What are the differences between hardware and software?

Updated: 06/30/2019 by Computer Hope

Computer hardware is any physical device used in or with your machine, whereas software is a collection of code installed onto your computer's hard drive. For example, the computer monitor you are using to read this text and the mouse you are using to navigate this web page are computer hardware. The Internet browser that allowed you to visit this page and the operating system that the browser is running on are considered software.

Further information and examples

All software utilizes at least one hardware device to operate. For example, a video game, which is software, uses the computer processor (CPU), memory (RAM), hard drive, and video card to run. Word processing software uses the computer processor, memory, and hard drive to create and save documents.

Hardware is what makes a computer work. A CPU processes information and that information can be stored in RAM or on a hard drive. A sound card can provide sound to speakers, and a video card can provide an image to a monitor. Each of these are examples of hardware components.

Can a computer run without software?

Windows XP

In most situations, yes, a computer can run without software being installed. However, if an operating system or interpreter is not found, it either generates an error or doesn't output any information. A computer needs to have at least some type of operating system that allows both the user and software to interact with the computer hardware.

Installing programs onto the computer in addition to an operating system gives the computer additional capabilities. For example, a word processor is not required, but it allows you to create documents and letters.

Can a computer run without hardware?

Computer Mouse

Most computers require at least a display, hard drive, keyboard, memory, motherboard, processor, power supply, and video card to function properly.

Note

A computer like a thin client and server could be set up to run without a display, keyboard, or hard drive.

If any of these devices are missing or malfunctioning, an error is encountered, or the computer will not start. Adding hardware such as a disc drive (e.g., CD-ROM or DVD), modem, mouse, network card, printer, sound card, or speakers are not required, but give the computer additional functionality.

Tip

Hardware that is not required by the computer is referred to as a peripheral.

Additional information