About hardware

You’re already familiar with computer hardware — you’re reading this using it! But you might have learned to use your computer without knowing the vocabulary and conventions of the hardware.

These pages are about personal computing — desktop or laptop machines, and the devices they connect to. At the simplest level this information is here to help you confirm the meaning or context of some common terms.

If you’re studying computing — and especially programming — it’s useful to appreciate that we understand complex systems by abstracting the layers at which they operate, and hardware is a good example of this. Even something as simple as “plugging in a cable” can only work because the devices are communicating using software that implements protocols right down to low-level concerns like voltages and timing. Some of this is exposed in consumer-level products (for example, USB and Bluetooth are widely used terms, even though most people don’t need to know how extensive the specifications for them are). The relationship between hardware and software is a good place to start to appreciate things like protocols, standards, APIs, and interfaces.