Table Of Contents

Data Transfer Mechanisms

Last Modified: September 15, 2017

There are four primary ways to transfer data across the PCI bus: Direct Memory Access (DMA), Interrupt Request (IRQ), Programmed I/O, and USB Bulk.

Direct Memory Access (DMA)

DMA is a mechanism to transfer data between the device and computer memory without the involvement of the CPU. This mechanism makes DMA the fastest available data transfer mechanism. National Instruments uses DMA hardware and software technology to achieve high throughput rates and to increase system utilization. DMA is the default method of data transfer for DAQ devices that support it.


DAQCard and USB devices do not support DMA .

Interrupt Request (IRQ)

IRQ transfers rely on the CPU to service data transfer requests. The device notifies the CPU when it is ready to transfer data. The data transfer speed is tightly coupled to the rate at which the CPU can service the interrupt requests. If you are using interrupts to acquire data at a rate faster than the rate the CPU can service the interrupts, your systems may start to freeze.

Programmed I/O

Programmed I/O is a data transfer mechanism in which a buffer is not used and instead the computer reads and writes directly to the device. Software-timed (on-demand) operations typically use programmed I/O.

USB Bulk

USB Bulk is a buffered, message-based streaming mechanism for data transfer. This high-speed method is the default transfer mechanism for USB devices.

Memory Mapping

Memory mapping is a technique for reading and writing to a device directly from your program, which avoids the overhead of delegating the reads and writes to kernel-level software. Delegation to the kernel is safer, but slower. Memory mapping is less safe because an entire 4 KB page of memory must be exposed to your program for this to work, but it is faster. Memory mapping is set by default if your device supports it.

Changing Data Transfer Mechanisms between DMA and IRQ

There are a limited number of DMA channels per device (refer to your device documentation). Each operation (AI, AO, and so on) that requires a DMA channel uses that mechanism until all of the DMA channels are used. After all of the DMA channels are used, you receive an error if you try to run another operation requesting a DMA channel. If appropriate, you can change one of the operations to use interrupts. For NI-DAQmx, use the Data Transfer Mechanism channel attribute/property.

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