Zilog Z8000

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Processor Zilog 8001 on the motherboard of an Olivetti M20 computer
Z8001 clone MME UB8001C made in GDR.

The Z8000 ("zee-eight-thousand") is a 16-bit microprocessor introduced by Zilog in 1979. The architecture was designed by Bernard Peuto while the logic and physical implementation was done by Masatoshi Shima, assisted by a small group of people. The Z8000 was not Z80-compatible, and although it saw steady use well into the 1990s, it was not very widely used. However, the Z16C01 and Z16C02 Serial Communication Controllers still use the Z8000 core.


Although fundamentally a 16-bit architecture, some versions had 7-bit segment registers that extended the address space to 8 megabytes.

The register set consisted of sixteen 16-bit registers, and there were instructions that could use them as 8-bit, 16-bit, 32-bit, and 64-bit registers. The register set was completely orthogonal, with register 15 conventionally designated as stack pointer, and register 14 for stack segment.

There was both a user mode and a supervisor mode.

Like the Z80, the Z8000 included built-in DRAM refresh circuitry. Although an attractive feature for designers of the time, overall the Z8000 was not especially fast and had some bugs, and in the end it was overshadowed by the x86 family.

One notable use of the Z8000 series was by Namco in the design of its famous Pole Position series of racing videogames. Two Z8002's (small-memory versions of the Z8000) were incorporated into the design.

The reported inclusion of the device within military designs,[1] perhaps provides an explanation for the continued survival of the Z8000 today, in the shape of the Z16C01/02 Serial Communication Controllers (SCC). Indeed, an active order code and datasheet may still be located upon the Zilog website.

The Zilog Z80000 was a 32-bit follow-on design.

Z8000 CPU based systems[edit]

In the early 1980s, the Zilog Z8000 CPU was popular for desktop sized Unix machines. They allowed small businesses to run a true multi-user system and share resources (disk, printers) before networking was common. They usually had only RS232 serial ports (4–16) and parallel printer ports instead of built in graphics, as was typical for servers of the time.

Z8000-based computer systems included Zilog's own System 8000 series, as well as other manufacturers:

  • Jan 1980: C8000 from Onyx Systems, early Unix multi-user system, demoed (8 serial ports [users], $25k)[2]
  • Other Z8000-based computer systems: Olivetti M20, M30, M40, M50, M60[3]
  • 1987-1989 the East German PAW produced the Workstation/Multiuser System P8000 based on the East German U8000 clone of the Z8000
  • The Z8000 can be found in some rare but well-known computers, such as the Unix-based Commodore 900.
Some third parties also manufactured the Z8000 including AMD, SGS-Ates, Toshiba and Sharp.[4]

The Zilog S8000 computer came out with a version of Unix called ZEUS (Zilog Enhanced Unix System). This version of Unix was not based on Xenix but via Interactive. There may have been a Xenix version from some other company as back in 1979 Xenix was 8088/8086 based. ZEUS was a port of Unix Ver 7 and included what were referred to as 'the Berkeley Enhancements'. ZEUS included a version of COBOL called RM/COBOL (Ryan McFarland COBOL). The availability of RM/COBOL allowed many commercial applications to be quickly ported to the S8000 computer although this did not help its long term success. The S8000 did find some success with the IRS and tax preparers in United States, who used the model for processing of electronically filed tax returns.[5]

There was a Z8000 version of the Xenix Operating System[6]

The Z8000 also saw use in embedded systems, such as the lottery ticket sales machines used in some convenience stores.

The Z8000 CPU series was introduced in early 1979, between the launch of the Intel 8086 (April 1978) and the Motorola 68000 (September 1979).[4] That explains the timeframe and why the Z8000 CPU-based systems lost their dominance to Motorola 68000 based machines, then to the Intel 80286.


  1. ^ "Z8000". TechEncyclopedia. TechWeb. Retrieved 2009-07-16. 
  2. ^ Granneman, Scott. "Computing History 1968-Present". Retrieved 2009-07-16. 
  3. ^ Kranenborg, Jurjen; Elvey, Dwight K.; Grosssler, Christian. "The Z8000 / Z80,000 / Z16C00 CPU homepage". Retrieved 2009-07-16. 
  4. ^ a b "ZILOG Z8000 (APRIL 1979)". Digital History: Time Line. old-computers.com. Retrieved 2009-07-16. 
  5. ^ "efile History - Electronic Tax Filing in the United States". Retrieved 2012-12-13. 
  6. ^ Bezroukov, Nikolai (2008-11-15). "XENIX -- Microsoft Short-lived Love Affair with Unix". Softpanorama. Retrieved 2009-07-16. 

Further reading[edit]