Archive for May, 2018

Pick-Master – A Soviet Spectrum Clone?

May 10, 2018

From time to time I like to acquire computers that a so obscure that the Internet cannot tell you what they are. You have to get physical access and examine them (and then describe them for the Internet :-).

Update: I found out more about this computer. See the reveal at the end.

So I bought an allegedly “Soviet Spectrum Clone” from Ebay called “Pick-Master”.

top

The (rattly but) real keyboard is all-latin and has the original Spectrum key settings on some of the keys (even if the “J.J.” and “J.F.” keys seem quite strange). The grey metal top plate proudly tells you this is a “ZX-Spectrum original system” with a Z-80A CPU, Basic, and 48 kB RAM, and that it “run(s) with any tape recorder and TV set”. Compared to an original ZX Spectrum, the case is huge.

bottom

The bottom is boring, but has a paper sticker that seems to bear a serial number “00243”.

serialnumber

The bottom features two fold-out legs, ok, that’s nice.

The back

back

has 4 interfaces, all marked in latin:

interfaces

RGB seems clear, JOY is probably joystick, DC5V seems clear enough. “TYPE” though: very strange. Maybe a typewriter interface? Now, the elephant in the room, of course, are connectors. I never saw these types of connectors. Each one has 8 pins.

So, this was the situation before I bought the thing. Google knows nothing at all about a “Pick-Master”. There is no photo that ressembles this thing. I am excited allthough I know that the number of Eastern Block spectrum clones are legion, that I cannot read kyrillic and that there are currently not enough resources in English on this topic.

Ok, what can we tell from the inside of our computer? This is our computer opened:

topopen

Now it is clear why the computer is so large: the functional parts are ordered around the keyboard, not underneath.

The build quality is good, the parts look hand-soldered. No helpful markings on the board. The keyboard baseplate is probably not designed for this model, it looks as if it has space for an additional row of function keys on the top and as if it was cut at the top right corner in order to give space to some components on this PCB.

Here is a picture from the interesting part of the PCB:

pcbdetail.jpg

We find:

  • the CPU: a (Z)80A MME9212. This is a Soviet version of the Zilog Z80A. MME might hint to being manufactured in Erfurt, GDR (i.e. at that time East-Germany). This seems to be an “export version” whatever that means. Maybe exported to the Soviet Union.
  • 8 * KP565PY5 64 kbit chips
  • KA1515XM1: a Russian ULA chip
  • KP563PE2: PROM 32kx8 (maybe 32 kB?)

Ok, so this is definitively a Soviet Block Spectrum. Maybe designed to be exported to the West because the top is so much advertising the machine.

In every case a very, very rare machine, and an interesting one, too.

Update: Thanks to a very resourceful native Russian speaker (Hi, Anastasiia!) we found out more about this machine. Spoiler alert: it is still very rare and this variant is not yet described. So, what do we have here?

According to http://zxbyte.ru/pik.htm, this is basically a Soviet “Peak” computer, made by the “Terminal” (Терминал) company in Vinnitsa, Ukraine. If you are as able to read Russian as I am, here is the Google Translate link: https://translate.google.de/translate?hl=de&sl=ru&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fzxbyte.ru%2Fpik.htm

The Russian model name is “Пик”, which translates to “peak”. The manufacturer was known “in the whole (Sovjet) Union” for its – terminals (hence the imaginative company name). So, still an industrial manufacturer 🙂

According to the above web page it has a Kempston joystick interface (which is to be expected). The “TYPE” interface I was wondering about is a – tape interface. Maybe a translation typo? The connectors are all the same, so there is the danger that you put e.g. the power cable into the joystick interface, ugh…

The ROM seems to contain a Sowjet standard image of the Spectrum software from Didaktik Skalica, copyrighted 1989. It was used also in other Sowjet Spectrum clones. The model itself seems to be made around 1992.

Now the best part: if you compare the pictures of the computer on the Russian page with mine you can see:

  • the Russian version has the model name and the “advertisment text” in Russian, mine in English – so I seem to have really some sort of meant-for-the-export-to-the-West version. Whether a Spectrum clone could still be sold in the West in 1992 is very questionable, 10 years after its introduction. The model name on my version is “PiCK-MASTER”. Maybe a play on words with the original PIK name…
  • the Russian version has a socketed Goldstar Z80A in a plastic case. My version has an soldered Sovjet Z80A copy in a ceramic case.
  • My version has a small daughter PCB in the top right corner which does not exist in the Russian model. I have no clue on the function of this “patch”.
  • The Russian model has the serial number 168, mine has 243. I have no clue what this means.
  • Either my version was earlier (and they have a different serial number range for both models). They started by trying to market these to Western markets, did not come far, and switched back to the domestic market. As they could not get Sovjet Z80A clones any longer, they switched to Western versions. They found some problem, made a patch PCB and added that into the machine, and in later versions, they changed the main PCB and incorporated the patch on the mainboard. Or, my version was later (maybe the serial number range was consecutive), they added some hardware in order to cope with e.g. Western TV sets (therefore the patch PCB). The Goldstar CPU could have been a replacement to the original CPU at a later date.

All in all, I am very pleased. Thanks to Anastasiia, I could find out who made this computer and when. It is an unknown export variant of a very rare Sovjet Spectrum clone. And, I agree to the author of the Russian page on the Peak, “one of the most beautiful clones of the Spectrum“.

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Exeltel and Exelrecorder

May 10, 2018

A pro tip for people trying to connect an Exelvision or Amper Exeltel to a Exelrecorder: use a 8-prong DIN cable (270 degrees). If you don’t, you might wonder why the damn thing isn’t saving or loading :-). Okok, I’ll explain. The Exeltel is an interesting (by and large unsuccesful) 8-bit computer that incorporates a modem (and therefore, a telefone connection) for different purposes. One of these purposes was the use as an answering machine. Due to the lack of compute power and digital storage capabilities (8 bit, we remember) this means that you want to record to a cassette tape (using analogue audio, of course). In order to do that the computer has to be able to remote control the cassette recorder. In order to do that you need: a) a cassette recorder that can be remotely controlled, and b) a cable that provides the additional lines to control the recorder. That’s why there is an accessory for the Exeltel: the Exelrecorder.

There was also a quite standard cassette recorder (called the K7) for the predecessor of the Exeltel, the EXL100. This recorder and the EXL100 use a standard 5-prong audio DIN cable because there was no remote control need for that machine. The Exeltel and the Exelrecorder, though, need an 8-prong DIN cable for the additional functionality. Now, my problem was that I had an Exeltel and an Exelrecorder, but no cable. I tried it with a 5-prong cable, but the Exelrecorder would not start recording or playing. Only when I bought the 8-prong version, everything worked. If you have the same problem you’ll find that 5-prong DIN cables are hard to come by today, but an 8-prong one reduces your choice of shops to a very small number.