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Dragon 32/64

Posted by Big Boo on September 3rd, 2010

dragon 32 computerThe home computer wars of the Eighties are lined with many casualties, and one of those that fell by the wayside was the Dragon 32, made by Welsh company Dragon Data.

The machine was similar in specification to the Tandy TRS-80, a computer that was probably even less popular here in the UK than the Dragon 32 was. So similar were they that many programs written for one machine would work on the other.

The Dragon 32 was launched in 1982, and outwardly looked like a nice machine, with a sturdy beige case, good quality keyboard and a decent amount of RAM for the time – 32K, as you’ve probably guessed. However, turn it on and it started to suffer when compared against other machines of its day.

The first thing you would probably notice was the lack of lower case characters. The Dragon 32 only supported upper case out of the box (and even then some of the character graphics were a little disappointing, such as the square letter O) and if you wanted to display lower case you would have to resort to writing a program to do that yourself.

Graphically it faired a little better, with the default text mode also being able to display chunky block graphics (a bit like a ZX81 or Teletext) whilst other programmable modes allowed for better control over individual pixels. They were marred by a poor selection of available colours, and the highest resolution possible was just 256×192, and that was only in monochrome.

The Dragon 32 also bucked the trend for digital joysticks, plumping instead for analogue ones, much like the BBC Micro. These joysticks could produce a range of values in both the horizontal and vertical axes (just like the analogue sticks on modern games consoles) instead of just up, down, left, right or diagonals.

In 1983 the Dragon 64 was launched, which unsurprisingly featured twice the memory, but also was made from grey plastic and also sported an RS-232 serial port on the back, which opened it up to a wider range of generic peripherals, so long as you were prepared to write software to drive them of course!

Sadly, Dragon Data went bust in 1984, thus ending the Dragon range, but the computers themselves remained popular with more technical hobbyists for some time afterwards as they were quite open systems and easily modifiable.