Real Mode - A20 Line

A20 Line

Some programs predating the 80286 were designed to take advantage of the wrap-around (modulo) memory addressing behavior, so the 80286 presented a problem for backward compatibility. Forcing the 21st address line (the actual logic signal wire coming out of the chip) to a logic low, representing a zero, results in a modulo-2^20 effect to match the earlier processors' address arithmetic, but the 80286 has no internal capability to perform this function. When IBM used the 80286 in their IBM Personal Computer AT, they solved this problem by including a software-settable gate to enable or disable (force to zero) the A20 address line, between the A20 pin on the 80286 and the system bus; this is known as Gate-A20 (the A20 gate), and it is still implemented in PC chipsets to this day. Most versions of the HIMEM.SYS extended memory driver for IBM-/MS-DOS famously displayed upon loading a message that they had installed an "A20 handler", a piece of software to control Gate-A20 and coordinate it to the needs of programs. Obviously, in protected mode the A20 line needs to be enabled, or else physical addressing errors will occur, likely leading to a system crash.

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