What Is Computer Hardware?

pc hardware

Computer hardware is the physical parts that make up your desktop or laptop. These include the central processing unit (CPU), random-access memory and storage devices.

RAM stores on-the-fly information created by programs and makes it immediately available. Persistent storage includes a hard drive that uses magnets to store data and a flash memory device such as a USB storage device or camera memory card.


Motherboards are the backbone of a computer system. They connect the central processor unit (CPU) to other modular parts of a PC, such as RAM and hard drives. They also provide ports to attach external devices like a monitor, printer and floppy drive.

The motherboard has integrated controller chips that manage data buses that connect these components. They send information between them using a programming language that each component can understand, and they distribute power to these elements.

A motherboard has multiple slots for RAM, each of which handles two sticks of memory in a dual-channel configuration. It may also have USB ports, which are used to connect compatible devices like printers and pen drives in a plug-in and plug-out fashion. It may also have a PCI slot, which supports newer storage standards that take the place of older SATA slots in desktop computers.


The central processing unit (CPU) acts as the brains behind a computer. A small piece of silicon, it interprets and executes instructions that it receives from software programs. It is the main chip inside your computer and resides on its motherboard.

Its billions of transistors perform calculations so that you can call friends, open your web browser and use other computer applications. It’s also the electronic machinery that powers modern smart devices like tablets, smartphones, DVD players and even smart washing machines.

The CPU gets its instruction from a program stored in the main memory called RAM (random access memory). It then processes these instructions by fetching them, decoding and executing. It also includes a floating point unit, a specialized coprocessor that manipulates numbers more quickly than basic microprocessor circuitry can.


RAM, or random-access memory, stores the information that your computer processor needs to open programs and files. Think of it like your own short-term memory; when you start up a program, the data for that program takes up space in your RAM until you close the program and clear it out of your memory.

It’s not permanent storage, however, unlike non-volatile system storage on hard drives and SSDs that won’t lose information if the power fails. The information stored in RAM can be lost when the computer is turned off or rebooted.

RAM consists of microchips packaged together into modules that plug into the motherboard. Most modern computers accept either SRAM (shown here) or DRAM (dynamic random-access memory). SRAM uses transistors to hold the electrical charge, while DRAM uses capacitors.

Optical Drive

Optical disk drives are associated with CD, DVD and Blu-Ray technology. They use a laser to read data stored on optical media which is comprised of small pits and unburned, reflective areas known as lands.

Unlike floppy disks, optical storage is not easily destroyed or corrupted. This makes it ideal for long-term data storage.

Optical disc drives are becoming increasingly rare in laptops and desktops as they make way for more convenient cloud storage options. However, if you need to share large files with your colleagues, popping in a disk and handing it over is much faster than uploading them to a shared folder. You can find internal optical drives which live in a 5.25-inch drive bay inside your PC case or external optical drives that sit on your desk and connect to your computer via USB.