What is Computer Hardware?

Computers have become integral to modern society in almost every home, school, and workplace. Every computerized device consists of both hardware and software.

While the software is the coded programs stored within a computer’s memory, the hardware is the computer’s physical parts.

Most people on Earth will be familiar with computer hardware since billions of people interact with physical computer equipment daily. Therefore, people should know computer hardware’s full definition, history, and uses. 

Computer Hardware Definition 

Computer hardware is the physical part of a computer device. This includes the casing, monitors, mice, and keyboards that you can see, but a wide array of internal components also form the computer hardware.

These components include the random access memory (RAM), the central processing unit (CPU), sound cards, graphics cards, and the motherboard to which all the above will be connected.

This hardware processes user inputs, transmitting electronic signals to the software to execute commands and display outputs. 

History of Computer Hardware

It is often claimed that the first computer hardware ever conceptualized was the Analytical Engine developed by Charles Babbage in the 19th century. However, other early machines emerged during this period such as the first printing calculator in 1853 and a punchcard system designed in 1890 for the US government. 

In 1931, the first general-purpose computer was unveiled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), known as the differential analyzer.

These early machines were simple in function, performing calculations or outputting simple data. Later that decade, in 1936, British mathematician Alan Turing laid out the principles for a ‘universal machine’ which underpins computer technology even today.

Turing famously went on to create a device called the Turing-Welchman Bombe, which was used to decode Nazi communications and helped to win World War II for the allied forces. 

All devices up until this point had been mechanical and made use of gears, belts, and shafts but in 1937 John Vincent Atanasoff put forward a proposal to create the first electric only computer at Iowa State University.

At the end of the 30s, David Packard and Bill Hewlett founded Hewlett Packard (HP), developing computer equipment out of a garage. 

Several essential steps furthered the development of computer hardware in the 1940s, such as the invention of the Z3 machine by German inventor Konrad Zuse, largely considered the first ever digital computer. 

In the 1950s, the first programming languages emerged such as COBOL and FORTRAN, which helped to pave the way for more advanced computer hardware. 

Things advanced massively for computer hardware in the 1970s, with personal computers entering development alongside innovations such as floppy disks that would allow the sharing of data between computer systems. Then, in 1976, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple Computer, unveiling their first ever computer system, the Apple I. 

The internet and wireless technology were massively influential as computer hardware developed through the 1980s and 90s. Personal computers, laptops, and video game consoles had become mainstream and infiltrated homes, schools and workplaces worldwide. 

Between the 2000s and the modern day, computer hardware has extended into people’s hands and pockets through devices such as smartphones, tablet computers, and wearable technology. 

Types of Computer Hardware

Computer Hardware is very broad, and many pieces of physical equipment fall under this label. 

Casing and cabling: Internal computer hardware is often deemed to be insightful and so to hide and house various components, casing is often employed in a variety of materials to allow a more desirable aesthetic. One of the critical components for connecting multiple computer hardware is cables, even with the prominence of wireless technology in modern times. 

Personal computer: The personal computer is one of the most important and prevalent computer hardware today. It is a collection of hardware housed within a case and connected to a set of peripherals.

Inside the case, components such as a graphics card, CPU, RAM, Hard drive, and more are connected via a motherboard to a power supply. Input devices such as the mouse and keyboard are connected to the computer using wired or wireless technology. The computer will display media or outputs based on the inputs via equipment such as monitors, printers, and speakers. 

Laptops: Laptops take the concept of a personal computer and make them portable by enclosing the internal elements with a built in keyboard and mouse pad via a compact, folding design. 

Tablet computers: Similarly to laptops, a tablet computer is a computer device that is very slim, lightweight and portable. The key difference is that no keyboard or mouse is attached, favoring a touch screen as the sole input to the tablet. 

Wearables: A more recent innovation takes the computer device and attaches it to your body in the form of an accessory. This is commonly through a device such as a smartwatch or smart glasses.

Supercomputers and mainframes: This kind of computer hardware is an extremely powerful device used to process enormous amounts of data, commonly for government or industrial processes.  

Removable media: To transfer data between computer systems, there are various forms of removable media to do just that. Examples of this include USB drives and disk based media such as CDs and DVDs. 


Computer hardware has come a long way from the enormous, clumsy calculators of the early days to become present in many homes, businesses, and schools around the world. Billions of people use computer technology every day; therefore, computer hardware has become one of the key factors in advancing human civilization. 

With many innovations on the horizon, such as self-driving cars, virtual reality, and computer implants, the rapid development of computer hardware is certainly not slowing down. 

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