, the replacement for the original that inexplicably went bang (literally) after two days; I finally had to replace this one at the start of 2015 (despite being unemployed), as its cooling fan was wearing out, but I replaced it with a similar model from the same manufacturer, and it’s got modular cables (very much a luxury feature compared to the “cable hydra” of older PSUs).
  • Hard drive: after buying a normal “spinning rust” HDD with the new setup in 2011, and making a fresh install of Windows 7 (which I’d bought when it first came out in 2009), I went on to buy a Samsung SSD (lightning fast) for my birthday in 2013; I cloned Windows 7 across to it, and since then have had my Steam games (and those on other gaming platforms) installed on a separate drive — a “spinning rust” drive from WD, but still one of the fastest.  Even this has been upgraded from a 1TB to a 2TB one (by means of a copying job I perhaps unwisely did on the hottest day of last year, 1st July 2015!), the old one being ready to install down in Worthing.  I keep my documents (sorry, My Documents) on another separate HDD, but this is generally a leftover from a previous system, me copying everything across wholesale.

(The scary video game SOMA, which I just completed, raises the question of whether it’s the same PC if the same information has been copied across into a different body, especially if the original copy still exists…)

  • Casing: I always get huge (or, as a man I hope disappears into obscurity after Tuesday would say, yuge) casings for my computers, and I still have the Cooler Master HAF-X one I bought later in 2011; as for the one I replaced at that point (I forget the make, but it has green “not handles” on the front), I somehow carried it down to Worthing that autumn, and it now houses the “Frankencomputer” I built from my previous motherboard, CPU and RAM.  Both cases are luxuriously big inside, and let you put in drives with brackets instead of screws!
  • Keyboard: another component I replaced in 2011, but that’s because my old Logitech G15 (which I’d had since December 2007) had finally given up the ghost.  I still have the stalwart G510 I got on that occasion, because apart from the keys lighting up (no more ink to rub off!), it’s got a little LCD screen on which I can view stats such as component temperatures and network activity (thanks to a programmer known only as “Barloggg”)…
  • Mouse: oh, I’ve been through too many to remember, but following many wireless ones, the one I miss was a wired R.A.T.7 which unfortunately developed the well-known “double click on single click” mechanical fault, and so has been replaced with a Corsair Gaming one that lights up (or rather doesn’t, because I’ve turned the damn lights off!).
  • Monitor: I got my previous 27″ widescreen monitor in 2009, and it allowed me to plug in my digibox and watch TV “picture in picture” (though by 2011 I was using my older 24″ one as a dedicated TV screen); the thing weighed a ton when I tried to carry it to sell in late 2013 (and Cash Converters gave me a miserly £20 for something that cost me more than ten times that!).  The HDMI screen I have now is slightly smaller in resolution terms (1080p instead of 1200p), but nice enough (and light enough) that when I ugrade to a 1440p DisplayPort one next year, I’ll take this one down to Worthing for my mother to use!
  • Speakers: I remember the day in 2007 I got my old Logitech X-540 surround speakers, as “female best friend” called me while I was walking to the bus stop at Tavistock Square, distraught about her life situation at the time; she came over to the Caledonian Road flat and helped me set them up, which helped cheer her up!  I tried to replace them in early 2013 with huge (yuge?) speakers from Cash Converters, and sold them on to an old work friend, but when the big set’s control unit turned out to be burning out (yes, I got a refund), I had no alternative (just before my American holiday) but to buy… another set of Logitech 5.1 speakers, a similar model but with curvier casings!
  • Other components: well, now we’re into the food crates on Theseus’ ship, but suffice to say I’ve ditched wireless network cards (especially the one with lousy Win7 drivers I had in 2011), and have my PC directly wired to the Wi-Fi repeater in my room.  For a long time I was also happy not to have a dedicated sound card (the onboard one being fine), but for Christmas last year, my mother got me a Creative SoundBlaster Z (to save me buying it for myself), which performs well.  My original Blu-ray drive, second-hand in 2009, was going wrong in 2014 and was replaced for my birthday in 2015 by a much better LG model.  And finally, though I’d long said I wouldn’t, I got an Xbox 360 joypad in mid-2014, for those games that need it — and this replaced the Logitech wireless joypad I’d bought in 2011, which was being erratic (especially after a frustrating game of Prototype 2!).
  • Oh, and mention should also be made of furniture: the original corner desk, which my mother got me in early 2002, and which came to join me in London in late 2006, but which was coming apart when I moved here in early 2012, and which I finally replaced in October 2013 with a smaller, understated desk with sliding keyboard shelf.  And indeed my chair, which is (I hope!) faux-leather, and which I got in 2013 (also just before my American holiday), replaced a long line of Argos-bought executive chairs, but could itself probably do with retiring, after more than three years… after Christmas, of course!

Phew, had enough?  Well, let’s also consider the Frankencomputer down in Worthing, consisting as it does of my old casing, motherboard and CPU, some RAM I was allowed to take from work (since it’s obsolete DDR2 that would otherwise go to the dump), my mother’s old graphics card (a lesser 460 than the one I used to have in 2011), a hard drive that originated $DEITY-knows-where (and remember me installing Win7 on it?), a wireless keyboard and mouse my folks got me, and a yuge TV acting as both monitor and speakers.  It’s a noisy beast (partly because the CPU’s cooling fan isn’t quite on and needs replacing), but it let me keep my sanity for Christmas 2014, and it still serves its purpose for now (and though I’ve upgraded it to Windows 10, the experience has convinced me to move over to Linux!).

And what of my mother?  Well, she’s still got the mini-PC I got her for Christmas 2012, the HDD I got to replace the (burning out) original in January 2014, the RAM I upgraded on Christmas 2015, and the monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers she’s had for many years.  As I have a spare decent processor, I intend to build her a new system — but while I can certainly get the other bits for her, I still need her to choose a casing (probably of the micro-ATX variety) that she won’t completely loathe having in her room.

Maybe I’ll take her to look at casings some time… if only there were a PC equivalent of IKEA!

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