Degree Name

MS (Master of Science)


Computer and Information Science

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Jerry Sayers

Committee Members

Donald B. Sanderson, Phillip E. Pfeiffer IV


Response time is one of the most important performance measures associated with a typical multi-user system. Response time, in turn, is bounded by the performance of the input/output (I/O) subsystem. Other than the end user and some external peripherals, the slowest component of the I/O subsystem is the disk drive.

One standard strategy for improving I/O subsystem performance uses high-performance hardware like Small Computer Systems Interface (SCSI) drives to improve overall response time. SCSI hardware, unfortunately, is often too expensive to use in low-end multi-user systems. The low-end multi-user systems commonly use inexpensive Integrated Drive Electronics (IDE) disk drives to keep overall costs low. On such IDE based multi-user systems, reducing the Central Processing Unit (CPU) overhead associated with disk I/O is critical to system responsiveness.

This thesis explores the impact of PCI bus mastering Direct Memory Access (DMA) on the performance of systems with IDE drives. DMA is a data transfer protocol that allows data to be sent directly from an attached device to a computer system’s main memory, thereby reducing CPU overhead. PCI bus mastering allows modern IDE disk controllers to manipulate main memory without utilizing motherboard-resident DMA controllers.

Using a series of experiments, this thesis examines the impact of PCI bus mastering DMA on IDE performance for synchronous I/O, relative to Programmed Input/Output (PIO) and SCSI performance. Experiment results show that PCI bus mastering DMA, when used properly, improves the responsiveness and throughput of IDE drives by as much as a factor of seven. The magnitude of this improvement shows the importance of operating system support for DMA in low-end multi-user systems. Additionally, experimental results demonstrate that performance gains associated with SCSI are dependent on system usage and operating system support for advanced SCSI capabilities. Therefore, under many circumstances, high-performance SCSI drives are not cost effective when compared with IDE bus mastering DMA capable drives.

Document Type

Thesis - unrestricted


Copyright by the authors.