As the word suggests, the word hardware usually refers to tools used to build something — “wares” that are “hard.” It also is used to refer to the computer equipment that stores and uses “software,” the programs used in computing.
The word hardware dates back to the early 16th Century, where it was used to indicate such items as tools and weapons. Nowadays, that meaning holds, with hardware stores traditionally specializing mainly in materials and tools for building and repairs. The military use of the word has also remained, referring to major weapons such as tanks and missiles. However, since 1947, the word hardware has also taken on an ironically softer meaning — that of the components of a computer system.