Computer hardware is the physical components of a computer system that performs the necessary tasks to run programs. Computer hardware does not refer to software programs, such as operating systems or applications, which are often thought to be the computer. Computer hardware refers to mechanical devices in and external to the computer case (known as a cabinet or chassis) that assist in executing instructions from software. Computer hardware assists with processing information by supplying inputs, storing data, and transmitting information as outputs. The term “hardware” refers to any non-electronic part of a computer system; it’s not an indication that these parts are difficult or challenging to operate. Computer hardware includes all of the passive and active electronic components that make up the system.

Computer Processor

The central processing unit (CPU) is the part of the computer system that executes instructions. The CPU is the heart of the computer that performs calculations and manipulates data. The CPU is sometimes referred to as the “processor,” so you may see the terms used interchangeably. The processor is the most important computer hardware. For example, if you have 1 GB of RAM (explained below) but a very slow processor, your computer will not perform at its full potential. Computer processors are usually measured in gigahertz (GHz), where 1 GHz indicates how many instructions per second the processor can execute. Newer processors are increasingly faster and more powerful than their predecessors. While processor speed is important, it’s only one of many factors that determine how fast your computer operates.

Storage Devices

Computer hardware that stores data is referred to as a storage device. Storage devices include hard drives, flash and solid state drives, optical drives such as a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM, and external drives such as a USB flash drive. Mechanical hard drives store data using electromagnets on a rotating platter. Solid state drives store data using integrated circuits and flash memory. Optical drives use lasers to read data from a disc. There are also hybrid drives that use both mechanical and solid-state components. Storage devices store data, programs, and any data input from an application. Whether the data is saved or created by the user, the storage device will store it for later retrieval.

Motherboard and CPU

The motherboard, also referred to as the system board, is the computer hardware that houses the processor and other computer hardware components. The motherboard contains a socket for the CPU and usually has slots for memory and other computer hardware. The CPU connects to the other computer hardware via the motherboard, allowing instructions to be executed. Computer hardware that connects to the motherboard is referred to as “peripheral hardware.” The motherboard is one of the most important computer hardware parts, as it integrates the computer hardware and connects the pieces, allowing them to communicate and operate the computer system.

Networking Equipment

Computer hardware that allows computers to communicate with each other and the outside world is referred to as networking equipment. network interfaces, routers, and switches are examples of networking equipment. Networking equipment allows computers to be accessible remotely, meaning they can be used from any computer connected to the internet. Networking equipment provides the pathways that allow data to be transferred from one computer to another, and from the internet to computers.

Computer Memory

Computer memory, also known as random access memory (RAM), is a temporary storage location for programs and data. When the computer is turned off, the contents of the RAM are lost. This is why it’s important to save work often and back up data. The computer hardware that stores data in the RAM is referred to as the computer’s memory. The computer memory stores instructions and data for the programs that are being executed. Computer memory is measured in gigabytes (GB) or terabytes (TB), where 1 GB equals 1,000 MB. The more GB of memory, the more programs and data the computer can access at the same time. GB of RAM are also referred to as the “speed” of the computer system.


Computer hardware refers to the physical computer parts that store and process data. The computer processor, computer memory, and storage devices are examples of computer hardware. Computer hardware allows the computer to process data and store information. Computer hardware includes all of the passive and active electronic components that make up the system. Computer hardware is important because it processes instructions and uses data. When you create a document, edit a photo, or send an email, your computer hardware is working behind the scenes. Computer hardware is essential for daily computer use, so it’s important to understand what each piece does and how it performs the necessary tasks.