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Hardware definition: What is it and what is the difference between primary hardware and peripheral hardware?

Today we all have a computer among us. Some in the palm of the hand in the form of a smartphone or in the living room of our house in the form of a television. And it is that computer hardware is no longer only used for conventional computers, acquiring more forms and uses.

The first computers had military missions, helping to conduct strategy research. They were not its only utility, there were also computers to count the people of the United States or to calculate the taxes of the citizens of the United States. Back then the hardware used to occupy huge rooms and today we can carry them in our pocket.

Time has passed and computers or computers can do all kinds of calculations in a matter of seconds. They are basic for our day to day, since they control traffic lights or infrastructures such as airports.

For decades, work has been done to miniaturize transistors. Today a processor, like the one in our smartphone, houses millions of these transistors.

Hardware definition

A computer is made up of two fundamental elements for it to work: the hardware and software. Without software, hardware is just a heap of junk and software without hardware is non-existent.

El hardware is any physical element of a computer, everything we can touch with the hand. The software is the operating system and all the programs and tools that allow us to use the computer.

La Royal Spanish Academy (RAE), offers us the hardware definition as: 'set of devices of a computer'

All components of our computer tower are considered primary hardware. All those computer components that connect to our computer are considered peripheral hardware.

Basically we can define as primary hardware all those elements without which a computer could function. This would be the motherboard or PCB where the processor, RAM and storage are installed. The power for its operation is also considered primary hardwre.

Other elements such as graphics chips (also described as graphics card or GPU) are primary elements. While a computer can function without it, it is necessary for video output.

The network card, the sound chips or the chips for communication ports (such as USB) are considered peripheral hardware. This is because without these the system could function and display video.

What is the hardware for?

The hardware has the task of carrying out all the instructions set by the user through other components, such as peripherals. The central processing unit or CPU is responsible for receiving all shares. This is responsible for performing the necessary operations to return a valid result. This result can be the reproduction of a video, access to a web page or any other action that we carry out.

We must bear in mind that the primary hardware without the external hardware or peripherals can work. However, although without the peripherals it can operate, its tasks are limited to those programmed.

We must not confuse the input and output signals established with the actions of the peripherals. An industrial automaton (a very simple computer) can have analog and digital pulse input and output. These pulses simply return a state that allows the automaton that an action has been performed and it can move on to the next. By means of an output pulse, it will activate the corresponding electronic element so that the production process continues to advance.

An example would be a packaging conveyor belt. Drop a package and advance to a sensor. When it reaches this, the belt stops and a roller wraps the package while the belt advances very slowly3. Once the process has finished, it is started again and the package leaves. This process can be repeated many times in an automated way.

Image of an electrical panel with a programmable industrial automaton (dark gray elements in the upper right corner)

Hardware elements

As we have said, a computer is the set of hardware and software, since one without the other would not work. Within the hardware, we find two divisions. The first is the primary or basic hardware and the second is the peripheral or complementary hardware.

The primary or basic hardware is any computer component without which the computer does not have the ability to function by itself. This included the motherboard, processor, RAM, storage unit, and power supply. The video card is also included as primary hardware, although a computer could operate without it.

The chassis or cabinet is not necessarily a primary item. We can have all the components of the primary hardware without having this element. It is true that this hardware container is recommended, especially in modern computer equipment.

We must bear in mind that current case plates already integrate sound cards and network cards. These elements a few years ago had to be installed independently. You can still find separate versions that enhance the built-in elements.

Input peripheral

These elements are optional in part, although there are some that are essential. The keyboard and mouse are considered basic input peripherals for a computer, because they are responsible for entering data.

In addition, we have other input peripherals such as the microphone, the webcam, a document scanner or the joystic. These are usually the most common, although we can also find fingerprint readers or a tablet for photographic retouching, among others. These elements are dispensable and we could use the system only with the two mentioned above.

hardware input peripherals

Exit peripheral

The output peripherals are responsible for transforming all complex calculation processes into simple and easily interpretable elements. These have the sole mission of representing the result of the input instructions after being processed. The most important is the monitor or data display screen. The graphics card interprets the data and shows it to us on a screen in an easy and intuitive way.

It is not the only output device. The most common are speakers or printers. Headphones or speakers without a built-in microphone are also considered as output peripherals. Projectors are also considered output devices and can be a replacement for a monitor.

peripheral output hardware

Hybrid or mixed peripheral

Finally, this category refers to those devices that have the ability to send and receive information independently. The clear example is headphones with a microphone. This item allows the input of data in the form of sound and the output of data also in the form of sound.

They are not the only hybrid element. Multifunction printers would be another example, as they allow you to scan files and print them. We also have touch screens, which show data on the screen and if we click on it, we enter data.

Hard drives, USB storage drives (or pen drives) and other external storage drives also have this capacity. It is because they have the property of allowing to obtain data stored in them or to store data in them. Keyboards can also fall into this category, if they have small screens or USB connectors, which is relatively common.

Hybrid Peripheral Hardware

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Robert Sole

Director of Contents and Writing of this same website, technician in renewable energy generation systems and low voltage electrical technician. I work in front of a PC, in my free time I am in front of a PC and when I leave the house I am glued to the screen of my smartphone. Every morning when I wake up I walk across the Stargate to make some coffee and start watching YouTube videos. I once saw a dragon ... or was it a Dragonite?

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