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4.1.2: Relationship Between Hardware and Software

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    Learning Objectives

    • Explain the relationship between hardware and software.


    Tim has decided he needs a new computer. He visits the local computer store to look at and evaluate the various models to find which one best serves his needs. He likes the look and feel of one of the new tablet designs and opts to purchase one. But the aesthetics—the casing material, shape, size, color—of the tablet, along with the features of its internal hardware components, are not the only things he has to decide upon. What operating system will be installed? What utility programs come with this particular model? What applications need to be purchased? Is hooking up an external peripheral important? (the Windows Surface, for example, supports a mouse; the iPad does not). This set of questions relates to the software that will be loaded or that will run on Tim's new tablet.

    Without operational software—at a minimum, an operating system and some application software—a computer system (just its hardware) is not a functioning machine. That system unit may become a footrest, a bookend, or a dust-catcher on your desk. To be functional, the computer hardware must be running software—the instructions or data that the hardware components of the computer use to operate. The two “wares” are integral to each other; neither will work without the other. The hardware needs instructions to perform functions. The software requires hardware both as a place to be stored and as a means of producing the results that the instructions contained within the software are designed to achieve. Software does not exist outside of some form of hardware on which it is stored—a compact disc (CD) or digital video disk (DVD), the hard drive, or the memory registers within the hardware components.

    Most personal computers (PCs) fall into one of two categories based on the type of processor and other hardware used:

    • those based on Intel processors and running some version of Microsoft’s Windows operating system, and
    • those based on the Apple Macintosh configuration running some version of Apple’s IOS operating system

    Note that Apple is now using Intel chips as well.

    There is a delicate balance between the hardware and software in any computer system. The hardware components must have the capacity to perform the instructions sent to it by software. And at a most basic level, the operating system must be compatible with the hardware system. For example, newer operating systems such as Windows 10 might require an upgrade to hardware components on a machine originally built for an older OS (e.g., Vista). It is certainly possible to overload the hardware by asking it to do more than it is possible for a component to accomplish. For example, if your hard drive storage space is not sufficient, some application software programs cannot be installed or loaded. Other programs may run very slowly because the available random access memory (RAM) may be too limited. The more complicated the software, the greater the need to ensure that the hardware can handle the requirements. So the relationship between the two “wares” is complex, and each is dependent upon the other to perform the desired functions.

    Consider the analogy of the car and driver. A NASCAR driver (the operating system software) would be challenged to compete in a stock car race using a subcompact personal car, because the hardware (the car) is not sufficient for that purpose. On the other hand, you or your neighbor (the operating system software), if not a trained high-speed performance driver, would be challenged to perform well in a stock car race on a super speedway because you would not be able to or know how to adequately utilize the power of the hardware (the car).

    did I get this \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    You are building a computer “from scratch.” You have purchased all the hardware pieces from local electronics stores and have them correctly installed and connected. You turn on the computer for the first time and nothing but a blank screen appears on the monitor. What might you have forgotten?

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    Learning Dashboard

    In the opening scenario on this page, Tim is purchasing a tablet computer. He knows that he wants to stay with a Microsoft-based set of applications because he is most familiar with the Microsoft applications he has used in the past. But he does have options in purchasing the tablet—stay with a PC using Windows, or switch to an Apple (Mac) design.

    True or false? If he opts for Microsoft’s Windows operating system, he must choose a tablet that is compatible with Microsoft’s operating system.

    Reset this Activity

    Learning Dashboard

    With his current desktop, Tim spends a lot of time socializing with friends on Facebook, downloading movies, and completing his schoolwork. As he decides on his new tablet, which of the following are critical components he must keep in mind when purchasing the tablet? Select Yes or No for each option.

    The capacity of the hard drive memory


    The capacity of random access memory (RAM)


    Choosing a Microsoft-based PC over an Apple-based PC system


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    Learning Dashboard

    Tim is indecisive. He cannot decide whether to go with a Windows-based tablet or an Apple iPad. He knows he will need to be able to use the tablet computer for work-related tasks, as well as his social networking and other leisure activities. Are the following questions relevant in helping him decide whether to choose an iPad or a Windows-based tablet? Select Yes or No for each option.

    Does his work require use of applications that are standard (and available exclusively) with one of the machines but not the other? MS Access, for example—something Tim uses regularly for work—is available only in a Windows-based version.


    He has and uses an Apple iPhone for communication and for some of his work, as well. He needs to move files and data from one machine to the other. Should this influence his decision on the type of computer?


    He prefers the use of a mouse rather than touch-screen technology. Would this point him to one or the other hardware configuration?


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    Learning Dashboard


    4.1.2: Relationship Between Hardware and Software is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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