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!

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Soviet-Era Test Gear Defects To YouTube

If you want to work on communication gear — especially in the 1960s — you probably wanted a VTVM (a vacuum tube voltmeter), a way to generate frequencies, and a way to measure frequencies and power. The Soviet military had a piece of portable gear that could do all of this, the IK-2, and [msylvain59] shows up how one looked on the outside and the inside in the video below. Be warned, though. The video is hard to stop watching and it runs for over an hour, so plan accordingly.

We don’t read Russian, but based on the video, it looks like the lefthand piece of gear is a frequency generator that runs from 20 to 52 MHz and a power meter. The right-hand instrument is a VTVM that has some way to measure frequency and the center section is a quartz crystal frequency standard.

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Hackaday Links: July 31, 2022

Don’t look up! As of the time of this writing, there’s a decent chance that a Chinese Long March 5B booster has already completed its uncontrolled return to Earth, hopefully safely. The reentry prediction was continually tweaked over the last week or so, until the consensus closed in on 30 Jul 2022 at 17:08 UTC, give or take an hour either way. That two-hour window makes for a LOT of uncertainty about where the 25-ton piece of space debris will end up. Given the last prediction by The Aerospace Corporation, the likely surface paths cover a lot of open ocean, with only parts of Mexico and South America potentially in the crosshairs, along with parts of Indonesia. It’s expected that most of the material in the massive booster will burn up in the atmosphere, but with the size of the thing, even 20% making it to the ground could be catastrophic, as it nearly was in 2020.

[Update: US Space Command confirms that the booster splashed down in the Indian Ocean region at 16:45 UTC. No word yet on how much debris survived, or if any populated areas were impacted.]

Good news, everyone — thanks to 3D printing, we now know the maximum height of a dive into water that the average human can perform without injury. And it’s surprisingly small — 8 meters for head first, 12 meters if you break the water with your hands first, and 15 meters feet first. Bear in mind this is for the average person; the record for surviving a foot-first dive is almost 60 meters, but that was by a trained diver. Researchers from Cornell came up with these numbers by printing models of human divers in various poses, fitting them with accelerometers, and comparing the readings they got with known figures for deceleration injuries. There was no mention of the maximum survivable belly flop, but based on first-hand anecdotal experience, we’d say it’s not much more than a meter.

Humans have done a lot of spacefaring in the last sixty years or so, but almost all of it has been either in low Earth orbit or as flybys of our neighbors in the Sol system. Sure we’ve landed plenty of probes, but mostly on the Moon, Mars, and a few lucky asteroids. And Venus, which is sometimes easy to forget. We were reminded of that fact by this cool video of the 1982 Soviet landing of Venera 14, one of only a few attempts to land on our so-called sister planet. The video shows the few photographs Venera 14 managed to take before being destroyed by the heat and pressure on Venus, but the real treat is the sound recording the probe managed to make. Venera 14 captured the sounds of its own operations on the Venusian surface, including what sounds like a pneumatic drill being used to sample the regolith. It also captured, as the narrator put it, “the gentle blow of the Venusian wind” — as gentle as ultra-dense carbon dioxide hot enough to melt lead can be, anyway.

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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.

A Soyuz Space Clock Replica

If you like the retro look of old Soviet space hardware, then this replica of the model 774H Soyuz digital clock by [David Whitty] might be the perfect accessory for your desk. Forgoing the original stack of ten jam-packed circuit boards, [David] used an Arduino, a GPS receiver, and a handful of other common parts to create a convincing reproduction.

Out with the old, in with the new

He also made some functional changes to make it better suited as an ordinary clock for us earthbound folk. If you want to take on this project yourself, be prepared for some real metalwork. No 3D printing filament was harmed in building this project. It’s based on a pair of heavily modified Hammond cast aluminum enclosures, with over 1 kg of lead ballast added to give it the appropriate heft of the original. The GPS patch antenna is cleverly hidden on the rear interface connector, but a discrete hole for a USB connector gives away the secret that this isn’t an original. The software (free for non-commercial use) and build notes are available on his GitHub repository.

We covered [Ken Shirriff]’s fascinating dive into the guts of a real Soyuz digital clock back in January. If old space hardware is your thing, you should definitely check out this teardown by [CuriousMarc] of the 653B, the 1960s-era electro-mechanical predecessor to the 774H. Thanks to [CuriousMarc] for bringing this project to our attention.

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This Mini Soviet Micro Will Have Astounding Attention To Detail

As the retro craze has gone mainstream, we’ve grown used to seeing “mini” versions of classic hardware, preloaded with a selection of games and ready for a wallow in nostalgia. Unfortunately for fans of the less well known platforms, the only devices to get the mini treatment so far are popular ones such as the Nintendo consoles, or the Commodore 64. This is something [Svofski] is aiming to change for one classic micro, by producing a mini version of the Soviet Vector-06c. And unlike the Commodore with its fake keyboard, this one will work in its entirety and have a fully-functional keyboard.

It’s a build that’s not finished yet. But in this case that’s no bad thing, because such is the extreme attention to detail that you’ll want to stick around and watch it unfold. The electronics will come courtesy of an FPGA recreation of the hardware, while the Vector’s unique keyboard is being recreated in miniature, with keycaps designed to fit a particular Alps switch. These are 3D-printed, painted, and then marked with their decals using stencils carefully etched from copper sheet. Even if you have no interest in the Vector-06c, these techniques could find a place in so many other projects.

The wonderfully ingenious and diverse world of Soviet technology has found its way onto these pages many times over the years, including at least one other microcomputer, and even a supercomputer. If your interests extend behind the Iron Curtain though, you might wish to read our colleague [Voja Antonic]’s account of hacking in Communist Yugoslavia.

Soviet Core Memory Experiments

What do you do when you’ve bought some old Soviet core memory modules on eBay? If you are [CuriousMarc], you wire it up to some test connectors and use your test bench to see if the core memory still works. Spoiler alert: it does.

While it seems crude by today’s standard, there was a time when these memory modules would have been the amazing miniature tech of their day. Each little magnetic torus represents a bit and the modules have 1,024 and 4,096 tiny little donuts strung together in a grid.

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