direct memory access

During any given bus cycle, one of the system components connected to the system bus is given control of the bus. This component is said to be the master during that cycle and the component it is communicating with is said to be the slave. The CPU with its bus control logic is normally the master, but other specially designed components can gain control of the bus by sending a bus request to the CPU. After the current bus cycle is completed the CPU will return a bus grant signal and the component sending the request will become the master.

Taking control of the bus for a bus cycle is called cycle stealing. Just like the bus control logic, a master must be capable of placing addresses on the address bus and directing the bus activity during a bus cycle. The components capable of becoming masters are processors (and their bus control logic) and DMA controllers. Sometimes a DMA controller is associated with a single interface, but they are often designed to accommodate more than one interface.

The 8086 microprocessor receives bus requests through its HOLD pin and issues grants from the hold acknowledge (HLDA) pin. A request is made when a potential master sends a 1 to the HOLD pin. Normally, after the current bus cycle is complete the 8086 will respond by putting a 1 on the HLDA pin. When the requesting device receives this grant signal it becomes the master. It will remain master until it drops the signal to the HOLD pin, at which time the 8086 will drop the grant on the HLDA pin. One exception to the normal sequence is that if a word, which begins at an odd address is being accessed, then two bus cycles are required to complete the transfer and a grant will not be issued until after the second bus cycle.

When a DMA controller becomes master it places an address on the address bus and sends the interface the necessary signals to cause it to put data on, or receive data from, the data bus. Since the DMA controller determines when the bus request is dropped, it can return control to the CPU after each data byte is transferred and then request control again when the next data byte is ready, or it can retain control until the entire block is moved. The former is the usual case because this allows the CPU to continue its work until the next data byte is available.

DMA Block Transfer

During a block input byte transfer, the following sequence occurs as the data byte is sent from the interface to the memory:

  1. The interface sends the DMA controller a request for DMA service.
  2. A Bus request is made to the HOLD pin (active High) on the 8086 microprocessor  and the controller gains control of the bus.
  3. A Bus grant is returned to the DMA controller from the Hold Acknowledge (HLDA) pin (active High) on the 8086 microprocessor.
  4. The  DMA controller places contents of the address register onto the address bus.
  5. The controller sends the interface a DMA acknowledgment, which tells the interface to put data on the data bus. (For an output it signals the interface to latch the next data placed on the bus.)
  6. The data byte is transferred to the memory location indicated by the address bus.
  7. The interface latches the data.
  8. The Bus request is dropped, the HOLD pin goes Low, and the controller relinquishes the bus.
  9. The Bus grant from the 8086 microprocessor is dropped and the HLDA pin goes Low.
  10. The address register is incremented by 1.
  11. The byte count is decremented by 1.
  12. If the byte count is non-zero, return to step 1, otherwise stop.

Direct Memory Access Controller (DMAC) options for data transfer

The DMA Controller has several options available for the transfer of data. They are:

1) Cycle Steal:

A read or write signal is generated by the DMAC, and the I/O device either generates or latches the data. The DMAC effectively steals cycles from the processor in order to transfer the byte, so single byte transfer is also known as cycle stealing.

2) Burst Transfer:

To achieve block transfers, some DMAC’s incorporate an automatic sequencing of the value presented on the address bus. A register is used as a byte count, being decremented for each byte transfer, and upon the byte count reaching zero, the DMAC will release the bus. When the DMAC operates in burst mode, the CPU is halted for the duration of the data transfer.

3) Hidden DMA:

It is possible to perform hidden DMA, which is transparent to the normal operation of the CPU. In other words, the bus is grabbed by the DMAC when the processor is not using it. The DMAC monitors the execution of the processor, and when it recognises the processor executing an instruction which has sufficient empty clock cycles to perform a byte transfer, it waits till the processor is decoding the op code, then grabs the bus during this time.  The processor is not slowed down, but continues processing normally. Naturally, the data transfer by the DMAC must be completed before the processor starts