Hardware (H/W), in the context of technology, refers to the physical elements that make up a computer or electronic system and everything else involved that is physically tangible. This includes the monitor, hard drive, memory and the CPU. Hardware works hand-in-hand with firmware and software to make a computer function. Hardware is an encompassing term that refers to all the physical parts that make up a computer. The internal hardware devices that make up the computer and ensure that it is functional are called components, while external hardware devices that are not essential to a computer’s functions are called peripherals. Hardware is only one part of a computer system; there is also firmware, which is embedded into the hardware and directly controls it. There is also software, which runs on top of the hardware and makes use of the firmware to interface with the hardware.
Types of Hardware
Types of hardware include the following:
- Motherboard: The motherboard is the computer's central communications backbone connectivity point through which all components and external peripherals connect. The motherboard is the main printed circuit board in a computer. Also called the mainboard, the motherboard holds important components, including the CPU, RAM, power supply, graphics card and sound card.
- CPU: The CPU is responsible for processing most of the computer's data, turning input into output.
- RAM: The hardware in a computer where the OS, application programs and data that are being used are kept so the device's processor can quickly reach them. As the main memory of a computer, RAM is much faster to read from and write to than other types of storage, including a hard disk drive (HDD), solid-state drive (SSD) and optical drive. RAM is volatile, meaning that data remains in RAM if the computer is on, but it's lost when the computer is turned off. The OS and other files are reloaded into RAM, usually from an SSD or HDD, when the computer is rebooted.
- Display screen: A display screen may be an external monitor, or it may be built into the computer. A touchscreen display is sensitive to pressure. As such, a user interacts with the device by touching pictures or words on the screen.
- HDD: A nonvolatile memory (NVM) hardware device, an HDD stores OS files, application problems, media and other documents. The HDD can store data permanently even in the event of a power failure.
- SSD: A type of nonvolatile storage device that stores persistent data on solid-state flash memory. An SSD consists of a flash controller and NAND flash memory Unlike an HDD, an SSD doesn't have any moving parts. SSDs use flash-based memory, which is significantly faster than traditional mechanical hard disks. Since they're nonmechanical, SSDs use less power, which means longer battery life when they're built into laptop computers.
- Graphics card: Responsible for rendering graphics in a computer and projecting information onto a screen, a graphics card aims to remove the processing strain from the processor or RAM.
- Removable drives: Any type of storage device that can be removed from a computer while the system is running, including USB cards and optical discs, such as compact discs (CDs), Blu-ray discs and digital versatile discs (DVDs).
- Power supply: The power supply converts the power from the outlet into usable power for the other components inside the computer. Typically, more power is needed to run more complex systems. For example, a desktop computer with a high-end motherboard, a custom liquid cooling loop and dual GPUs will need a higher wattage computer power supply than a system that is not so complex.