Farewell to an Icon: Zilog Discontinues Classic Z80 CPU after Nearly Half a Century


Zilog's Z80 CPU: The End of a 48-Year Legacy

In a move that marks the end of an era, Zilog, the renowned chip manufacturer, has announced that its line of standalone DIP (dual inline package) Z80 CPUs will cease production on June 14, 2024, after an impressive 48-year run.The 8-bit Z80 architecture, which first appeared in 1976, played a pivotal role in the small-business-PC revolution alongside the CP/M operating system. It also served as the heart of numerous iconic devices, including the Nintendo Game Boy, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Radio Shack TRS-80, Pac-Man arcade game, and the TI-83 graphing calculator.

Zilog informed its customers of the decision in a letter dated April 15, 2024, stating, "Please be advised that our Wafer Foundry Manufacturer will be discontinuing support for the Z80 product and other product lines." The letter included a list of the affected Z84C00 Z80 products.

For decades, designers have relied on the Z84C00 chips due to their familiarity with the Z80 architecture and the ability to upgrade legacy systems without significant redesigns. Although many newer embedded chip architectures have surpassed the Z80 chips in terms of speed, processing power, and capabilities, the Z80 remained a go-to solution for products that did not require extra horsepower.

While bidding farewell to the standalone Z80 chips, Zilog will continue to manufacture the eZ80 microcontroller family, which was introduced in 2001 as a faster version of the Z80 series and is available in various physical package configurations.

The Z80 microprocessor, designed by Federico Faggin in 1974, was a binary-compatible and improved version of the Intel 8080, boasting a higher clock speed, a built-in DRAM refresh controller, and an extended instruction set. It found extensive use in desktop computers of the late 1970s and early 1980s, arcade video game machines, embedded systems, and several gaming consoles, such as the Sega Master System.

During the mid-late 1970s, the Z80 gained popularity among S-100 bus machines, early personal computers with a modular bus system that allowed users to build systems using components from various manufacturers. Digital Research targeted the Z80 as a key platform for its CP/M operating system, and the association between the two became synonymous with small business computers until the mid-1980s, when IBM PC clones running Microsoft's MS-DOS emerged as the new industry standard.

Interestingly, Microsoft's first hardware product, the Z80 SoftCard for the Apple II in 1980, brought the famous Zilog CPU to the classic personal computer, allowing users to run CP/M on the machine. In 1982, Bill Gates claimed that SoftCard installations represented the largest single user base of CP/M machines.

As Zilog discontinues the Z84C00 chips, which are still available in the classic 40-pin DIP packages, the company will stop taking orders after June 14, 2024. They will then manufacture the final orders, provided they are sufficient in quantity, and ship the last runs of the chips to resellers like Mouser Electronics and Digikey.

While the Z80 architecture will live on in the eZ80 microcontroller family, the discontinuation of the standalone 8-bit Z80 CPU chips in the classic DIP form factor marks the end of an era. As we bid farewell to this iconic chip, its legacy and the impact it had on the computing world will remain etched in the annals of technology history.