A small B/W TV showing a Pong-like game being played on a Soviet-era game console

Soviet-Era Pong Console Is Easy To Repair

Many early home video game consoles were developed by American and Japanese companies: think Nintendo, Commodore, and Atari. But on the other side of the Iron Curtain, which was still very much in place in the 1980s, an entirely separate industry was built on names like Tesla and Elektronika. As a resident of the republic of Georgia, [Thomas] over at Workshop Nation has built up a sizeable collection of such Soviet-era hardware. A while back, he stumbled upon an Elektronika Video Sport 3, a 1990-vintage Pong-like video game console made in the USSR, and made a delightful video that shows him bringing it back to life.

A circuit board from an Elektronika game consoleLike its Western counterparts, the Video Sport 3 is built around a dedicated chip, in this case a K145IK17. This is a Soviet clone of the GI AY-3-8500 that powered nearly every TV Pong console in the West, allowing it to run several variations of Pong as well as a simple target shooting game. Interestingly, the Video Sport 3 also has a “test” mode in which it outputs a test signal to help you adjust your TV settings — quite useful in the days of analog CRTs. It also came with a comprehensive user manual, as well as full schematics to help you repair it in case anything breaks.

[Thomas]’s device didn’t immediately work, which is why he opened it up and tried to find any errors. The main board he found inside was a beautifully hand-made, single-layer board with around a dozen chips and lots of discrete components. Nothing seemed obviously broken, but [Thomas] decided to replace a few electrolytic capacitors as a precaution. This turned out to be enough to get the console working again — dodgy caps truly are a universal problem with older hardware.

A small Elektronika black-and-white TV that [Thomas] found earlier forms a perfect complement to the Video Sport 3. Together, they give us a glimpse into what a typical video game setup may have looked like in an early 1990s Soviet home. In fact, the Eastern Bloc supplied a reasonably wide selection of home computers, although not many people could actually buy them. Some truly bizarre machines were also produced for professional users.

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A vintage watch with a new PCB inside, next to a 3D rendered image of the PCB

Modern, Frugal PCB Breathes New Life Into Soviet-Made LED Watch

The first electronic digital watches were admired for their pioneering technology, if not their everyday practicality, when they were introduced in the 1970s. Their power-hungry LED displays lit up only when you pressed a button, and even then the numbers shown were tiny. Their cases were large and heavy, and they drained their batteries rather quickly even when not displaying the time. Still, the deep red glow of their displays gave them a certain aesthetic that’s hard to replicate with today’s technology.

A vintage LED watch displaying "16.42"
Pressing the top-right button enables those beautiful LED modules

When [Benjamin Sølberg] got his hands on an Elektronika-1, a first-generation digital watch designed in the Soviet Union, he set about designing a modern replacement for its internals. Where the original had several custom chips wire-bonded directly onto a substrate, the new board contains an MSP430 series microcontroller as well as an AS1115 display driver. The PCB makes contact with the watch’s pushbuttons through clever use of castellated holes.

For the display [Benjamin] went with period-correct LED modules made by HP, which keep the display’s appearance as close to the original as possible. While these draw quite a bit of current, the rest of the watch has become an order of magnitude more frugal: the stand-by time is now estimated to be about ten years, where the old design often needed new batteries within a year. [Benjamin] uses his renovated watch on a daily basis, apparently without trouble.

If you’ve got an old Soviet digital watch that you’d like to upgrade, you’ll be pleased to hear that the entire design is open source. Just like this retro watch, in fact, that uses a similar LED display. If you’re into original vintage watches, we’ve covered them in depth, too.

Soviet-Era Auto Dialler Uses Magnetic Rope Core Memory

We’ve seen a few interesting magnetic core memories on these fine pages over the years, but we don’t recall seeing too many user programmable magnetic core memory devices. This interesting Russian telephone auto dialer in its day would have been a very useful device, capable of storing and dialing forty user programmable 7-digit numbers. [mikeselectricstuff] tore into one (video, embedded below), and found some very interesting tech. For its era, this is high technology stuff. Older Russian tech has a reputation for incredibly ingenious use of older parts, that can’t be denied. After all, if it works, then there’s no need to change it. But anyway, what’s interesting here is how the designers decided to solve the problem of programming and recalling of numbers, without using a microprocessor, by using discrete logic and core rope memory.

This is the same technology used by the Apollo Guidance Computer, but in a user configurable form, and obviously much smaller storage capacity. The core array consists of seven, four-bit words, one word per telephone digit, which will be read out sequentially bottom to top. The way you program your number is to take your programming wire, insert it into the appropriate hole (one row related to numbers 1-20, the other row is shifted 1-20 for the second bank) and thread it along the cores in a weave type pattern. Along the way, the wire is passed through or bypasses a particular core, depending upon the digit you are coding for. They key for this encoding is written on the device’s lid. At the end, you then need to terminate the wire in the matching top connector, to allow the circuit to be completed.

As far as we can tell, the encoding is a binary sequence, with a special ‘stop’ code to indicate telephone numbers with less than seven digits. We shall leave further analysis to interested parties, and just point you at the Original manufacturer schematics. Enjoy!

Of course we’re not just going to mention rope core memory and the AGC without linking to a fantastic article about the very same, and if that’s wetting your appetite for making a rope core memory, here’s a little thing about that too!

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Threaded Wires Save Phone Numbers

If you thought programming your 1990s VCR was rough, wait until you see this Russian telephone autodialer that [Mike] took apart over on the mikeselectricalstuff YouTube channel (video below the break). [Mike] got this 1980s Soviet-era machine a few years ago, and finally got around to breaking into it to learning what makes it tick. The autodialer plugs into the phone line, much like an old-school answering machine. It provides the user with 40 pre-set telephone numbers, arranged in two banks of 20, and a speaker to monitor the connection process. It uses pulse dialing — no touch tones. What’s surprising is how you program the numbers. Given that this was build in the 1980s Soviet Union, he wasn’t expecting a microcontroller. But he wasn’t expecting transformer core “rope” memory, either.

The phone normally sits on a platform on the left side of the machine. Raising up the platform exposes a bank of toroidal cores, arranged in seven rows of four. Each row corresponds to a dialed digit, and the four cores used to encode a single digit. At the top and bottom of the programming board are two 40-pin connectors, each pin corresponding to one of the preset phone numbers. A bunch of patch wires would have been provided, and you program each number by threading a long wire through the appropriate cores, connecting it at the top and bottom connectors much like a modern solderless breadboard. It’s also interesting to see the components and construction technique of this circuit board. For example, the diodes have the strip on the Anode end, not the cathode as we’re normally used to today. The transistor cans are mounted upside down like dead spiders.

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