What is Computer Hardware?

Examples of Computer Hardware & How to Troubleshoot Computer Hardware Problems

Photo of a computer system with a monitor, keyboard, and mouse
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Computer hardware refers to the physical components that make up a computer system.

There are many different kinds of hardware that can be installed inside, and connected to the outside, of a computer.

Computer hardware may sometimes be seen abbreviated as computer hw.

Take a tour inside a desktop computer to learn how all the hardware in a traditional desktop PC connects together to create the complete computer system like the one you may be using right now.

Note: A computer system isn't complete unless there's also software, which is different than hardware. The software is data that's stored electronically, like an operating system or a video editing tool, which runs on the hardware.

List of Computer Hardware

Here are some common individual computer hardware components that you'll often find inside a modern computer. These parts are almost always found inside the computer's housing:

Here is some common hardware that you might find connected to the outside of a computer, although many tablets, laptops, and netbooks integrate some of these items into their housings:

  • Pen Tablet

Here are some less common individual computer hardware devices, either because these pieces are now usually integrated into other devices or because they've been replaced with newer technology:

  • Analog Modem
  • Scanner
  • Projector
  • Floppy Disk Drive
  • Joystick
  • Webcam
  • Microphone
  • Tape Drive
  • Zip Drive

The following hardware is referred to as network hardware, and various pieces are often part of a home or business network:

  • Digital Modem (e.g. Cable Modem, DSL Modem, etc.)
  • Router
  • Network Switch
  • Access Point
  • Repeater
  • Bridge
  • Print Server
  • Firewall

Network hardware isn't as clearly defined as some other types of computer hardware. For example, many home routers will often act as a combination router, switch, and firewall.

In addition to all the items listed above, there's more computer hardware that I like to call auxiliary hardware, of which a computer might have none, or several, of some kinds:

  • Fan (CPU, GPU, Case, etc.)
  • Heat Sink
  • Data Cable
  • Power Cable
  • CMOS Battery
  • Daughterboard

Some of the devices listed above are called peripheral devices. A peripheral device is a piece of hardware (whether internal or external) that isn't actually involved in the computer's main function. Examples include a monitor, video card, disc drive, and mouse.

Troubleshooting Faulty Computer Hardware

Computer hardware components individually heat up and cool down as they're used and then not used, meaning that eventually, every single one will fail.

Some may even fail at the same time.

Fortunately, at least with desktop computers and some laptop and tablet computers, you can replace the non-working piece of hardware without having to replace or rebuild the computer from scratch.

Here are some resources you should check out before you go out and purchase a new hard drive, replacement RAM sticks, or anything else you think may be going bad:

Memory (RAM)

Hard Drive

Computer Fan

In Microsoft Windows, hardware resources are managed by Device Manager. It's possible that a "faulty" piece of computer hardware is really just in need of a device driver installation or update, or for the device to be enabled in Device Manager.

Hardware devices won't work at all if the device is disabled, or may not be running properly if the wrong driver is installed.

If you decide that some hardware needs replacing or upgrading, find the manufacturer's support website for warranty information (if it applies to you) or look for identical or upgraded parts that you can buy directly from them.

See these hardware installation videos for walkthroughs on installing different computer hardware, like a hard drive, power supply, motherboard, PCI card, and CPU.