The end of the road for the Zilog Z80 processor: a (long) page turns

Written by Guillaume
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A processor that revolutionized personal information in the 80s.

You may not have known it, but the Z80 processor from American brand Zilog is still being manufactured, and should be for a few more weeks. Why is this surprising? Because the Zilog Z80 was first marketed in July 1976, after almost two years' work by Federico Faggin and Ralph Ungermann and their Zilog teams. An antediluvian processor, one might be tempted to say, given the fast pace of computing. Just think, the Z80 is a processor designed to improve - while remaining compatible - with the Intel 8080, one of the American firm's first models.

© Zilog

Just take a look at the Zilog Z80's datasheet to realize just what a computer dinosaur this beast is: an 8-bit processor with 8,500 transistors and a 4 μm core! Operating frequencies range from 2 to 10 MHz in the most common versions, and there's no mention yet of cache memory to speed up accesses. The Z80 enjoyed its heyday in the '80s, when many machines were based on Zilog's original chip or on official releases by Japanese companies such as NEC or Sharp. Thus, the Z80 is found at the heart of computers such as Sinclair's ZX 80, ZX 81 and ZX Spectrum, as well as Amstrad's CPC 464, 664 and 6128. It's still the Zilog Z80 that powers consoles such as SEGA's Master System and Nintendo's Game Boy.

During the 90s, however, it was no longer powerful enough to compete with more modern solutions, but it was not abandoned for all that, and took on the role of controller to drive the audio parts of consoles such as SEGA's Mega Drive or SNK's Neo Geo. The turn of the millennium, however, dealt it a severe blow. Largely outdated, it is no longer used on computers or consoles, but finds a new lease of life in photocopiers, fax machines and many other devices. Now, almost 50 years after its launch, the Z80 is about to bow out. Zilog has announced that production of the basic model - notably without the memory controller - will soon cease, with the last orders to be taken until June 14.