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DMA Controller

The DMA controller is the first device we have seen that is a bus initiator as well as a bus target. It has two complete sets of bus connections. Note the direction reversal of all nets.

This controller just makes block copies from source to destination with the length being set in a third register. Finally, a status/control register controls interrupts and kicks of the procedure.

The RTL code for the controller is relatively straightforward, with much of it being dedicated to providing the target side programmed I/O access to each register.

The active RTL code that embodies the function of the DMA controller is contained in the two blocks qualified with the active net in their conjunct.

Typically, DMA controllers are multi-channel, being able to handle four or so concurrent transfers. Many devices have their own DMA controllers built in, rather than relying on dedicated external controllers. However, this is not possible for devices connected the other side of bus bridges that do not allow mastering (initiating) in the reverse directions. This is a common-enough situation for peripherals such as IDE disk drives.

Rather than using a DMA controller one can just use another processor. If the processor runs out of a small, local instruction RAM it will not impact on memory bus bandwidth with its fetches and it might not be that much larger in terms of silicon area.

An enhancement might be to keep either of the src or destination registers constant for streaming device access. For instance, to play audio out of a sound card, the destination address could be set to the programmed I/O address of the output register for audio samples and set not to increment.

For media with hard real-time characteristics, such as audio, video and modem signals, a small staging FIFO is likely to be needed in the device itself because the initiator port may experience latency when it is serviced. The DMA controller then initiates the next burst of its transfer when the local FIFO reaches a trigger depth.

34: (C) 2008-11, DJ Greaves, University of Cambridge, Computer Laboratory.