Zilog to end standalone sales of the legendary Z80 CPU

The processor that gave the world the ZX Spectrum and so much more is out of wafers

Production of some models of Z80 processor – one of the chips that helped spark the personal computing boom of the 1980s – is set to end after an all-too-brief 48 years.

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

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Zilog blamed the standalone part'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. The Register fancies that whichever factory Zilog used to churn out chips on that relatively chunky process node is no longer willing to do so.

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 CMOS ZC8400 CPU family [datasheet PDF]. Zilog appears to still make the eZ80 at least – a successor that added lots of whistles and bells, and is basically a system-on-chip.

The original Z80 featured just 8,500 transistors and could chug along at 2.5MHz typically, though that was enough to oomph for lots of fun stuff – helped by the fact that it was intended to be binary 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, for us connected to the UK in some way at least, 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 personal 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 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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