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Section 18.4 I/O Interfacing

In addition to a very wide range in their timing, there is an enormous range of I/O devices that are commonly attached to computers, which differ greatly in how they handle data. A mouse provides position information. A monitor displays graphic information. Most computers have speakers connected to them. Ultimately, the CPU must be able to communicate with all sorts I/O devices in bit patterns at the speed of the device.

The hardware between the CPU and the actual I/O device consists of two subsystems—the Controller and the Interface. The controller is the portion that works directly with the device. For example, a keyboard controller detects which keys are pressed and converts this to a code. It also detects whether a key is pressed or not. A disk controller moves the read/write head to the requested track. It then detects the sector number and waits until the requested sector comes into position. Some very simple devices do not need a controller.

The interface subsystem provides registers that the CPU can read from or write to. An I/O device is programmed through the interface registers. In general, the following types of registers are provided:


Allows data to be written to an output device.


Allows data to be read from an input device.


Provides information about the current state of the device, including the controller.


Allows a program to send commands to the controller and to change its settings.

It is common for one register to provide multiple functionality. For example, there may be one register for transmitting and receiving, its functionality depending on whether the CPU writes to or reads from the register. And it is common for an interface to have more than one register of the same type, especially control registers.