At the turn of 1940-1950 in hungry and war-torn Soviet Union for a few years was founded by the electronic industry and invented the first in Europe and one of the world’s first computer. Today it sounds like science fiction. More surprising is that soon our computer building broke the world’s leaders. During the thaw Soviet computer was not really equal, and it is not “Communist propaganda”, and the results of the comparison of technical characteristics. He worked in the country talented scientists who are truly burning with science, but the authorities did not spare money for new development. But then something broke. A whole series of administrative errors, and General inefficiency of the Soviet economy led to the fact that every year our electronics lagged behind their foreign counterparts. In the words of Gogol’s hero, gave birth to the legendary Soviet electronics, the state and killed. The disintegration of the Union in fact finished off the recumbent industry, which already was not doing what was created. Is there any chance to revive it?


The starting point in the development of the electronics industry — not only Soviet but world — can be considered the postwar years. The reason is obvious: the budgets previously earmarked for military needs, was redirected in a peaceful way, including the development of science. So in 1946 there appeared a device called the first computer, the American computer ENIAC. Initially it was designed as a device of calculation of ballistic strokes. But the war ended, so the ENIAC were reorganized for the new developments — in particular, the modelling of thermonuclear explosion (followed by a numerical weather forecast).

The first Soviet computers were a response to American developments. In 1948 was formed the Institute of precision mechanics and computer engineering (ITMiVT), where under the leadership of Sergei Lebedev began development of a Small electronic computing machine (SECM). In parallel, a corresponding member of the USSR Isaac brook was used to develop computer M‑1. Both machines were commissioned at about the same time — in 1950-1951.

Soviet and American schools of electronics was formed independently from each other. Not to say that there was direct competition as in the space program during the cold war. And yet scientific thought developed in parallel. Logic circuit (a primitive forerunner of the transistor processor) of the first generation of computers in both schools was built on one principle — on the basis of tubes. Lebedev from scratch developed the structure of Soviet computing machines, and in many respects it overlaps with the well-known von Neumann architecture — a method of storing data in computer memory, which was also developed in the late 1940s and formed the basis of all currently known PC (except quantum).

By the end of the 1950s it became evident that vacuum tube computers have reached their ceiling. Their processing power was severely limited by the size and volume of power consumption and electronic component remained unreliable. However, already long ago were the development of semiconductor technologies based on transistors. Their concept was described in 1941 by the Academy of Sciences of the USSR Vadim Lashkarev in the article “a Study of locking layers method of using a thermal probe”. Who would have thought that in this tricky encrypted title key principle of modern PC… But in the postwar Soviet Union, these technologies were not considered promising, so the first integrated circuit was developed by the American company Texas Instruments in 1958.

The pearl of the Soviet electronics industry has been the NGO “Research center” in Zelenograd, which consisted of 40 companies. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, they went to independent swimming. Photo: the Assembly shop IBM computers at Zelenograd factory “quantum”, 1994
Kalachev Sergey / TASS

Then the Soviet scientists have once again picked up the trend. For the study of technology in 1961, a group of employees of scientific research Institute‑35 (today NPP “pulsar”) even went on an official visit to the United States. When it became clear that her future, the Soviet leadership decided to create an entire industry of microelectronics. The result of priority funding began to appear, NGOs, research institutes, plants.

The newly built satellite town of Moscow Zelenograd (originally it was planned to place in the textile industry) in 1962 was founded a specialized Research center. There were about 40 companies, including the largest plant “Micron” and “Angstrem”. And in 1965 was established the Ministry of electronic industry (MEP), which demonstrated the critical importance of the industry to the state.

This status is not surprising. Electronics have made a significant contribution to the arms race on Earth and in space and thereby supporting the country’s prestige in the cold war years. Institutions have actively developed their own computers, which, according to popular opinion (shared including American scientists), was considered the best in the world. And for good reason. For example, the BESM‑2 samples 1953 performed up to 20 thousand operations per second to 12 thousand IBM 704 sample 1954.

The decline

By the 1970’s in the Soviet Union there appeared a lot of computers (about 50 models from different manufacturers), not connected by a single program logic. For each computer we had to write own programs, which could not be run on other machines. There was a question of standardization.

Then decided to build a single family (unified system of) computers e computers on the basis of foreign architectures. The basis was taken the development of the American company IBM System/360 and its software logic EBCDIC. It was coded only Latin characters, Arabic digits and some control characters. Thus, all further programming was based on the English language.

Contemporaries find it difficult to answer why such decision was made. According to the memoirs of corresponding member of RAS Boris Babayan, this moment was the beginning of the end of the Soviet electronic industry: “was disbanded all artistic groups, closed competition design and decided to drive all in one “stall”. From now on, all had to copy American technology, and not the perfect. All [software] had to rewrite, and the [material support] that I got, was an ancient, poorly. It was a resounding failure.”

If you look at domestic developments 1970-1980‑ies, almost all of them were, indeed, combined with the device manufacturers (in fact copied from them). e computer e PC, Istra and the other corresponded to the hardware and software logic of computers. In machines of DVK and “electronics” has been adopted by development DEC. Model “Vesta”, “quantum”, “Leningrad” and others were clones of ZX Spectrum, and the first Soviet personal computers “Agat” repeated the legendary Apple II and worked on the operating system Apple DOS 3.3. One of the rare exceptions was developed in ITMiVT computers “Elbrus” on its own architecture.

Besides the fact that such plagiarism was illegal under American law, the Soviet electronic components could not provide an adequate job overseas systems. Had to rebuild the plants for the creation of the analogues of circuits and circuit boards from the US, but the process was hindered by the lack of the necessary equipment. American technology was strictly classified, and repeat them there was no chance. As a result, the gap of each “replica” from a foreign original had a few years: while we are versed in devices, old computers, in the United States has released new.

In General, the social atmosphere in the late Soviet Union is not conducive to innovation — the omnipotence of the bureaucracy has ruined the initiative in the Bud. You may recall, for example, the history of the automobile industry: competition of ideas and schools of the mid-century ended up being came off the Assembly line “Zhiguli”, and since then, the face of domestic cars has not changed in over 20 years. A similar situation exists in electronics. From the memoirs of one of the chiefs of the Ministry of electronic industry of the 1980s Boris Malashevich: “[the Minister] Kolesnikov actually took a course on the transformation of MEP into operatortraining industry”. In other words, most of the resources of the Ministry has been given to the production of the final instrument at the expense of promising developments.

There is no escape from the purely economic reasons for the backlog. In the mid‑1980s in the US, the computers gradually began to appear in ordinary homes. In 1984 Apple introduced Macintosh, the first truly personal computer that cost $2500 (IBM, and previously released compact solutions, but they gained fame). Have constrained public procurement of Soviet industry, no time even to supply machines for the needs of institutions and industries that simply could not enter the consumer market.

Only ordinary citizens were computer “Radio 86 RK” in 1986, which can be difficult to find at a price of 395 rubles (about three good salaries). It was difficult to assemble and set up, so working with it could only the real enthusiasts from the electronics. The broad masses of Soviet workers could do that hold legendary game “Nu, pogodi!” (“Elektronika IM‑02”) 1984. By the way, who was full Japanese clone of Nintendo Eg‑26 EGG. Yes, in 1980 we started to fall behind the Japanese…

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 essentially put the last nail in the coffin of e-science.


Many companies went abroad the new Russia: Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic States. The deep crisis did not allow government to Fund research and production — they are reshaped into joint stock companies or privatized. So, the Zelenograd scientific center was divided into separate enterprises. One of its largest plants, “Angstrom” in the end, was partially acquired by the state Rostec. Today the plant is bankrupt, but in the future, authorities hope to restore the enterprise. Another plant, Mikron continued to work on the profile and became part of a private Corporation AFK “System”. ITMiVT them. S. A. Lebedev was the company MCST, today, which develops processors “Elbrus”.

After the fall of the iron curtain, many scientists have decided not to wait until the state of the sunken ship raised from the bottom, and hurried to leave. According to various estimates, in 1990‑e years Russia has left to a hundred thousand scientists and engineers, many of whom worked in the electronics industry. Illustrative example of Vladimir Piontkovskogo that to the collapse of the Soviet Union worked on computers “Elbrus” and programming languages for them in the ITMiVT. In 1993, he appeared to be the leading developer of Pentium one of the American market leaders Intel. According to unconfirmed reports, the name of these chips and is derived from the names Piontkovskogo.

In the 2000s, the electronics industry in life had started, but no breakthrough, like the one that made the USSR in the late 1940s, would not have happened. All the time something interferes: the crisis of 2008, the sanctions 2014. Today, the government is preparing for a new campaign on e-Olimp: discussed an ambitious development strategy, the promised investments in entities (e.g., “Angstrem-T” needs to get up to 87 billion rubles in the period 2019-2022 years). And yet the scale of the intentions, events, and disparate personalities. Current initiatives will certainly help to realize nutsprogramme “Digital economy”. But to return to the vanguard of the progress of our CPUs lags behind the overseas already not one, but several generations, to count difficult. Any ruble is not enough.

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