Topic 6 - Resource Management [HL]

Multi-tasking and the OS

This section looks at different ways of how CPU time can be shared in order to multi-task.


A computer system has a set of limited resources, but in most situations it is desirable to run multiple programs at once in order to multi-task. This leads to the problem of how to best share available resources among running programs.

The most important concepts here include:

Multiple CPUs (“cores”)

For example: dual core, quad core , graphics processor, etc.

  • greater processing power
  • extra layer of complexity
  • dedicated processing power (GPU)


  • processing time is divided equally among all running programs
  • works well only if all programs require the same processing power, which seldomly is the case


  • some processes are treated as more important than others


  • approach for handling I/O
  • CPU keeps asking program or other resource whether it needs CPU time


  • approach for handling I/O
  • instead of polling, the process sends an “interrupt” to the CPU to receive CPU time


  • a process can declare itself to be blocked, meaning that it is unable to proceed, until some condition is met, e.g. some input is provided
  • when to processes are blocked on each other, this is called a deadlock


  • blocked processes can be “swapped” out of main memory in order not to waste memory space

Handling I/O

Problems can occur when different resources communicate through I/O (inputs & ouputs), because they usually operate at different speeds. For instance, the CPU usually works magnitudes faster than a hard drive or network resource will require to respond to some I/O request. It is therefore important that the CPU doesn’t waste time by waiting for an I/O response. In order to avoid this, usually buffers are used, which allow the CPU to queue up a meaningful amount of data to communicate (both in and out) before processing them.

Blocked on I/O

If a process is blocked by waiting for an I/O response, the CPU sometimes swaps it out of memory to get on with other tasks. In order to resume the swapped out process, the CPU can either keep polling or receive an interrupt

As mentioned before, polling keeps asking I/O for a response, while an interrupt comes from the I/O. Interrupts can be either from the software side or directly hardware bound.

Interrupts Polling
  • Save CPU time because it doesn't have to keep checking
  • Easy to implement, because no special hardware is required
  • Give CPU more control over what it does
  • Too many interrupts slow the CPU down
  • Polling wastes CPU time

Verdict: Almost all hardware devices use interrupts where possible.

Direct Memory Access (DMA)

This is a more recent alternative to polling and interrupts. This method bypasses the CPU, so that data from the I/O are directly passed to the RAM by a dedicated DMA controller. This approach still uses interrupts, but only once the data transfer is finished, so that CPU time is saved.