Future Tech

Zilog to end standalone sales of the legendary Z80 CPU

Tan KW
Publish date: Mon, 22 Apr 2024, 02:38 PM
Tan KW
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Future Tech

Production of some models of Z80 processor - the chip that helped spark the PC boom of the 1980s - will cease in June 2024 after an all-too-brief 48 years.

That sad news was delivered last week in an End of Life/Last Buy Notification from Zilog.

Zilog blamed chip's demise on one of its suppliers. "Please be advised that our Wafer Foundry Manufacturer will be discontinuing support for Z80 and other product lines," the notification states.

The Z80 debuted in 1976, using a 4-micron process. Readers will doubtless be aware that some modern silicon is made on a 4-nanometer process - meaning elements are 1,000 times smaller than those etched into a Z80.

The Register fancies that whoever Zilog uses to make the wafers that are turned into Z80s has decided to stop making blank silicon capable of being used for old designs. Bad luck for anyone who needs spare parts for their original Game Boy.

Zilog will accept orders for the device until June 14, 2024. After that, it's the end for the eight-bit CPU - or at least the ZC8400 range. Zilog appears to still make the Z180 and eZ80 - successors that added lots of whistles and bells and are often packaged into SoCs.

The original Z80 packed just 8,500 transistors and chugged along at 2.5Mhz, but that was enough to power lots of fun stuff - helped by the fact that it was compatible with Intel's 8080 processor and sold at a cheaper price.

The Sinclair ZX range was perhaps the most famous application of the Z80, using it to power affordable and accessible machines that introduced many Register readers (and writers) to tech. The chip also found its way into arcade games such as Pac Man, and early Roland synthesizers.

But Zilog was overtaken by Intel in the PC market, and by the 1990s decided to focus on microcontrollers instead. The Z80 was one of its key offerings, and over the years was adapted and enhanced: we even spotted a new variant of the chip in 2016!

That sort of upgrade helped the processor and its heirs to hold on in some consumer-facing applications such as graphing calculators like the TI-84 Plus CE. But it mostly disappeared into industrial kit, where it hummed along reliably and offered developers a tried-and-true target for their code.

Perhaps someone will place a giant order for ZC8400s to hoard them, so that those committed to the platform can continue to get kit - a plausible scenario given the likelihood the processor retains a hidden-but-critical role in defense or some legacy tech that will persist for decades.

Or perhaps there's one last batch of ZX Spectrums to be made! ®



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