What’s the Difference Between Computer Hardware and Software?

Denise Wilkinson

When it comes to understanding computers, it’s essential to know the difference between hardware and software. These two terms are often used interchangeably, but they refer to distinct elements of a computer system. In this article, we’ll explore what hardware and software are and how they differ from each other.

What is Computer Hardware?

Computer hardware refers to the physical components of a computer system. These components include the central processing unit (CPU), memory, motherboard, hard drive, graphics card, sound card, keyboard, mouse, and other peripherals. These components are tangible parts that you can see and touch.

Examples of computer hardware include:

  • CPU
  • RAM
  • Hard Drive
  • Motherboard
  • Graphics Card
  • Sound Card
  • Keyboard
  • Mouse
  • Monitor

Computer hardware is essential for a computer system to function. Without these physical components, a computer cannot operate or perform any tasks.

What is Computer Software?

Unlike hardware, computer software consists of programs and data that tell a computer what to do. Software is not something you can touch or see physically; instead, it exists as code on your hard drive or server.

Examples of computer software include:

  • Operating System (Windows or MacOS)
  • Microsoft Word
  • Google Chrome Browser

  • iTunes Music Player

Software can be further divided into two categories: system software and application software. System software includes operating systems and utilities that help manage a computer’s resources. Application software is designed for specific tasks, such as creating documents, browsing the web, or playing games.

Differences Between Hardware and Software

The primary difference between hardware and software is that hardware is a physical component of a computer system, whereas software is a program that tells the hardware what to do. Other differences include:

Cost: Hardware is typically more expensive than software because it requires manufacturing and physical components. Software, on the other hand, can be distributed electronically and therefore has lower production costs.

Upgrades: Hardware upgrades often involve replacing physical components with newer ones. Software upgrades can be done electronically by downloading updated versions from the internet.

Functionality: Hardware performs specific functions based on its design and capabilities. Software can be programmed to perform different functions based on user input or instructions.


In summary, computer hardware refers to the physical components of a computer system, such as the CPU, memory, motherboard, graphics card, keyboard, mouse. Computer software refers to programs and data that tell a computer what to do.

While both are essential for a computer system to function correctly, they differ in terms of cost, upgrades and functionality. Understanding these differences will help you make informed decisions when it comes to purchasing or upgrading your computer system.