The Four Major Categories of Computer Hardware
Computer hardware refers to the physical devices of a computer. Examples include the keyboard, monitor, and hard disk drive. Be it a tablet, laptop, or desktop, the overriding hardware functionality remains the same, albeit different in shape, size, and design.
Hardware devices can be classified into four distinct categories:
- Input devices: These input raw data.
- Processing devices: These process received instructions into usable information.
- Output devices: These disseminate processed data and information.
- Storage devices: These store data and information for future use.
1. Input Devices
Components which are used to input raw data are categorized under input devices.
They aid in feeding data such as text, images, and audiovisual recordings. They even aid in file transfers between computers.
This data is then manipulated by the processor.
Keyboards are probably the most commonly used input device. Below are some other types that are used.
Mouse, touchpad, touchscreen, multi-touch screen, pen input, motion sensor, graphics tablet, interactive smartboard, and fingerprint scanner.
Joystick, gamepad, and steering wheel.
Audio Input Device
Microphone and midi keyboard.
Keyboard, mouse, headset, gamepad, printer.
Visual and Imaging Device
Webcam, digital camera, digital camcorder, TV capture card, biometric scanner, and barcode reader.
Ethernet hardware and Bluetooth/wireless hardware.
2. Processing Devices
Processing is the core function of a computer. It is the stage where raw data is transformed into useful information. Components that manipulate data into information are categorized under processing.
The microprocessor is the major device in this category. It works closely with primary memory during its operations. Data is stored temporarily in primary memory during the processing period.
The microprocessor is subdivided into three important units, which work together in order to accomplish its function. The units are:
- The control unit: It manages and supervises the operations of the processor and other components that are crucial in data manipulation.
- Arithmetic and logic unit: The ALU is responsible for all arithmetic and logic operations like addition, multiplication, subtraction, division, and comparison logic operations.
- Register and cache: These are storage locations inside the processor that respond to the instructions of the control unit by moving relevant data around during processing.
3. Output Devices
Hardware components that disseminate and display both data and information are in the output device category.
This stage is the culmination of a cycle which starts with the input of raw data and processing.
These components are sub-categorized under softcopy and hardcopy output.
Softcopy output includes the intangible experience. The user derives visual satisfaction by reading a message through display components or listens to audio files through speakers.
On the other hand, hardcopy output devices are tangible, like printouts of paper and 3D models.
Do you still have a CRT monitor somewhere in your house?
Popular Softcopy Devices
Visual display devices include:
- Projection display
- Interactive (electronic) smartboard
Sound devices include:
- Headphones and earphones
Network input/output includes:
- Ethernet cables
- Wireless and Bluetooth transmissions
USB input/output includes:
- Flash drives
- External drives
- Optical drives
Popular Hardcopy Devices
Impact printers include:
- Dot matrix printer
- 3D printer
Non-impact printers include:
- Inkjet printer
- Laserjet printer
- Thermal printer
4. Memory/Storage Devices
Components that store data are classified under memory/storage devices.
Storage is sub-divided under primary and secondary memory and is either volatile or nonvolatile.
Primary memory usually refers to random-access memory (RAM) but can also refer to all memory that works in tandem with the processor. RAM is volatile, meaning that it retains data only when the computer is powered up.
The central processing unit (CPU) or accelerated processing unit (APU) reads instructions stored in this memory and executes them as required.
Secondary memory is labeled as such because data stored within secondary storage media (usually disk drives) do not communicate directly with the microprocessor. Any data stored in such media is first transferred to a RAM device for processing to take place.
This type of memory is also non-volatile since it permits long time storage as opposed to volatile memory.
To give some examples of these devices, primary memory includes:
Secondary memory is subdivided into two categories:
- Internal devices are designed to be placed inside the computer at all times. Examples include hard disk and solid state disk drives.
- External devices are plug and play media used to transfer files between computers. Examples include optical disks, flash disks, and external disk drives.
© 2014 Alfred Amuno