The Dragon 32 and Dragon 64 are home computers that were built in the 1980s. The Dragons are very similar to the TRS-80 Color Computer (CoCo), and were produced for the European market by Dragon Data, Ltd., in Port Talbot, Wales. The model numbers reflect the primary difference between the two machines, which have 32 and 64 kilobytes of RAM, respectively.
In the early 1980s, the British home computer market was booming. New machines were released almost monthly. In August 1982, Dragon Data joined the fray with the Dragon 32; the Dragon 64 followed a year later. The computers sold quite well initially and attracted the interest of several independent software developers, most notably Microdeal. A magazine, Dragon User also began publication shortly after the machine's launch.
In the private home computer market, where games were a significant driver, the Dragon suffered due to its graphical capabilities, which are inferior to other machines such as the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64.
The Dragon is also unable to display lower-case letters easily. Some more sophisticated applications would synthesise them using high-resolution graphics modes (in the same way that user-defined characters would be designed for purely graphical applications such as games). Simpler programs just managed without lower case. This effectively locked it out of the then-blooming educational market.
As a result of these limitations, the Dragon was not a commercial success, and Dragon Data collapsed in June 1984.
Despite the demise of the parent company, Dragons still proved quite popular. They have a robust motherboard in a spacious case, and are much more tolerant of home-modification than many of their contemporaries, which often have their components crammed into the smallest possible space.
Many Dragon 32s were upgraded by their owners to 64K. A few were further expanded to 128K, 256K, or 512K, with home-built memory controllers/memory management units (MMUs).
A broad range of peripherals exist for the Dragon 32/64, and on top of this there are add-ons such as the Dragon's Claw which give the Dragons access to the BBC Micro's large range of accessories (a particularly important factor in the UK home market). Although neither machine has a built-in disk operating system (cassette tapes being the default data-storage mechanism in the home computer market at the time), DragonDOS was supplied as part of the disk controller interface from Dragon Data Ltd. The numerous external ports (by the standards of the time), including the standard RS-232 on the 64, also allows hobbyists to attach a diverse range of equipment.
An unusual feature was a monitor port for connection of a computer monitor, as an alternative to the TV output. This was rarely used 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.
The Dragon uses analogue joysticks, unlike most systems of the time which used less versatile but cheaper digital systems. Other uses for the joystick ports include light pens.
Full colour scanline based 64x192 "semi-graphics" modes are also possible, though their imbalanced resolution and programming difficulty (they are not accessible via BASIC) meant they were not often utilised.
A complete Disk Operating System was produced for the Dragon by a third party supplier, Premier Microsystems located near Croydon, South London. The system was sold as the "Delta" disk operating system. Although Premier offered the Delta system to be marketed by Dragon themselves, Dragon were not happy that a third party were hijacking the standards for their computer, and produced their own rival DragonDOS system making it clear that the third party Delta was not compatible with the 'standard' Dragon Disk system.
Inevitably, with Delta's head start, software was marketed in either system, but rarely both. The result was the inevitable confusion with customers upset that a particular piece of software was not available for the Disk system that they had. Although this was far from the principle driver for the Dragon's demise, it was nevertheless a factor and had Dragon adopted the established Delta system, the machine may well have had a greater following and a longer life.
In addition to the DragonDOS disk operating system, the Dragon 32/64 is capable of running several others, including FLEX, and even OS-9 which brought UNIX-like multitasking to the platform. Memory-expanded and MMU-equipped Dragons are able to run OS-9 Level 2.
The systems are sufficiently similar that a significant fraction of the compiled software produced for one machine will happily run on the other. Software running via the built-in Basic interpreters also has a high level of compatibility, but only after they are re-tokenized (which can be achieved fairly easily by transferring via cassette tape with appropriate options).
It was possible to permanently convert a CoCo 1/2 into a dragon. It required swapping the original CoCo ROM with and rewiring the keyboard cable.
The Dragon has additional circuitry to make the MC6847 VDG compatible with European 625-line television standards, rather than the US 525-line NTSC standard, and a Centronics parallel printer port not present on the CoCo. Some models were manufactured with NTSC video for the US market.
A minor difference between the two Dragon models is the outer case colour; the Dragon 32 is beige and the 64 is light grey. Besides the colour and the Dragon 64's serial port (and the model name stickers, of course), the two machines look exactly the same. The Dragon 32 is upgradable to Dragon 64.
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