What’s the Difference Between Software and Hardware Testing

Hardware is a physical electro-mechanical device with inbuilt firmware, and software is the program or collection of programs that enable the hardware to function. With both the product’s software and hardware testing, each needs to be approached quite differently, and the different kinds of hardware such as a network router or a smart camera, have different testing needs too.

These, we will discover here in more detail.

Some Major Differences:

1. Difficulty in reproducing bugs

Bugs in hardware devices will mostly be random or only found in one particular device, whereas software bugs are more systematic, hence easier to recreate. So if a bug is found in a user’s software, the same bug will usually be repeatable in the developer’s environment too, which is not the case with hardware.

2. Cost of bug fixes

Hardware testing needs to be thorough and precise because if a bug is missed, the cost of fixing it later is huge, whereas in software it is not as costly. With software, late bug fixes are usually distributed over the internet as Updates where users download them and the issue is fixed. If the software is an SaaS solution, the developers can fix the bugs at source then update the software, making it instantly available for all users. If a hardware bug is discovered after purchase, the user may need to return the device to the vendor where the firmware can be flashed and new updates installed, a more costly process compared to software bug fixes. Also, when it comes to testing a complex hardware system containing multiple modules, each module should be individually tested upfront for anomalies not long after the design stage. Once the whole system has been integrated and anomalies are found, it’s almost impossible to rectify the situation because the cost of decoupling and reintegration will be huge, and quite often publicly damaging. In software, there is still room for correction after the release of the entire software. The cost of fixing anything at that point will be high, even for software, but it will be far less punitive than compared to hardware.

3. Need for Test Cases

Testing software requires so many test cases to be written but hardware testing doesn’t need so much. You only have to verify whether it functions as intended in normal circumstances and conforms to the design schema. But in software you may need to test it against different conditions and data inputs, so the scenarios will be more in software testing, hence the number of test cases.

Software and hardware testing

4. The Cost of Testing

The cost is relatively modest for testing software because all you need is a computer or mobile device as required. Testing hardware, however, can require specific machines or standard- testing devices that can be expensive. For example, if you are testing an IoT device you will need access to the device and all its related infrastructure.

5. Testing the Durability

Hardware devices should be durable and designed to last for a reasonably long period of time. To assess these aspects, testing the device under stressful conditions is extremely critical whereas testing software doesn’t need such consideration as it won’t wear out over the time.

6. Who does the Testing?

Software testing is mostly done by specialized QA engineers whereas hardware testing is usually done by the product engineers themselves. So good knowledge about the product design and engineering is essential for a hardware tester.

7. Hardware Testing includes the Firmware

As discussed above, hardware needs a level of software (called firmware), embedded within it to enable it to function as intended. So hardware testing will involve testing the firmware as well. Whereas in software testing you don’t have to test any associated hardwares.

8. Setting up the Lab

For hardware testing, you need to have dedicated test labs where the hardware devices and associated infrastructure can be set up, whereas in software testing less lab structure is required because there is less device dependency required.

9. Testing Environment

Hardware testing needs real time devices and real world environments whereas software testing may not necessarily require real time environments.

10. Agile Development

Software development can always be described as agile because making changes to the software is a regular occurance. Hence, testing requirements and processes change with little resources and a brief turnaround time. But in hardware testing you always need to follow a test pattern which has been designed upfront. Any deviation can critically influence the successful implementation of the product.


Jithin Nair

Jithin is a experienced lead quality assurance engineer with experience in full life cycle testing.​