Best Computer Hardware Certifications 2018
By , Mary Kyle,
1. Top 5 Computer Hardware Certification

Becoming a computer technician is a great point of entry into the IT field, and computer hardware certifications will help demonstrate your knowledge and competency in maintaining computers, mobile devices, printers and more. These top five computer hardware certifications can help you get your IT career off the ground.

Although we cover our five favorite hardware certifications here, the idea that hardware can operate independently of software (or vice versa) isn't true. If you dig into the curriculum for any specific hardware-related certifications in any depth, you'll quickly realize that software is in control of hardware.

Software comes into play for installation, configuration, maintenance, troubleshooting and about any other activity you can undertake with hardware. The hardware label simply indicates that devices are involved, not that hardware is all that's involved.

We feature certifications offered by Apple (the ACMT), BICSI (the BICSI Technician) and Cisco (the CCT), and two from CompTIA (A+ and Server+). You can see how frequently the featured certifications appear in actual job postings. Keep in mind that these results are a snapshot in time and vary from day to day, depending on the needs of the employment market. However, they provide a good indication of the relative popularity of each certificate among employers.

Job Board Search Results (in alphabetical order, by certification)*

CertificationSimplyHiredIndeedLinkedIn Jobs
A+ (CompTIA)1,9572,1571,292
ACMT (Apple)243
BICSI Technician (BICSI)498
CCT (Cisco)523
Server+ (CompTIA)2,2812,477

*See our complete methodology for selecting top five certifications in the Best Certifications series.

Differing factors, such as specific job role, locality and experience level, may impact salary potential. In general, hardware professionals can expect to earn somewhere in the mid-60s. SimplyHired reports average earnings at $72,515 for IT technicians with highs reported in the low 90s. The average national salary for computer hardware technicians ranges from about $31,000 to more than $55,000. However, some certifications command higher salaries. Certification Magazine’s “Annual Salary Survey” (Salary Survey 2016) reported average salaries for CompTIA Server+ at $96,920.

2. CompTIA A+

The CompTIA A+ certification is the granddaddy and best-known of all hardware credentials. For anyone serious about working with PCs, laptops, mobile devices, printers or operating systems, the A+ should at least be on their radar if not in their game plan.

Since the first A+ credential was awarded in March 1993, the program continues to draw lots of active interest and participation. With more than 1,000,000 IT professionals possessing the A+ credential, it is something of a checkbox item for PC technicians and support professionals. It also appears in a great many job postings or advertisements.

A+ is also ISO 17024 compliant and accredited by ANSI. The credential must be renewed every three years in keeping with those organizations' requirements for continuing education or regular examinations to maintain certification currency. Some 20 continuing education/units (CEUs) are required for renewal.

Earning an A+ from CompTIA involves passing two exams: exam 220-901 and exam 220-902. Exam 220-901 focuses on hardware, networking, mobile devices, connectivity and troubleshooting. Exam 220-902 draws upon knowledge of installing and configuring common operating systems (Windows, Linux, OS X, Android and iOS), as well as issues related to cloud computing, security and operational procedures. Candidates will find a variety of question formats, including standard multiple-choice, drop-and-drag and performance-based questions.

Candidates who earn the A+ often find themselves in job roles that include technical support specialist, field service technician, IT support technician, IT support administrator or IT support specialist. The A+ is recognized by the U.S. Department of Defense (as part of DoD Directive 8140/8570.01-M), and technology companies such as Canon, Dell, HP, Intel and the U.S. Department of Defense make A+ certification mandatory for their own service technicians. Other certification programs, such as Cisco, incorporate A+ training into their training programs.

The A+ certification encompasses broad coverage of PC hardware and software, networking and security in its overall technical scope.

A+ Facts & Figures

Certification Name CompTIA A+
Prerequisites & Required Courses9 to 12 months of experience recommended
Number of Exams Two exams (maximum of 90 questions, 90 minutes): 220-901 and 220-902 (CompTIA Academy Partners use the same numbers)
Cost per Exam $205 per exam. Exams administered by Pearson VUE. Exam vouchers available at CompTIA
Self-Study MaterialsCompTIA offers several self-study materials, including exam objectives, sample questions, study guides (nominal fee of $60), as well as classroom and e-learning training opportunities. Credential seekers may also want to check out the CertMaster online learning tool. Links to CompTIA training materials may be found on the certification web page.

Recommended books: CompTIA A+ 220-901 and 220-902 Exam Cram, 1st Edition, by David L. Prowse, published Jan. 30, 2016, Pearson IT Certifications, Exam Cram Series, ISBN-10: 0789756315, ISBN-13: 978-0789756312

CompTIA A+ Certification All-in-One Exam Guide, 9th Edition (Exams 220-901 and 220-902) by Michael Meyers, published Jan. 4, 2016, McGraw-Hill Education, ISBN-10: 1125958951X, ISBN-13: 978-1259589515
3. ACMT: Apple Certified Macintosh Technician

Given the popularity of Apple products and platforms, and the use of Macintosh computers in homes and businesses of all scales, there's also demand for Mac-savvy technicians to support these systems.

The AppleCare Mac Technician (ACMT) 2017 credential is Apple's latest hardware-related ACMT certification. (The credential was formerly called the Apple Certified Macintosh Technician or Apple Certified Mac Technician.) Per Apple, the ACMT 2017 "qualifies a technician to repair all the Mac products that were covered by prior ACMT certifications, plus all other Mac products that were produced before December 31, 2016." Technicians with the ACMT certification work at an Apple-authorized service facility to perform service and repairs.

The ACMT's two required exams are the Apple Service Fundamentals and the ACMT 2017 Mac Service Certification. Service Fundamentals focuses on customer experience skills, ESD and safety, troubleshooting and deductive reasoning, and product knowledge. The Mac Service exam covers troubleshooting and repair of Mac hardware (mainly, Apple iMac and MacBook Pro systems). Note that the Apple Service Fundamentals exam is also required for the related Apple Certified iOS Technician (ACiT) 2017 certification.

The ACMT 2017 is a permanent credential and does not require annual recertification. However, as new products are added to the Apple portfolio, AppleCare will make associated courses available through Apple Technical Learning Administration System (ATLAS). You must complete these courses to service the new products.

ACMT Facts & Figures

Certification NameAppleCare Mac Technician (ACMT) 2017
Prerequisites & Required Courses AppleCare Technician Training recommended
Number of ExamsTwo exams (must be taken in this order):
  • Apple Service Fundamentals exam (SVC-17A)
  • ACMT 2017 Mac Service Certification exam (MAC-17A)
Each exam: 70 questions, 2 hours, 80 percent passing score

Tests administered by Pearson VUE; Apple Tech ID number required
Cost per Exam $20 each
Self-Study Materials Self-paced training: Apple Technical Learning Administration System (ATLAS)
AppleCare Technician Training, $299
Instructor-led training courses: LearnQuest
4. BICSI Technician

BICSI is a professional association that supports the information and communications technology (ICT) industry, mainly in the areas of voice, data, audio and video, electronic safety and security, and project management. BICSI offers training, certification and education to its 23,000-plus members, many of which are designers, installers and technicians.

BICSI offers several certifications, aimed at ICT professionals, who mainly deal with cabling and related technologies. In this program, the BICSI Technician seems most pertinent.

The BICSI Technician certification recognizes individuals who lead an installation group or team, perform advanced testing and troubleshooting of cable installations, evaluate cabling requirements, recommend solutions based on standards and best practices, and roll out new and retrofit projects. Technicians must be well versed in both copper and fiber cabling.

Cablers need a good deal of knowledge about the hardware, networking devices and communications equipment to which they connect cables.

To earn the credential, candidates must pass a single two-part exam consisting of a hands-on practical and a written exam. In addition, candidates must possess at least three years of verifiable ICT industry installation experience within the past five years. Credentials are valid for three years. Certification holders must earn 18 hours of continuing education credits (CECs) in each three-year credentialing cycle and pay the then current renewal fees to maintain the credential.

Interested candidates should also check out other BICSI certifications, such as the Installer 1 (INST1), Installer 2, Copper (INSTC), and Installer 2, Optical Fiber (INSTF). More advanced certifications include the Registered Communications Distribution Designer (RCDD), Outside Plant (OSP) Designer (also featured in this article), Data Center Design Consultant (DCDC) and Registered Telecommunication Project Manager (RTPM).

BICSI Technician Facts & Figures

Certification NameBICSI Technician
Prerequisites & Required CoursesThree or more years of verifiable ICT industry installation experience (must be within past five years to qualify)

Adhere to the BICSI Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct

Physical requirements: Distinguish between colors, stand for extended periods, lift and carry up to 50 pounds, climb ladders and possess manual dexterity necessary to perform fine mortar tasks.

Recommended prerequisites:
50 hours review of BICSI Information Technology Systems Installation Methods Manual (ITSIMM)
TE350: BICSI Technician Training course ($2,275.25 member early, $2,395 member/$2,417.75 non-member early, $2,545 non-member)
IN101: Installer 1 Training course ($1,515.25 member early, $1,595 member/$1,657.75 non-member early, $1,745 non-member)
IN225: Installer 2, Copper Training course ($1,990.25 member early, $2,095 member/$2,132.75 non-member early, $2,245 non-member)
IN250: Installer 2, Optical Fiber Training course ($2,185.25 member early, $2,295 member/$2,322.75 non-member early, $2,445 non-member)
Number of ExamsOne, two-part exam including written exam (140 multiple-choice questions*) and hands-on performance-based exam (hands-on performance exam delivered last day of TE350 course; written exam administered the day after the completion of the TE350 course)

* If the candidate doesn't have both the Copper and Optical Fiber Installer 2 credentials or an Installer 2 credential, the written exam will have 170 questions.
Cost per Exam$275 (credentialing fee must be received by BICSI 10 days prior to exam; retake fee of $120 applies). Visit BICSI Exam Calendar for exam dates.
Self-Study MaterialsInformation Technology Systems Installation Methods Manual, 7th Edition electronic download, $210 member/$210 non-member; print and download combo, $250 member/$280 non-member; printed manual, $210 member/$230 non-member

Web-based training through BICSI CONNECT

5. CTT Routing & Switching: Cisco Certified Technician Routing & Switching

Cisco certifications are valued throughout the tech industry. The Cisco Certified Technician, or CCT, certification is an entry-level credential that demonstrates a person's ability to support and maintain Cisco networking devices at a customer site.

There are three CCT tracks: Routing & Switching, and Data Center. The Routing & Switching credential best fits our list of best computer hardware certifications, and it serves as an essential foundation for supporting Cisco devices and systems in general.

The CCT requires passing a single exam. Topics includes identification of Cisco equipment and related hardware, such as switches and routers, general networking and service knowledge, working with the Cisco Technical Assistance Center (TAC) and describing Cisco IOS software operating modes. Candidates should also have working knowledge of Cisco command-line interface (CLI) commands for connecting to and remotely servicing Cisco products.

CCT Routing & Switching Facts & Figures

Certification NameCCT Routing & Switching
Prerequisites & Required CoursesNone. Recommended Training: Supporting Cisco Routing and Switching Network Devices (RSTECH) ($299)
Number of ExamsOne exam: 640-692 RSTECH (60-70 questions, 90 minutes)
Cost per Exam $125. Exam administered by Pearson VUE.
Self-Study MaterialsCisco Study Material page provides links to the course, study groups, exam tutorials, and other related content including exam syllabus, training videos, seminars and more.
6. CompTIA Server+

CompTIA also offers a server-related certification, which steps up from basic PC hardware, software and networking topics to the more demanding, powerful and expensive capabilities in the same vein usually associated with server systems.

The CompTIA Server+ credential goes beyond basic topics to include coverage of more advanced storage systems, IT environments, and disaster recovery and business continuity topics. It also puts strong emphasis on best practices and procedures for server problem diagnosis and troubleshooting. Although Server+ is vendor-neutral in coverage, organizations such as HP, Intel, Microsoft, Lenovo and U.S. Department of Defense either require or recommend CompTIA Server+ for their own server technicians.

Those who work — or want to work — in server rooms or data centers, with and around servers on a regular basis, will find the Server+ credential worth studying for and earning. It can also be a stepping stone into vendor-specific server technician training programs at such companies as those mentioned above, or with their authorized resellers and support partners.

Note that the CompTIA Server+ exam is still listed on that organization’s website as “good for life,” meaning it does not impose a renewal or continuing education requirement on its holders. The SK0-004 launched on July 31, 2015. Typically, exams are available for at least two years. If CompTIA’s revision history for Server+ is any guide to future updates and revisions, then it’s likely that we’ll see a new exam making an appearance sometime in 2018.

Server+ Facts & Figures

Certification Name CompTIA Server+
Prerequisites & Required Courses No prerequisites
Recommended experience includes CompTIA A+ certification plus a minimum of 18 to 24 months IT-related experience
Number of Exams One exam: SK0-004 (100 questions, 90 minutes, 750 out of 900 passing score)
Cost per Exam$294. Exam administered by Pearson VUE. Exam vouchers available at CompTIA.
Self-Study Materials CompTIA offers a number of self-study materials including exam objectives, CertMaster online study tool, sample questions, books and more. Formal training courses are also offered. Links to CompTIA training courses may be found on the certification web page. Additional resources may also be found at the CompTIA Marketplace.

Recommended: CompTIA Server+ Study Guide: Exam SK0-004, 1st edition, by Troy McMillan, published June 20, 2016, Sybex, ISBN-10: 1119137829, ISBN-13: 978-1119137825
7. Beyond The Top 5: More Hardware Certifications

There are many more hardware-oriented certifications available that you might want to consider. As you get into IT and start to develop a sense of your own interests, and observe the hardware systems and solutions around, you'll be able to dig deeper into this area.

You can investigate all the major system vendors — including HP, Dell, IBM and other PC and server makers — as well as networking and infrastructures companies — such as Juniper, Fortinet and others — to find hardware-related training and certification to occupy you throughout a long and successful career.

Although ExpertRating offers many credentials, we rejected them after viewing several complaints regarding the general quality of their courses. Obviously, such complaints are from disgruntled customers but were enough to cause us to proceed with caution.

This is also an area where constant change and ferment in tools and technology is the norm. That means a course of lifelong learning will be essential to help you stay current on what's in your working world today, and likely to show up on the job soon.