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Z80: The Most Prolific CPU of All Time

 The ColecoVision console, Nintendo’s Game Boy, the Sega Genesis and several arcade games - Frogger, Galaga, and even Street Fighter 2 have one very important thing in common: They all use the ZilogZ80 processor.

The Z80 processor was designed in 1976 to compete with Intel’s classic 8080 chip, the predecessor to the chips that most people have in their computers today. The Z80 was easy to program for, compared to other processors of the day, but more importantly, it was cheap and relatively powerful. This made it a very popular choice if you needed an 8-bit processor.

Many early arcade games used one, two, or three Z80s as their main processors for the game, and in fact all Namco arcade games throughout the early 80s used Z80s.

When the Game Boy was released in 1989, the Z80 processor was practically ancient, and the monochrome display seemed almost archaic, but it was important in the success of the system. Even though Sega’s competing Game Gear system had a backlit color screen, it cost almost twice as much as a Game Boy, and ran for a fraction of the time on a set of batteries. The older, proven hardware game the Game Boy an edge.

The Sega Genesis didn’t use the Z80 as a CPU, but instead ran it as a sound processor, taking care of all the sound effects and music for the system, and giving it backwards compatibility with the older Sega Master System, which used the Z80 as its main processor.

Z80s are still used even today, where a high-power processor isn’t needed. Many Texas Instruments graphing calculators still use Z80 processors today, as well as many other low-cost devices that need a little processing power.The Z80 is the most successful 8-bit processor of all time, and if you consider all of the uses to this day, probably the most prolific CPU of all time.

Samuel McConnell is a games enthusiast who has been playing games in one form or another since 1991. He was born in northern Maine but quickly transplanted to Wichita.