Z80 Information

20 Jan 2013

Six or seven years ago, I bought a box full of fun stuff on eBay. It turned out to include a few Z80 processors. I had just finished my army duty and still remembered the math and physics lectures from college (equivalent) where most of the time had been wasted playing Super Mario on our Texas Instruments TI83+ graphing calculators who run on the very same processor. So I was well aware on what wonders it's capable of. Unfortunately, I didn't even have time to start playing with my new goodies before I went to university and my life turned into a mess.

The time finally came about a year and a half ago. I was having the first vacation of my life and actually had time to spare.

At this point I had no kind of plan. So I started out by trying to find out if at least one of the Z80s actually worked.

History of the Z80

According to Wikipedia, the Z80 processor was launched in 1976 by Zilog. The founder of Zilog had previously worked for Intel on their 8080 microprocessor. The Z80 is therefore designed to run any code which runs on the former.

Further, the Z80 features an extended instruction set compared to the 8080. The extra instructions include bit and block operations. The Z80 also has two sets of registers which can be swapped through a special register, indexed addressing and vectorized interrupts.

I have no experience working with the 8080 and this far only a little bit of actually programming a Z80. I've already, however, begun to appreciate some of those features.

What I appreciate even more - at least this far - is the following hardware features of the Z80 compared to the 8080.

  • A single 5V power supply - as opposed to +5V, -5V and +12V for the 8080
  • A single clock signal input - as opposed to two for the 8080

What this means

What those hardware features mean, is that getting a Z80 to run is actually really simple. All we need in ways of support circuits are a single square wave clock signal and a reliable reset circuit. Oh, and a power supply of course.

A step back

But we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves here. Let's instead take a step back and look at the Z80.

Z80 pinout This is the pinout of a standard Z80 in a 40-pin DIP package. I have colorized the pins to show one way of grouping their functions.

A line above the pin name or a / before it (such as /INT) indicates that the pin is Active Low, i.e. 0V means yes and 5V means no in layman terms.


The green pins are the address bus. A0 to A15 are used to indicate an address in memory during a memory read or write operation. A0 to A7 are also used to select I/O device during a port read or write operation. The address bus is output only.


The red pins are the data bus. D0 to D7 are used to transfer or receive data during a memory or port read or write operation. The data bus can also be used to indicate which device fired an interrupt. The data bus can be both input and output.


The blue pins are what keeps the Z80 going. The 5V DC power supply, a ground connection and a clock signal. We'll look more on the clock signal later.


The orange pins are used to control the Z80.

  • /INT indicates that a hardware interrupt occurred and makes the Z80 act on this.
  • /NMI is a Non Maskable Interrupt and has higher priority than the INT
  • /WAIT can be used by memory or I/O devices to make the Z80 wait during a read or write operation while the device prepares to fill the request.
  • /BUSRQ is used by external devices to request control over the data, address and system control buses. When the Z80 is ready to hand over control, this is signaled to the requesting device via the BUSACK pin.
  • /RESET is used to reset the Z80 into a well defined state.

All orange pins are input only.


The yellow pins are used to control peripherals and other parts of the computer system.

  • /HALT indicates that the Z80 is in a halted state, i.e. it is waiting for an interrupt to happen.
  • /MREQ indicates that the Z80 wishes to access memory.
  • /IORQ indicates that the Z80 wishes to access an I/O port.
  • /RD goes low during a memory or I/O read operation.
  • /WR goes low during a memory or I/O write operation.
  • /BUSACK indicates that the Z80 has let an other device take control of the buses.
  • /M1 indicates that the Z80 is fetching the next instruction from memory. This pin turned out to be incredibly useful for debugging.
  • /RFSH back in the days memory circuits couldn't keep their contents indefinitely, even with power on, but had to be given a refresh pulse every now and then. This usually required some extra circuitry which kept track of which memory addresses needed refreshing when. The Z80, however, outputs a refresh signal from time to time and also gives an address to refresh at A0 to A6(!).

All yellow pins are output only.

Fetch Decode Execute

A CPU operates in what's called instruction cycles. The instruction cycles can be broken down into three sub-cycles, namely the Fetch cycle, the Decode cycle and the Execute cycle.

During the Fetch cycle, the processor reads an instruction from memory. It keeps the address of the next instruction to read stored in a special register, the Program Counter PC. The Z80 also outputs the refresh signal during the end of the Fetch cycle. After reading an instruction PC in incremented by one.

During the Decode cycle, the processor decodes the read instruction. If more data needs to be read from memory (e.g. an address in a jump instruction) it is read now (PC is incremented accordingly).

During the execute cycle, the processor does what the instruction told it to. It might for example - in the case of a jump instruction - change the contents of the PC register, or add two registers together.

The cycle then repeats indefinitely or until the processor is halted.

The simplest instruction

So... the goal of this post was to make a Z80 tester, right? Actually, that will probably have to wait for the next post, because this one is getting really long now. However, it makes sense to look at one last piece of information right now. To make sure a Z80 is working, we'd want it to go through a number of instruction cycles. As a first step, though, we don't actually need it to do anything, but just move on to the next instruction.

Luckily, there's an instruction for this.

From the Z80 CPU Users Manual by Zilog:


Description: The CPU performs no operation during this machine cycle.

Sounds just like what we need! To make it even more perfect, the nop instruction is indicated by the byte 0x00 or all zeroes.

I'll let you think about the implications of this until next time.


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© 2012 Thomas Lovén - @thomasloven - GitHub