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Hardware vs. Firmware: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 23, 2023
Hardware is the physical components of a system; firmware is the software embedded in hardware to control its functions.

Key Differences

Hardware refers to the tangible, physical components of any electronic device or system. These could be microprocessors, memory chips, motherboards, hard drives, and more. Firmware, on the other hand, represents the software instructions directly written onto the hardware. It's designed to provide immediate control over the hardware.
The hardware of a device can be seen and touched. For example, the computer's CPU, keyboard, mouse, and monitor are all considered hardware. Firmware, however, cannot be seen or touched but is stored within the hardware. It can be thought of as the middle ground between software and hardware.
In terms of flexibility, hardware usually remains constant once produced. Modifying or updating it would require physically changing or replacing components. Firmware, however, can often be updated by the user or manufacturer to fix bugs or add features, much like software, but it remains tightly coupled with the hardware.
When you turn on a device, the hardware starts functioning based on the instructions given by the firmware. For example, when a computer boots up, its firmware (BIOS or UEFI) determines the boot sequence. This illustrates that while hardware acts as the body of the device, the firmware can be likened to its guiding spirit.
The lifecycle of hardware and firmware differs as well. Hardware might become obsolete over time as new technologies emerge, while firmware can be frequently updated to improve or modify the existing hardware's functionality.

Comparison Chart


Physical components of a system.
Software instructions written onto the hardware.


Can be seen and touched.
Cannot be seen or touched; stored in hardware.


Remains constant; hard to modify.
Can be updated to fix bugs or add features.


Requires instructions to operate.
Provides instructions to hardware.


Might become obsolete with technology.
Can be frequently updated.

Hardware and Firmware Definitions


The physical parts of a computer or electronic system.
The laptop's hardware includes its screen, keyboard, and CPU.


Software embedded in hardware to control its functions.
The smartphone's camera quality improved after a firmware update.


Physical assets of a company excluding intangible items.
The company invested heavily in new hardware for their data centers.


Software that bridges the operating system with hardware.
The router's firmware was updated to enhance security protocols.


Tools or machinery used for a specific purpose.
The carpenter brought all the necessary hardware for the job.


Permanent software programmed into a read-only memory.
The printer malfunctioned due to a corrupt firmware.


Metal fixtures used in construction or decoration.
The door's hardware was made of brass.


Set of instructions on a hardware component allowing it to communicate with other components.
The computer wouldn't boot because of a firmware issue in the SSD.


Military weapons and equipment.
The army showcased its latest hardware during the parade.


Low-level software that initializes and manages hardware operations.
The smart TV's firmware controls its user interface and app interactions.


Metal goods and utensils such as locks, tools, and cutlery.


Software stored in a computer's ROM.


(computing) Something in between hardware and software. Like software, it is created from source code, but it is closely tied to the hardware it runs on.


Software intended for such embedded computer applications.


(computer science) coded instructions that are stored permanently in read-only memory


Can firmware be updated?

Yes, firmware can often be updated to fix bugs or add new features.

How does hardware interact with firmware?

Hardware functions based on the instructions provided by the firmware.

What is firmware?

Firmware is software embedded in hardware to control its functions.

Can hardware be easily modified?

Typically, hardware remains constant and requires physical changes or replacements for modification.

Can you see or touch firmware?

No, firmware is intangible and is stored within the hardware.

What's the connection between firmware and device drivers?

While both interact with hardware, firmware is embedded within the device, whereas drivers are software that allow operating systems to communicate with hardware.

How often should firmware be updated?

Firmware should be updated as needed, often when manufacturers release patches or feature upgrades.

Can outdated hardware support new firmware?

Not always; sometimes new firmware requires newer hardware capabilities.

How do I check my device's hardware specifications?

This often varies by device, but usually, system settings or system information tools provide hardware details.

Can firmware affect device performance?

Yes, updated firmware can enhance performance, while outdated or corrupt firmware can degrade it.

How is hardware typically connected in a system?

Hardware components are often interconnected using buses, circuits, and interfaces in a system.

What is hardware?

Hardware refers to the physical components of an electronic device or system.

Is firmware the same as software?

No, while both are forms of coded instructions, firmware is embedded in hardware, whereas software runs atop the operating system.

How is hardware different from peripheral devices?

Hardware refers to the primary components of a system, while peripherals are external devices that connect to the system.

What happens if firmware is corrupted?

Corrupt firmware can cause the hardware to malfunction or become inoperable.

Do all electronic devices have firmware?

Most electronic devices have some form of firmware to control their operations.

Is firmware specific to each hardware model?

Generally, yes. Firmware is usually designed for specific hardware models.

How do I check the firmware version of a device?

Firmware versions are typically found in system settings or device information sections.

Can hardware function without firmware?

No, hardware requires firmware instructions to operate.

Why is firmware important?

Firmware ensures that hardware operates correctly and efficiently.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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