We re­visit the clas­sic 1980s per­sonal com­puter

It may not have slain its ri­vals, but the Dragon 32 is fondly re­mem­bered

Computer Shopper - - CONTENTS -

FLASH BACK TO 1982 and put your hand up if you had a Dragon 32 com­puter on your desk­top.

There may not be a huge num­ber of you. Put your hand up if you wanted one. Again, there may not be too many of you. Why, then, is the Dragon 32 so fondly re­mem­bered and so quick to be men­tioned when peo­ple talk about the computing they did when they were young and care­free? Per­haps be­cause of its charm.

The Dragon 32 was pro­duced by Dragon Data, it­self a part of a metal game com­pany called Met­toy, which made trains and Dan Dare toys. The ma­chine was a rea­son­ably late en­try to the grow­ing UK computing mar­ket, but it sold rea­son­ably well, and had its share of de­cent games. It was built around a large key­board de­sign, and was man­u­fac­tured in Port Tal­bot, Wales, which might ex­plain the moniker.

On its re­lease, the Dragon was com­pet­ing against mon­sters such as the Spec­trum 48k, which might have put it at a dis­ad­van­tage over­all. Around 40,000 units were sold in the first year.


Met­toy, tra­di­tion­ally found to be work­ing in metal and clockwork, had seen how computing was spread­ing across the UK in the 1980s, and felt well placed to meet the mar­ket de­mand. Work be­gan on such a ma­chine, and even­tu­ally the Dragon took form, with its cas­sette and car­tridge op­tions for games, printer pe­riph­eral slot, and a world of op­por­tu­nity in front of it.

The 32-bit model, which was avail­able in ex­cit­ing beige, was swiftly fol­lowed by the 64-bit model a year later. This was re­leased in a light grey shell. Both ma­chines were crit­i­cised for their poor game graph­ics – they were deemed to be in­fe­rior to the Spec­trum. How­ever, clas­sic ti­tles in­clud­ing Chuckie Egg, Manic Miner, Foot­ball Man­ager and Jet Set Willy were rep­re­sented thanks to early developer sup­port.


You might recog­nise the ti­tles, but the games looked a lit­tle dif­fer­ent on the Dragon be­cause of its screen lim­i­ta­tions. Dragon fans will tell you that this is not the end of the dif­fer­ences, and tip you to the fact that it had more Jet Set Willy lev­els than any of its ri­vals and an in-built cheat mode that let you switch and se­lect lev­els.

The Dragon was based on Mi­crosoft’s Ba­sic in­ter­preter, which Mi­crosoft as­sisted with, in 16KB of ROM and a Mo­torola data sheet de­sign for the MC6883 SAM (MMU) chip. Some say that its de­sign had strong sim­i­lar­i­ties to the Tandy TRS-80 from the US. Which it does.


One very un­for­tu­nate is­sue with the Dragon was its in­abil­ity to dis­play lower-case let­ters. This put it at a big dis­ad­van­tage. His­tory tells us that the more ca­pa­ble com­put­ers of the day, such as the BBC Mi­cro, went on to have great suc­cess in schools. Dragon Data let out its last fire­ball in 1984, when the firm was bought by a Span­ish com­pany. That was ex­tin­guished a few years later.

Of course, the Dragon lives on and there is a rea­son­ably strong mar­ket de­mand for the com­puter and its games. As re­cently as 10 years ago, new games were still be­ing re­leased for it. These in­cluded Glove by Cronosoft, which of­fered a cas­sette for­mat for shop­pers with well-dusted shelves.

The Dragon might not be the most recog­nis­able of all the 1980s per­sonal com­put­ers, and it cer­tainly wasn’t the best. But to know one, with all its idio­syn­cra­sies, was to love one.

⬆ The Dragon 32 was made in Wales by Met­toy, which made model trains and Dan Dare toys

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