What Is Computer Hardware?

pc hardware

Computer hardware is the physical parts inside a computer that make it run. It includes the central processing unit, random access memory, motherboard, computer data storage, graphics card, and external devices like a monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

A GPU is either an expansion card plugged into a motherboard, or — more commonly today — it’s integrated into the CPU package itself. A processor’s core count is the number of individual computing units, or threads, that it can execute simultaneously.


Motherboards are essentially the heart of a computer, providing lines of communication between different add-in components and regulating the flow of power to ensure all of your system’s components can operate safely. They contain essential circuits, chips, sockets, slots, and ports that determine the performance and expandability of your system.

For instance, a motherboard’s CPU socket holds the microprocessor that executes instructions specified by desktop programs. It also contains memory slots for installing system memory aka RAM, which allows the CPU to access working proram data quickly. Other important elements include expansion slots for connecting peripherals like graphics cards, hard drives, and sound cards. Motherboards also provide connectors that supply power to these devices. They are available in several different form factors, including standard ATX, micro-ATX, and mini-ITX.


The CPU, or central processing unit, is the heart of your computer. It is a silicon chip that sits in a socket on the motherboard and handles the input and output of data to and from the rest of your system hardware.

It acts like the ringmaster at the circus, feeding specialized hardware when it needs to do its thing, such as telling the graphics card to show you a big explosion in a video game or sending a document to your solid-state drive for faster access.

The CPU has four primary functions: fetch, decode, execute and write back. Fetch and execute read instructions from a main memory, also called RAM. Instructions are decoded by the control unit and fed to the arithmetic logic unit, which performs integer arithmetic and logical operations.


Your computer uses RAM to store and process data, from a website link you click to the movement of your mouse cursor across the screen. It is a form of temporary storage that gets wiped when you shut down the computer.

It takes far longer for your CPU to read data from long-term storage, like a hard drive or solid state drive (SSD). The amount of RAM you have can dramatically affect how well your computer works.

RAM comes in the form of modules that are either soldered onto your motherboard or removable DIMMs that slot into a socket on your motherboard. The latest generation of DDR SDRAM performs two data transfers during a single clock cycle instead of one, and consumes less power.

Graphics Card

Graphics cards, also known as video cards or display adapters, are hardware components that help render the images and videos you see on your computer’s screen. They take the graphical processing workload off of your CPU and allow your PC to run at higher frame rates and resolutions.

To create an image, the CPU sends information to the graphics card, which then turns it into electronic signals that get sent to your monitor through a cable. The monitor then interprets these signals and displays them on the screen.

GPUs are available in two types: integrated and discrete. Integrated GPUs are built into the motherboard and cannot be upgraded. A discrete GPU is a separate circuit board that can be added to the system. It has a specialized processor that converts ones and zeros into the image data displayed on your computer’s screen.

Hard Drive

The hard drive stores digital data like pictures, music and text documents. It also houses your operating system and software applications. It comes in different sizes ranging from a few gigabytes to multiple terabytes.

To read and write data, the platter surface is divided into organizational elements called tracks and sectors. A sector contains a fixed number of bytes – usually 256 or 512. Tracks and sectors are grouped into clusters, which contain the most important information.

To move the actuator arm and read or write data, the hard drive uses a high-speed linear motor that has to be extremely precise. Any clicking, beeping or grinding noises are worrisome and indicate a mechanical failure such as a torn actuator arm or head. The drive also has capacitors that act as a power reserve to prevent sudden current spikes.