Turning Soviet Electronics Into A Nixie Tube Clock

Sometimes you find something that looks really cool but doesn’t work, but that’s an opportunity to give it a new life. That was the case when [Davis DeWitt] got his hands on a weird Soviet-era box with four original Nixie tubes inside. He tears the unit down, shows off the engineering that went into it and explains what it took to give the unit a new life as a clock.

Each digit is housed inside a pluggable unit. If a digit failed, a technician could simply swap it out.

A lot can happen over decades of neglect. That was clear when [Davis] discovered every single bolt had seized in place and had to be carefully drilled out. But Nixie tubes don’t really go bad, so he was hopeful that the process would pay off.

The unit is a modular display of some kind, clearly meant to plug into a larger assembly. Inside the unit, each digit is housed in its own modular plug with a single Nixie tube at the front, a small neon bulb for a decimal point, and a bunch of internal electronics. Bringing up the rear is a card edge connector.

Continues after the break…

Nixie tubes require around 170 V to light up, and they usually have a single anode and ten cathodes, one for each digit. There are modern driver boards that make Nixie projects a snap, but [Davis] discovered this unusual device had dual-anode tubes. In a dual-anode tube, each cathode — there are five in all, not ten — connects to two digits each. Which of the two lights up is determined by which anode is active. One anode connects to the even numbers, and one to the odd numbers. [Davis] ended up swapping the tubes for single-anode versions and putting the original dual-anode versions somewhere safe.

The result is a sturdy piece of computing history (like other Soviet-era display components we have seen) whose original purpose might be lost, but has gained a new life as a functional clock. You can watch [Davis] walk through the whole process in the video embedded just under the page break.

17 thoughts on “Turning Soviet Electronics Into A Nixie Tube Clock

        1. AFAIK the ZM1030 was only made by Philips in NL. Like all Philips tubes, they were sold in other countries with the brands of the local Philips subsidiaries. (Valvo, Dario, Mullard, Amperex, just to name a few).
          btw: the counter modules seem to be of Western Europe or even West German origin. Driver transistors from Telefunken, counter transistors from Fairchild and resistors from Vitrohm and Beyschlag. The modules were probably exported without tubes as an unfinished product and the tubes were fitted in the destination country. A common practice back then to save a lot on import duties.

    1. It’s sad to see such things. Guy acquires an industrial or military 4-digit counter, cannot figure out how the modules work, finds no way to drive quibinary indicators, rips out all electronic parts and replaces them with modern stuff. Worst of all, he probably gets paid for doing this.

      1. True.
        The guy has shown his bad personality.
        First respect the work of the mfg / makers
        Second get to know how it works.
        Third Find and fix failure.
        Fourth Develop the power supply, external controls.
        IF there was a need to make a clock, the most of the time well documented standardized soviet units could be configure for running countind module 6, i guess.
        BZW: Had muted the sound, nevertheless the body alnguage told ME, this guy is one of the egoistical overly loving themself kind of amiracanos f*** the whole world

    2. I made a clock with ZM1030 “biquinary” tubes. The nice thing about those tubes is they fit in standard audio tube sockets due to their internal multiplexing arrangement requiring fewer pins.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.