Highly sensitive, sequence-specific and label-free DNA sensors were demonstrated by monitoring the electronic conductance of silicon nanowires (SiNWs) with chemically bonded single-stranded (ss) DNA or peptide nucleic acid (PNA) probe molecules. For a 12-mer oligonucleotide, tens of pM of target ss-DNA in solution was recognized when the complementary DNA oligonucleotide probe was attached to the SiNW surfaces. In contrast, ss-DNA samples of ×1000 concentration with a single-base mismatch produce only a weak signal due to nonspecific binding. In order to gain a physical understanding of the change in conductance of the SiNWs with the attachment of the DNA targets and the probes, process and device simulations of the two-dimensional cross sections of the SiNWs were performed. The simulations explained the width dependence of the SiNW conductance and provided understanding to improve the sensor performance.