Urban explorers uncover Soviet computers from the 70s

Here lies Soviet computing from the 70s, unearthed by a group of explorers.

A group of Russian urban explorers recently discovered piles of Soviet computers and servers. Amongst the tech was the Saratov-2, a popular machine at the time but not something you’d find loads of information about on the Web:

Part of the cabinets were antique electronic computers. Others served to measure signals, and computers controlled this process. Dozens of terminals froze on the tables with extinct screens.

Suddenly it became clear that before them the legendary machine “Saratov-2”. The machine, which was massively placed on many enterprises of the Soviet Union in the 70s, but at the same time, not a single high-quality (I’m not talking about color) photos remained. Not on the Internet, not even in the museum of the enterprise developer.

Hackaday also covered the story and added more context to the story of Soviet computing:

While mass-market Western desktop machines followed the path of adopting newer architectures such as the Z80 or the 8086 the Soviets instead took their minicomputer technology to that level. It would be interesting to speculate how these machines might further have developed over the 1990s had history been different. Meanwhile we all have a tangible legacy of Soviet PDP/11 microcomputers in the form of Tetris, which was first written on an Elektronika 60.

Now I’m imagining a Soviet Raspberry Pi (don’t worry, I won’t do the reverse R thing).

(all image rights reserved to Ralph Mirebs)

The Lenin Museum running on Apple II computers

The Soviet Union is long gone but Apple II computers still reside at the Lenin Museum, fully functioning and keeping the artifacts alive.

20 miles south of Moscow in Gorki Leninskiye lies the Lenin Museum (not to be confused with the Lenin Museum in Tampere, Finland).

Lenin died in the work settlement in 1924 and Gorki was renamed Gorki Leninskiye in his honour. But besides the homage to the former Communist leader, the Lenin Museum is home to a unique oddity: it runs on Apple II computers. That’s a remarkable feat for 2020 but Apple II’s were still a decade old when the museum opened in 1987 (they were discontinued in 1979).

The reason the museum uses Apple II computers at all was due to another technology: The Electrosonic ES4000. This from Atlas Obscura:

The Soviets were well-versed in the construction of impressive buildings, and the museum was designed by Leonid Pavlov, a constructivist architect who had already built several research and computing centers in a similar cuboid fashion. But creating machinery for a smaller-scale visual spectacle turned out to be a challenge. Lights, motors, and reel-to-reel players had to be synced to each other, each following a script to the second.

Fortunately, there was worldwide demand for equipment that could control such devices. In 1981, the British audiovisual company Electrosonic launched the ES4000. It was a set of computer accessories and software that helped technicians program the building blocks of multimedia exhibitions. The system was built into a computer Electrosonic was already using internally—the Apple II. (A 1987 copy of Apple User magazine spotlighted the ES4000.) The choice of an Apple machine simplified the distribution in many parts of the world. By sticking to a popular, off-the-shelf computer, the company could buy Apple computers locally and extend them with the ES4000 hardware later.

All rights reserved © Yuri Litvinenko
All rights reserved © Yuri Litvinenko

After working around a Soviet law that forbade trading directly with foreign companies, Electrosonic kept providing the hardware and the Lenin Museum is still fully functioning. However, according to Boris Vlasov, Deputy Director of Research at Gorki Leninskiye Museum-Reserve, maintenance of the Apple II’s are the responsibility of former staff, “who come out of retirement just to provide upkeep to the machines”.