Un jour, je me suis demandé pourquoi les ordinateurs utilisent le système binaire. D’ailleurs, aurait-il été possible, de créer par exemple, un ordinateur basé sur un système trinaire ? Si cela avait été possible à quoi cela aurait-il ressemblé ? Alors, sans me douter que je trouverais un tel projet, j’ai cherché « ordinateur trinaire » sur le web, et…

En 1956 un chercheur russe du nom de Nikolai Brusentsov avait mis au point un ordinateur basé non sur un système binaire, mais sur un système trinaire.
Nikolay Brusentsov – the Creator of the Trinary Computer

According to Essays on history of Computer Science and Technology in Ukraine »
author Boris Malinovsky
On June 21, 1941, the day before the beginning of the Great Patriotic War of the USSR Nick Brusentsov was an eighth-form (equivalent to 10th grade in the USA) schoolboy living in Dnepropetrovsk. He participated in competitions of young musicians, conducting a chorus which sang his own composition about Dzerzhinsk metallurgy workers. Everything was remarkable.

However, the next morning, together with the other children who had arrived from Dneprodzerzhinsk, he was urgently sent back home. He was already home when he heard Molotov’s radio speech. The words « The Victory will be ours! » and Borodin’s Bogatyrskaya symphony which followed were memorable for him.

Thus ended Nikolai’s childhood.

C’est le début de son histoire…
Je résiste à l’envie de tout copier-coller ici, et je passe à la partie concernant directement cette machine utilisant un langage trinaire:

It was namely then that he decided to use a trinary number system. It allowed for the creation of very simple and reliable elements and reduced their quantity by seven times as compared to the number of elements used by L.Gutenmacher. The power source requirements were sharply reduced, due to the fact far fewer magnetic cores and diodes were being used. But the main advantage was that a natural number coding system was used instead of direct, inverse and complement number coding.

He developed and assembled a circuit for a trinary adder which began to work reliably as soon as it began operating. S.Sobolev, having found out about his intention to create a computer based on a trinary scale of notation fiercely supported the project and promised to bring on some young assistants. Inventing adders, counters and other typical circuits didn’t present much of a problem to Brusentsov.

In 1958 Brusentsov’s team (at that time amounting about 20 persons) assembled the first model of the computer with their own hands.

Il a eu le succès qu’on lui connaît : un flop, puisque presque personne n’en parle, n’en a parlé ces dernières années, lors de la généralisation de l’usage de l’ordinateur personnel.

Selon l’article suivant, Development of ternary computers at Moscow State University

Brousentsov N. P., Maslov S. P., Ramil Alvarez J., Zhogolev E.A. cela aurait été une machine très économique et puissante.

The design of small digital machine « Setun » (Setun is the little river which flows into the river « Moscow » near the University) was initiated by member of the academy of Sciences S. L. Sobolev at 1956. It was assumed to create small, inexpensive computer, simple in use and service for schools, research laboratories, design offices and for manufacture control.

Si j’ai bien compris, la création de programme était aussi une tâche aisée.

The experience of creating, programming and application of « Setun » unambiguously confirmed the significant preferences of ternarity. In spite of the fact that the designers of the first were very young and the group was small, the specimen of « Setun » was ready in Dec. 1958, i.e. in two years since the beginning. « Setun » worked correctly at once without even debugging and began to execute the existing programs. At 1960 it was sufficient amount of programs and it was possible to present « Setun » for the official testing.

Such testing was passed in Apr. 1960 very successfully. The computer demonstrated unusual for that times reliability and stability of operation in wide range of ambient temperature and supply voltage. It was found that the computer is rather simple both in manufacturing and in service, suitable for wide range of applications. « Setun » was recommended for production.

L’article explique ensuite que ce projet a été dédaigné, négligé, et découragé par les autorités officielles, sans que les motifs en soient très clairs.

Unfortunately the officials of the computer production in the USSR had negative position about non-planned and unusual « fruit of university fantasy ». Instead of supporting the innovation and taking a possible profit they permanently attempted to annihilate « ugly duckling ». There were many orders of « Setun », including ones for export, but only 10-15 computers were produced annually and none of them was exported aboard. The planned manufacture of « Setun » in Czechoslovakia was also broken. At 1965 the manufacturing of « Setun » was stopped in spite of unsatisfied requests. It was replaced by a binary computer of the same performance but more than 2.5 times more expensive.

Notez que je n’ai cité que de brefs extraits de ces pages que j’ai trouvées très intéressantes. Les liens proviennent de la page suivante sur Wikipédia:

Système trinaire

Ajoutez-y quelques pages de plus en cherchant sur le web, comme cette simulation en ligne de l’ordinateur Setun:


  • Setun WS: Emulator of Ternary soviet computer
  • Developed by Alexander Obukhov
  • Version beta.9.2.4

Et un autre, à télécharger sur Sourceforges. 🙂