Software and Hardware: Main Differences Explained (With Examples)


Software and hardware are two terms that tend to confuse people, even despite having been in use for years now. They are widely used and knowing the true meaning behind them, as well as the differences, it’s going to help you when you deal with your computer.

Computer terms are not always easy to get around. Not all of us are technically minded, and even if you are, you might focus your knowledge on something else. It’s always good to expand your horizons and try to learn new things. This is especially true now, in the digital era, when all things computer-related are so ingrained in our lives.

We know that it’s not always easy to find relevant information online. We want to help you save time & energy by providing you with the best guide on software & hardware. Keep reading to learn all about these two terms & the difference between their meaning!

What Is The Difference Between Software and Hardware?

While both those terms are often used in computer terminology, they mean two different things. You may have also heard both Hardware and software used in relation to many other devices, such as smartphones, printers, or even fridges. Hardware and software are simply everywhere, and this is due to the fact that technology itself is everywhere. How do you tell them apart?

Using layman’s terms, software is digital, and hardware is physical. Computer software can mean anything from the operating systems (Windows or MacOS, for example) to the browser you’re using to read this article. Computer hardware, on the other hand, stands for the physical parts of a computer or any other device. As an example, hardware can mean the hard drive or even things like a mouse or keyboard.

Some key differences between hardware and software are:

  • Software is not a physical object — it can’t be touched, moved, or fixed by hand. It can, however, be installed on a physical device (example: a USB stick or a CD/DVD containing a computer program)
  • Hardware is always strictly physical and doesn’t pertain to computer programs.
  • To replace hardware in a desktop computer, you’ll often have to open the case and physically remove the faulty parts.
  • When it comes to software, you can remove it from your computer by uninstalling it.

That’s just the very rough description of the two, but you must be curious to know more. Broaden your horizons and keep reading — this type of knowledge can come in handy at any time!

What Is Software And Examples?

You now know the basic description of software. It’s digital and virtual, and thus, it doesn’t exist in a physical form. However, that doesn’t mean it’s useless or not powerful. On the contrary, without software, our hardware would be meaningless — simple pieces of metal hooked up to a wall socket.

Software, at its heart, is thousands of lines of programming code. Every program that you use on your computer, from your email client to your favorite photo editor, is a piece of software… and every piece of software requires many hours of work from a programmer.

Who are programmers and what do they do?

A programmer, often referred to as a coder or developer, is a skilled professional that knows the art of coding. A programmer’s job is to create the software from scratch, often with the help of various tools. Many programmers work in teams, where depending on their skill set, different people might perform different tasks.

As an example, a web developer will likely take care of making websites. Those people are responsible for how websites look, how they function, and what they contain. On the other hand, a back-end developer might work on the very same website alongside the web developer, but their work won’t be seen so easily. Those programmers take care of what’s beneath the surface — creating databases, storing passwords, & more.

In short, programmers create the lines of code that are later executed by your computer. When the code is run by the machine, you see the end result.

What Kinds Of Devices Use Software?

what devices use software

As software can stand for any lines of code that control the way your device behaves, it’s used in more products than you might think. Examples of devices that rely on some form of software are:

  • Computers
  • Tablets
  • Smartphones
  • Music players
  • Smart devices (Roomba, 3D printers, smart fans, smart fridges, etc.)
  • Smart TVs

That’s right — all of these rely on software to work properly, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Many devices use some form of software to function. However, if they do not interact with the user the way a computer does, you don’t really notice the software at work.

What Are The 3 Types Of Software?

There are several types of software in computers and other similar devices. These types are split into categories that describe what this particular software is responsible for on your desktop.

While many people only mention 3 types of software, there are actually 4 main categories.

  • System software
  • Application software
  • Programming software
  • Driver software

What do these mean & what are some examples of software from each category? Let’s get right to it.

System Software


System software is often the base of the way your device works. It helps you, the user, as well as the hardware, and even the application software, to work together. Systemic software connects all the other loose ends into one big whole that functions as intended.

When it comes to system software, operating systems are the most popular examples.

Some of those examples are:

Without these operating systems, none of these devices could even run. As you can see, this is a very important kind of software.

Application Software


Application software refers to all kinds of programs or apps that you interact with when using your computer and/or another device. This kind of software helps you perform all sorts of tasks, keeps you entertained, and lets you make the most of your machine.

Some examples of computer software include:

All of the above are programs or mobile apps that allow you to accomplish certain tasks, or even simply entertain yourself. As these software examples are available on both mobile and web, they might be accessed by using an internet browser or downloading an app.

Programming Software

We talked about programmers, but what about their software? That’s right — even programmers need software in order to create more computer software. This creates a pretty funny “which came first: the chicken or the egg” scenario, but it does make a lot of sense.

This type of software is not typically used by regular PC users. If you’re not familiar with coding, you won’t have any use for these programs.

Some of the most popular programmer tools include:

  • Atom
  • Sublime Text
  • Notepad++
  • GitHub Desktop
  • Eclipse
  • IntelliJ IDEA

Driver Software

Drivers control and help you operate your computer system, the hardware inside it, and the peripherals (mouse, keyboard, printers, etc.) connected to it. Without drivers, even a plugged-in device may not work properly, or it may even not work at all.

Drivers are responsible for telling the device what to do and when to do it. As an example, when you click “print” on a document, nothing would happen if you didn’t have the correct drivers. Manufacturers often release new driver packages, so they do have to be updated from time to time.

Some of the devices that usually come with their own drivers are:

  • Printer
  • Keyboard & mouse
  • Speakers
  • Headphones
  • Hard drive
  • Webcam
  • Sound card
  • USB storage

Can Software Break And Require Replacement?

As software is virtual, it cannot “break down”, not per se. However, software may run into, or cause, all kinds of malfunctions. Using the wrong kind of software can affect the hardware in negative ways, sometimes causing freezes, slower performance, or even computer crashes.

There are easy ways to prevent issues with software:

  • Only install software from reputable sources
  • Regularly update your programs
  • Do not run too many programs at once on weaker computers
  • Uninstall the things you don’t use
  • Make regular backups of your data in case of computer issues


You’re now familiar with software and, hopefully, aware of the various functions it can serve. But what about hardware? What does that do and where can it be found? Keep reading to learn all about hardware of computer!

What Is Hardware Of A Computer And Examples?

As mentioned above, while software is not a physical object, hardware very much is. Hardware stands for every piece of your computer that you can touch. Computers and laptops come with a number of parts, each responsible for doing their own job. Every single one of these devices found inside your computer is referred to as “hardware”.

While computer hardware can refer to the physical components found inside a computer, it can also describe the so-called peripherals. Devices such as monitors, printers, or keyboards fall under that category.

A computer cannot function without the correct software, but it won’t even power on without the right hardware. As an example, a computer without a power supply (PSU) will not be able to draw power and thus, you won’t be able to turn it on.

When it comes to physical computer hardware, we can differentiate between what’s on the inside and the peripherals. Let’s take a look at some examples.

Computer components — examples of hardware:

  • A processor (CPU)
  • Video card (GPU)
  • Power supply (PSU)
  • Memory (RAM)
  • Hard drive or solid state hard drive (HDD or SSD)
  • Sound card
  • Network card
  • CD/DVD-ROM (CD/DVD player)
  • Computer fans

These are just the basics of what constitutes as “hardware” inside a desktop PC. Now, let’s take a look at the peripheral examples of hardware:

  • Routers and modems
  • Monitors
  • Keyboard & mouse
  • Speakers
  • Headphones
  • Printers
  • Scanners
  • Portable hard drive
  • Xero
  • Label makers
  • Webcams

As you know by now, all of these devices are controlled by driver software. It’s a perfect synergy that allows you, the end-user, to make the most out of your computer.

Can a Computer Run Without Software?

If equipped with a full set of functioning hardware, most computers will turn on. However, if no operating system is found, they will either turn back off or return an error. You will still be able to access some basic functions.

Your computer, even without any extra software, has a pre-installed program called BIOS (basic input/output system). BIOS is responsible for the data flow between the operating system and the attached devices. It can be accessed even without an operating system, but it won’t let you properly use the device.

On a new machine, the first thing you’ll do will be to install an operating system. Next, you will install all kinds of driver software and application software. Only then will the machine run properly.

Hardware and software share a strong co-dependence — one cannot function without the other. Without software/ hardware computer is unable to run.

Can a Computer System Run Without Drivers?

Yes, every computer system can run without drivers to an extent. However, you shouldn’t expect it to run as well as it could. For example, if you have a dedicated video card without any drivers, the graphics on your computer will look quite bad. Once you get your drivers, everything will look just as beautiful as it should.

Can a Computer Run Without Hardware?

Most computers, laptops or desktops, require some basic hardware in order to run. Without certain components of hardware, your computer will not power on.

The bare minimum of the computer hardware that you need is:

  • A hard drive
  • A motherboard
  • Memory
  • A processor
  • A power supply
  • A video card (some are integrated into the processor)
  • A display
  • A keyboard and mouse

Keep in mind that with the motherboard come other computer hardware solutions, such as output devices (sound card) or network devices (network card).

Does Hardware Get Old And Break Down?

Unlike software, hardware will age over time. The more hours you spend at your computer, the closer you are to the moment when something breaks down and requires replacement. When that time comes, you will need to buy new hardware.

Replacements are made easier on desktop computers. Their huge cases are easy to open, and the hardware components can be taken in and out as needed. However, if you haven’t tried doing that before, we recommend asking a professional to help you. Replacing computer hardware requires some knowledge and precision.

Some hardware breakdowns are quite insignificant, while some components may cause a complete meltdown. This is why it’s important to check your hardware regularly and ensure everything is still in top shape.


Hardware & software both run the world in some way. These days, most of us wouldn’t know what to do without our trusty smartphones and laptops. Fortunately, we don’t need to — modern technology is here to stay and it will only continue to evolve.

We hope that our guide has helped you navigate the murky waters of the digital era. Remember that your hardware & software, if well looked after, will last you for years!

About the Author: Ben Flynn

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