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Computing (FOLDOC) dictionary
Memory Management Unit
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hardware, memory management (MMU, "Paged Memory Management
Unit", PMMU) A hardware device or circuit that supports
The virtual address space (the range of addresses used by
the processor) is divided into pages, whose size is 2^N,
usually a few kilobytes. The bottom N bits of the address
(the offset within a page) are left unchanged. The upper
address bits are the (virtual) page number. The MMU
contains a page table which is indexed (possibly
associatively) by the page number. Each page table entry
(PTE) gives the physical page number corresponding to the
virtual one. This is combined with the page offset to give
the complete physical address.
A PTE may also include information about whether the page has
been written to, when it was last used (for a least recentlyused replacement algorithm), what kind of processes (usermode, supervisor mode) may read and write it, and whether
it should be cached.
It is possible that no physical memory (RAM) has been
allocated to a given virtual page, in which case the MMU will
signal a "page fault" to the CPU. The operating system
will then try to find a spare page of RAM and set up a new PTE
to map it to the requested virtual address. If no RAM is free
it may be necessary to choose an existing page, using some
replacement algorithm, and save it to disk (this is known as
"paging"). There may also be a shortage of PTEs, in which
case the OS will have to free one for the new mapping.
In a multitasking system all processes compete for the use
of memory and of the MMU. Some memory management
architectures allow each process to have its own area or
configuration of the page table, with a mechanism to switch
between different mappings on a process switch. This means
that all processes can have the same virtual address space
rather than require load-time relocation.
An MMU also solves the problem of fragmentation of memory.
After blocks of memory have been allocated and freed, the free
memory may become fragmented (discontinuous) so that the
largest contiguous block of free memory may be much smaller
than the total amount. With virtual memory, a contiguous
range of virtual addresses can be mapped to several
non-contiguous blocks of physical memory.