After Hours

60's style Soviet computer technology

The Univac and IBM 700's weren't the only mainframe computers around in the late 50's and early 60's. Take a look at this video showing the URAL-2 computer from the Soviet Union, circa 1963.

The Univac and IBM 700s weren't the only mainframe computers around in the late 50s and early 60s. Take a look at this video showing the URAL-2 computer from the Soviet Union, circa 1963.

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With Russia's recent behavior reminding us about the Soviet Union and this being Classics Rock, I wanted to dig around to see if I could find some examples of early Soviet computer technology. This video shows the Ural-2 computer, which was around in the late 50s and early 60s.

The Urals were a whole family of computers that the Soviet Union relied on in the 60s. Like the Univacs and IBM 700s of the time, they were vacuum tube based as you can see here. It's not easy to find out a lot of information about the systems, but depending on the source, the machines were either technologically inferior to the American systems of the time or ahead in areas of information systems integration. American computer companies were able to take advantage of transistorized technologies and quickly outpaced their Soviet counterparts.

In either case, not many of the systems were made. My research indicated that there were fewer than 200 of these units ever built and used. Not only did they employ vacuum tubes, but as you can see in the video they also seemed to be programmed using paper tape instead of punch cards. The language it used was called KLIPA, which supposedly was kind of Fortran-ish in style.

Lots of information about computing in the Soviet Union can be found on the Pioneers of Soviet Computing Web site.

My Russian is about as good as my Japanese, so if anyone can help translate any of this, feel free to post some of it in the Comment section.

20 comments
johnbarryy
johnbarryy

just imagine they kept us scared with an antiquated computer system which kept the Dept of Defense employed

aurbanek
aurbanek

The video post is in Slovak language, not in Russian. I can translate if people show interest...

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Ok, admittedly, I'm basing it on the movie Sneakers where they mention that US encryption and other nation's encryption systems where not compatible so the plot-point, er, super decoder device would only actually decrypt US based security. Maybe it's complete bunk but it does make me wonder what the technical differences between the two aproaches to mainframes are.

bboyd
bboyd

In '90 I loaded firmware on B-52 electronics with paper tape...

shaniker
shaniker

Actually, it's Slovak (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slovakia). judging from the logo used in upper-right corner, it was aired on STV1 (TV channel) around years 2002-2004 on some sort of "retro" show. it says: "in our reports we've already introduced you to several types of mathematical machines. In the computing centre associated to the Slovak Technical University in Bratislava (capital of Slovakia) a soviet universal automated computing machine "URAL 2" has been put into production. You're watching the perforation of written program for the computing device and it's tunning to make the calculations even more precise. Employees of the Computing Centre already managed to calculate the range of different Television signal antennas and also narrowed the field so their signal won't interfere with each other. Ural 2 can calculate amazing 12 000 calculations of decadical numbers in a second, or can calculate 3000 multiplications within the same time period. Therefore, Slovak Technical University is in a possesion of one of the biggest and most performant mathematical calculators, which will be used for scientific research and for studies of automatization and regulation."

melekali
melekali

The guy above already translated it. Thanks, though.

rdrainer
rdrainer

I attended a conference at NYU in 1972 on Set Theory Languages as a rep from the University I worked for (UAB in Birmingham), and one of the featured speakers was from Novosibirsk, Russia, who delivered a lecture on the history of computing in Russia, especially regarding the RIAD series of computers. Not only did the Russians copy the hardware down to the dimensions of the memory cores, but they even duplicated the labels on the consoles in English - without translating them into Russian. They cloned some models of the IBM 360 into near-perfect twins. Communist bloc countries were assigned to produce a specific model, and the East Germans were building a model of their own design which was specifically geared for scientific computing - I read floating point into that, but not array processing, although I could be wrong.

sboverie
sboverie

I read somewhere that in the early days of the space shuttle operations, that the computers were modified IBM 360 mainframes that were programmed with puch cards. The article mentioned that the astronauts had to bring a laptop computer to help them figure out where they were above the Earth. The other problem with the puch card programming was that if the weather/wind changed too much from what was expected, the mission was delayed because a whole new set of punch cards had to be loaded. NASA and the military are very conservative about computers, in space you need something proven and reliable in the face of the hostile environment. I do not know how modern the current shuttle computing is in this century.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

You don't get close to those planes without clearance.

aurbanek
aurbanek

Therefore, Slovak Technical University is in a possesion of one of the biggest and most performant mathematical calculators...[in Slovakia]... Not to imply "present anywhere in the world".

seanferd
seanferd

Nice find there. I don't think I've ever seen old computing tech from any other countries aside from US & UK. Thanks.

ricardoc
ricardoc

I studied Computer Engineering at NETI (Novosibirsky Electro-Teknichesky Institute) Electric Technical Institute of Novosibirsk for 5 years. All mainframes they have were Russian copies of IBM and others. Even OS were copies too. They also had PDP-11 copies, etc. Brrrr it was cold!!!

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

.. and I should have thought of that myself with the amount of espianage history I've read in the past. I know the fearsom "they" copied other technology in almost perfect duplication; the mushroom maker first tested in the new-mexico desert for example. Either way, this opens up a whole other branch of computer history I've not explored.

Lightning Joe
Lightning Joe

At first, I thought you were saying that the shuttle itself used punch cards! I can well believe, however, that some ground operations may have been done on 360's. And don't forget the still-ubiquitous flip-charts, which have been with the space program from the beginning, inherited from aviation. These are in essence paper-based heuristic-computing devices, that surpass electronic devices in some ways, such as their reliability. Something happens, you find the situation in the index, and it tells you to flip to page 112, and do procedure B.

bogdan_pilawski
bogdan_pilawski

There is the phrase "in Slovakia" missing in translation. The comment made in Slovak TV at the time had to please authorities on one hand (and it did), but on the other - people in Soviet-block countries (TV reporters not excluded) developed kind of between the lines system of communicating, therefore I would read this as "not only not the fastest in the World but even not the fastest between what we already have here". In fact the message put accross to public was clearly to the contrary to Russians then claiming they had everything best, biggest, fastest etc. in the World.

seanferd
seanferd

While I took that as understood, at least for the Soviet sphere of influence, if not necessarily just for Slovakia, you have probably defused a possible future rant by someone. :^0

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

That merged round and strait slide rule that is still proffered for flight required calculation.

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