Zilog Z80 End Of Life Notification

By The original uploader was Damicatz at English Wikipedia. - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1830432
Z80 CPU 1976 – 2024

For those of you that haven’t heard, on 15th April 2024, Littlefuse, the parent company to Zilog, announced the End Of Life of the Z80 and associated peripherals https://www.mouser.com/PCN/Littelfuse_PCN_Z84C00.pdf and it is fair to say that this has sent shockwaves through the retro computing community. In the wider electronics community there has been shock too, although some of it was that the Z80 was still in production 48 years after it launched.

There have been a lot of hot takes on this news, some of which seem to jump to bizarre conclusions or unrealistic solutions. A few people have been in touch either privately or publicly asking me what is going to happen and what can be done about it. I don’t have the answers, although I do have my own hot takes.

What the announcement means

Firstly, reading the announcement properly, the Z80 has not ceased production yet. However, it is the last chance for suppliers to get their orders in. The likes of Digikey, Mouser, RS, Farnell etc have until June 14th to place their orders, then sometime over the following 24 weeks the final batch will be manufactured. I don’t know how many chips will be ordered, but I suspect it will be quite a lot, and hopefully enough to sustain the hobby for many years to come. Sadly, this seems to be in the hands of the buying departments of the aforementioned companies. I don’t have any contacts there, or any influence over them, but if anybody reading this does, please get in touch.

Also, the particular announcement linked to above lists the Z80 chips associated with this EOL, however, there are several other announcements that cover the Z180 as well as the peripheral chips like the SIO/2, PIO, CTC etc. This covers the 40 pin DIP variants we are all familiar with, as well as the LQFP-44 and PLCC-44 variants. Throughout this post I will refer to the Z80 as shorthand for the family of Z80, Z180, and support chips.

What the announcement does not cover is the eZ80, which is likely to continue to be manufactured for quite some time to come. Whilst the eZ80 is somewhat backwards compatible with the Z80 and Z180, it is by no means a drop-in replacement. Making changes to existing hardware and software to take this 100 pin LQFP package is non-trivial, but it isn’t out of the question.

Hobbyist Predictions

As a hobbyist with a love of the Z80, I find this news very sad, although it is not as devastating as some of the hot takes will make you believe. I think that new Z80 chips will be in stock with the retailers for several more years, although there will inevitably be a price rise as supply runs down. Even after then, the market in reclaimed chips, “new” stock from china, FPGA based clones, and other solutions will come up and keep computers and hobby projects going for many years. It will undoubtedly cost a few dollars more for each chip, and reclaimed chips will always be a bit of a gamble, but it is an affordable price for a great hobby.

Z80Kits Predictions

As a business owner of z80kits.com, a site that as the name suggests, is dedicated to the sale of kits based around the Z80, I find this news quite devastating. Over the past 8 years I have sold almost 5000 kits with a Z80 in them, plus a lot of extra modules that make use of the Z80. The EOL of the Z80 is signalling an EOL of z80kits. However, the timeline for this depends mainly on the buying departments of Digikey, Mouser, RS et al. which is an uncomfortable place to be in. And whilst a few dollars on the cost of a single chip might be affordable for a hobbyist, as a company that orders chips in quantities of 100 at a time, this is going to have some financial challenges too.

As mentioned above, there are alternatives. Reclaimed chips are not an option, as selling a kit has an implied assurance that the kit will work. Troubleshooting a users build when even the CPU is an unknown quantity is not something that me or the customer wants. The eZ80 or an FPGA will probably be the most likely contenders, although they will inevitably require a lot of R&D, and sadly lose a lot of the nice retro 40 pin DIP appeal that the Z80 has.

In the short term, however, I am not expecting things to change very rapidly. A decent supply of chips is always kept on hand, and that should last until the suppliers get their stock from the final production run. As long as the suppliers have made their predictions correctly, then things should just carry on as they have been. But if the suppliers decide that there isn’t enough profit in old components like this, then the outlook is much less rosy. We will have to see…

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