[rescue] Cold War hardware movements - was Re: WTB: Functioning VAX machine

Meelis Roos mroos at linux.ee
Mon Feb 20 01:54:43 CST 2012

> I've been told -- by people who were there -- that plenty of supposedly
> embargoed parts were available in Moscow for the right price -- e.g. Intel
> microprocessors.

Not only in Moscow - the whole former USSR needed hardware and local
producion was of low quality or low quantity (or both). So people
organized buying stuff from abroad, in any means they could. Some knew
people in the US who smuggled some computer with cargo ships, etc.

For example, Cadmus Unix boxes were popular here in Estonia - there were
quite several of them. I know the story about how the first one got

In about 1985, people at Tartu Institute of Physics wanted to buy a new
Unix machine - Cadmus from PCS (M|chen, Germany). It was embargoed back
then. This did not stop the sellers. There was a computer exhibition
hold in Tallinn and it was OK to come to exhibition with a computer, so
a salesman came. When he arrived, two people from Inst. of Physics were
there helping to unpack and assemble the computer. The salesman was very
surprised that they could start it up in 30 minutes. And when they
needed to make contract with the next buyer, the salesman asked where he
could print it. "Where? You brought a computer, just use it!" That was
another surprise for the salesman. He thought he had come to some
developing country where people did not know anything about computers,
and had top of the line technology with him (Cadmus was not even named
Cadmus yet, it was QX68000 for Q-bus Unix 68000), and the locals could
easily use it.

Well, to finish it all in a legally acceptable way, the visa of the
salesman ended "abruptly" and he couldn't take the machine back with

I have one of the next Cadmuses (with 68020) in my museum, it is one of
the two Cadmuses our astronomers used. Supposedly one of these was
brought through Ethiopia but I do not know this for sure.

The soviets produced their own Motorola 68k Unix machines too. I have
one in the museum - Besta-88 (http://arvutimuuseum.ut.ee/images/82.jpg).
It used 68030 CPU, Q-bus and SCSI storage.

The legend tells it was designed in computing centre of Soviet Academy
of Sciences and assembled in ZIL fatory on world-class assembly line.
The assembly line part might be correct - it is of reasonable assembling
quality. But the design part is certanly wrong.

I have disassembled the machine and had a look inside. Maybe the case is
of soviet design - but the plastic molded faceplate might mean even this
is designed somewhere abroad. The internals are certainly western

* Motorola CPU
* NCR SCSI contoller
* Q-bus interconnect
* English-only  markings on PCB-s ("solder side", "component side",
"C20", "R12" etc). One of the board has a cyrillic line about Academy
of Sciences, USSR, but that's all.

SCSI storage - disk and QIC tape, one of them from Maxtor. Even the
internal power connectors were of western design - these kinds of
connectors were not used in USSR.

Front panel has square LEDs - also rare (but existing nonetheless) in
USSR. Normal electronic devices user round LEDs, only some elite devices
(like Estonia 001 high-quality stereo amplifier) used square LEDs.

Front panel LED PCB has logo of Pyramid from UK - maybe they have
designed the machine. I did not notice any other logos on main PCB-s.

And, Cadmus with 68020 was still faster than Besta-88 with 68030 because
Besta used one common bus for IO and memory but Cadmus used separate
faster bus for memory. It was evident in C compilation speed for

Meelis Roos (mroos at linux.ee)

More information about the rescue mailing list