Understanding the Differences Between Hardware and Software


January 16, 2023

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As wafer manufacturing experts, we spend a lot of time ensuring that companies have the hardware they need to keep their software running. That said, we know that the terminology can sometimes be less simple than it seems.

What’s hardware, what’s software, and why are they both essential for all the technological marvels we’ve gotten used to in the 21st century?

Defining Hardware and Software

  • Hardware refers to all the physical components of a computer. This includes computer chips, keyboards, and phones.
  • Software refers to the instructions regarding how a computer should act. This includes computer programs and phone apps.

Essentially, hardware is the physical reality that allows computers to work, while software is the logic governing how it operates. As you can imagine, these two areas rely on each other to allow for all the computing technology that’s in our day-to-day lives.

How Hardware and Software Are Made

The processes of creating hardware and software are very different: someone who specializes in one is unlikely to have the same mastery of the other.

Given the fact that hardware is physical, it probably makes sense that it typically needs to go through a manufacturing process. This process varies depending on the piece of hardware in question, but it often takes years to design the product and then create the manufacturing pipeline.

For instance, it took Logitech more than three years to design a mouse. Here are just a few of the things designers need to consider:

  • The many different ways a product can be used
  • The materials it’s made from
  • Whether it’s cost-effective to produce
  • How it can be repaired

Once it’s designed, the company responsible can then put together the manufacturing pipeline, determining how to source the necessary materials and where the product should be made.

Software typically doesn’t take quite as long to develop, though development times do vary widely depending on the nature of the product. The design process is typically focused on business concerns, much like the hardware process.

But the concern is less about how cost-effective it is to find materials and go through the manufacturing process. Instead, it’s more focused on looking at the hardware and determining what a team has the manpower to program.

Programming makes up the bulk of software creation. This is when programmers sit down to write the instructions that hardware will then use. Once the programming is done, it’s then important to perform QA and find as many bugs as possible. Once that’s done, the software is ready to be released!

How Semiconductor Hardware Has Driven the Development of Software, and Why That Relationship is Changing

For decades, hardware set the pace for software development. To understand why, we have to explain one of the most important concepts in the industry: Moore’s Law.

Despite that name, Moore’s Law isn’t actually a law. Instead, it’s a prediction that Gordon Moore first made in 1965. He predicted that, for the next ten years, integrated circuits would double in power every year for the next 10 years.

This proved to be true, and he stated that, for the foreseeable future, ICs would continue to double in power every other year. He was correct for many decades.

This fact meant that software developers understood exactly how much computing power they could expect hardware to have. Software developers were therefore able to develop new ideas for software based on what they knew would be publicly available on PCs, iPhones, and more.

That said, the pace of development has slowed down as we get deeper into the 21st century. Instead of being able to consistently double computing power, hardware developers have needed to start making specialized developments, which allow chips to be optimized for specific use cases.

To determine the use cases, they need to turn to software developers and determine what that market is most likely to utilize.

This is therefore a very interesting time in the relationship between hardware and software developers, at least in the semiconductor space. For the first time, hardware developments are being driven by software developments, instead of the other way around.

How Long Do Hardware and Software Last?

The longevity of hardware can vary widely depending on the device. For instance, computers can typically last anywhere from 5-8 years. If you want to keep your computer going, you may need to replace certain components to keep it at the upper range of its lifespan.

That said, in a business context, it’s generally recommended that you replace hardware every three years. This helps maximize a team’s effectiveness and ensures that the technology you’re using is up to date with any partners or competitors.

In a sense, software lasts forever. After all, it doesn’t age the way that hardware does: decaying as time passes.

However, experts estimate that it actually lasts anywhere from 6-8 years. Over time, software code is usually rewritten. This can be to fix bugs, release new features, or even simply ensure that the software works well with other programs that have been released.

Regardless of the reason, code typically needs to be updated regularly to continue functioning. Given how fast society moves, this means it often needs to be updated frequently.

What About Other – Ware Words?

It makes sense that software and hardware both end in the suffix, “-ware,” given their reciprocal relationship to one another. That said, you may be wondering about other words that share this suffix:

  • Firmware
  • Malware
  • Wetware

In many cases, they’re a play on the terms “software” and “hardware.” The suffix “ware” just refers to objects that are made of the same material or for the same purpose.


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Have any questions about what we can do for you? Would you like to speak with a wafer manufacturing partner who can help you take your semiconductor business to the next level? Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re excited to speak with you!

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