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Direct Memory Access (DMA)

Direct Memory Access (DMA) is a capability provided by some computer bus architectures that allows data to be sent directly from an attached device (such as a disk drive) to the memory on the computer's motherboard. The microprocessor is freed from involvement with the data transfer, thus speeding up overall computer operation.

Usually a specified portion of memory is designated as an area to be used for direct memory access. In the ISA bus standard, up to 16 megabytes of memory can be addressed for DMA. The EISA and Micro Channel Architecture standards allow access to the full range of memory addresses (assuming they're addressable with 32 bits). Peripheral Component Interconnect accomplishes DMA by using a bus master (with the microprocessor "delegating" I/O control to the PCI controller).

An alternative to DMA is the Programmed Input/Output (PIO) interface in which all data transmitted between devices goes through the processor. A newer protocol for the ATA/IDE interface is Ultra DMA, which provides a burst data transfer rate up to 33 MB (megabytes) per second. Hard drives that come with Ultra DMA/33 also support PIO modes 1, 3, and 4, and multiword DMA mode 2 (at 16.6 megabytes per second).

This was last updated in September 2005

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