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The Four Major Categories of Computer Hardware Devices

Updated on June 8, 2017
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Alfred is a long time teacher and computer enthusiast who works with and troubleshoots a wide range of computing devices.

In order to understand computer hardware better, it is good to keep in mind that no single piece of hardware qualifies to be a computer on its own. A computer is actually a system of many components, working together. The different components compliment each to make a complete computer system.

The typical computer set can be broken down into four distinct hardware categories. This breakdown actually defines what a computer is and does: a programmable electronic device which,

  • inputs raw data by use of input peripherals,
  • uses the microprocessor to process received instructions into information,
  • outputs this data or information via the monitor, print or other outlets,
  • stores data and information derived onto appropriate media for future use.

An illustration of a typical desktop computer set  comprising all the hardware components
An illustration of a typical desktop computer set comprising all the hardware components

Computer hardware devices are thus grouped under four major hardware categories:

  • Input hardware
  • Processing hardware
  • Output hardware
  • Storage hardware

1: Input Hardware

All computer hardware components which are used to feed raw and other data into a computer set are categorized under input hardware.

A microphone is an example of sound input device
A microphone is an example of sound input device

Introduction to Computer System

Overall, a computer system is an interaction of three major components namely hardware, software and humanware. The three components are integral in that none of them is functional without the others.

  • Computer hardware components are the physical devices that make up a computer, allowing software to run on them. Examples of these devices are keyboard, mouse, monitor etc
  • Computer software includes protocols, programs and data which run on hardware componets. Software can only be experienced its examples are Linux OS, device drivers, Google Docs, video and mp3 files.
  • Humanware refers to the user of the computer.

The following is a list of commonly used input devices:

  • Keyboards
  • Pointing devices:

Multi touch screen
Pen input
Motion sensor
Graphics tablet
Interactive (electronic) smartboard

  • Game controller devices:

Steering wheel

  • Audio input devices:

Midi keyboard

  • Bluetooth peripherals


  • Visual and Imaging devices:

Digital camera
Digital camcorder
Tv capture card
Barcode reader

  • Network sharing and internet connectivity

Ethernet cables

2: Processing Hardware

Computer hardware components that manipulate raw and other data, into information are referred to as processing devices.

Processing hardware is not as populated as other categories parts, yet helps in accomplishing the most crucial tasks.

The microprocessor is typically the major processing devices in the computer. It is also important to note that the microprocessor works closely with computer memory devices during its operations.

The microprocessor is subdivided into three important units which work together in order to accomplish all processing activities. The units are:

  • Control unit
  • Arithmetic and logic unit
  • Register and cache

An AMD microprocessor is an example of a processing device
An AMD microprocessor is an example of a processing device

  • The Control Unit

The control unit manages and supervises the operations of the processor and other components that are crucial in data manipulation.

  • Arithmetic and Logic Unit (ALU)

The ALU is responsible for all arithmetic and logic operations like additions, multiplications, subtractions and division, and comparison logic operations.

  • Registers and Cache Memory

Registers and cache are storage locations inside the processor, which respond to the instructions of the control unit by moving relevant data around.

3: Output Hardware

Hardware components that disseminate and display both data and information are of the output category. All computer output forms are the culmination of the purpose the computer is tasked to accomplish.

Output devices are categorized under softcopy output and hardcopy output. Softcopy output is usually related to the experience the user derives from interacting with the computer.

The user derives visual pleasure by watching a movie he downloaded from cloud storage. This is usually by monitor display output.

A collection of old CRT monitors. The CRT monitor is an output device
A collection of old CRT monitors. The CRT monitor is an output device

Do you still have a CRT monitor somewhere in your house?

See results

The school teacher will, however, need to have his grammar exam transferred to tangible hardcopy output in order to have students write appropriate answers on them.

  • Softcopy output
  • Display output
Projection display
Interactive (electronic) smartboard
  • Sound output

Headphone and earphone

  • Network connectivity

Ethernet cables
Wireless and Bluetooth

  • USB devices

Flash drives
External drives
Optical drives

  • Hardcopy output

Impact printer

  • Dot matrix printer
  • 3D printer

Non impact printer

  • Inkjet printer
  • Laserjet printer
  • thermal printer

4: Storage Hardware

The parts of the computer that are used to store data in whatever form are classified as storage devices. Computer storage is either primary or secondary and is either volatile or nonvolatile.

Primary memory is commonly used to mean random access memory (RAM) but actually refers to all memory that work in tandem with the processor. The central processing unit (CPU) or accelerated processing unit (APU) read instructions stored in primary memory and execute the instructions as required.

An external disk storage device
An external disk storage device

Secondary memory is secondary because data stored within secondary storage media (usually disks) cannot directly communicate with the microprocessor. Data stored in such media first is transferred to main memory (DRAM) from where manipulation by the processor can occur.

  • Primary storage
  • DRAM
  • SRAM
  • ROM
  • Secondary storage

Internal storage & External storage

  • Magnetic storage
  • Optical storage
  • Flash storage
  • Paper storage

An SSD for laptops is an example of flash storage
An SSD for laptops is an example of flash storage


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    • profile image

      Farida Achieng 17 months ago

      I have learnt allot and it has enabled me to gain more and learn more about the hardware and its categories .Am so grateful.


    • amuno profile image

      Alfred Amuno 17 months ago from Kampala

      Thanks for appreciating Farida

    • profile image

      sya 15 months ago

      it good note. good for student to the homework..

    • amuno profile image

      Alfred Amuno 15 months ago from Kampala

      Thanks for appreciating Sya

    • profile image

      Marck 12 months ago

      Ty vm

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      AS"LMFlkdlhdo 12 months ago

      The information Was Prety Awsome I almost Get all The Correct Answers For My Assignment

      Thank you !

    • amuno profile image

      Alfred Amuno 12 months ago from Kampala

      Glad to know the info was helpful

    • profile image

      phoebe faraon 12 months ago

      A glad to see to know the info in your computer

    • amuno profile image

      Alfred Amuno 11 months ago from Kampala

      Good to know Phoebe

    • profile image

      penny 10 months ago

      it awesome summary

    • amuno profile image

      Alfred Amuno 10 months ago from Kampala

      Thanks Penny

    • profile image

      lol 9 months ago

      helped with my hw

    • appsforwindow profile image

      Janu Cap 9 months ago from Ha Noi

      Thanks for Alfred Amuno! Glad to know the info was helpful. Follow you and follow you. Thanks friends

    • ChadCrouch profile image

      Chad Crouch 9 months ago from South Africa

      Great article. Can help young lads with homework.

    • amuno profile image

      Alfred Amuno 8 months ago from Kampala

      Quite true Chad

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      Maggiesanchez 7 months ago

      Great work men!! i'm glad since i have got to understand more abt hardwares.CONGRATS!!!!!

    • amuno profile image

      Alfred Amuno 7 months ago from Kampala

      Thanks Maggie for appreciating.

    • profile image

      aqs 6 months ago

      Thaks for sharing such type of useful information.

    • profile image

      tulise 4 months ago


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      kelvin tatenda chirefu 3 months ago

      thank you so much man its so helping . i have learnt a lot from your work keep it up .

    • profile image

      Well expalined. I really gained a lot. 3 months ago


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      Harindi 2 months ago

      This was very helpful me to do my university assignment.Thank you very mush

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      Ashir Mubeen 7 weeks ago

      This information is pretty awesome. It helped me a lot. Following you.

    • profile image

      Pinky Mahadeo 5 weeks ago

      I have learnt so much, also knows more about the hardware and its categories. Am so thankful

    • Kingsley Aghedo profile image

      Kingsley Aghedo 4 days ago

      Very nice presentation. I am a computer guru myself. Your pictures of a computer really drive home your points.

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      ronielyn 27 minutes ago

      thank you very much for the good was a big help! ty

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