Z80 inventor Zilog embraces ARM9, Linux

Oct 1, 2008

Zilog, creator of the Z80 microprocessors that powered numerous circa-1980 microcomputers including the Osborne and Kaypro, has just introduced its first general purpose 32-bit microcontroller family. The “Encore! 32″ microcontrollers integrate ARM9 processor cores, are offered with Linux support, and target embedded devices.

Zilog expects its new general purpose 32-bit microcontroller family to see use in applications such as home and office monitoring and control, multimedia devices, medical equipment, telematics and GPS systems, cameras, and universal remote controls.

32-bit microcontroller market takes off

For over three decades, Zilog has been focused primarily on 8- and 16-bit embedded processors and microcontrollers. Although the company’s early 8-bit Z80 and 16-bit Z8000 processors were general purpose CPUs, Zilog eventually forged its business around using the Z80 as the core of application-specific microcontrollers.

Currently, however, “the market for 32-bit microcontrollers is growing tremendously with the demands and complexities of today’s embedded products,” says Mike Orr, GM of Zilog’s microcontroller business unit.

Semico Research data cited by Zilog suggests that the 32-bit microcontroller market will grow at 14 percent CAGR between 2008 and 2012. ARM-based MCUs accounted for 19.3 percent of that market, the market researcher adds.

“Product manufacturers are seeking microcontrollers with more advanced capabilities,” Orr explains. “In some cases now, one 32-bit microcontroller is replacing two to three existing 8-bit microcontrollers (MCUs) or is being used for ‘command and control’ of several other existing MCUs, providing more agility with complex instructions.”

The Encore! 32 actually is not Zilog’s initial foray into ARM9-based microcontrollers. The company got its feet wet with ARM9 cores about a year ago with the release of the Zatara (PDF file download) application specific microcontroller, aimed at POS (point-of-sale) applications and secured financial transactions.

The new Encore! 32 microcontroller series is Zilog’s first general purpose microcontroller family based on ARM9.

About the Encore! 32

In addition to an ARM922TTM CPU core with MMU, the Encore! 32 series microcontrollers include a memory controller along with interfaces for LCDs, USB, SPI, serial, A-to-D, and other I/O. They’re also optionally available with an integrated magnetic stripe or smart card reader.



Block diagram of Zilog’s Encore! 32 series microcontroller
(Click image to enlarge)

Touted features of the Encore! 32 include:

  • 200MHz ARM922TTM CPU core
    • Supports 16-bit Thumb instructions
    • Includes MMU
  • 64 KB embedded SRAM
  • Memory controller for SRAM, ROM, flash, and SDRAM
  • 8-channel DMA controller
  • 8-bit LCD interface
  • 3x UARTs
  • 2x SPI ports
  • USB 2.0 port with on-the-go (OTG) support
  • Up to 76 GPIO lines
  • 10-bit, 4-channel A-to-D controller
  • Optional smart-card reader and mag stripe reader interfaces
  • Supports Linux, Windows CE, Symbian, and Palm OS

Zilog supports the Encore! 32 with a Linux-based BSP (board-support package). The package includes a “fully ported” Linux environment, sample code, and sources, and is suitable for testing and preliminary product development, the company says. The chips are also supported by Keil Software development tools. A development board built around the microcontroller is also offered.

For further information visit Zilog’s website.



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