Hardware is a term used to describe the non-software components of a personal computer system. Hardware typically refers to electronic items that are permanently installed in a computer. Computer hardware consists of the mechanical parts of a machine, including the case, motherboard, processor, hard disk, optical drive, input/output devices, video card, sound card and mother board. While most users do not need to know the difference between software and hardware, understanding how hardware works and which applications it uses is crucial for operating a successful personal computer.
The two main types of computer hardware are desktop and laptop computers. Desktop computer systems are those that are designed to be used on a desktop or in a space similar to a workstation. Laptop computer systems are smaller than desktop systems and usually come with a detachable keyboard and screen. Both types of computer systems can be customized for different functions by adding different components. Desktop computer systems use memory, hard drive space, input/output devices, and internal input/output devices and are much more expensive than laptop systems.
In terms of hardware and software, there are two main categories. User level software refers to the applications that run on the hardware itself. Hardware is oftentimes referred to as user interface software. On the other hand, underlying system software refers to the applications and features that are accessed through the operating system. Both user-level software and system software play an important role in the operation of personal computers. System software helps to control the functioning of the machine.
The hardware itself and the application software are connected via a cable or a wireless network. The hardware is then turned on to provide power and to initiate the input or output signal. The hardware must also communicate with the operating system software in order to start the machine. Without software, a machine is considered to be inoperable.
The microprocessor in an individual PC is often compared to the central processing unit in a personal computer. The former is the component that controls the machine; while the latter is what provides the operating system with instructions. It is the microprocessor that translates the instruction to actual execution. This means that if the CPU cannot execute the instruction given by the central processing unit due to a communication problem, the operating system will not know and will have no way to run the machine.
With regards to memory, a PC card is probably the most common and widely used hardware accessory. Many personal computers come with an insert that allows the installation of an external flash drive or an external hard drive. Such drives are usually made of either plastic or metal. An external drive serves the dual purpose of storing more data than the internal drive, which can be read by the operating system. External drives can be very helpful for those who are constantly using the internet and for those who like to edit videos.