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Historic Review on the ES Computers Family

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Part one – the beginning (the years 1966 – 1973)

The year 1968 can be considered as the birth-date of the universal compatible computers of third generation, although preparation activity and discussions on their basic conceptions and development were couducted between 1966 and 1967.

By that time computers of the second generation were already produced in the USSR with increasing intensity. Twenty-six (26) scientific-research institutes and technical design bureaus were permanently developing computers, their components, external memory storage units and the input-output devices. More then thirty plants were completely or partly engaged in their production. Main part of these enterprises were subjectet to the Chief Directorate of Computing Machinery at the USSR Ministry of Radio-engineering Industry. Talanted enginer M.K.Sulim (М.К. Сулим) was the first head of it, later he was followed by N.V.Gorshkov.

Computers BESM-6, „Vesna“ (the Spring), BESM-3, BESM-4, M-220, „Ural-11“, „Ural-14“, „Minsk-22“, „Minsk-23“, „Minsk-32“, „Rasdan-2“, „Nairi“, „Dnepr“ were already in serial production or found themselves in preparation stage for manufacturing.

However, than still no common standards for computer soft- and hardware production were adopted (or even proposed). Thus, incompatibility of various computers, memory/storage devices of different types and input-output devices, manufactured by different plants seriously hampered development of automated information processing systems of different scale rates.

At that time the USSR State Committee on Science and Technologies (SCST) was investigating projects of establishing national network of computation centres (NNCC). Also then, world-famous cyberneticist academician A.P.Ershov promoted ideas about his own project AIST (network of automated information-processing stations). Development and implementation of the Automated Control Systems started at various large enterprises. Information systems also were introduced within large industrial branches.

This complex development increasingly needed common standards for computing machinery, for its corresponding software, codes, protocols, interfaces, etc.

Announcing of the IBM-360 system in 1964 in Europe and appearance of its first computers with common unified architecture but different performance, in 1965, clearly demonstrated practical possibility of producing fully compatible computers and computation systems with broad performance range.

At that time the only computer series in the Soviet Union, which had machines of different productivity and relatively (but not completely) similar architecture, design and technological basis was the computer family URAL (URAL-11, -14, -16). They were developed by famous Soviet scientist Bashir Ramehev in his research and design centre in town of Penza (600 km South-East from Moscow) and also manufactured there. However, compatibility degree between different models of URAL computers and performance of their seniour model (100 000 ops) were limited. New type of microelectronics-based computers was badly needed.

In 1966 the state economy plan was released, which included task given by the USSR Ministry of Radio-engineering Industry to develop pilot project of new computer series „Ryad (row)“. The task, set by M.K.Sulim - the chief of the ministry's Main Directorate on computing machinery, demanded to develop during the 1966-1967 a project of „a complex of standard, highly reliable information computing machines with the performance range from 10 thousand to 1 mio ops for the needs of computing centres and automated information processing systems.“ The computers should be based on unified structural and microelectronic technological base and use compatible programming systems.

Initially that was the Moscow (All-Union) Institute of Precission Mechanics and Computing Machinery (IPMCM), which should work out the project for a line of compatible computers. However, the ministry announced that it was not satisfied with the institute's work report, presented in the mid-1966, claiming its authors to be not interested in creation of such computer line in the USSR.

It was also said that, „same as the institute of mathematic machines in Penza (Ramehev's computer centre), the institute PMCM at that time was busy with its own problems“. That was the reason of their relatively low activity in national computer development projects. The institutes had their own computer lines (URALS in Penza) and strong scientific positions (computers BESM and powerful research centre in IPMCM) insisted on development of their own scientific programs as national basis for the projected line of compatible computers.

The most active in discussion on the compatible hardware/computers were Institute of Applied Mathematics (IAM) USSR Academy of Science (AS USSR), Design Bureau for Industrial Automation (DBIA), Institute of Calculating Machinery and Special Design Bureau of the G.K. Ordzhonikidze computer plant in Minsk.

Finally the ministry appointed the DBIA to head the project, and the appropriate directive was released on the 22 February 1967. The Design Bureau was famous with its high-performance computers „VESNA“ (spring) and “SNEG“ (snow). The functions of the project's leading mathematical centre were performed by the AS USSR Institute of Applied Mathematics (M.R.Shura-Bura, V.S.Shtarkman, etc.).

The technical materials on input-output devices and external storage, worked out earlier, were accepted without objections or changings, however, the logical structure of processing units, codes, system of commands, connections with peripheral devices, etc. - in short, all those things, which after introduction of IBM-360 were named „computer architecture“. The computer architecture itself is never protected by patent rights, patents are given only for its concrete implementations. In fact, all „novelties“ of the IBM-360 architecture were not new, they were well-known in the Soviet Union and, in some way, had been realised in the soviet computers, except for the eight-bit byte.

Eight-bit byte was the most characteristic feature of the IBM-360 architecture. The Soviet computers used bytes of other types, therefore they could not use it efficiently. Nevertheless, without implementing it in the projected new line of computers (it was named „Ryad“ (Row)) information exchange and communication with the IBM-360 computers (which then already dominated the Western market) would be very difficult. The latter was highly undesirable, even (or especially) at the Cold War times.

The eight-bit byte had considerable advantages, but its bit grid is 8-16-32-64 bits. However, the most advanced Soviet BESM-6 had six-bit byte and computers of the MINSK line (MINSK-32) had seven-bit byte, with their 36- and 48- bits grids correspondingly. In case of transition to the IBM standard, inevitable extention and enlargement of hardware could be compensated on basis of new microelectronic components – integrated microcircuits. Implementation of the wide-spread (in the West) eight-bit byte coding and instruction system (one or two addresses system with sixsteen general purpose registers) made possible development of the software fully compatible with IBM-360.

Researches conducted by the AS USSR Institute of Applied Mathematics proved that the IBM-360 computer programs needed 1.5-3 times less place in memory then (similar) programs for computers BESM-6 or VESNA.

The discussion was basically focused on the problem of realisation IBM-360 architecture in conditions of strict embargo (USA embargo for selling computers and electronics to the USSR and East Europe). Weather it really made sense to repeat this architecture when there was no stable access to initial documentation or, may be, it was better just „to improve“ it - that was the main question.

The discussion was finished on the 27 January 1967, by the decision of joint commission of the USSR Academy of Sciences and the State Committee on Science and Technology, which was headed by academician A.A. Dorodnitsin. The commission's resolution suggested adoption of the IBM-360 architecture for „Ryad“ computers, „for purpose of creating possibility to implement already produced and, presumably, available IBM-360 software into the new line of computers“. The resolution was supported practically by all representatives of organisations - members of the „Ryad“ project. No alternatives have been proposed.

In the first half of 1967 the scientific team of DBIA headed by V.K.Levin presented the „avant-project on the complex of standarded information-computation machines („Ryad“)“. According to the project, four fully compatible models – R-20, R-100, R-500, and R-2000, with performance 10-20, 100, 500, 2000 ops and the IBM-360 architecture, should be designed. The performance should be defined with methods acdopted in the West. That was the Gibson-3 instructions mix, and in that case the performance of R-500 was on the same level with the BESM-6 (then, one of the „world-champions“).

Also the general problems of computer design, logical structure, components system and power supply, random access memory structure, set of peripheral devices and design automation system were analysed in details in the project.

In the second half of the 1967 the avant-project was discussed under guidance of the Ministry of Radio Industry (M.K.Sulim). The appropriate organisations were appointed for planned works at the discussion, the theses for general resolution of the USSR Communist Party Central Committee and of the Council of Ministers (the highest state bodies of power) on the further computer development in the country were worked out.

According to this resolution, from the 30 December 1967, development of R-20 was given to the Special Design Bureau of the G.K.Ordzhonikidze computer plant in Minsk (Belarus), R-100 to the Erevan Scientific Research Institute of Mathematical Machinery (Armenia), R-500 and R-2000 should be designed by newly established Scientific-research Institute of Digital Electronic Computer- engineering (SIDEC - Moscow). For organisation of this new institute the avant-project authoring team from DBIA, under V.K.Levin, was transferred there; V.K.Levin himself was appointed as its deputy director on scientific work.

All mentioned organisations, including „the beginner“- SIDEC, started computer design in the beginning of 1968. In December 1968 the Scientific-research Institute of Electronic Computers (SIEC) was integrated into SIDEC and its director S.A.Krutovskikh was appointed as the director of (joint) SIDEC and the head designer of the planned computer series „Ryad“. Levin became his deputy. This solution made possible forming of the nesessary infrastructure for new institute and create efficient team to head the project works.

From the beginning of 1968 scientific and industrial organisations of the East-European socialist community countries – Bulgaria, Poland, GDR, Hungaria, Czechoslovakia, demonstrated steadily growing interest to development of the unified computer series „Ryad“.

Scientists and officials of these countries were investigating practical reasonability and possibilities of joinig efforts in development of computation means. Professor Ivan Popov - the deputy-chairman of the Bulgarian Government, was especially active in the matters of integration process. After lenghty discussions, consultations and approvals the multilateral cooperation agreement on joint development, producing and implementation of computers (hard- and software -„computation means“) was signed.

The Intergovernmental Directive, which was adopted soon after, set the task of the Common Computer System joint development by the CMEA countries (members of the joint Council of Mutual Economic Assistance). The new computer family received name ES (Edinaya Seriya – Unified Series); in GDR it was famous as ESER (Eincheitliches System Electronischer Rechentechnik).

The directive established the Intergovernmental Commission on Computing Machinery (ICCM) headed by the permanent chairman, who was also the deputy chairman of the USSR central State Planning Committee (Gosplan). Official ststus of the ICCM equalled the level of a ministry. The Economy Council and the Council of Chief Designers (CCD) headed by a chief designer from the USSR were the principal working bodies of the Commission. Thus, the works on the Soviet unified series of compatible computers „Ryad“ transformed into international development program of Unified computer series of the community of socialist countries.

The deputy chairmen of the USSR central State Planning Committee M.E.Rakovskiy, Ya.P.Ryabov and Y.D.Maslyukov were the permanent chairmen of the ICCM. The chief designers of the ES-computers development Commission were S.A.Krutovskikh (1968-69), A.M.Larionov (1970-77) and (the author of the present article) V.V.Przhijalkovskiy (1977-1990). When they performed these functions, they all were also directors of the SIDEC.

The second half of 1968 was filled with intensive international meetings and consultations of the specialists. The project tasks were distributed among the participating countries, and common technological policy was worked out. Before beginning of the project each country-participant already had its own strategic plans and some practical results (although in very different degree). The Council of Chief Designers was actively searching ways for nearing their technical positions and was working out common computer development concepts. Reasonability of adopting the IBM-360 architecture was recognised by the majority of participants. The problems emerged when the Hungarian side offered their own development of „Mitra-15“ computer architecture to be incorporated into common program, and Czechoslovakia insisted on adoption of the privileged instructions of System-4 and Siemens 4004 computers[1].

The resulting compromisse decision consisted in additional parallel producing of Hungarian computers ES-1010 and Czechoslovakian ES-1020A incompatible with other, common, machines of the ES computers main line. Besides, the plans of scientific researches included some works that repeated each other independently in different countries.

In hope for large export to the USSR some countries promptly made applications (including commercial proposals) to common working plan. Thus Bulgaria started construction of 14 plants for manufacturing external memory units, data preparing units, computers themselves and various other units for them.

7-9 January 1969, at the first session of the CCD, all decisions made by the specialists in 1968 were adopted. Among them there were architectural solutions, and the architecture IBM-360 was finally accepted as the basic one. Another principal decision (a very disputable one), adopted at the first sesion, consisted in delegation of the rights for final project development control to the military inspection of the USSR Ministry of Defence. Also the development of unified technical documentation for all Soviet computers of the ES series should be supervised by the military authorities. Representatives of Hungaria, Czechoslovakia as well as some Soviet producing organisations, e.g. the SIDEC affiliate in Minsk, sharply criticised it. Nevertheless, this decision was adopted. Until now there is no (at least not published) any serious analysis of its consequences. There were undoubtedly some advantages in it. Among them, the increased reliability of hard- and software, fully guaranteed compatibility of military and universal (civil) models, etc.

However, the negative sides were (on the author's oppinion) dominating. The „militarised“ hardware was heavier, testing procedures were more complex, development times longer and the costs notably higher. The bureaucratic procedures also badly humpered routine cooperation – human, documentary and material exchange with foreign partners. Subsequently it turned out that the Ministry of Defence purchased no more then 20% of the produced amount, what means that the rest - 80%, sold to the civil customers, was more expensive than necessary.

In April 1969, at the second CCD session, technical requirements to the series ES Computers-1 („Ryad-1“) were officially adopted. In July of the same year the „Summary Schedule of the Works on ES Computers“ was also approved. The Schedule specified creation of seven computers and sixty types of peropheral equipment according to the unified standards and Technical Assignments.

M.E.Rakovskiy – the vice-chairman of the USSR State Planning Committee (Gosplan) and chairman of the ICCM specially noticed for the press that it was the first time in the history of the East European (socialist) countries that the common project was launched (first with six participants) which integrated efforts of 20,000 scientists and engineers, and 300,000 technicians and workers at 70 plants and factories.

At the fourth session of the CCD in december 1969 the technical project of computers ES was analysed and adopted as basis for further development. According to that project the models R-20, R-100, R-500, R-2000 were transformed into ES-1020 (R-20), ES-1030 (R-30), ES-1050 (R-50) and ES-1060 (R-60). Later, because of the shortage of personnell and financial investments, the first three models were included into ES Computers-1 program, and development of ES-1060 was transferred to the second stage (ES computers-2).

Besides S.A.Krutovskih, deputies of the chief designer V.K.Levin and B.I.Ramehev and also chief designers A.Angelov (Bulgaria), Zh.Narahi (Hungaria), M.Günter (GDR) and V.Gregor (Czech.) were intencively conducting preparations for the project. At that time the first set of the ES Computer's standards for technical documentation, design and technology basis, interfaces, operation principles, etc. was adopted. That provided unity of all parts and detailes of the project, at its simultaneous development, irrespectedly of the country where they were designed.

In August-September 1969, during inspection of the Soviet technical part of the project by the State Commission under academician A.A.Dorodnitsin, B.I.Rameev -the deputy of the Chief Designer- who was in charge of software development, set forth a question about re-orientation of the ES Computers' architecture from IBM-360 to architecture „Spectra-70“, or „System-4“ and „Siemens 4004“, to be more exact. They were produced by European companies ICL and Siemens on the licence of American RCA. The (sound) reason of that proposal consisted in availability of those computers in the USSR, more easily accessible technology and readiness of the Europeans for assisting in their development in the USSR.

Rameev's proposal was supported by the deputy minister of the Ministry of Radio-engineering M.K.Sulim. However, the Institute of Applied Mathematics (M.R.Shura-Bura, V.S.Starkman) Institute of Controlling Electronic Computers (B.N.Naumov), and also Minsk affiliate of SIDEC (V.V.Przhijalkovskiy), Institute of Computing Machinery (V.B.Ushakov) and the Chief Designer S.A.Krutovskikh actively objected. The Erevan Institute of Mathematical Machines did not object the re-orientation, but warned about big delays in finishing the project works.

The re-orientation opponents argued their position by demonstrating the big amount of already prepared documents and (international) organisational work. The IBM-360 system was better developed and is more popular (de-facto it was almoust the world's standard of architecture). It also had much more progressive software (including the applied one) and it was quite real to obtain it, even in the embargo conditions.

The Chairman of the commission on computing technologies of the AS USSR and of the State Committee on Science and Technologies academician A.A.Dorodnitsin emphasised the urgency of solving the problem of lack of modern software in the country. He made special report on it at the State Committee Collegium meeting in September 1969. He claimed that „ ...our summary contents of the software equals the American contents on the level of (approximately) 1960“.

He also informed that, in the USSR, only the development of computer internal programming is performed on a high level and some minimal amount of standard programs. However, the standarded programs for complex information processing at industrial, administrative and other enterprises and organisations were practically not produced.

The real state of things in the field of applied software development, displayed by that report, was in drastic contrast to abstract talks of some popular scientists on „overwhelming success“ of the national programming.

In December 1969 minister of the radio-industry V.D.Kalmykov together with M.V.Keldysh (president of the AS USSR), M.E.Rakovskiy, A.A.Dorodnitsyn, S.A.Lebedev, M.R.Shura-Bura, S.A.Krutovskikh and some others, performed thorough analysis of the problem and finally made the decision to continue the already started works, i.e. to keep the IBM-360 architecture as the basic one.

After that B.I.Ramehev refused to continue and left the project for a position at the State Commission on Science and Technologies and M.K.Sulim also did not want to stay and took position as the director of the scientific-research institute („SchetMach“ -calculating machinery).

In 1970 the first nine devices of ES Computers hardware were tested by common (international) commission, and in 1971 the first computer of the Unified Series (ES Comp.) - ES-1020, produced in Minsk by the CIDEC was, also jointly, successfully tested. 20 more peripheral units were tested in that year, among them the first (in the East Europe) magnetic storage (memory) with floppy disks (USSR, Bulgaria) and with magnetic tape (USSR, Bulgaria, GDR) fully compatible with all ES devices of all countries participants of the project, as well as of other countries.

One should specially notice that such information and programming compatibility with the world's most popular computers (de-facto – world standards) was reached in difficult conditions of lack of proper documentation and working models of the IBM-360 computers.

Here are some brief characteristics of the first set of the ES Computers compatible with IBM-360. They have different (from IBM) basic working characteristics and concrete logic structures. All of them have patent clearance and are protected with patents (with exception for micro-circuits „Logika-2“) including patents of the leading Western counries. Their clearance was also proved by beginning export of the ES Computers not only to the East Europe but to some Western countries.






Completion of development





Bit grid





Performance, ops





RAM capacity, Kb





RAM cycle, мсs





Number of selector channels





Speed of selector channel, Kb/sec





Type of integrated circuits





Operating system





The models ЕS-1020, ЕS-1030 and ЕS-1050 were designed by (correspondingly) the Minsk affiliate of SIDEC (chief designer V.V.Przhijalkovskiy, by the Erevan Institute of Mathematical Machines (chief designer M.A.Semerdzhjan) and the SIDEC in Moscow (chief designer V.C.Antonov). Model ES-1040 was developed in Karl Marx Stadt (now Hemniz) DDR, by chief designer M.Günter.

Since 1973 operating system DOS was supplied together with computers ES-1020. It supported simultaneous performance of three tasks and included translators from programming languages Fortran-4, Cobol, PL-1, RPG and Assembler.

Also since 1973 operating system OS ES was supplied. It provided multiprogram operating mode with fixed (up to 15) and - soon after – alternating number of tasks. It contained translators from programming languages Fortran-4, Algol-60, Cobol-65, PL-1, RPG and Assembler. That time it was unprecedentedly rich software set to be sold by manufacturer with computers.

By the end of 1973 six models of computers and 99 types of peripheral devices: storage units, data input-output and data remote processing devices. At the same time two more versions of DOS and two versions of OS ES were created. Their total volume exceeded 4 Mio instructions.

The first part of the international ES Computer development program was practically completed.

In June 1973 international trade exhibition “ЕС ЭВМ-73” (ES Computers 73) took place in Moscow. It summarised results of the first stage of the ES project work, clearly demonstrating high potential of the socialists countries' joint efforts.


1.That was not only Czechian initiative. Scientisits of the Moscow institute IPMCE (S.A.Lebedev, etc.) B.I.Ramehev and his computer centre in Penza, M.K.Sulim - deputy minister of the Ministry of Radio-engineering, as well as many others intensively insisted on creating „own European“ computer series in cooperation with German Siemens (on basis of Siemens 4004) or British ICL. (Editor's note).


Part two – until 1983

Started by Eduard Proydakov in 1997
© Russian Virtual Computer Museum, 1997-2024