back to article The Dragon 32 is 30

The Dragon 32, arguably the best-known and most-successful of the UK's early 1980s home computer also-rans, was introduced 30 years ago this month. The micro's story goes back more than a year before its launch. Tony Clarke, a senior manager at Swansea-based toy company Mettoy - best known for its Corgi die-cast metal car …


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  1. Admiral Grace Hopper

    You've made a happy woman feel very old

    This machine is where it started for me. If it hadn't been the Dragon then it would have been something else, but this was the first machine on which I cut any code of any sort, for which reason I feel very kindly inclined to it.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: You've made a happy woman feel very old

      'The Girl With The Dragon Thirty-Two', eh?

      1. Admiral Grace Hopper
        Thumb Up

        Re: You've made a happy woman feel very old

        I only wish that you could hear the wild applause from my desk.

  2. Andres

    You always remember your first...

    I persuaded my parents to buy one to help with computer studies at school. And then, like probably most other kids, spent 80% of the time playing games with some coding in-between.

  3. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Thumb Up


    All the computers I lusted after in my teens... having cut my teeth on the MK14, the ZX80, and the Microtan, I never got around to a computer in a proper box with a real keyboard that I didn't make myself!

    It's good to see them again, even if I never got around to buying them at the time.

  4. Geoff Webber

    So is My Son

    1 Week before my son was born in November 1982 I purchased one of these.

    I had to travel all the way to London from Weymouth on the train as there were no stockists anywhere near Dorset.

    I started by religiously typing in program listings from magazines, I soon learnt debugging!

    All those syntax errors...

    When my wife returned home 1 week later I thought I would impress her with "Press the space bar dear".

    It ran a simple program that looped "Welcome Home" in random (blocky) colours. "Oh is that all it does" says she :-(

    I went on to write a number of games that I sold via the user Mags.

    Suffice to say I still have my Dragon Computer the wifely Dragon is no more.

    I am now thinking about retiring from my job in computing and digging the Dragon out of the loft to get back to some Basic coding....

    Ahhh, those were the days.

  5. TeeCee Gold badge

    Missed opportunity.

    One of its major problems was that, when on display along with other machines in a shop, it's "window in the middle of the telly" display looked a bit shonky compared to other offerings.

    There was an answer. There was a product from a small software company (Oasis????) that gave it a full-screen display, better graphics, fonts and upper / lower case. Didn't use much memory too. I can't help thinking what might have been had DD aquired this and included it in ROM.

    Might go and fish mine out of the garage tonight and fire it up in celebration. Maybe I'll pull the case and see what board number's in mine, I'd never thought to check before.

    1. stucs201

      Re: Missed opportunity.

      I'm not sure it always looked bad displayed next to other machines in a shop. Boots(*) used to have a ZX81, a Speccy and a Dragon. Since they never loaded any software on them and just left them on the startup screen the Dragon was usually the only one with any colour on its display. Their setup also emphasised the merits of a proper keyboard - the ZX81 had a very severely dented break 'key' from being pressed too hard (it didn't work very well even before it got dented).

      I'm also not sure that the "window in the middle" was necessarily a bad idea in the days of goldfish bowl TVs either (back when rounded corners were a bad thing).

      (*) P.S. Thanks for confirming my memories el-reg. Its been so long I was starting to wonder if my memories of the 'lotions and potions' retailer selling computers was made up, its so different from what they normally sell.

      1. Lord Voldemortgage

        Re: Boots

        I bought my copy of Elite for the BBC B from Boots, you're right, it does seem bonkers looking back.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Missed opportunity.

        "I was starting to wonder if my memories of the 'lotions and potions' retailer selling computers was made up, its so different from what they normally sell."

        Boots used to sell a lot wider range of products in general back then. My local branch (e.g.) also had a good range of both blank and pre-recorded cassettes in the early 80s, alongside more photo stuff (e.g. gimmicky camera filters I thought looked cool but couldn't afford nor use with my Instamatic(!))

        My Dad even used to buy his home brew kits (i.e. beer not software!) and equipment there too- I'm sure they were still selling that well into the nineties. They even had their own-brand equipment(!).

        They even sold homeware and electronics like TVs and hifis. In fact, looking back, they were almost like a mini department store back then.

        This was all before we had a local Jessops, Virgin Megastore and HMV though, and (e.g.) Boots music range slowly degenerated to a single pitiful rack of CDs before disappearing. I guess they were eventually outcompeted by those more specialist stores and decided to focus on their core business.

        1. Martipar

          Re: Missed opportunity.

          Bootsdid indeed sell allt hat stuff and had a manufacturing arm but it was sold off, my cousin works for the part that was sold off and I can never remember it's name.

        2. John 62

          Re: Missed opportunity.

          I remember all these things. I bought a couple of Boots cassette personal stereos. My first personal CD player was a Boots-Branded mini hi-fi (that I still have, though the tape-deck's broken) that my parents bought me. Dad also got his homebrew kits in Boots. I used to get the odd album and VHS from them. I remember saving up loads of money for Star Trek: Generations on VHS because I hadn't seen it at the cinema. Then I watched it, once.

          Anyway, I used to love hanging round the computers and pressing buttons on them while my mother was elsewhere in the store.

    2. Phil Endecott

      Re: Missed opportunity.

      > looked a bit shonky compared to other offerings.

      You're right; in particular, the lack of lower-case made it look more like a ZX81 and less like a BBC.

    3. bluearcus

      Re: Missed opportunity.

      All of the problems with text mode limitations, and poor availability of colours were down to the choice of the Motorola reference design chipset. The VDG chip was perfectly capable, but limited in terms of text mode display and graphics mode colour schemes.

      No amount of ROM tweaks could really fix that, although it was possible to achieve a 52 x 21 text display with lowercase by hooking new hi-res graphics mode based printing.

      The add on board (from Premier Microsystems, I seem to remember) supplied an entirely new graphics generator chip. If Dragon Data had done that initially they might have had a better machine, but with far less game software from the CoCo available from the word go.

      A tricky one.

      Short of the BBC though, the Dragon was certainly the most 'serious' UK home computer of the era. Powerful processor, powerful basic, serious software options (OS-9, with C, Basic 09, PASCAL).

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    August 1982 was the C64 launch date too, but that's not British I guess.

    1. Tony Smith, Editor, Reg Hardware (Written by Reg staff)

      We've already done it.

      BTW, it also took a long time to arrive over here, despite coming so long after the US launch, in December 1981. I know, I was gagging for one, but the advance order failed to materialise, so I got a Dragon instead. Not as advanced a machine, but I can't say it ever held me back.

      1. Kubla Cant

        @Tony Smith

        But you haven't, as far as I can tell, done the Acorn Atom, which must pre-date both. I consider my Atom changed my life.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My First Computer Too

    Got one of these when I was 11 years old and taught myself assembly on it. Great processor to program the 6809E, much better than the 6502 as it had proper 16bit index registers.

  8. tanj666

    My second micro...

    I had one of these way back when...

    During launch week, unemployed as I was, I spent a lot of time in the local Boots store where I quite happily explained to potential purchasers the differences between the Dragon and the Spectrum et al. Despite helping them to sell loads, they offered me no discount nor a job, so I bought mine elsewhere a few weeks later.

    Eventually I added a floppy drive to mine and transferred my games tapes to run from disk.

    After many years of faithful service it was put into the loft. When retrieved about 10 years ago I discovered that it no longer powered up. The PSU was fine, the cables were fine, but the mobo had died quietly in its sleep.

    Such an ignominious end to a fine machine.

    Snigger joke warning - You could have SEX with a Dragon but not with a Spectrum. SEX was the nmemonic motorola introduced to extend the sign bit of a byte from 8 bits to 16 bits - Sign EXtend.

    1. stucs201

      Re: My second micro...

      It might be worth trying it again, Dragons sometimes look dead when they're only sleeping - I had three which had been in the loft for years because it they died. Years later I decided to see if I could make one good one out of the three dead ones - one of them had somehow ressurected itself in storage.

  9. Tommy Pock

    The Weetabix ad

    Do I see Despicable Me's minions on that box?

    1. Richard Ball

      Re: The Weetabix ad

      IIRC that's the Munch Bunch.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: The Munch Bunch

        No, Munch Bunch were on yoghurts.

        The Weetabix crew were Dunk, Crunch, Brains, Brian and Bixie - some of us had all the badges!

    2. horse of a different colour

      Re: The Weetabix ad

      'Skin head' Weetabix probably wasn't Weetabix marketing's finest hour...

      1. John 62

        Re: The Weetabix ad

        At one time the skinhead style and skinheads were about racial harmony until the look was taken over by the fascists. Ska and Reggae bands lament this hi-jacking even now.

        1. Fibbles

          Re: The Weetabix ad

          It's ironic that an advert for an advanced (at the time) home computer appears to have been created by a graphic designer who was still doing everything by hand. I wish I could get away with submitting final designs coloured with marker pens.

  10. Wayland Sothcott 1
    Thumb Up

    Still have mine in the loft

    1983 was an amazing year in the UK home computer business. There were loads of new machines battling it out. I bought my Dragon in Colchester and carried it home on the back of my bicycle. I really wanted a BBC B but could only afford £200. The 6809 CPU was beautiful to program because it used position independent machine code. It was a baby 68000.

    However it would have been nice if they had included the Teletext graphics chip as per the BBC micro because this gives the clearest text on a TV screen. It was the high cost of disk drives which really prevented home computers being useful in business. Who has time to wait for tape to load?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Still have mine in the loft

      High cost of disks - This is of course why Sir Clive invented the Microdrive. Although people took the piss and there were teething troubles, the later units were remarkably reliable to the point where people are still recovering data from cartridges all these years later.

      1. Lord Voldemortgage

        Re: Microdrives

        Microdrives were incorporated into the OPD and were indeed pretty reliable - dug one out of an old, dusty storebox in 1999 and it was still able to load Snake.

        "My secretary is on my extension. He. He. He."

        1. gaz 7
          Thumb Up

          Re: Microdrives

          I still have some OPD microdrive cartridges in one of the fire safes at work. There was a small handful of OPDs when I started in 91. Keep hoping one might turn up one day. I will be bound to get the call if one does, if only for my colleagues to take the piss out of how long I have worked there!

          Never had a Dragon. Was a Sinclair fan myself, but absolutely love these articles. fasinating reading

  11. Jedit Silver badge

    Any port in a storm?

    I find it interesting that the Dragon 32 used the C64's 9-pin joystick connector for its power supply, and 6-pin circular connectors like those of the C64's PSU for its joysticks.

    1. stucs201

      Re: Any port in a storm?

      I suspect the round vs 9-pin choice for the joystick port was to stop people trying to use switching joysticks from other systems instead of the analogue ones it was designed for. At the time the choice of analogue seemed odd , but in hindsight it may just have been ahead of its time.

  12. PerlyKing
    Thumb Up


    I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned the keyboard, which was "guaranteed for 20 million keypresses", or something very similar! I never had one, but a friend did, and that keyboard was a revelation compared to our ZX81.

  13. taxman
    Thumb Up

    Where's then time gone?

    A hard choiced to be made back then: Acorn, Sinclair, Commodore, Dragon, Camputers........Decided on the Lynx myself. Always amazed at how much Level 9 managed to squeeze into their adventures on that machine. So made the jump from basic to machine code.

  14. OpenSauce
    Thumb Up

    More fond memories

    My final year degree project was building a hardware terminal emulator board for the Dragon 32.

    It emulated a Wyse terminal with RS232 connectivity.

    The idea was the Dragon could be used for teaching programming as well as accessing the college Harris mainframe, unlike the expensive dumb terminals.

    The devs at Dragon were very helpful with coding when I hit some issues with the inbuilt procedure calls.

    1. captain veg Silver badge

      Harris mainframe

      You were at Coventry Lanchester Poly, and I claim my prize.


      1. OpenSauce

        Re: Harris mainframe

        Give yourself a Lanch star. ;-)

  15. Chris Morrison

    Duncan Smeed

    Without wanting to embarrass him or give him a big head I've got to say Duncan was the best lecturer I had at uni. Whilst the dragon32 was before my time his ancedotes about it's design and his enthusiam were always entertaining. His Computer Architecture and Design class was insightful and a major reason for me seeking a career in the semiconductor industry.

    Happy Birthday Dragon32

    1. xtramural

      Re: Duncan Smeed

      I'm embarrassed ;)

      Many thanks for the kind words Chris. Best wishes for the career.



      1. ploppy

        Re: Duncan Smeed

        Hi Xtramural,

        I remember talking about learning 6809 machine code on the Dragon to my PhD supervisor, Doug Shepherd (RIP). To my amazement he mentioned he'd written the keyboard handler for it. Did he have anything to do with it?



        1. xtramural

          Re: Duncan Smeed

          Hi Phillip,

          Doug was a colleague and friend at Strathclyde at the time and he is the person that had the original contact with Motorola (East Kilbride). He and I will have discussed the design and implementation of the BIOS in the early days although I, ultimately, wrote the final BIOS code, flew to Seattle to meet with the Microsoft BASIC guys and badger them for their final deliverable, integrated this into the ROM image and produced the final ROM code (with my hand-patched 'Easer Egg' initials).

          Doug was a great colleague and one of my lecturers when I was a student. The most memorable thing he ever told me was his advice for being a good lecturer and that was "a good lecture is 90% entertainment and 10% content!". He went on to great things at Lancaster - as you know.



    2. Toastan Buttar
      Thumb Up

      Re: Duncan Smeed

      I too was taught by Mr Smeed at Strathclyde. I have fond memories of the microprocessor development lab. 6809 cross-assembler on a PDP-11/34 and 11/44. When there was a full class it would take 5-10 mins to assemble and download the binaries to your development system. But it was worth it to see your creations come alive via the attached terminals and I/O devices. Even though I was a Sinclair man (and thus Z-80 by default), the 6809 was my fave 8-bit micro by a long way.

      I learnt structured programming with Dr Kingslake through Pascal on a PET in the Livingstone Tower, and later wrote up my final year project on the newly-acquired QLs in the same lab. I may even have the MicroDrive cartridge still in my possession.

      Good times. Still working in the low-level world of bits and bytes, shift instructions and cycle times 25 years down the line.

      1. xtramural

        Re: Duncan Smeed

        Hi Allan (I presume!),

        Ah! Those were the days!! I have fond memories of the 6809 dev kit we used to use and the I/O box - 7-segment display and speech synthesis chip - that were used for the experiments in 6809 assembler and interfacing.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You should have waited 2 years...

    ... then the headline would be "The Dragon 32 is 32" :-)

  17. Steve Todd

    The video chip was the problem

    The 6847 was, to put not too fine a point on it, rubbish. It only supported a 32 x 16 array of characters, in upper case only, plus a couple of fairly low res bit mapped video modes. You could use if with a 6502 (Acorn did just that with the Atom), but 6502 based hardware had moved on to ASIC video by then (the C64's VIC chip for example, or the BBC Micro's video chip). Other than that and the price it wasn't a bad machine for the time.

    1. stucs201

      Re: The video chip was the problem

      Resolution wasn't so much the problem as the strange colours (and only 4 at a time). Some games I prefered to black and white as a result. I guess it prepared me well for my first PC with its CGA display.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The BBC has "C64 is 30" and...

    ...el Reg has the Dragon 32.

    Strange beasts the Dragon was, only one of my school chums had one - everyone else was pretty much Sinclair or Commodore rivals.... seem to remember one looser with an Oric though too.

    I'm sure my words there mean something to my generation - we were fanbois long before the word was invented :)

    1. dogged

      Re: The BBC has "C64 is 30" and...

      looser than what?

      1. Dabooka

        Re: The BBC has "C64 is 30" and...


        Or was it a joke I didn't get?!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The BBC has "C64 is 30" and...

      The Dragon managed 2nd place at my school. Commodores were never very popular (even in the later ST vs Amiga days). I think it had something to do with someone comming up with the nickname 'Commode'. Us Dragon owners were still in a minority compared to the speccy though - but still managed better games collections than the Atari 2600 owners due to being able to copy tapes rather than swap cartridges.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The BBC has "C64 is 30" and...

        Ah, the playground computer wars. When someone called my machine a "Commode", the standard retort to the inevitably Sinclair owning antagonist was to tell them to eff off back to their "Spacktrum" with its crappy keyboard*. As for the poor sods who got an Oric or Dragon, they were better off pretending they didn't own a computer.

        * From a politically incorrect term for a mentally handicapped person, or "spacker". Children are such lovely creatures.

    3. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: The BBC has "C64 is 30" and...

      And yet I got outbid on not one but two Orics on the bay t'day...

  19. Pahhh
    Thumb Up

    Happy days

    Wasnt that keen on the machine being a BBC owner myself but it was ok. The 6509 was a lot better processor than the 6502 if you did things in assembly.

    In truth in that Golden Age of computing it didnt really matter which machine you had, it all seemed quite magical.

    So happy birthday.

    1. dogged

      Re: Happy days

      Wasnt that keen on the machine since my parents had stupid amounts of money to waste on me

      Fixed that one for you.

  20. Dabooka

    I remember picking it up with my mum...

    Form (what I recall) was a Tandy in Coventry.

    We got the bus back to Nuneaton and plugged it in. Had loads of great times playing Android Attack (with synthesised speech!) and a flash on the cassette claiming it was written in 100% machine code. Along with Space War and some random game where you trained to be a German spy in world war 2, it had quizzes and an assault course and came in huge blown plastic case with what I think was 4 cassettes. I guess it was pseudo-educational, but I liked it nonetheless!

    As above mine simply refused to boot in the 90s and has remained dormant ever since.

    NB We moved onto a 464 ----> 6128 afterwards.

  21. Slartybardfast
    Thumb Up

    Radio Amatuer Use

    I bought a second hand one very cheaply to run one of the best RTTY programs available at the time. I took the innards out, lined the case with tin foil and earthed it. After putting the boards back it made a wonderful RTTY machine which generated very little RFI. It was in use for quite a few years until finally dying sometime in the early 90's.

  22. Anonymous Coward

    Graphically limited

    The poor old Dragon. The problem was it was just too graphically limited. Poor old thing couldn't even do lower case letters easily. Just couldn't compete with the Spectrum.

    Ironically the next Welsh computer (the Sam Coupe) also flopped, but for different reasons (although it did also have some graphics issues).

    Not forgetting the legendary Welsh games console, the Konix Multisystem. That never even got as far as launch which was a tragedy. The story of the Konix is fascinating and I hope El Reg covers it one day so it can reach a wider audience. -

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Micro Men CD Player Myth

    Christmas '84 was tough for computer companies, but I'm not sure it was CD Players that did it. Indeed they were still excruciatingly expensive. You wouldn't see much change from £500, which was way above the cost of these home micros.

    The real problem was the market was flooded with different models from different companies.

    By Christmas '84. Sinclair were already dominant, the C64 was having its first proper Christmas and Amstrad had muscled their way in with a very aggressive strategy. All the smaller players were squeezed out as evidenced if you look at hardware and software sales across the period. Walk into a branch of Dixons by 1986 and your choice would have simply been Amstrad, Spectrum, Commodore. Your Dragons, Orics, etc had all vanished. Even Acorn had retreated to the safety of the education market where they had a considerable niche.

    In short it was a complex situation that was over simplified in Micro Men. It wasn't CD players, it was market forces. People who had wanted computers already had them, and the market was crowded. Only the fittest companies survived.

    We also mustn't confuse the fall of Sinclair with these changes in the market. Sinclair failed because the Spectrum was bankrolling all of their ill thought out projects. Even if sales hadn't fallen, Sinclair would have failed. The problem with Sir Clive is that you could give him any amount of cash and he'd find a way to spend it inventing something.

    1. Tony McAlinden
      Thumb Up

      Re: Micro Men CD Player Myth

      If I remember rightly, they do actually mention the market over-saturation in Micro Men, with a particularly pithy clip from (I think) John Humphreys on the news "Last Christmas every child wanted a computer, this Christmas every child already had one".

      I'm still amazed how few people have seen it - for all of its factual inaccuracies (otherwise known as "dramatisation") its a fun movie.

      Oh, and hello to Duncan Smeed, who taught me at Strathclyde in a 68K age. Our platform? A bunch of surplus Sinclair QL's given away as a job lot to the Uni by Uncle Clive.

      1. xtramural

        Re: Micro Men CD Player Myth

        Tony, although the procurement of the QLs happened whilst I was at Dragon Data and before my return to Strathclyde, I don't think you could categorise the purchase of the QLs as "A bunch of surplus Sinclair QL's given away as a job lot to the Uni by Uncle Clive." IIRC, the University spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on the 'QL for every student' initiative.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Re: Micro Men CD Player Myth

          A QL for every student but no software. :-)

  24. Antony Shepherd

    As well as SEX the 6809 had BRA (BRanch Always)...

    Never owned a Dragon but I did love the 6809 as it was the best of the 8 bit processors.

    I liked it more than the 6502 and loathed the 8080 or Z80.

  25. EdScio
    Thumb Up

    First Computer

    I remember bugging my mother to get me one of these when I was about 14. I'd never used a computer before but had looked at the list of commands and seen 'TRON' which I duly typed expecting to play a game based on the film. Needless to say turning line number TRaceing ON wasn't particularly impressive! Later I learned BASIC then assembler and had a couple of games pubished by Microdeal; Wizards Quest (an Atic Atac clone) and Airball (loosely based on Knight Lore).

    Still got the Dragon in the loft, might see if it still works.

    1. stucs201

      Re: First Computer

      I spent many hours playing Airball. I was rubbish at it, but loved it anyway.

      <--- I'd love to buy you a real one, but the icon will have to do.

      1. EdScio

        Re: First Computer

        Lol thanks but you already did as I spent most of my royalties on beer!

  26. Andy Fletcher
    Thumb Up

    I had one of those!

    Somehow spending 4 hours typing in games, then finding out you mis-spelled "peek" at line 827, before you could play them created an enormous feeling of accomplishment. This stick in a disc and off it goes malarky we get these days is for noobs I say.

    Don't think I'd want to turn back the clock, but somehow proud I was there at the time.

    1. jason 7

      Stick in a disc??!!

      Hello Grandad!


  27. Carl

    It was *garbage*

    it couldn't do boolean comparisons.

    I paraphrase but






    So you ended up having to code comparisons a certain way to make anything work.

    My dad took it back and got me an Atari800.

    Oddly, I see Dragon used a M$ BASIC. Explains a lot.

    1. Eddie Edwards

      Re: It was *garbage*

      What are you talking about? It worked fine. Sounds like you took a perfectly good computer back because you made a typo somewhere. I guess it's the 80s equivalent of blaming the compiler :)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: it couldn't do boolean comparisons

      It certainly could. I can't remember the syntax now after all these years, but the BASIC programmes I wrote for mine used boolean logic and it worked. you must have made some schoolboy error

    3. A J Stiles

      Re: It was *garbage*

      I just downloaded XRoar and tested it. Less-than tests worked fine.

      Are you sure you were doing it right?

    4. Joeman

      Re: It was *garbage*

      Clearly you were doing something wrong... Boolean comparrisons are the basis of all programming.

      Dont slate the Dragon - it rocked!!!

  28. stucs201

    POKE 65495,0

    Still available new if anyone wants one :

    1. Christine Hedley Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: POKE 65495,0

      Hah, strange how I can't remember what I was doing yesterday but I can still remember that number from 30 years back!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: POKE 65495,0

        Ee, thou 'rt raht bloody soft using 't decimal.

        For some reason I recall it as hex; POKE &HFFD7,0. Never touched hex again barring the odd web colour, but oddly still recall this. For a trip down memory lane:

  29. Eddie Edwards
    Thumb Up


    I used a Dragon 32 from 1982 to 1988, and knew the machine and OS inside out ... and I still learned a lot from this article!

    The 6809 had the best ISA by a mile. I did as much assembly programming as BASIC programming: 5 text adventures, and the Dragon WIMP system which sold about 5 copies :) Amazingly my machine and disc drive still both work; some errors on the disks but most of them are fine too. After 30 years. Incredible.

    One nitpick with the article - it's the graphics chip that didn't support lower-case letters. BASIC supported them fine; it was just unable to display them. In fact, Dragon WIMP (and other packages) implemented 8x8 fonts on the graphics display, so you were able to use proper lower case. MS BASIC needed no modifications to make that work. I coded a couple of text adventures that way.

    Another unsung feature is the 6-bit DAC. Instead of using some Yamaha chip or ASIC, the Dragon 32 included a raw 6-bit DAC which was driven by code. It meant that while it was making sounds it could do nothing else (!) but it meant that you could do some very nice polyphonic waveform-based synthesis. Ultimately, though, it was a PITA for games. (The same DAC also formed the ADC for the joystick, which didn't help.)

    Funny you say the Dragon died around 1983-84. I used mine faithfully until 1988, when I got an Archimedes. Ah, Britain truly was once great :)

    1. CiaranA

      Re: Superb


      For fun DAC use, search for CoCoSID (rem) or Dragon 64 Nyan Cat (me) or of course one guy went and typed in the whole of Toccata and Fugue like a crazy person.

      1. Eddie Edwards
        Thumb Up

        Re: Superb

        F@ck me! You remember! Indeed, I ran Broomsoft! :) I was only 15 then. Mike Gerrard gave me some lovely reviews; what a nice man :)

        And, it was me that typed in the whole of Toccata and Fugue like a crazy person! I had to compile it in chunks because the source was about 3 times larger than 32K :) I think the final binary is about 24K. Did it during the summer holidays :) Oh how I miss summer holidays!

        You made Nyan Cat for Dragon 64? Respect. I went back and did a mod player for the D32, but it was crap ;)

    2. Toastan Buttar

      Re: Superb

      Funnily enough, the 6809 lab I worked in at Strathclyde Uni had Analogue to Digital Converters which consisted of a DAC and a comparitor. By doing a binary search on the DAC and reading the comparitor's one-bit output, you could 'home in' on the input voltage. I wonder how close that was to the Dragon joystick input configuration.

      1. Eddie Edwards
        Thumb Up

        Re: Superb

        Precisely the same. 6-bit DAC plus comparator. Set the 6-bit value in one register and read the comparison bit in another. You could connect a tape recorder to the joystick input and sample, at some ludicrously low sample rate.

        Annoyingly the DAC register bit 0 was the printer strobe, so you either had to mask, or tell the user to unplug the printer ;)

        The Dragon also had a 1-bit DAC connected to the tape input, which was a lot faster, but not a lot of use for audio.

      2. xtramural

        Re: Superb

        Yep, that's how it was done. Pretty standard technique to do a binary chop to home in on the nearest value.

      3. Cyberspice

        Re: Superb

        That was quite a common way to implement ADCs back then because they were *so* expensive (A replacement ADC for the beeb was £15). A DAC is basically a resistor ladder. Add a cheap op-amp and you have an ADC.

  30. Amorous Cowherder

    My first!

    I remember coming home from school when I was around 7, my old man was sitting on the living room floor with a new one of these. He said, "Look at this!", pointing at the TV which sudenly exploded into a show of crudely flashing squares and circles! "Isn't that great?!".

    Around 2 years later the parents of an old school friend become a reseller for Dragon kit and I got my hands on shed-loads of software and official Dragon odds and sods, like the speech synth!

    My very first micro and kick-started my love of computers!

  31. CiaranA

    Grew up with the Dragon

    And, er, never quite left it behind. Might not have been the best equipped machine of the era, but the price reflected that, and there are still some tricks to be exploited...

  32. Dogsauce

    The poor kid at school with the Dragon 32 was only one off the bottom of the bullying pecking order from the guy with the Jupiter Ace (who was pitied rather than assaulted). The intense rivalry between Sinclair and Commodore users would often be forgotton and both armies turn on that guy. It didn't help that he'd already marked himself out as a bit of an arse before the era of home computer tribalism erupted.

    Nobody seemed to pick on the BBC Micro guys though. They were just oddballs that got left alone.

    1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

      re:picking on the BBC

      guys at school was a waste of time since they had either the rich parents who'd call the skewl and get your **** kicked... or they were the swotty son of the head /deputy head teacher and you'd get your **** kicked anyway

      Anyway... all I wanted was the 32K one.... never have to stuff the fill 64K of memory...

      1. Cyberspice

        Re: re:picking on the BBC

        No everyone who had a Beeb got their parents to buy it. I bought mine with paper round money and birthday money that I saved up initially for an Acorn Atom but then saved a bit more and bought a Beeb. I still have it.

  33. LesC

    Not you? Then log in here.

    These was a Dragon 32 in a machine shop just up the road from here that had an S-50 bus hanging off it... used to do all sorts of process control shehanigans using it's built in BASIC plus a smattering of machine code.

    Those were the days... the 6809 made it into craploads of industrial control stuff plus quite a few pinball machines there must still be a few still chugging away!

    Mines is the one with the Babani 6809 book in the pocket.


  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Loved my Dragon

    Had it upgraded from 32k to massive 64k for £100; bought floppy disk interface for £300 from Boots (double-sided 40 track 5.25 inch floppy plus cartridge. The entire disk operating system was in an 8k rom. Knew my way round the system peek by poke to every address. Got the Prestel cartridge so was on the pre-internet in 1987ish. I could Prestel the German railway system and get UK train times quicker than dialing British Rail enquiries(!!). It could drive an Epson dot matrix printer that came (ahem) from work and cost £400; I made special interfaces for it to control it through the joystick port. I had it upgraded to run OS9 on a hard disk for £100. The (10Mb) hard drive was another £100. Where is that system now? - I wish I'd never sold it.

    I had a program to draw fractals and it took a week to prepare a fractal image. Winfract on the AT could do the same image in a fraction of a second. That's when I went PC. Bigger better faster, but the magic left computing.

  35. Spoonsinger

    Pebble Mill @ One...

    early eighties, did a sort of review of available kit at the time, (obviously in true beeb fashion the BBC comp came out top, with the Spectrum coming second because of actual content available, commodore was foreign like). However the Dragon actually didn't do badly in their "review" - from what I remember - apart from the basic problem that the new stuff wasn't appearing on it. Only really wanted one because of the keyboard and relative cheapness, however a DK-Tronic keyboard for my spectrum fixed that.

    (PS the Pebble Mill @ One building was torn down due to seventies style "concrete cancer", only goes to show that the beeb know how to hire contractors - umm).

  36. Super Fast Jellyfish
    Thumb Up


    I had one of these for a few months; I cancelled my speccy order as the delivery date kept being pushed out and could get one of these from a shop in town. Loved the fact it was like a proper computer with decent keyboard and even an output for a monitor.

    However the screen display was pretty rubbish and annoying. There just weren't enough games around when it first came out. Sold it and bought a Beeb after 6 months... but agree 6809 ISA was much better than 6502 which I was learning at school.

    Can anyone confirm the 6809 was used in the Saab OBC for Ariane 4? I know the Ariane 5 used a MC68020 but that was programmed in Ada

  37. Richard Cartledge

    The biggest problem of 1980s home computers was that if you bought a new later model after a couple of years, all your existing knowledge, software, games, books, magazines and peripherals were useless. After investing all that time and money, people were happier to stick with what they had rather than start all over again.

    1. Spoonsinger

      I see wot you did there...

      (assuming it apple-ies to some modern context)

  38. Irongut

    TRS-80 - the 'CoCo' as it was affectionately named

    Never heard of a CoCo, we always called it the Trash-80.

    1. Cyberspice
      Black Helicopters

      Re: TRS-80 - the 'CoCo' as it was affectionately named

      To me the TRaSh-80 was specifically the TRS-80 model 1. The colour machine had a different moniker.

  39. Furbian

    Green ..... with envy perhaps?

    I remember a quiz in Personal Computing Weekly, I think, it was along lines of ..

    What is a Dragon Users favorite colour:-

    (a) Green.

    (b) Green.

    (c) Green.

    I still remember my mates having with it's black on green editing screen. Being a Z80 Spectrum guy, I was really impressed with the 6809E having TWO accumulators, it was like wow, hats off to my mate, his machine's has two, A and B. Sad, geeky childhood, but I'm the better for it.

  40. Rob Dobs

    Was the UK that far ahead of US?

    Maybe the U.S. was very different than U.K but the last lines of the Article, "by 84 all kids had a computer, and adults were looking to buy CD players" just did not ring true to me.

    So yeah I got my Apple II+ in 84, but less than half my friends had ANY PC at this point.

    And CD players? Sure the technology may have existed, but I got my first one 89.

    And in 89, only 3-4 small shelves (like 10% or less of store) were actually CD-ROMs, most of the Store was Tapes and even still some records! My very first CD's (which were still back then $25 each or so) were Paula Abdul, The Shocker Soundtrack and few others... not because I even really wanted this music, it was just the lesser evil of the limited selection (Nirvana Bleech, Pumpkins Gish, or for that matter any Zeppelin, Who, Metallica, Etc was simply not available.

    Maybe UK was very different, but I think it was at least 88 before anyone could find hardly ANY music on CD, let alone a good selection.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Was the UK that far ahead of US?

      As I posted elsewhere, the CD Player thing was a bit of a myth put about by a line in the drama, Micro Men (see it, it's excellent).

      I got my first CD Player in early 1991 and I hardly knew anyone with one at first. And getting music was still a pain even then! They were just getting into their swing.

      Back at Christmas '84, a CD Player would have cost nearly 3 times as much as 48k Spectrum. Totally out of reach for most people (starting at about £500).

      A good measure of when consumer electronics became affordable to the man on the street in the 1980's is when Amstrad started selling them. Best info I can find says Amstrad produced their first CD Player in 1987.

    2. Christine Hedley Silver badge

      Re: Was the UK that far ahead of US?

      I remember my days at school in 1983/84, pretty much all the kids had either a computer or games console (or both), seems it was very much a minority who didn't. But the situation with CD players was rather different: as Mr Hill points out, it seems that was a myth. They made serious inroads over the next few years, but it was a long while before they became as ubiquitous.

    3. jason 7

      Re: Was the UK that far ahead of US?

      The difference between the UK and USA markets was the price.

      In the USA you had Apple II/IBMs being pushed for $1000+ and a few lesser machines.

      In the UK you had a mass of machines being pushed in the £200-£400 bracket. Xmas 1983 was a major turning point for many UK kids including many of us here.

      Plus there was a big educational push in the UK around that time on the BBC TV about what the 'microcomputer revolution' could do which helped kids leverage their parents into buying one.

      By 1984 indeed most of my friends had a 48K Spectrum. The tape swapping was constant.

      1. jason 7

        Re: Was the UK that far ahead of US?

        Oh and just out of curiosity, did anyone else feel Xmas 1984 was a bit of a let down after the joy of Xmas 1983?

  41. Stuart Halliday
    Thumb Down

    Too late...

    Basically it failed because there was no software for it.

    Too many people fragmented over the z80 & 6502 based computers to make the 6809 viable.

  42. David Linsley

    My parents bought me a Dragon 64 for Christmas '84 because they were on fire sale in June since Dragon Data had closed, and I used that incessantly until I headed off for uni in '93 (and bought an Amiga A1200). I have fond memories of meeting the likes of CairanA (from above, plus Graham Kinns, Mike Stott, the PSE guys, and Stuart from the PD Library who unfortunately passed away) at the last few Osset shows in the early '90s, and still have my copy of the Dragon WIMP system - thanks for creating that Eddie! I remember writing a B-spline editor in that, and it was so slow doing the math in Basic!

    If anyone from the North East Dragon Users Group (Chris, Fred, David, Les, John etc) reads this, I hope you are doing well!

  43. ianthompsonbell

    Memories of the Project Leader

    I was the project leader for the Dragon 32 at PAT, or Patcentre as is was then known. I thought you might like to know what I remember of that time.

    I remember spending a lot of time talking to a really helpful Motorola chip salesman called Robin Saxby. Yes, the same guy who later ran ARM and is now Sir Robin.

    We certianly did not copy the CoCo. It was not really available in the UK because it had an NTSC video system which would not work on UK TVs in those days. The Motorola application for the SAM chip (synchronous address multiplxer) showed a complete home computer to which the CoCo was identical. We made numerous improvements to this app note. We included a real A/D and D/A convertors for generating the FSK signals used to store programs on tape. We added a parallel printer port and used the same chip to scan the keyboard. We had a separate power supply PCB which also contained the TV modulator. It was a single sided PCB so it saved cost but also allowed variants to different TV standards to be made cost effectively. We made a SECAM variant for France and also an RGB and US version.

    I do not rmemeber Motorola suppying a BIOS. Microsoft wrote the Basic interpreter, which was essentially the same as the one they licensed to Tandy but with a few add-ons, but you were expected to create all your own peripheral drivers - a situation unchanged to this day. It was these drivers that Duncan (Smeed) wrote. I do not remeber the keyboard speed up being his alone. The nromal way to scan a key board is to activate a row and read the columns to see if a key has been pressed and repeat that for each row. Of course, most of the time there was no key pressed and this routine just wasted a lot of time getting a no key preessed result. We realised that becuase we had used the same chip to scan the keyboard as drive the parallel printer port, we could do one thing the CoCo could not, and that was activate all the rows at once. If you do this and then look at the columns, in one go you get to know if there are no keys pressed, the most common situation, and you can exit straight away. If you find a key has been pressed you scan as usual to find which one. This is what saved the time.

    The PAL output had nothing to do with the CoCo. PAL was essntial for it to work on UK TVs. Few if any had SCART sockets so you had to create genuine PAL. Persuading a chip designed to make 525 line 60Hz NTSC to make 625 line 50Hz PAL instead is a non trivial exercise and needed a lot of descrete logic - ASICs were in their infancy then.

    Two weeks before the official launch, the Spectrun 16K came out. The piggy back RAM PCB was designed, tested and ramped up for production in that two weeks. Later we used a bunch of Siemens 32K RAM chips that consisted of two 16K RAM chips literally piggy backed on eachother and later still upgraded the main PCB to 32K then 64K.

    We then worked on the disk drive unit which was abandoned when Tony Clarke left and all development work went in house. What is probably not well known is that at the same time we were working on the successor to the Dragon, code named Draconis. This used a Motorola 68K processor and a very powerful graphics chip from NEC. Along with OS/9 as a true real time executive, this would have beaten the PC hands down as a business machine. But for the vagaries of the home computer market, we might all be using Dragons today.


    Ian Thompson-Bell

    1. xtramural

      Re: Memories of the Project Leader


      Apologies if the bit about about the keyboard scanning in article came across as a software-only optimisation. You are correct in pointing out the Dragon 32 design used a different hardware setup for scanning the keyboard and this - in combination with the BIOS code - did result in a significant speedup in the BASIC interpreter. So, yes, your hardware design was the determining factor in this respect.

      Thanks for filling in some of the background too.



      1. ianthompsonbell

        Re: Memories of the Project Leader

        Hello Duncan,

        Very long time no see. I tried to contact you about a year ago because I was contacted by someone who was doing a Dragon exhibit at the museum at Bletchley Park. He wanted an article on the Dragon from the developer's perspective.

        Can you let me have your current email address?



        1. Questor72

          Re: Memories of the Project Leader


          It was myself (Simon Hardy) that you were in contact with - and in 2010 as part of the Vintage Computer Festival (GB) we managed to get a line up of a Dragon 32, Dragon 64, Three Dragon Professionals! and a Eurohard Dragon 200.

          I run the website "World of Dragon" and wanted to try and get as much information from those involved in the Dragon recorded and archived.

          I now volunteer as part of the Retro Computer Museum ( or where we hold regular public events and also open on request most Sundays.



        2. xtramural

          Re: Memories of the Project Leader

          Hello Ian,

          Yes, it has been a very long time - I have many happy memories from those days. I have PM'ed (via LinkedIn) my current e-mail address.

          Perhaps we should try and reorganise a reunion - The Dragon 32 at 32 perhaps!? - in 2014.

          Sorry that I missed the Bletchley Park event...



    2. Chris007
      Thumb Up

      Re: Memories of the Project Leader @ianthompsonbell

      Just wanted to say a massive thank you for the Dragon 32. It, without doubt, was the biggest reason I ended up working in IT. I spent hours and hours programming the thing and when I left school and into the wide world (as a YTS person) I was streets ahead of most of my peers and have been very well compensated for my work since.

      once again thank you sir.

  44. mark 63 Silver badge
    Thumb Up


    that is the most comprehensive article i've ever read on anything!

    hats off!

  45. Delsort

    I still have the 32 in it's original box, power supply and the Prinz cassette player. I loved all those games from Microdeal like the Cuthbert series!!!

  46. Questor72

    Come and re-live the glory days

    For a more in depth trip down memory lane - see and our facebook page

    We have public event on in Leicestershire, UK over the August bank holiday - come and see all of these systems and get hands on with coding, gaming or simply remembering the "good old days".

  47. yossarianuk
    Thumb Up

    My first computer !

    I was 5 when I was given this for Xmas (well me and my older sister but she never got a look in..) was truly great, some memoriable ones were Cuthbert series, Manic miner, Wizard Wars, ugg and ring of darkness

    I was able to load some games and see the source code (basic) , by the age of 6 i was fiddling about with the text in games and typing out the games from Input magazine.... (possibly where my love of open source started..)

    Was more reliable than any version of Windows...

  48. This post has been deleted by its author

  49. /dev/null

    Corgi? Chinese?

    I think you'll find Corgi is very much owned by Hornby Hobbies these days:

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Small correction

    Not a big thing but the Motorola - later Freescale - factory mentioned in the article closed down a couple of years ago now. Kudos to the author for being aware of it at all though!

    -Guy originally from East Kilbride who used to work for Freescale! :P

  51. Chris007

    An apology to Microsoft (not that one, the one that did stuff for Dragon 32's back in the 80's)

    I was the one that ripped your games with perfect copies (not replicated tapes) and replaced your logo with the HyperSoft logo when the games were loading.

    (this is from memory and is 29 yrs old so it maybe a little out!)

    • write small program to load repeated text into memory from 1536 to highest memory point.

    • load "whatevergameitwas", 1280 (this loaded them into higher memory and prevented the games from auto-running) (1536 was the start of high-res(!) graphics memory & games loaded at mem point 256)

    • check memory dump to see where program load finished.

    • change tape

    • load "newlogo",2304 (this loaded my modified HyperSoft logo into what would be the "text buffer" - this was the logo that displayed whilst the game was loading)

    • insert new tape

    • save "name of game", 1536,<highmempointofprogramload,256 - Save code from mem point 1536 to high point and when loading execute at mem location 256 (allow auto-run)


    1. Chris007

      Re: An apology to Microsoft (not that one, the one that did stuff for Dragon 32's back in the 80's)

      Is that a downvote for apologising?

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