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What Does Hardware Mean?

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.


Although the same core components are shared between desktop computers and laptops, their characteristics and design differ for a multitude of reasons (size, heat dissipation capabilities, power requirements, etc.). However, hardware is always necessary to run the critical software that makes computers work.

Techopedia Explains Hardware

Hardware is a broad 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.

The most important component of a computer’s internal hardware is certainly the motherboard, which powers and controls the whole system. The motherboard is also the scaffolding upon which all other components and external peripherals are connected.

Beyond the motherboard, some of the most common internal hardware components include:

  • Central Processing Unit (CPU): Processes the computer’s data and turns input into output.
  • Random Access Memory (RAM): A source of high-speed, volatile memory used for quick calculations.
  • Storage Drives (hard disk, SSD): Non-volatile storage devices used to store data on a temporary or permanent basis.
  • Power Supply and Heat Sink: Used to supply all other components with power (electricity) converted the from the outlet.

  • Graphics Processing Unit (GPU): Processes images and videos and renders graphical input to project it as an output to display devices (monitor). Also known as a video card.

  • Sound Card: Just like the video card, the sound card converts audio input into sounds that can be heard through speakers or headphones.

Peripherals are also a type of hardware. The most common ones include:

  • Mouse
  • Keyboard
  • Display monitor
  • Webcam
  • Headphones
  • Microphone
  • USB flash drive
  • Speakers
  • Printer
  • Scanner
  • Gamepad or other controllers

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.

Although software is as necessary as hardware to run a computer, the overall speed of the system is largely dependent on the hardware installed. That’s why many users tend to replace some components over time to upgrade their “rigs” and increase their performance.

In recent times, the introduction of cloud technologies and virtual machines (VMs) has made hardware virtualization possible. A hypervisor creates virtual versions of internal hardware within an operating system to share resources and use them efficiently. In this way, the physical computing components are abstracted through a software that allows them to lend their capabilities to other consumers. Hardware virtualization is used in infrastructure as a service (IaaS) models for renting hardware resources over the internet.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert
Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.