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Dragon 32

Updated on June 13, 2013
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Martin has been a software developer for many years. This is mixed with a passion for retro machines and game,

Dragon 32

The Dragon 32 was an 8-bit home computer launched back in August of 1982 at an initial cost of £199 in the UK.

Dragon Data Ltd were behind the machine and were a small company based in Wales (in Port Talbot to be precise).

This machine was released around the same time as the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Oric 1 and Commodore 64 systems both of which were becoming established in the UK and would provide stiff competition to Dragon Data's new machine.

Let's have a look at a lesser known retro computer that managed to become pretty popular in the UK amongst the glut of other 8-bit machines that were hitting the market at the time...

Dragon 32 Overview

The computer was almost a complete clone of the Tandy Color Computer (The TRS-80)

They were based around the Motorola MC6809E CPU, which was a faster more capable processor than the older MOS 6502 and Zilog Z80 CPU's that the competition was using (such as the ZX81 and ZX Spectrum).

Whilst processing power was good both the C64 and the ZX Spectrum outranked the Dragon (and Tandy computers) with graphical capability.

The Commodore 64 had built in sprite capability making solid colour large graphics possible, and the ZX Spectrum was capable of creating detailled and sharply defined graphics.

The Dragon computer got a parallel port (which was very handy) and it also has additional circuitry to allow it to work on Europen 625-line TVs rather than the 525-line US PAL standard.

Strangely - and a huge drawback of the machine was the fact that the Dragon was unable to display lowercase letters easily.

This caused it to be a non-starter in the all-important educational market - and no doubt helped to shorten the life span of the machine.

The Dragon 32

The Professional Looking Dragon 32
The Professional Looking Dragon 32

Android Invaders on the Dragon 32

The Dragon 32 Family Computer

Check out the box art! The charm of the Dragon 32
Check out the box art! The charm of the Dragon 32

Skramble On The Dragon 32

Some Technical Info on the Dragon 32

The sound the machine could produce was nothing to write home about - giving 1 voice over 5 octaves (in BASIC).

It was possible to produce better sound effects with machine code routines though, allowing the programmer access to 4 voices over 7 octaves.

Due to the relatively poor graphics capabilites (compared to the competition - even the Oric 1 and Oric Atmos were better visually) and associated glitches very few arcade type games were developed for the Dragon 32, save for the classics such as Scramble, Space Invaders and Frogger.

Quite a few text adventures made it onto the machine though (text adventures such as Ground Zero were very popular throughout the 1980s) - presumably they were predominantly presented in uppercase!

If you were into text adventures (as many users were back in the 1980s) then there was plenty of quality to choose from for the Dragon user.

Programming and modding the Dragon 32

The Dragon QWERTY typewriter keyboard was decent and responsive enough, and the BASIC that was built into the ROM was actually a version of Microsoft extended Basic.

This was an excellent version of BASIC for both teaching and learning - but had the side-effect of making the lowercase display problem even more infurating!

A broad range of peripherals were released for the Dragon 32.

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 - especially the educational sector.

Although neither machine had a built-in disk operating system (cassette tapes were the default data-storage mechanism in the early 1980s), DragonDOS was supplied as part of the disk controller interface from Dragon Data Ltd. This was quite ahead of it's time and something different when compared to the Speccy or the C64.

The numerous external ports that the machinbe was blessed with were excellent for the era, including the standard RS-232 (on the later Dragon 64), allowed users to attach a diverse range of equipment to the machine. It was even possible to use a light-pen (remember them?) via the built in joystick port.

Another good feature was a monitor port as an alternative to TV output - monitors at the time were far nicer than your average TV unit. Unfortunately monitors tended to cost a lot of money and home users rarely used them due to the excessive cost.

There was also a port on the machine to link up a Centronics printer - again this was impressive as some other machines required interfaces to connect to various pieces of hardware.

The market driving force was soon to become computer games (even though you begged for a computer to 'do your homework!') and this is really where the Dragon machines fell down.

Due to the machines graphical limitations, the gaming software library in this area ended up being similarly limited. Having said that there are versions of the classic arcade games of the era available for the machine and plenty of text adventures to get your teeth into.

As a result of the lower case display and general 'poorish' graphics, the Dragon machines(both the 32 and 64) never went on to become huge sellers. Dragon Data finally collapsed in June of 1984 - but software was still developed for the machine for a number of years later.

Despite the demise of the parent company, Dragon computers still proved to be quite popular (which is not surprising as they were extremely customisable).

They were based on a robust motherboard which was embedded within a spacious chassis, and were much more tolerant to user modification than many of their contemporaries (a lot of machines had the memory expanded to 64K, 128KB, 256KB and even 512KB!)

Other machines at that time did not have the inner space or slots for such heavy modification, making them an ideal choice for someone who likes to get 'under the hood' and play around with the hardware.

If only Dragon Data Ltd had given the machine decent graphics then perhaps more arcade type games would have been created for it - this and the lower case visual problem were the only real downsides to the machine.

You Can Even Purchase A Dragon Logo T-Shirt

Pure geekdom abounds! Grab a Dragon 32 T-Shirt
Pure geekdom abounds! Grab a Dragon 32 T-Shirt

Frogger On The Dragon 32

Cuthbert In The Jungle on the Dragon 32

Horace Goes Skiing on the Dragon 32

Despite The Few Shortcomings...

A number of games were released for the Dragon computer.

As the videos show versions of Space Invaders, Frogger, Scramble, Galaga (called Galagon on this machine) and many more were released for the machine.

Versions of classic games on other formats were released for the machine with Activision's Pitfall (made famous on the Atari 2600 and Atari 5200) was roughly put out on the Dragon 32.

It was called Cuthbert In The Jungle (got to love a name like that!) and the gameplay was very similar to the Activision classic.

Even the famous Horace Goes Skiing (one of the most famous ZX Spectrum Games) was released for the Dragon - so with a little effort the machine could be used as a games machine.

Other releases such as 'Ugh' oozed charm - in fact that game was very much in the 'game and watch' mould - but it was quite an interesting and addictive little game.

Once the juggernauts of the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 got rolling the Dragon faded into the background along with the machines from Oric and the Acorn Electron.

Even the BBC Micro and Amstrad CPC 464 became more popular than the machines from Dragon. Games such as Space War did little to enhance the Dragon's reputation - this game must go down as one of the all time 8-bit turkeys.

With the competition sporting the likes of SID music, AY Music and nice graphics the Dragon just fell behind in the gaming stakes - it became more popular with people who like to tinker with hardware!

Once the 16-bit machines such as the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga and A1200 (and people caught on to amiga games) appeared it's fate was well and truly sealed.

It was by no means a bad machine, in some ways it was very good. If the graphics has been up to par then the machine may well have went from strength to strength...

Galaga Clone Galagon on the Dragon 32

Donkey King On The Dragon 32

Ugh! On The Dragon 32

The Abominably Bad Space War

Cosmic Zap On The Dragon 32

Intergalactic Force on the Dragon 32


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