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A computer system (also called a desktop) is usually classified into two sections, namely hardware and software. Both these sections are necessary for the computer system to run properly. Although both the terms seem to be similar, there are significant differences between hardware and software.

Before we compare hardware and software, let us first understand both with their brief definitions:

What is Hardware?

Hardware refers to the physical devices or components that are physically connected to the computer. Hardware devices are tangible and help to set up a computer system. Hardware alone cannot function to serve the purpose. They are connected together to function properly. Input devices, output devices, storage devices, processing devices, and other internal components are examples of hardware in a computer system.

Some hardware devices can be touched and seen directly, while others are assembled inside the computer case (called the CPU in general; however, it’s not). Hardware devices or components are usually classified into internal and external hardware, depending on whether we can directly or indirectly see and touch such devices. For example, RAM is internal hardware while the keyboard is external hardware.

What is Software?

Software refers to a collection of data, instructions, programs, or rules that instruct a computer system or electronic components to work efficiently and accomplish desired outputs. Specifically, the software is developed using various programming codes and executed through a computer’s processor.

The software allows hardware devices to communicate and enables users to control inputs and outputs. It helps in the functioning of the hardware in the computer. Also, the software can help users to perform a specific task depending on the type of software. Google Chrome, VLC, Word, Excel are some popular examples of software.

Hardware Vs Software: Key Differences

Let us list down some of the major differences between hardware and software:

• Hardware refers to the physical components of the computer that are used to store and execute/run the software, whereas software refers to a set of instructions given to the computer to control the hardware to perform a certain task.

• Hardware is categorized into input, output, storage, and external components. Furthermore, the software is categorized into system software and application software.

• Hardware usually wears out over time, whereas software does not. But, the software can face bugs and glitches.

• Hardware cannot be transferred electrically from one place to another, whereas software can be transferred electrically with network access.

• Hardware is known to understand only machine-level language. In contrast, the software takes input in human-readable languages, and then interprets it in machine-level language and sends it to hardware for further processing.

• Examples of hardware are the keyboard, mouse, monitor, speakers, webcam, hard disk, etc. Besides, the examples of software are MS Word, Excel, Photoshop, Windows OS, Linux, etc.

Difference Between Hardware and Software

Let’s discuss the differences between Hardware and Software side by side with the help of the following comparison chart (in a tabular form):

Hardware SoftwareHardware refers to the physical components of a computer that help to set up a computer system and execute instructions. Software refers to the set of instructions that help users to interact with computer components and instruct the CPU to do the intended or specified tasks. Hardware devices are manufactured using electronic components and other materials. Software is written using various programming languages like Java, Python, etc.Since hardware is of physical nature, we can touch and see the hardware. Software is not physical in nature and cannot be touched. However, it can be viewed digitally on a computer.Hardware is generally classified as input devices, output devices, storage, and internal components. Software is generally classified as system software and application software.Because of its physical nature, hardware will wear out over time. Although the software doesn’t get damaged physically, it can get affected due to glitches and bugs.Hardware does not get infected by computer viruses. Software can be infected with computer viruses, malware, Trojan, etc.If damaged, the hardware can be physically replaced with an entirely new component or part. If infected, the software can be reinstalled using the installer or from a backup.Hardware devices cannot be moved from one place to another electrically using a network. They must be physically moved. Software can be easily transferred from one computer to another using a network.Hardware devices help to process operations at the machine level. Software mainly helps to control the hardware and provide results based on the task given to the computer.Hardware is referred to as tangible. Software is said to be intangible in the traditional sense. However, it may also be referred to as a tangible asset based on certain accounting standards.Hardware failures are usually caused by overheating, dust, etc. Software failures are usually caused by overloading, systematic error, major-minor version error, etc.Hardware is dependent on the software and starts working after the software is loaded. Since the software runs on a computer system and controls the hardware components, it cannot function without hardware. Thus, the software is also dependent on hardware in some way or the other.Examples of hardware include mouse, keyboard, speaker, webcam, scanner, printer, etc. Examples of software include Excel, Word, PowerPoint, VLC, Google Chrome, Microsoft Windows OS, etc.

What is the main difference between hardware and software?

The fundamental difference between hardware and software is that the hardware can be referred to as the physical components of a computer system, while software can be referred to as a set of instructions that instruct a computer system or hardware components to operate and perform specific tasks or functions.

Note: Both hardware and software are dependent on each other and are essential for the proper functioning of the computer system. However, not all the hardware and software are compulsory.

Understanding Hardware and Software with an Example

System software, such as an operating system, establishes an interface between computer hardware and the user. The operating system controls all the basic functions like hardware, memory management, process management, file management, input-output device management, etc. Using this interface, users can interact with hardware devices and give instructions to the system. Users can install specific application software to perform specific tasks such as image editing, video processing, opening media files, etc.
There are many examples of both hardware and software. However, we have discussed some of the most common ones below:

Examples of Hardware

A wide range of hardware is used on computers. The following are some of the primary types of computer hardware:

RAM: RAM or Random Access Memory is a form of hardware and works as a computer’s primary memory to temporarily store current data (or ongoing data) so that it can be easily and quickly accessed by the processor. It is a volatile memory and the data stored in it is lost when the power supply is disconnected.

ROM: ROM or Read-Only Memory is a non-volatile storage medium that stores essential computer data such as firmware. The data stored in ROM can only be read and is almost impossible to modify by the user. It keeps the stored data even after the power is turned off. It gives read-access to the computer’s processor to write/load boot-up data and system files into primary memory.

CPU: The CPU or Central Processing Unit is called the brain of the computer. It is one of the primary components of a computer system and includes the Control Unit (CU) and the Arithmetic Logic Unit (ALU). It processes instructions and handles calculations and other logical operations of the computer. CPU is also known as processor, central processor, microprocessor, and chip.

Motherboard: The motherboard is the main printed circuit board (PCB) in a computer system. It typically boards most of the important computer components, including the CPU, RAM, ROM, connectors, and ports for input, output, and storage devices. It is assembled inside a computer case along with other electronic chip components.

Keyboard & Mouse: These are the primary input devices that enable users to enter data into a computer system. The keyboard consists of several keys that help to input alphabet letters, numbers, signs, and other information. The mouse works like a point-and-click device, which helps in moving the cursor and selecting specific objects on the computer’s screen (also called Monitor).

In the image above, some other popular hardware devices or components are displayed.

Examples of Software

A wide range of software is used on computers. The following are the two main types of software in a computer under which all software can be classified:

System Software: System software includes the set of core programs and settings that help operate a computer system. System software primarily manages or controls the operation of hardware components. Also, it provides a platform to develop and run application programs. System software is necessary to operate a computer system. For example, operating system, device driver, firmware, language translator, etc.

Application Software: Application software includes a set of codes that help users perform specific tasks using a computer system. It primarily runs in the front-end and requires a platform designed by the system software. However, the application software does not replace the system core functions. It is designed to meet the requirement of users to perform specific tasks like Photoshop, web browsing, media manager, etc.

In the image above, some popular system software and application software are displayed. There are many more.

Summary

Hardware and software are two important components of computer systems and other electronic devices like mobile phones, tablets, etc. Although essential and interdependent, there are many differences between the two (hardware and software). This article differentiates the hardware from the software.

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