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The Four Major Categories of Computer Hardware

Updated on November 14, 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.

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 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.

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

Keyboards are probably the most commonly used input device. Below are some other types that are used.

Input Type
Pointing Device
Mouse, touchpad, touchscreen, multi-touch screen, pen input, motion sensor, graphics tablet, interactive smartboard, and fingerprint scanner.
Game Controller
Joystick, gamepad, and steering wheel.
Audio Input Device
Microphone and midi keyboard.
Bluetooth Peripheral
Keyboard, mouse, headset, gamepad, printer.
Visual and Imaging Device
Webcam, digital camera, digital camcorder, TV capture card, biometric scanner, and barcode reader.
Network Device
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.

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

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.

The CRT monitor is an output device.
The CRT monitor is an output device.

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

See results

Popular Softcopy Devices

Visual display devices include:

  • Monitor
  • Projection display
  • Interactive (electronic) smartboard
  • Touchscreen

Sound devices include:

  • Speakers
  • 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

A 3D printer
A 3D printer | Source

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.

Computer memory devices.
Computer memory devices.

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:

  • DRAM
  • SRAM
  • ROM

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


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    • profile image

      cithy Ephraim 5 days ago

      Indeed this page is fully contained with all necessary guidelines for basic applications of this course . Thanks


    • profile image

      cithy Ephraim 5 days ago

      Indeed this page is fully contained with all necessary guidelines for basic applications of this course . Thanks


    • profile image

      abduselam sul 5 days ago

      thanks for sharing agreat article

    • profile image

      Ciplak 2 weeks ago

      great's help me to know more about computer hardware..thanks dude

    • profile image

      Muhammad Abdullah 3 weeks ago

      write down the four types of computer briefly explain?

    • amuno profile image

      Alfred Amuno 5 weeks ago from Kampala

      Thanks Chad, hope it really is beneficial to the young fellows.

    • ChadCrouch profile image

      Chad Crouch 5 weeks ago from South Africa

      Nice article for learners. Very well structured. Good work.

    • Viral Prajapati profile image

      Viral Prajapati 2 months ago from Ahmedabad

      Great way to explain here..All basic and important information are cover with video and images, It's a really good..

    • profile image

      Grace kaonga 3 months ago

      well explained have surely enjoyed

    • profile image

      Lucia 3 months ago

      Its a great note. Its what I was needing for solve a problem

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 4 months ago from Philippines

      wow, you sure know your techiness). I bow before you.

    • profile image

      ronielyn 4 months ago

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

    • Kingsley Aghedo profile image

      Kingsley Aghedo 5 months ago

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

    • profile image

      Pinky Mahadeo 6 months ago

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

    • profile image

      Ashir Mubeen 6 months ago

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

    • profile image

      Harindi 7 months ago

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

    • profile image

      Well expalined. I really gained a lot. 7 months ago


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      kelvin tatenda chirefu 8 months ago

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

    • profile image

      tulise 9 months ago


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      aqs 11 months ago

      Thaks for sharing such type of useful information.

    • amuno profile image

      Alfred Amuno 12 months ago from Kampala

      Thanks Maggie for appreciating.

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      Maggiesanchez 12 months ago

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

    • amuno profile image

      Alfred Amuno 13 months ago from Kampala

      Quite true Chad

    • ChadCrouch profile image

      Chad Crouch 13 months ago from South Africa

      Great article. Can help young lads with homework.

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      Janu Cap 14 months ago from Ha Noi

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

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      lol 14 months ago

      helped with my hw

    • amuno profile image

      Alfred Amuno 15 months ago from Kampala

      Thanks Penny

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      penny 15 months ago

      it awesome summary

    • amuno profile image

      Alfred Amuno 16 months ago from Kampala

      Good to know Phoebe

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      phoebe faraon 17 months ago

      A glad to see to know the info in your computer

    • amuno profile image

      Alfred Amuno 17 months ago from Kampala

      Glad to know the info was helpful

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      AS"LMFlkdlhdo 17 months ago

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

      Thank you !

    • profile image

      Marck 17 months ago

      Ty vm

    • amuno profile image

      Alfred Amuno 19 months ago from Kampala

      Thanks for appreciating Sya

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      sya 19 months ago

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

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      Alfred Amuno 22 months ago from Kampala

      Thanks for appreciating Farida

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      Farida Achieng 22 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.