Software vs. Hardware: How Are They Different?


Software vs. Hardware: How Are They Different?

Hardware refers to the components of a computer that you can touch and hold; it is to a computer what hardcopy is to a document. Software, unfortunately, is not a ‘soft’ copy version of what the hardware contains but a collection of instructions that tells the hardware what to do, how, and when. And yes, you cannot touch it.

From the start, it is evident that it takes more than rudimentary analogies to bring out the difference between computer hardware and software fully. So, here is an in-depth highlight of their differences.

Software vs. Hardware: Side-by-Side Comparison

NatureNot tangibleTangible
Symbiotic RelationshipIt relies on hardware to function and involves installed coded programs on a computerReceives and runs instructions from the software to generate information (meaning that it relies on software to perform required tasks)
Primary UsageIt controls the information creation process from collection through processing and storage up to the dissemination stageProvides input, output, data computation, storage, and communication resources
Failure CausesBugs, virus attacksElectric wiring problems, power flux
CreationSoftware Engineers use programming languages like Python, Java, C, C++Hardware Engineers use electronic components
TypesSystem Software
Malware Software
Application Software
Storage Devices
Input and Output Devices
Communication Devices
LanguageProgramming Language
Assembly Language
Machine-Level Language
NatureIntangible and VisibleVisible and Tangible
ExamplesGoogle Chrome, Ms Word, Access, PowerPoint, Excel, and MySQLMouse, Keyboard, Monitor, Processor, Central Processing Unit, and Printer

Software vs. Hardware: What’s the Difference?

Hardware and software have a beneficial relationship. Hardware equipment requires the right software to function, and so does the software. Even after upgrading or replacing the hardware equipment and software applications, they will continue to work together seamlessly. However, they have stark differences. Read on!


Hardware refers to a computer’s physical elements that power and store programs. They include display devices, wire cords, USB drives, storage equipment, and printing machines, to mention a few.

intel sapphire rapids
Hardware is normally directed by the software to execute any command or instruction. 

Software is the pattern of scripts, data, and instructions that supports computer functionality and task completion. These could be an operating system such as Windows, Ubuntu, or Mac OS, or one designed for specific tasks, such as Microsoft Word, VLC media player, Adobe reader, etc.


Initial computers were purely mechanical and, like the Jacquard machine, they were programmed using wires and switches. Charles Babbage is the man behind the first computer invention — the Analytical Engine, a concept that led to the development of modern computers.  

Then came the Z3, the first software-enabled computer developed in 1941, followed by the 1943 Colossus computer. In 1959, there was the invention of machine-dependent programming language.

Later, human-readable programming languages, FORTRAN and COBOL, were developed. The language used in personal computers was easy to understand and code. Current computers have C or C++ language.

It’s important to note that there was not much difference between hardware and software until the late 1940s. However, significant developments started in the 1960s.


Hardware components are grouped depending on their usage. For instance, scanners, mouses, joysticks, fax machines, and keyboards are signal control and data generation devices.

Information-processing hardware devices include a CPU (Central Processing Unit), GPU (Graphics Processing Unit), sound and video cards, and the motherboard. These components execute given orders to produce digital information in text, graphic, or audio form. The processed data is stored in ROM (Read Only Memory), RAIDs (Redundant Array of Independent Disks), and tape libraries.

We also have the output devices such as computer screens, network cards, fax machines, speakers, and printers. They display texts, videos, and audio data. Software classifications are based on their functions and types as application and system software.

Application software is tailored for specific activities, like purchasing and media player applications, while system software provides a channel for other functioning programs and user-oriented tasks. Windows, Linux, Mac OS, SaaS (Software as a Service) applications, and gaming engines all fall under system software.


When it comes to storing your information or data files, you can use either a hardware storage device or opt for software-driven options. Hardware storage devices include Solid State Drives and Hard Disk Drives used to store long-term files.

The RAM and ROM are internal computer storage hardware. The RAM saves temporary files automatically while the ROM receives and backs up data permanently into the computer memory. Then, there is the CD and DVD drive that stores binary files and videos, and Flash Disk, a portable storage device that stores files, videos, music, and images on flash memory.

OpenCL vs CUDA
The majority of software is written in high-level programming languages.

On the other hand, we have Cloud Storage and Online Backup, which are software-driven storage options. These types of storage do not depend on the underlying hardware devices. They consist of a group of servers that provide a platform to store large volumes of data.

Just like external hardware devices, online storage saves your computer storage space. These backup applications secure data, making it retrievable in the event the hardware storage device is lost or destroyed.

The key difference here is that data stored on software-based alternatives, such as the cloud, is more accessible, unlike physical storage devices that need to be connected to a computer to retrieve information.


Computer upgrading involves replacing hardware or software with an improved or newer copy of the same version. Hardware upgrades involve replacing or adding additional equipment to improve a computer’s performance and capacity. For instance, getting a Solid-State Drive to replace a hard drive will boost a computer’s performance.

Installing more Random Access Memory will provide additional storage and faster data retrieval. Also, the GPU can be upgraded by being replaced with one that has better graphics processing capacity.

Software, on the other hand, undergoes upgrading to match technological advancements. An advanced version of a current program will improve the computer’s functionality and, in some cases, solve security issues.

Often, upgrading one program will lead to the need to upgrade the other, but the hardware limitations often determine the possible level of the software upgrade. Thus, hardware and software upgrading should be continuous. Moreover, it requires the use of legit programs and electronic devices.


Firewalls are a combination of hardware devices and software tools that protect networks and computer systems against unauthorized access. They block threats and provide virus protection to a computer system.

Hardware Firewalls use wires and servers to safeguard files and data. They are flexible and can be tailored to match traffic needs. Also, they do not use the computer’s storage.   

Software firewalls review the data entering and leaving a computer system to ensure it is safe. The program blocks corrupted and malicious data. Also, it can be tailored to meet the user’s demands, as well as control traffic. However, it occupies a reasonable space on a computer.


Hardware devices are prone to physical damage due to their nature. However, the damaged devices will require replacement or repair for continuous computer functioning.

Conversely, computer software is safe from physical damage but is prone to viruses, malware, and ransomware. Generally, the software level of any computer system is usually its most vulnerable link. Thus, constant upgrades and avoiding the installation of pirated software are some ways to prevent such vulnerabilities.

Software vs. Hardware: 5 Must-Know Facts

  1. Despite their differences, hardware and software need each other.
  2. There is a need to recycle obsolete parts of computer hardware.
  3. Licenses and patent protection are necessary when upgrading the software.
  4. Software is flexible and allows modification.
  5. Hardware tools are prone to wearing out, but software usually needs an upgrade.

Software vs. Hardware: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Use?

Hardware and software are inextricably related. However, your decision on the software or hardware to use will be influenced by your intended purpose, personal preference, technical know-how level, and budget. As a rule, always get the hardware equipment and software that supports your business growth or, if for personal use, will be suitable for usage two to four years later.  

Opt for programs and hardware equipment from a reputable vendor with a local technical support team if possible. Ensure they offer after-sales services such as free installation and update services.

In summary, know why you need the computer equipment and applications before shopping. List the leading hardware and software dealers in your locality. For online trading, focus on the software developers and hardware suppliers with credible reviews.

When purchasing, feel free to bring along a techie friend to help you identify the best solutions for your needs. Remember, both software and hardware must come with the necessary warranties.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Hardware operate without Software?

Hardware needs software to operate. For instance, a video game is an application that requires Hardware devices like a video card, screen, processor, sound appliances, and storage tools to function.

Can Software operate without hardware?

A computer system can run for some minutes without any application, but if it does not find supporting hardware, it will log an error. Thus, to ensure flawless functioning, ensure your computer has the correct software and hardware.

Can I clean computer hardware?

Cleaning hardware equipment regularly will prolong its lifespan and ensure they remain functional. However, you should first unplug the computer from the power source and use canned air, lint-free cloth, and isopropyl alcohol to clean the equipment.

What is the future of hardware?

The physical hardware is disappearing; on-screen keyboards and mice are replacing the tangible mouse and keyboards. Also, CPUs and GPUs are becoming more essential. This means years to come, physical hardware may be non-existence.

What is the effect of a virus on computer hardware?

Generally, a virus aims and affects the software part of the computer. However, the effect can impact support hardware for the infected software in different ways, such as changing the content on a hard disk, turning off the mouse or keyboard, and many more.

To top