Hardware refers to any part of a system that provides the capability for performing operations with a computer. Computer hardware includes all the physical components of a computer, including the case, motherboard, central processing unit, hard drive, input/output devices, printer, computer memory, optical card and video card. Some computer hardware also includes software components, such as an operating system, a desktop, browser, office applications and more. With the introduction of various technologies, new forms of hardware are continually being created and developed.
The term “hardware” can also be used in a much narrower context in which only certain types of hardware are considered “hardware” – such as integrated circuits and motherboards. A chip, for example, is a piece of hardware that is made up of generally accepted computer components. A microprocessor on the other hand is a specific type of hardware that executes computer instructions. Motherboards, too, are generally considered to be part of the larger category of “hardware” and play a role in the operation of many computers.
One of the more familiar types of computer hardware is the computer system bus (CSB), which consists of buses and cables that connect the different peripheral components of a PC to the main system bus. The major component of the CSB is the PCI Express card. Other known types of CSB include the AGP bus, PCI bus, MMX bus, SAA bus and the UML bus. The PCI Express card is the most commonly-found form of computer system bus, using sixteen-bit bus widths. Most systems use the AGP bus, which is capable of carrying more than sixteen active connections at a time.
Other hardware components include the boot ROM, debugging devices, preloaders, arming modules, input and output devices, random-access memory (RAM) for the operating system, hard drives for storage purposes, printers, keyboards, mouse and any number of other electronic or physical components. A processor is the software component inside a computer system. There are three types of general-purpose processors: microprocessors, single-core processors and dual-core processors. Each has their own processing power and speed, as well as different ways in which they utilize the available resources such as memory, graphics cards, input/output devices and ports.
Another type of hardware that is found inside computers is the power supply unit (PSU). The PSU is used to dissipate excess heat from the computer motherboard, as well as to provide power to the various components of the computer. Power supplies can be either solid-state or liquid-state, depending on the type of electricity-delivery mechanism employed. The most common PSU is the solid-state variety, as it is cheaper and more efficient than its liquid-state competition.
The final type of hardware that is usually encountered is the optical disk or burner. These are used to burn the data that is stored on the hard drive to an optical disc, which is then read by the CPU. Hard drives have come a long way in terms of technology, but at one point were limited in size and speed. In order to overcome this limitation, manufacturers devised the burn-in drive, which is essentially a miniature hard drive that is placed directly within the computer’s CPU. Because the CPU does not need to concern itself with loading a drive, it can focus all its processing power on processing data that is pertinent to the operating system itself.