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Computers were created to solve difficult mathematical puzzles but they are popular because they can do our dull donkey work for us. A computer is made up of two types of thing: hardware and software.

Hardware is the stuff you can touch with your fingers. The purpose of computer hardware is to run computer software. There are thousands of new hardware and software products produced each year.

what it is

Hardware is a collective name for things you can touch. Historically, the name hardware meant anything bought from hardware stores such as hammers, nails and paint. Today any physical thing is called hardware. Military hardware such as tanks and missiles cannot be bought from hardware stores, no matter how popular it would prove to be. Computer hardware is the collection of things you plug in, power on and tune in that gives software a place to exist and to run.

PC internalsOne piece of hardware is usually a hierarchy of smaller pices of hardware. Every computer is a piece of hardware, such as an IBM PC, a network switch or a KVM switch. An IBM PC is made up of a keyboard, mouse, video monitor, base unit and cables. The base unit contains more pieces of hardware. Take the cover off the base unit case and you find a motherboard, memory, a hard drive and so on.

The hardware provides a way of organising, storing and re-ordering electricity. You can give simple instructions to hardware and receive simple messages back without using software, such as pushing a button and lighting up a bulb, but this is an extremely limited way of working. You can get more out of hardware using software.

Hardware is not created for its decorative qualities: computers are complex, temperamental and expensive. A customer buys hardware because he wants to run a few software products.

A computer built for running a server is different from a general purpose PC found in a home. It tends to be a big beefy box with lots of memory, CPU and disk space and nothing fun such as a graphics card or audio speakers.

what it isn't

Important to understand. People like making a division between hardware and software because it is an easy way to simplify the confusing world of computers. It is a view of the computer world from a distance that sees none of the little details.

Anything to do with hard cheese and soft cheese.

Silverware, courseware or beware.

where it is

Every part of the LIC is either hardware or software.


In 1967 the IBM company announced it would no longer bundle software and hardware together. The software industry was born.