x86 Assembly/Direct Memory Access

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Direct Memory Access[edit | edit source]

The Direct Memory Access chip (DMA) was an important part of the original IBM PC and has become an essential component of modern computer systems. DMA allows other computer components to access the main memory directly, without the processor having to manage the data flow. This is important because in many systems, the processor is a data-flow bottleneck, and it would slow down the system considerably to have the MPU have to handle every memory transaction.

The original DMA chip was known as the 8237-A chip, although modern variants may be one of many different models.

DMA Operation[edit | edit source]

The DMA chip can be used to move large blocks of data between two memory locations, or it can be used to move blocks of data from a peripheral device to memory. For instance, DMA is used frequently to move data between the PCI bus to the expansion cards, and it is also used to manage data transmissions between primary memory (RAM) and the secondary memory (HDD). While the DMA is operational, it has control over the memory bus, and the MPU may not access the bus for any reason. The MPU may continue operating on the instructions that are stored in its caches, but once the caches are empty, or once a memory access instruction is encountered, the MPU must wait for the DMA operation to complete. The DMA can manage memory operations much more quickly than the MPU can, so the wait times are usually not a large speed problem.

DMA Channels[edit | edit source]

The DMA chip has up to 8 DMA channels, and one of these channels can be used to cascade a second DMA chip for a total of 14 channels available. Each channel can be programmed to read from a specific source, to write to a specific source, etc. Because of this, the DMA has a number of dedicated I/O addresses available, for writing to the necessary control registers. The DMA uses addresses 0x0000-0x000F for standard control registers, and 0x0080-0x0083 for page registers.