Hardware vs software explained

Published on 2022-09-02 by Smriti Arya

A computer comprises many elements of software and hardware, where hardware are physical components while software help make hardware functional. But can they work without each other? In this article, we will look at some examples of hardware and software and explain how they work together.

Explaining hardware vs software

Many businesses potentially rely on software to run their operations and software run on hardware. According to a study by Business Wire, the global information technology (IT) market is expected to reach $11,866.34 billion in 2025 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9%. The IT market covered in this research consists of sales of IT services, computer hardware, telecom, and software products.

A study by the Bank of Canada also says that even though the Canadian economy shrank by about 5% in 2020, the proxy for the digital sector, including computer design and services, grew by 3.5% amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Keeping this in mind, understanding the interplay between hardware and software can be essential to an organization’s operations.

The main difference between hardware and software is that the hardware are the physical components of a computer, whereas the software are the intangible components of a computer. For example, your computer’s keyboard and monitor are hardware and your internet browser is software.

Let’s go in-depth and understand how hardware and software work hand in hand.

What are hardware and software?

Techopedia defines hardware as, “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 typically restricted in what it can do on its own. A book can be a good example here, where the paper, binding, and ink of the book can be assumed as the hardware.

On the other hand, Techopedia defines software as, “Software, in its most general sense, is a set of instructions or programs instructing a computer to do specific tasks. Software is a generic term used to describe computer programs that run on PCs, mobile phones, tablets, or other smart devices.”

Everything that runs on the computer can be defined as software, from an operating system to a video game, a web conferencing platform or an internet browser platform.

What is the difference between hardware and software?

Below, we have listed some of the factors that differentiate hardware and software from each other.

Definition

Hardware can be defined as the devices required to execute and store software, whereas software can be defined as a collection of instructions that allow a user to interact with the computer.

Development process

Hardware are typically developed using electronic materials. On the other hand, software are built by writing a set of instructions using a programming language.

Failure

When damaged or in failure, hardware can be replaced with new components, while software can usually be installed once more using a backup copy in case of failure or damage.

Durability

Hardware may typically wear out over time, whereas software usually does not wear out with time, but may develop glitches and bugs.

Transfer

Hardware cannot be transferred from one place to another via a network electronically, whereas software can usually be transferred via means of a network.

Tangibility

Hardware are tangible as they generally consist of devices that can be touched physically. Software are intangible as they can be seen but not be touched physically.

Programming language

Hardware can commonly only understand machine-level language whereas a software program can typically accept human-readable language, interpret it into machine-level language, and send it to the hardware for functional processing.

What are the examples and types of hardware and software?

Here, we list some common examples of both hardware and software:

Understanding the difference between hardware and software with examples

Types of hardware

Hardware can typically be categorized into four types:

  1. Input devices: they allow data to be entered into the system by the operator, user, or from telecommunication systems. Some common examples of input devices include keyboards, mouse, scanners, and barcode readers. 
  2. Output devices: such devices receive data from the computer and display results to the user —for example, monitors and projectors. 
  3. Storage devices: they are used to store the data and information of the system. Some common examples of storage devices are hard drives/flash drives and expansion cards/slots.
  4. Internal processing components: when a computer receives data from the input device, it first goes through the processing components before it is transmitted to the output device. An example of an internal processing component is a set of electronic circuitry that executes and processes instructions.

Types of software

Software can be classified generally into two types:

  1. Application software: computer programs that offer tools for accomplishing a specific task and can be incorporated into the computer once the operating system is installed. Some common application software examples include accounting software, CRM software, and photo editor apps.
  2. System software: a set of instructions or programs designed to run a computer’s hardware and application software. Examples of system software are Windows 10, Ubuntu, and Linux.

Can you run hardware without software or vice-versa?

As you now know the difference between hardware and software, your next question could be whether you can have one without the other.

Though hardware and software are sold separately, they work in tandem with each other. Software usually require hardware to run and hardware need supporting software to display results. For instance, your favourite video game needs computer hardware like processors, video cards, memory, and sound devices to operate how you want it to.

Whether a type of software is for the operating system, telecommunication app, or a program, it requires some hardware component to reach its optimum potential. What good will that computer game be if you don’t have speakers to hear its sound effects? Can you imagine getting through a video conference without your keyboard, camera, mouse, or headphones?

In general, hardware and software are interconnected with each other.

Want to know more? Check out our catalogue of software to discover more products.

This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.


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About the author

Content Analyst for the Canada, helping SMBs deliver key insights into software, business and tech trend

Content Analyst for the Canada, helping SMBs deliver key insights into software, business and tech trend