Soviet Scientific Calculator Gives Up Its Cold War-Era Secrets

Say what you want about Soviet technology, but you’ve got to admit there was a certain style to Cold War-era electronics. Things were perhaps not as streamlined and sleek as their Western equivalents, but then again, just look at the Nixie tube craze to see where collectors and enthusiasts stand on that comparison.

One particularly interesting artifact from the later part of that era was the lovely Elektronika MK-52 “microcalculator”. [Paul Hoets] has done a careful but thorough teardown of a fine example of this late-80s machine. The programmable calculator was obviously geared toward scientific and engineering users, but [Paul] relates how later versions of it were also used by the financial community to root out banking fraud and even had built-in cryptographic functions, which made encrypting text easy.

[Paul] has put together a video of the teardown, detailing the mostly through-hole construction and the interesting use of a daughter-board, which appears to hold the high-voltage section needed to drive the 11-character VFD tube. The calculator appears to be very well cared for, and once reassembled looks like it would be up for another ride on a Soyuz, where once it served as a backup for landing calculations.

We love the look of this machine and appreciate [Paul]’s teardown and analysis. But you say that the Cyrillic keyboard has you stumped and you need a bilingual version of the MK-52? That’s not a problem.

17 thoughts on “Soviet Scientific Calculator Gives Up Its Cold War-Era Secrets

  1. Amazing design, making me wish someone would reverse engineer all of it: Transistor layout, mask ROM, etc.
    It may not be useful anymore today, but the features described here and the encryption make it truly ahead of its time.

    1. There is a vast amount of stuff available on the Russian internet for this. The basic schematics went out the moment this device was made, and a lot of hacking and DIY culture appeared. I only partially explored what exists on the Russian internet, but one person did actually make his own cartridge. He even added a nice little OLED to display the output.

  2. 1. Funny “home made” style single in line resistor packs instead of the enclosed thick film resistor packages in the eighties in the West.
    2. Most terminal keyboards had double and even triple injection moulded keycaps that never lost their markings.

  3. I believe that this calculator may be of interest only to collectors, and very specific perverts.
    This calculator could not boast of reliability, speed of calculations, or libraries of functions. All serious engineers or scientists in the USSR tried in any way to get themselves TI or HP.
    If you flip one of the four top covers, you will see that the pins of the connectors underneath are made of aluminum!
    (One of the fundamental problems of electronics in the USSR was reduced to the impossibility of organizing the production of contacts acceptable in terms of quality. There was even a saying: electronics is the science of contacts!)

    1. Pervert? I feel attacked.

      You got a point – Eastern European calculator errorology is something only a very geeky pervert would get into.

      But it’s certainly fascinating to dig up this history.

      What you about the aluminium contacts is hair-raising.

      1. Actually, found the article quite interesting! Re: the RPN (reverse polar notation) comment.. HP calculators started off with this but lost out to algebraic – much like beta verses vhs for video recorders.
        Also, regarding the manufatcuring i guess you go with what you got!

    2. There were two tiers of the Soviet electronics. One tier is this, with aluminium contacts and wobbly plastics, and the other tier with ceramic rad-hardened ICs, gold plated contacts, etc., in the military designs. The latter are still mind-blowing even by today standards. Who ever touched ЦВК would understand.

  4. After the collapse of USSR, there were flood of goods coming to Turkey (where I was born and raised) by ex-soviet citizens who wanted US dollars. Any high tech gear in Turkey was imported at the time, and while Soviet gears were not top of the line, they proposed an amazing value. From sporting goods to electronics – even war medals. I remember seeing scientific calculators, but not this exact model. It was the Soviet garage sale of the decade. I just wish I collected some back in the day.

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