Retro Computers - Dragon 32 / Dragon 64

Dragon 32
Dragon 32
Enter The Dragon!

The Dragon 32 and Dragon 64 were home computers that were built in the early 1980's. The Dragons were a similar machine to the TRS-80 Color Computer (The CoCo), and were produced for the European market by Dragon Data Ltd who were based in Port Talbot in Wales.

The model numbers reflect the primary difference between the two machines. The 32 had 32KB of RAM, the 64, well I'll leave you to work that one out for yourself.

As we have established, in the early 1980s the British home computer market was booming. New machines were being released almost monthly. In August 1982, Dragon Data joined the fray with the Dragon 32 (the Dragon 64 would be released a year later).

The computers sold quite well initially and attracted the interest of several independent software developers such as Microdeal. 'Dragon User' - a magazine publication was launched shortly after the machine had been released.

In technical terms, the machine hardly breathed fire and brimstone, even though it was powered by a Motorola MC6809E CPU, which was actually the most advanced 8-bit central processor design of the time. It is rumoured that this very CPU had been used to power Steve Austin's bionic eye. Anyway, it was an advanced chip but it only ran at (even then) a creaky 0.89 MHZ.

Despite the advanced CPU architecture, the Dragon could not live up to it's rivals (the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64) due to it's far inferior graphics capabilities. The sound it could produce was nothing to write home about either, 1 voice over 5 octaves (in BASIC) but better sound could be produced with machine code.

Due to the poor graphics and associated glitches very few arcade games were developed for the Dragon. Quite a few text adventures made it onto the machine though.

It even had difficulty in displaying lower case letters, which could make typing in Basic code listings as pleasurable as a daytrip to Southend pier in January. It also prevented it from being considered by anyone in the educational sector (which was also booming at the time). Way to go, Dragon.

The QWERTY typewriter keyboard was decent and responsive and the BASIC that was built into the ROM was actually a decent version (a version of Microsoft extended Basic), which made the lower case display problem even more infurating (and baffling).

A broad range of peripherals were released for the Dragon 32 and 64. Add-ons such as the nicely named Dragon's Claw were highly innovative. It gave the Dragons access to the BBC Micro's large range of accessories which was an important factor in the UK home market.

Although neither machine had a built-in disk operating system (cassette tapes were the default data-storage mechanism in the home computer market), DragonDOS was supplied as part of the disk controller interface from Dragon Data Ltd.

The numerous external ports which were excellent for the era, including the standard RS-232 on the 64, allowed uber-geeks to attach a diverse range of equipment. Heck, you could even attach a light-pen to the joystick port.

An unusual feature was a monitor port for connection of a computer monitor, as an alternative to the TV output, so you could really see the crappiness of the lower case letters! This was rarely used though due to the cost of dedicated monitors at that time.

The port is actually a Composite Video port and can be used to connect the Dragon 32 to most modern TVs to deliver a much better picture.

There was also a port on the machine to link up a Centronics printer which was a bonus.

The machine itself looked never looked special, the large white case and black keyboard was duller than it's black on green display.

As was the market driving force, computer games (and arcade games) were a major driver in selling machines. Due to the machines limited graphics, let's just say that the software library in this area was... limited.

As a result of all of these issues, the Dragon (both 32 and 64) was not a commercial success. Poor Dragon Data collapsed in June of 1984.

Despite the demise of the parent company, Dragons still proved to be quite popular (which is unsurprising as they were very customisable). They had a robust motherboard held within a spacious case, and were much more tolerant to home-modification than many of their contemporaries (many machines had the memory expanded to 64K, 128KB, 256KB and even 512KB!)

Other machines at that time did not have the inner space for such modification. Techno-geek heaven! If only they had given the machine decent graphics (perhaps more arcade games would have been created for it), the story could have been far far different.

It has a place in our hearts, and hardware hobbyists will have fond memories of Dragons, gaffer tape and a soldering iron. All in all and despite the lack of computer games this machine is a fine retro computer

We recommend trying to pick up one of these machines.
Look at computers for sale online or even locally.

If you don't want to get hold of the real hardware then try and download an emulator and
download those classic games. Alternatively you could try and play them online.

COMPUTER NAME: Dragon 32 / Dragon 64
MACHINE TYPE: Home 8-bit micro
RELEASE YEAR: January 1982
BUILT IN LANGUAGE(S): Microsoft Extended BASIC, Basic Interpreter 1.0 (1982)
KEYBOARD: QWERTY Mechanical keyboard holding 53 keys
CPU: Motorola MC6809EP
SPEED: 0.89 Mhz
CO-PROCESSOR: Motorola MC-6847 Video Display Generator
RAM: 32 KB / 64KB
ROM: 2x8KBor 16KB EPROM comprising Microsoft Extended BASIC
TEXT MODES: 32 x 16
GRAPHIC MODES: Several graphic modes, max : 256 x 192 (with 2 colors)
SOUND: 1 voice over 5 octaves with the BASIC (4 voices over 7 octaves achievable with machine code)
SIZE / WEIGHT: 38 (W) x 32.5 (D) x 9.7 (H) cm / 2.1 kg
I/O PORTS: A TV connector, 2 analogue joystick ports, A cassette port, A Centronics parallel printer port, A cartridge slot and a composite monitor port
PRICE: Dragon 32 - £199

Retro Computers


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