Why the Dragon?
I’ve been an owner of a Dragon 32 since December 1983 at the tender age of ten. Well, I think the machine actually took up residence at our house in October or November of that year – and I was allowed to look at it just the once before Christmas, but not use it until the big day – when it was probably the best present ever from my mum & dad. Below is a picture from soon after that event – with me taking up residence in front of the family colour TV.
The Dragon was chosen for two main reasons…
- My parents would not have stretched to getting me a BBC Micro Model B.
- It looked like a proper computer did at that time – i.e. like a BBC or an Apple II.
Sadly Dragon Data went bust just six months or so later – and I remember my parents being very sympathetic about this. Perhaps they thought that the computer would now be of no use without support from a manufacturer. Little did any of us know back then, that nearly 36 years later, the retro-computing world would be so vibrant.
I think I amassed about 15-20 games for my Dragon. I didn’t have a joystick…or a disk drive. In fact, it was literally the computer, cassette recorder and a black & white Ferguson 12″ TV for day-to-day use. I used it lot though. Frogger, Chuckie Egg, Quest, The Ring of Darkness, Mined Out – and later, Back Track and Manic Miner. All games that could be played with the keyboard. I did a lot of coding though. Much of it from magazines and books – but a fair bit of my own stuff too. I used to write little BASIC programs where I could pretend I was hacking into a supercomputer somewhere. Clearly the film Wargames had an effect on me.
During senior school I think I knew just one other person who had a Dragon computer. But he had a Dragon 64, and had an air of superiority about him as a result. It was probably also that guy that fed me one of my biggest misunderstandings about the Dragon – one which was to remain with me for around 30 years. I actually believed that there was no point in having a disk drive with a Dragon 32. That turned out to be almost complete nonsense.
I somehow managed to re-discover the Dragon, and re-kindle that flame around about 1999, when I stumbled across some fellow users, and a new Yahoo group was being set up. The group pretty much reflected what I would call the golden age of the Internet – that period when everything seemed excellent online. You’d found people with what would previously been minority interests – and in the instance of the Dragon, if you were not already a member of the National Dragon Users Group (or NDUG), then you’d previously had little chance of finding like-minded individuals.
That Yahoo group continued to be the main communication medium for all things Dragon to me. Until early 2017, when the group seemed to be getting quieter – almost lifeless, but someone posted about another group on Facebook.
As of November 2019, the Yahoo! Groups are due to be reduced in functionality somewhat next month. So that medium has almost come full circle as well.
The Facebook Group
For all of Facebook’s faults, it’s group function is pretty damned good. Having now found this new group – with many people from the original Yahoo group already present, the amount of Dragon-related conversation going on must have increased 10- or 20-fold. Being much more pictorial, and with the enhanced message threads, discussions went far deeper than they had tended to on Yahoo.
It was whilst participating in that group, that I suddenly felt a resurgence in my old interest in electronics. Initially I wanted to recreate a DragonDOS cartridge. I played around in Eagle, but didn’t quite get to the point where I felt I was ready to produce any boards. I then became just a teensy bit obsessed with a rather legendary board called the DragonPlus.
The Compusense DragonPlus
Back in late 1985, a new board was released by a company called Compusense. This company, run by Tad Opyrchal, had already published much successful software as well as versions of OS9 and Flex for the Dragon. This board was truly the ultimate board back in 1985/6, adding a new high resolution 80 x 24 character text screen and an additional 64K virtual RAM to a Dragon 64 (or upgraded Dragon 32).
Somehow I completely overlooked the board back in the 80s, but having studied the details of it in early 2018, decided I wanted to have a go at recreating it. Bearing in mind that I’d started, and then stopped trying to produce a DragonDOS cartridge PCB, and that the DragonPlus board is perhaps ten times as complex, this was no mean feat.
Suffice to say that over one year later, I reached the point where I was confident that my fifth or sixth revision of the reproduced board was suitable for sale. Several of those boards have now been sold in built, kit and 32/64 formats, and their continued availability has been the driver for this new website.
I Didn’t Manage It Alone
Various people have helped me along the DragonPlus journey – and I have to say that without this support from the Dragon community, it just wouldn’t have happened. When reading the following, you must understand that I had never seen an original DragonPlus board at the outset, and did not do so until several months after I’d first produced boards.
Special thanks are due to the following people:
Phill Harvey-Smith – without a doubt, the most help has come from Phill. From the very first encouragement, to the excellent PCB traces which he’d done several years earlier. He looked at early versions of my boards, building them his end and fault-finding where I’d frankly come to a complete dead-end. He also provided me with suitable floppy drives and test routines that enabled diagnosis of the DragonPlus board without needing to load off-the-shelf software (which had it’s own complexities).
Robert Schofield – Rob swiftly changed my way of thinking with the initial development of these boards. I’d planned to use Eagle – even though it had limitations caused by the modern license terms. I naively thought I’d design the board up to a certain size, and then pay a small license fee when it went over those dimensions. Rob told me about KiCad. It took a while to learn, but I’ve never looked back.
Tony Jewell – as well as being somewhat of a bad influence in the realm of temptation when it comes to encouraging me to develop boards (like the later Dragon 200E daughterboards), Tony works at the Cambridge Centre for Computer History, and has great contacts in the retro computing world. Tony not only has taken images of his original DragonPlus boards, as well as measured header pin lengths etc, but he also put me in touch with Tad Opyrchal, the Managing Director of Compusense back in the 80s and 90s.
Tad Opyrchal – very early on in the development of this project, I got in touch with Tad, via Tony. Having explained to Tad what I wanted to do, he was full of support for the project, and said he had no objections whatsoever to me recreating these boards – as long as it was obvious that they were reproductions. He was happy for me to use the DragonPlus name for them.
Bas Gialopsos – Having seen me go through some rather frantic periods of failing DragonPlus boards, Bas offered me some help to validate the robustness of these boards. Essentially I was pretty sure that they worked, but I was having so many environmental issues with successfully proving that. Bas built one of the boards, and tested it thoroughly, giving me the confidence to commence production finally of these boards, in both built and kit form.
Rob Owen – Rob very kindly took me some excellent close-up images of his original DragonPlus board. They were a huge help in understanding the exact components that were used for the boards, as well as some of the finer design points.
Tim Gilberts – Tim bought one of my first kits, and he planned to fit it into a Dragon 32. He found a fair few issues which I’d not encountered in my own D32 installation, down to the different motherboard configurations. It’s thanks to Tim’s input that various things like header pins and the 26-way IDC socket arrangement have been refined.
If I’ve forgotten to add anyone to this list, please do let me know – they deserve recognition. I’d also like to generally thank the entire Dragon retro community, who have been patiently suffering my various DragonPlus rants over a year or so, and who have showed their support for the product once it finally became available.