The Difference between Software Testing and Hardware Testing
Products shift and evolve over time to ensure that the organization is living up to its objectives and to meet buyer standards. Hardware and software have become a necessary part of virtually every company and household, and the vendors that serve these audiences must ensure that their products work as they should.
Some groups may offer only software or only hardware, but there are businesses that are creating devices as well as the programs to go on them. Harris Corporation, for example, offers software and hardware systems for some of the most critical industries including tactical communications, weather systems, avionics, and geospatial services. Organizations must understand the difference between testing for software versus hardware and how to evaluate these systems effectively.
One of the biggest disparities between testing software and hardware is that software tests can be copied and reused, while processes used for hardware testing cannot. According to cPrime, software can be easily changed and evolved through multiple releases, while hardware has higher costs for change and cannot be refactored after manufacturing. With agile testing methodologies, this means that teams can write, assign, schedule, and automate tests as needed. This ensures constant updating for programs and helps to maintain quality standards over time.
However, hardware testing doesn't have the luxury of being able to adjust on a whim. When you think about how a device is made, it's easy to go back to the image of an assembly line where all the same parts are attached in the same way. Any deviation in this could cause anomalies once the product gets to the user. Testers have to understand that when equipment is created, they cannot add new capabilities to it. Tests will therefore be good only for that line of hardware, and another set of evaluation criteria will need to be created for the next product. Hardware designs are also significantly more constrained due to specific parts or industry guidelines.
As a result of the first difference, there are variations for how test case steps are broken down for software versus hardware. With software test cases, there might be 50 to 100 steps necessary in carrying out all intended tests. This is an outcome of having countless things to consider and the high level of test automation involved with agile software development. Teams can utilize quality testing tools to keep track of these operations and ensure that everything is progressing as expected.
On the other side of this equation, hardware test steps are much shorter and simpler, involving only a few steps to verify if a product works. First, the firmware may be tested for functional correctness. Then, the hardware is evaluated to ensure that it integrates well with other systems and works appropriately with necessary apps and operating systems. Finally, the entire system is judged on how well it meets customer requirements and high level specifications like compliance. Hardware cannot be changed much before release, so it's essential that teams perform full tests to identify any weaknesses that may be inherent within a product.
Organizations from Harris Corporation to Apple provide a number of hardware and software products to their customers, and it's important to know what work goes into these systems to evaluate them effectively. By understanding the difference between hardware and software testing, teams can set themselves up for success.