DMA (which stands for direct memory access) engines are a feature of modern computers and processors that will allow certain hardware devices within the computer to access the computer’s memory for data reading and writing tasks. Having the DMA engines available allow these tasks to occur without the hardware having to directly access the central processing unit.
The DMA engine concept is commonly used by graphics cards, sound cards, network access cards, and in computers that have multi-core processors. The DMA engine helps in the transferring of data between local memory units and the main memory sector of the computer. Since computers started coming equipped with dedicated DMA channels, they can now do this type of data transfer activity without overworking the processor. Years ago, the processor of a computer had to constantly run because the DMA engine was not yet a common part of computer systems.
Older computers that did not have these DMA engines had to pause all other activities and process these simple memory tasks. The computer was completely devoted to processing these reading and writing tasks. Now, computers can handle multiple tasks at once which make them able to run much more complex software and handle more than one task at once.
The DMA engine started being used for certain tasks as early as the 1980s; however, it has only become a vital part of the CPU over the last 10 years. Some of the first uses of the engine were operating sound cards and video cards. This enabled computer programs to become more graphically intense and offer stereo sounds; video games have especially grown from the advantages that are brought by the DMA engine. They are able to be much more complex than they were before the DMA engine. The use of the computer in our everyday lives would certainly not be the same today without this important innovation.