Computer hardware describes all of the physical components of a computer, as opposed to software, which comprises all the programs running on said computer.
Getting into the world of PC gaming can be very simple or very complicated, depending on your expectations and requirements.
On the one hand, you can simply buy a prebuilt gaming PC that is ready to go as soon as you plug it in. But on the other, that would mean foregoing one of the biggest appeals of PC gaming: the ability to put together the exact hardware configuration that you want for your new gaming machine.
So, for those readers who are brand new and not sure what the term “computer hardware” refers to exactly, we’re here to provide some explanations, as well as a list of all of the notable hardware components that go into a PC!
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What Is Computer Hardware?
To start off with the simple titular question: what is computer hardware, exactly?
This term quite simply refers to all the physical parts of a PC. In contrast, “software” refers to the digital programs that are running on said hardware.
Now, computer hardware can generally be divided into internal components and peripherals. The former are all the components that go inside the case, while the latter refers to all the hardware outside of it.
That said, we will now briefly go over specific pieces of hardware and what you should know about them.
To start off, we have the central processing unit, or CPU, which is effectively the brain of a PC. The CPU is always aware of what the other components are doing, and it is the CPU that tells them what to do. That said, it is an indispensable part of any PC, and a gaming CPU must always be powerful enough to make the most out of the rest of the hardware.
Next, there is the graphics card, which houses the graphics processing unit (GPU) and is responsible for a PC’s video output. It is the most important piece of hardware in a gaming PC, as a powerful gaming GPU is what makes good graphics and smooth performance possible.
After these two important processors, we have the random-access memory, or RAM. This is an extremely fast type of memory that effectively functions as a PC’s short-term memory. All of the important data that the CPU might need to access quickly is stored here, facilitating all of the PC’s operations.
On the other hand, the storage would be the PC’s long-term memory. Most gaming PCs today come with solid-state drives (SSD), which now have ample storage capacity and are much faster than thehard-disk drives (HDD) that used to be the norm for all PCs up until the late 2010s.
Now, all of these components have to be connected somehow, and that’s where the motherboard comes in. This piece of hardware has all the slots, connectors, and data highways via which the other components can interface with each other. This includes the CPU socket, the PCIe slots for the graphics card, SATA connectors for the storage, etc.
Finally, we have the power supply unit (PSU), which is responsible for supplying each of the above-listed components (and others) with power. The PSU converts alternating current from the outlet into direct current and ensures that adequate voltage is delivered to each component.
Apart from these main components that no PC can do without, there is also a wide range of additional components that are not a staple of every modern gaming PC but that have their uses nonetheless.
Many PCs still have optical drives that allow them to read and write CDs, DVDs, or even Blu-ray disks in some rare cases. However, these storage mediums have slowly been eclipsed by faster internet speeds and increasingly cheaper and higher-capacity USB drives.
Some PCs also have dedicated sound cards. These have become a rare sight ever since integrated audio chips became the norm for motherboards, although they still have their uses. Sometimes, audio professionals need more features than what an integrated chip can provide, or maybe the motherboard lacks the connectors that they need. Plus, in some cases of faulty chips or connectors, it’s easier to get a dedicated sound card than to replace a motherboard.
Similarly, network cards and modems are also components that have been integrated into motherboards for a long time now, though they still have a place in the market for when a motherboard’s specifications or capabilities don’t meet the user’s requirements.
Then, there are also capture cards, whose purpose is to capture video footage from the PC. A capture card ensures high video quality and takes that portion of the workload off the GPU, which in turn means no performance hit when the user is recording or streaming.
As mentioned before, peripherals constitute all external pieces of hardware, and they generally refer to devices used for input (keyboards, mice, controllers, microphones, cameras), as well as output (monitors, speakers, headphones, printers).
However, it’s also worth noting that some hardware that’s normally seen as internal can also come in an external form, usually interfacing with the system through USB or another port. For example, external HDDs and external SSDs are quite common today, and there has been a rise in the popularity of external GPU enclosures, too.
And so, that would be a brief rundown as to what computer hardware is and what role the most common pieces of hardware serve in a computer.
Now, if you’re actually building a PC for the first time, we’d suggest also checking out some of our gaming PC builds. It’s bound to make the process of selecting the relevant hardware easier, and we have builds to suit any budget!