The emergence of Soviet Predecessors to Personal Computers | History of Computing in Ukraine

The emergence of Soviet Predecessors to Personal Computers

In 1959, a talented scientist named Viktor Mikhailovich Glushkov concluded that a machine for engineering calculations was needed. He introduced the concept of such a machine, and proposed to create a programming language for its use, which had to be as near to the language of mathematics as possible. As a result, in the early ’60s, the first predecessor of personal computers was created in Kyiv.
EVM_Praobrazi pervih PK


Viktor M. Glushkov

In the late 1950s there was an urgent need to automate engineering analysis. As a result, in the 1960s the first computer “Promin”  was created,  followed by the line of “MIR” machines, which became the precursors of PCs under Glushkov’s  leadership at the Computing Centre, and later at the Institute of Cybernetics of SA USSR and at  the Special Design Bureau (SDB) of the Institute.

The computer “Promin” became a next step in world practices, and had a number of technical innovations, including metallized memory cards and so-called step microprograming control. Mass production of “Promin” computers began at the Severodonetsk computer factory in 1963.

“Promin” worked on the binary-decimal system, and the volume of random access memory was 140 charasters. Instructions were entered into the system through attachment caps, or could be written on metal punch cards (10 on each card). The storage capacity was 100 instructions: 80 to save the instructions and the intermediate data, and 20 to store constants. “Promin” had a single-address instruction system, which consisted of 32 operations. The average calculation speed was 1000 additions or 100 multiplications per minute. Numerical information was entered through the keyboard, and the output operation was displayed on the scoreboard with decimal indicator lamps.

In 1965, continuing the development of the small-sized machines, V.M.Glushkov decided to create a whole line of machines for a wide range of engineering and mathematical tasks. The first one was called the “MIR” (a machine for engineering analysis) which could fit into a small room. In order to solve a task, one had to sit at the desk with an electric typewriter  to input and output information. “Almir-65” (the cyrillic version of the “Algol-60” language) was the programming language.

An improved versioin of the engineering analysis machine soon emerged — “MIR-1”.  At the time, Glushkov was feeling particuarly inspired and in just two weeks, he created a preliminary design, in which he laid out the basic structural and architectural outlines of the machine. It contained a number of original solutions which served as the basis for the applications of the invention.

The computer “MIR-1” used the binary-decimal system, the RAM was on ferrite cores containing 4096 12-bit words, external memory was in the form of 8-track punched tape, and its performance was about 200 transactions per second.
The machine set had an electric typewriter Zoemtron to input and output at a speed of 70 characters per second, and an input device FS-1501 (up to 1500 characters / sec). There was also an output device PL-80 (up to 80 characters / sec). The operation of the machine was microprogrammable and the input language of the machine was “Almir-65”.

In 1967, whilst featured at a London exhibition, “MIR-1” was bought by IBM, at the time the largest US computer manufacturer,  supplying almost 80% of the Western World. It was the first (and unfortunately the last) purchase of a Soviet electronic machine by an American company.

As it turned out later, the Americans had bought the machine not to work on it, but rather to prove to their competitors, who had patented the principle of stepwise microprogramming in 1963, that Russians had known this principle long before, and had implemented it in a series-produced machine. In fact, it had been used even earlier in the “Promin” computer.

In designing the “MIRs”, V. Glushkov sought to fulfil another important task: to make the machine language as close to the language of mathematics as possible. Thus the “Analytic” language was created, which was fully supported by the original embedded system for its interpretation. “Analytic” , developed by the team of V.M. Glushkov, A.A. Stogniy, and A.A. Letichevskiy, was able to formulate a set of tasks with analytic transformation of formulas to obtain analytic expressions for the derivatives and integrals. This programming language was implemented in the following “MIR-2″ and “MIR-3”machines.

In 1969, the “MIR-2” computer was created, which featured a display that made use of a light pen; a unique development. Such a display helped to quickly print, check and edit the information and provide an on-screen display of the intermediate and final results of task solving. “MIR-2″ had external memory on magnetic cards. The average speed of the machine was twelve thousand operations per second and the capacity of random access memory was 8000 13-bit characters. The permanent storage capacity was about 1.6 million bits, which is enough to store tens of thousands of micro-ops. The computer “MIR-2″ had a buffer memory for the output data of 4000 10-bit words and its external devices were punched tape and an electric typewriter Zoemtron for input and output.

Later the “MIR-3” was developed. In those days, neither computer had any competitors in the speed of analytical transformations. “MIR-2”, for example, successfully competed with standard structure computers surpassing them in rated speed and storage capacity by hundreds of times.

The chief designer of the “Promin” computer and the “MIRs” was a talented engineer named S.B. Pogrebinsky. The close alliance of researchers at the SA USSR Institute of Cybernetics (for example A.A.Stogniy and A.A. Letichevsky), the scientists and engineers, and the SDB Institute (Y.V. Blagoveschenski, S.B. Pogrebinsky, V. D. Losev, A.A. Dorodnitsyna, V.P. Klimenko, Y.S. Fishman, A.M. Zinchenko, A.G. Semenov), helped the computer line “MIR” to be quickly developed, put into mass production and earn high praised from users.

Each of these computers was a step towards creating a machine with artificial intelligence; a strategic direction suggested by V.M Glushkov for the development of computers.