Soviet-Era Computer Is Both A Mystery And A Disaster

There are plenty of bizarre computers around from the 70s through the 90s before the world somewhat standardized around various duopolies of hardware vendors and operating systems. Commodore, Atari, and even Apple had some bizarre machines from this era but for our money, the most unusual systems come out of the Eastern Bloc. We’ve featured plenty of these before, and the latest is a Robotron CM1910 which comes to us from [Chernobyl Family] via YouTube.

Built in East Germany behind the wall, the Robotron factories had easier access to Soviet than western parts, but the latter were also available when necessary. Hence it’s built on an Intel 8086 processor, which seems common enough for the era, but after opening the case some non-standard construction becomes apparent.

The first is a densely-packed array of circuit boards and wiring, far beyond what a western PC might have included in this time. This also partially explains its massive 25 kg weight. It does include a hard drive, two floppy disk drives, a large dedicated graphics card, and a modem which all contribute as well. The overall design philosophy of the machine was a headscratcher too, which would have involved near-complete dismantling of the machine to access or repair some of the parts, as well as some hidden peripheral and drive controllers in questionable locations.

From the looks of it, we doubt this computer will see any uptime anytime soon, although they did at least restore the keyboard. With all of the chips accessible on PCBs, it might be possible to get this machine up and running again although it would take a massive effort thanks to its non-standard design and construction, and might also require help from builds like this to replace or emulate some of the hardware.

Thanks to [Stephen] for the tip!

56 thoughts on “Soviet-Era Computer Is Both A Mystery And A Disaster

  1. So they mixed various components from different sources in a cluttered overweight mess that’s impossible to maintain. Not so different from modern software developement philosophy then.

    1. You should sort your cluttered mind before you try – unsuccessfully – to understand a product that most probably did a great job then, based on restricted part availability, so it had to be replaced by design intelligence .

          1. Umm, no, by very definition, no. I mean, you engineer a solution, but doing the planning, measuring, calculations, and so on. A kludge is jamming shit together and hoping for the best. Completely the opposite.

        1. The A7150 wasn’t as primitive as it looks.
          It had a “full” 8086 rather than an cut-down 8088, a software-controlled power supply (like ATX had a decade later), automatic detection of fixed-disk capacity (we’re talking about pre-IDE, folks), a “COL” (colour) graphics card capable of 640×480 in 16c out of 4096c (max., NEC µPD7220 equivalent) – before VGA was common on western PCs.

          For an XT-Class machine it was quite impressive, I think. Almost like a German counterpart to an 80s era Japanese PC-98 PC.

          1. Yeah. Robotron was innovating (out of need) and a lot of their computer designs are pretty cool.

            A few years back, “Computing behind the iron curtain” was the theme of a Vintage Computer Festival in Germany, and it was eye-opening.

            Plus, coolest possible company name.

  2. Yeah you’re fighting the tide here. Just because a place has an official name doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t gain a common name that most people will use. And to be 100% fair to everyone that calls it East Germany, there was a border dividing the country from north to south, with a clear western side and an eastern side. There’s another lesser reason nobody calls it the GDR, because nobody actually believed it was a democracy or a republic.

        1. Seth Thomas used to stamp their clock movements “US America.” There are probably others, but Seth Thomas is the only one I have seen marking products that way.

    1. Yea, the name America seems to have exactly that same problem with the tide since it “officially” refers to the land-mass(es) of North and South America, as per it’s first appearance on a map made by Waldseemüller in 1507. I’m still puzzled about why most people refer to the “United States in America” as just America, when e.g. many other clever people take the name America to mean the whole land-mass of both both North and South America. Some examples:

      – Charles Darwin said “The plants from the southern parts of America will be given by Dr. J. Hooker, in his great work on the Botany of the Southern Hemisphere”, and then “The Beagle was employed in surveying the extreme southern and eastern coasts of America, south of the Plata”, which is the Río de la Plata in South America.
      – The Python timezone library lists Mendoza, Montevideo and São Paulo along with New York, Vancouver (and Toronto) in the folder America/.
      – The Wikipedia (Spanish) entry for América says “America is the second largest continent on Earth, after Asia”. (Of course it’s debatable whether America is one continent or two, but that’s a different issue.)
      – The American Peoples Encyclopedia (of 1970) says “AMERICA, comprising the continents of North and South America….”

      Seems Star Trek has the the problem with the tide since “In Star Trek, the interplanetary federal republic is called The United Federation of Planets and it is referred to as The Federation and not The Planets. Following this example it is quite easy to deduce that The United States of America should be referred as The States and not as America.” (no credit to me! Since HaD has a problem with URLs, please internet search for the original.)

        1. And the Canadans want to build a wall between them and the US to keep all those darn Americans desparate to get medical care from accessing Canadan hospitals with fake Canadan ID.

      1. “I’m still puzzled about why most people refer to the “United States in America” as just America, when e.g. many other clever people take the name America to mean the whole land-mass of both both North and South America.”

        Here in Europa we usually say just America, I suppose. Or USA or “the states”.
        If we mean South America, we explicitly say so, I guess. Or we think of the country, Brazil/Portugal. On the other hand, there’s Canada, too. A running gag would be to ask “so you’re from Canada?” when someone says he/she is American. ;)

        I suppose that’s because we unconsciously think of America as a country (US, a western civilization), rather than a continent. Canada by contrast is a vast void with big ancient trees and a low population, Mexico is.. just Mexico and South America is that big green forest thingy with funny people. Again, that’s what we think unconsciously, maybe. It’s an explanation. Of course that’s not entirely true, these countries have a lot more to offer.

        In reverse, we Europeans think of “Europa” as a buch of countries primarily. England, Poland, France, Spain, Germany, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Belgium, Norway etc. In short, the democratic countries. If we have to think about Europe as a continent, as a whole, we would realistically have to include Eurasia and countries like Russia, Turkey and China. Which would be quite a challenge, from a mentality point of view, because they’re so different from classic old Europe we know.

        PS: I’m from Germany and probably not a primal example (I’m weird). What I say does probably not reflect same opinions/thoughts of my fellow citizens. What I wrote is just an attempt at an explanation, rather. It’s well possible that I’m wrong, especially since I haven’t much experience at traveling. The world is such a big place with interesting people and different cultures.

        1. “Sorry for correcting, but Portugal is in Europe, right next to Spain… one of the democratic countries, ar least for the last 49 years.”

          Aye. Of course it is, thanks for your reply. I didn’t mean to claim it was otherwise, I wrote what people may associate with. Brazil is the country, with Portuguese as the official language. That’s why we in turn also think of Portugal, maybe. Just like we may subconsciously link Spain/Mexico due to the language. If I hadn’t known that, I wouldn’t have had mentioned Brazil in first place. But you’re right, the wording was poor, I was too lazy here. My bad. 🙇‍♂️

    1. DCP and MUTOS, as well as SCP and BOS. I think. I’m merely a layman, since I’m more of a Wessie rather than an Ossie. Someone from ex-GDR who had actually worked with these systems could probably make a proper statement.


  3. Um, I see, though I see no acute problem here.
    Germans in the BRD/FRG called their country West-Germany sometimes. It’s even in the books of the time (“printed in W-Germany”) and on the back of VHS video cassettes.
    Likewise, DDR/GDR was called East Germany in daily life. Their books may have been more conservative, I admit. So far, I’ve seen them to read “printed in GDR”. But that’s likely because officially, at least, the GDR was very strict and bureaucratic. Way less relaxed than the older Germany. East Germans in their private life were likely very relaxed, too, by contrast.

  4. It always and all the time was SBZ. Sowjetische Besatzungszone, Sowjetzone or Ostzone.

    (/me dad was born near Lassan and lifelong insisted on this terminology.)

  5. One of the operating systems running on such PCs was DCP, the Disc Control Program.
    It was an MS-DOS 3.20/3.30 cop.., err, compatible operating system.
    The supplied utilities were adapted for some of the slightly non-IBM compatible aspects of those PCs.

  6. Odd thing to get so worked up about. You aren’t going to change the way most of the world refers to that part of Europe from a certain period of time. Oh, and I wouldn’t exactly say it was “shot down”. So telling about your own politics that you describe the fall of the wall like that.

  7. A search for its real name ‘Robotron A 7150’ would yield much more hits and details than its export designation.

    And by the way – East(ern) Germany – the areas of East Prussia and Silesia – are currently under administration of Poland according to UN regulations. At least until there is a real peace treaty. I always wonder why Poland is still and even more pressing for reparations recently – as the need to solve this issue would come up with this too…

  8. People on both sides of the Iron curtain called it East and West Germany. Trust me, I am from the other side. Bunch of non English speakers I know say England instead of GB ignoring the fact it’s very incorrect. Few people know Myanmar, many more know Burma. Just live with it.

    1. I thought I recognized VME bus connectors in there, having worked on VME based Sun 3 equipment back in the 1980s/1990s. It is kind of strange to use an 8086 as the processor because VME was kind of defined around the Motorola 68000 processor’s bus and signaling requirements.

      NuBus which used similar looked connectors was developed by MIT and Western Digital to be processor agnostic, and it was picked up by Apple for Macintosh II machines, ironically using 68K family CPUs.

  9. So this is effect a Komi-Dore 64 running RuskiDos ? 😂 Are there any files on the hard drive? Like invasion plans ? Does it want to play Thermonuclear War ?

  10. The majority of the world has always referred to it as East Germany (and many goods manufactured there are actually marked that way too!). Within Germany it was usually called the DDR). I’ve very very rarely encountered the English abbreviation GDR.

    Take the L, there most definitely was (and technically still is, just as a part of Germany now) an East Germany

    1. most languages I’ve come across use in common speech DDR as the abbreviation(with those letters, non localized) and call it east germany in speech(localized to whatever they use as translation for ‘germany’ and the compass direction).

      Bundesrepublik Deutschland and Deutsche Demokratische Republik if translated directly to most languages seem just too similar..

  11. “there was NO EAST GERMANY.”

    So I could drive North, West and South in Germany but if I drove East I just rolled over the screen like in Pacman and ended up on the French border?

  12. It was tough working at the Robotron factory. Workers were constantly crowding you, OSHA violations were everywhere, and you’d have to be careful not to get run over by push-carts. If you stayed late, they’d chase you out of the building by tossing charged capacitors at you. Often, it was bring-your-kid-to-work day, though the engineers were always trying to teach the kids mind tricks. It just seemed to make them more surly. I heard someone made a game about it.

  13. Both of them have zero common sense and knowledge about history of computers. They was both so young to understend this part of history.
    In this times, computers was not made that anybody can repair them. They was made for specific task and to last forever. Ribbon cables was normal thing in electronic, not “weird”. There was no uneducated self called IT masters. People sent computer to service. Who know how this hardware is assembled, he repaired it easy. He know how to dissasemble it fast. In video they was trying oposite way, maybe for show.
    There was strange constructions from all sides of world because there was no standard. Everybody made what he think is the best.
    There was no modules and specific parts to buy anywhere, impossible to fund and order on internet like now, it was hard to get parts you need.
    Now you have “PC masters” in service that don’t have to know how components on motherboard work. They in fact just change modules.
    Watching how they “don’t know how to take part of hardware out” was disgusting.

  14. cluttered overweight mess? I guess some seem to think, believe and expect that there should have been loose leaf thin TVs and touch screen tablets and voice activation in those eras too. FYI to anyone born after those eras, in 2008, I bought a 32″ Analog RCA TV from Best Buythat weighed more than me that was better than any TV you could buy today for gaming that made me top 3 world champ in XBOX 360 Gears of War 1. 😉

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