Stands for "Direct Memory Access." DMA is a method of transferring data from the computer's RAM to another part of the computer without processing it using the CPU. While most data that is input or output from your computer is processed by the CPU, some data does not require processing, or can be processed by another device. In these situations, DMA can save processing time and is a more efficient way to move data from the computer's memory to other devices.
For example, a sound card may need to access data stored in the computer's RAM, but since it can process the data itself, it may use DMA to bypass the CPU. Video cards that support DMA can also access the system memory and process graphics without needing the CPU. Ultra DMA hard drives use DMA to transfer data faster than previous hard drives that required the data to first be run through the CPU.
In order for devices to use direct memory access, they must be assigned to a DMA channel. Each type of port on a computer has a set of DMA channels that can be assigned to each connected device. For example, a PCI controller and a hard drive controller each have their own set of DMA channels.