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Hardware vs. Software: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 4, 2023
Hardware is the physical components of a system; Software is the intangible code that runs on it.

Key Differences

Hardware refers to the tangible, physical components of a computer or electronic device. These components include circuits, chips, processors, hard drives, and more. On the other hand, Software refers to the intangible set of instructions and programs that operate the hardware.
In the realm of computers, Hardware might be the actual laptop or desktop machine, its screen, keyboard, and the inner workings like the motherboard and central processing unit. Software, in contrast, would be the operating system, applications, and programs that run on that machine.
Hardware is typically crafted from metal, plastic, and other materials. It has a finite life and can wear out over time. Conversely, Software exists as code and data, residing in the memory or storage of hardware devices, and can be updated or changed without changing the physical device.
If Hardware is damaged, it usually has to be physically repaired or replaced. Software issues, meanwhile, can often be fixed with patches, updates, or re-installations.
One can touch and feel Hardware. For instance, the external body of a smartphone or a laptop is hardware. Software, though, is abstract and can only be experienced through its interface or the tasks it performs.

Comparison Chart


Physical components
Intangible set of instructions


Wears out over time
Does not wear out but can become outdated


Needs physical replacement
Updated through patches or reinstallation


Can run without software
Requires hardware to operate


Motherboard, CPU, Hard Drive
Operating systems, Applications

Hardware and Software Definitions


Hardware is the physical machinery of a device.
The hard drive storing your files is a type of Hardware.


Software is a collection of code installed onto your computer's hard drive.
Microsoft Word is a type of Software used for word processing.


Hardware encompasses tangible components of a system.
The keyboard and mouse you use are both Hardware.


Software allows interaction between the user and computer.
An operating system like Windows or macOS is the main Software running on a computer.


Hardware is any physical device used in or with your machine.
The computer monitor you are using to read this text is an example of Hardware.


Software can be customized and upgraded.
Photo editing tools like Adobe Photoshop are Software applications that can be updated for better features.


Hardware is what makes a machine run.
A computer's CPU is considered its main piece of Hardware.


Software is what brings hardware to life.
Gaming Software provides the interface and graphics that players interact with.


Hardware is any part of the computer you can touch.
The RAM inside your computer is a piece of Hardware.


Software is the non-tangible component of a computer that executes tasks.
Your web browser is Software allowing you to surf the internet.


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


The programs, routines, and symbolic languages that control the functioning of the hardware and direct its operation.


(Computers) A computer and the associated physical equipment directly involved in the performance of data-processing or communications functions.


(computing) Encoded computer instructions, usually modifiable (unless stored in some form of unalterable memory such as ROM).


Machines and other physical equipment directly involved in performing an industrial, technological, or military function.


(military) The human beings involved in warfare, as opposed to hardware such as weapons and vehicles.


What's an example of Hardware?

A CPU (Central Processing Unit) is an example of Hardware.

Can Software run without Hardware?

No, Software requires Hardware to operate.

Can Software get a virus?

Yes, Software can be infected by malicious code or viruses.

Is an operating system Hardware or Software?

An operating system is Software.

What happens when Hardware fails?

When Hardware fails, the system or component may not operate until it's repaired or replaced.

What's a common problem with Hardware?

Overheating can be a common Hardware issue, affecting performance and lifespan.

Can Hardware operate without Software?

While Hardware can be powered on, it needs Software to perform meaningful tasks.

How is Software created?

Software is created by programming languages, which are then compiled or interpreted to run on Hardware.

Can you touch Software?

No, Software is intangible and cannot be touched.

What is system Software?

System Software controls and manages Hardware, with operating systems being a primary example.

What is Hardware?

Hardware is the physical components of a computer or electronic system.

How is Software distributed?

Software can be distributed via physical media, online downloads, or cloud platforms.

Why is Software important?

Software enables tasks, operations, and applications on a computer or electronic system.

Can Software become outdated?

Yes, Software can become outdated and may need updates or replacements.

What's the relationship between Hardware and Software?

Hardware provides the physical infrastructure, while Software runs on it to execute tasks and operations.

How does Software communicate with Hardware?

Software communicates with Hardware through drivers and system calls.

Can Hardware be upgraded?

Yes, many Hardware components, like RAM or storage drives, can be upgraded.

How do you maintain Hardware?

Hardware maintenance can involve cleaning, ensuring proper ventilation, and regular inspections for wear.

Is a printer an example of Hardware or Software?

A printer is an example of Hardware.

Can Software be copied?

Yes, Software can be copied, but issues like licensing and copyright may apply.
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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