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The Zilog Z80 is an 8-bit microprocessor designed and manufactured by Zilog from 1976 onwards. It was widely used both in desktop and embedded computer designs, and is one of the most popular CPUs of all time. Although Zilog made several attempts to move off the Z80 onto more powerful 16-bit (Zilog Z800, Zilog Z8000) and 32-bit (Zilog Z80000) platforms, other companies were offering CPUs in this performance range years earlier, and the Zilog chips never caught on.


The Z80 came about when Federico Faggin left Intel after working on the 8080, and by July 1976 Zilog had the Z80 on the market. It was designed to be binary compatible with the Intel 8080 so that most 8080 code could run unmodified on it, notably the CP/M operating system.

The Z80 offered five real improvements over the 8080:

  • an enhanced instruction set including new IX and IY index registers and instructions for them
  • two instances of each register which could be quickly switched between, to speed up response to interrupts
  • a limited ability for SIMD (Single Instruction, Multiple Data) with block move and copy instructions.
  • a built-in DRAM refresh address counter that would otherwise have to be provided by external circuitry
  • a much lower price

The Z80 quickly took over from the 8080 in the market, and became the most popular 8-bit CPU of all time - indeed, if one takes the absolute size of the market into account, the most successful CPU ever. Later versions increased in speed from the early models' 1 MHz up to as much as 20 MHz.

Perhaps key to the success of the Z80 was the built-in DRAM controller, which allowed systems to be built with fewer support chips. Competitor MOS Technology, Inc, maker of the famous 6502 processor, later included this very useful feature in its second generation color video chip VIC-II.

Notable Uses

  • Sega Master System and Game Gear.
  • Both the SNK Neo-Geo and Sega Megadrive video games consoles use it as an audio coprocessor.
  • Nintendo's Game Boy and Game Boy Color handheld game systems used a Z80 clone manufactured by Sharp Corporation, which had a slightly different instruction set.

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