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back to article El Reg Contraption Confessional No.1: The Dragon 32 micro

It's probably fair to say that we all have some old tech squirrelled away that we just can't bear to part with. It's not just sentimentality either, but practicality: it still works, why chuck it out? Here at Vulture Central we've our own collection of junk tech memorabilia that would make us a tad dewy-eyed if it should depart …

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OF COURSE I still have my TRS-80! Are you mental??

My mother surprised me with that on Christmas 1979 when I was 14. It was probably because she had an ancient degree in computers herself. I got her old IBM flowchart template and "I could program!" so when I got an actual computer, I wasn't afraid of it.

I remember having a long discussion about why we needed to pop the $200+ or so to upgrade from 4K to 16K.

Heck, I still have the landscape "User's Manual For Level 1" with the whimsical sketches in the margin, as well as the much stuffier "Level II BASIC Reference Manual"

Sadly, it no longer gives the "MEMORY SIZE?" prompt or any other sign of life, despite still having the factory seal on it.

I do miss my Atari 400 & 800, and my various Amigas, especially the Amiga. I gave those away in a college move.

Edit: do people remember those thermal printers that were everywhere? The ones that printed on the silver rolls of paper and faded just about instantly in the sunlight?

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Re: OF COURSE I still have my TRS-80! Are you mental??

do people remember those thermal printers that were everywhere? The ones that printed on the silver rolls of paper and faded just about instantly in the sunlight?

Ah, the Sinclair ZX Printer....

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Anonymous Coward

Re: ZX Printer

The ZX Printer wasn't thermal though others may well have been.

The ZX Printer used special aluminised paper which was spark-eroded to remove the shiny thereby "printing" black where shiny used to be.

Whether something on these lines would nowadays get a CE mark (due to emissions) is arguable.

There's a Wikipedia article, but I'm speaking from personal experience.

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MrT
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Third-party ones were thermal...

... I had one for my Spectrum, took paper rolls a bit like till roll paper, went blue with the heat. Can't remember the make, but it was a bit bigger than the ZX Printer.

Back in the 80's a friend who owned a second-hand shop acquired a Dragon and various bits - a nice computer to work on. He saw the potential for using it in his shop, so I spent a fun few weeks one summer ('89 or '90 IIRC) writing a stock control system for it. I'd already written a "Garage Management" system on a Beeb a couple of years before that emulated the normal treeware daily job cards, matching the job details with available time in a week - the drag in that project was creating the database structure on disk and digitising the standard job time guides from my dad's garage.

My collection of attic classics include a BBC Master 128, an unbuilt ZX81 kit (Spanish manuals though), and my trusty QL. My 48k Speccy was the only one I ever sold on, to fund the QL. Also have some later troopers from 90's and early noughties, including an iPaq 5550 and pair of Psion 5s (one UK standard and one US-model MX).

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Windows

Re: Third-party ones were thermal...

Might the thermal printer have been called an Alphacom 32? I even tried printing off homework with it, looking back the first impression of bog-roll width paper wasn't improved upon by a later chemical reaction between the thermal paper and the pen ink meaning it turned from red to black and finally the print fading within weeks.

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MrT
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Re: Third-party ones were thermal...

That's the one! The paper didn't like fingerprint oil either. Faded like a Dixons receipt minutes after being "put somewhere safe" on the day of purchase. I even redesigned Speccy font sets to make things more legible, including one natty little handwriting script-style one. I even printed the memory dump of the font area to pass it on to somene else, but of course it faded the second it went through the postal system and arrived like a printed version of a Norman Collier transcript...

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Vic
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I've still got my Dragon32

...And I've got the Asteroids cartridge (which accounts for most of what I did with that machine).

My other oldie machines are largely gone, now though :-(

Vic.

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Re: I've still got my Dragon32

The oldest computer I definitely still have is my Acorn A3000.

I may still have my first laptop, the make of which I can't remember - it ran DOS, booted from floppy, and had a very small (3 or 4 x 80?) display.

But all the 8-bit classics - a Beeb, an Electron, a Memotech, a ZX81, etc. - all long since binned. (Before people started paying silly money for them on eBay.)

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Re: I've still got my Dragon32

Mine are all gone. When I left the UK, it was expensive enough to take the essentials with me, so I did a house clearance. :(

Although most of my PCs were sold on to raise funds for their replacments. The only one that I still have tabs on is my old Memotech MTX500, that is sitting in a shop window in Stadthagen, Germany.

The ZX81 was sold to help finance a VIC20, the VIC20 went to help purchase the Memotech, then I bought an Amstrad CPC6128, which got me through college. Then I sold that to fund a Commodore Amiga A500, that went to pay for an A1200. That stayed with me, until I moved. By that time I had been through 3 or 4 Windows PC generatios, but I still used the old A1200.

I also picked up an old Apricot Xi around 1990. 10MB hard drive, which was enough space for a GUI, WordStar, MultiMate, 2 C compilers, Pascal compiler, BASIC compiler, BASIC interpreter and C interpeter(!!) and still had a couple of MB free for documents. Try even fitting the basics of a GUI into 10MB these days!

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Re: I've still got my Dragon32

Never had a Dragon 32 but I did have another short-lived Welsh-made home micro, the MGT Sam Coupé. Still have that one in the loft in its original box. :)

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classic computing

I'm currently restoring my 1979 Apple II. Haven't had so much nerd fun in ages.

these old (Relatively ) personal computers are worth maintaining as they become rare.

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Re: classic computing

I'm currently restoring my 1979 Apple II

Wow - trip down memory lane :). I built one (you could buy the bare motherboards), and it was quite a soldering job...

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Re: classic computing

these old (Relatively ) personal computers are worth maintaining as they become rare.

Couldn't agree more. I own a IBM PC XT and IBM PS/2 Model 50. Both of these are becoming extremely rare. The Model 50 in particular is extremely rare, as I had been looking for one for the last 8 years and the only ones to come up were all in America. Finally, I saw this one on eBay a year ago for £50 and made the 200 mile round trip to London to pick it up.

I've had many battles with the girlfriend about these two machines (and a 3rd custom built 486 - which includes the invoice for all the parts inside it and their costs circa 1992), her not seeing the point in keeping these machines. I will be victorious and I will keep them for the future, for trips down memory lane.

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Sadly my Dragon died, but for some strange reason I still have the Premier Microsystems floppy drive/assembler/debugger cartridge. Much educational time spent hacking tape games to get them running off floppy.

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"I still have the Premier Microsystems "

Don't have the Dragon anymore but well remember getting the floppy drive & cartridge - started me off with Forth.

Pulled the 6809E, made a board up with a 6821 PIA and cable, wire-wrap socket for the 6809 and back into the original. Used it for a long time to build stuff. Remember writing a 6802 assembler in BASIC ! ( it took AGES to assemble ~256 bytes ) for one project. Eventually used it as a terminal/disk for a home-made 6809 FORTH system which I still have although it now runs off a Linux system acting as terminal/disk

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Set some to the Swindon Computer museum

I sent some of my Psion Organiser II kit to the Swindon Computer Museum. I know the people who dreamt up the museum idea, and that way it benefits more people, as I still have plenty of other things to collect dust with :)

I must ask them if they're interested in a pretty much new top-of-the-line Roland A3 flatbed plotter ("new" as in "printed maybe 20 A4 sheets in its life" new). This sort of tech is now only found in 3D printers, but I don't have the time for a hardware project, and retiring kit to a place where others can learn from it is IMHO much better than eBaying it...

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RF is a problem, but so to can be the RGB outputs of older machines. Often the voltage values are out of spec and while tolerated by analogue TV's, LCD's dislike them. Took a resister to one of the pins in the SCART to get the black level down on my Amiga. My SNES has a pattern over the RGB when displayed on an LCD but is fine on an old CRT.

And don't even start me on C64's and S-Video. The Chroma/Luma output was designed for Commodore monitors only. It happily also worked on analogue TV's when S-Video inputs became common. However on an LCD both my 64's display a chequerboard pattern than no resister so far has been able to totally remove meaning, for now, I'm stuck on grotty old composite.

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Actually RGB is, while found in some micros, a bit unusual. If you already have a graphics chip, it's typically simpler to generate Composite/S-Video directly, instead of going through RGB. RGB would mean adding an additional fairly complex PAL-encoder. That's also why micros typically had such strange colour palettes.

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Not only PAL encoding, but timing correction too, when it's done could be quite complicated.

The video system in the Dragon (and Tandy Color Computer) is based around the MC6847 video display generator. This chip was designed for an American market and gives NTSC compatible timing (525 lines, 60Hz) - it was designed to be clocked from a 3.57MHz (and a bit) NTSC colour-subcarrier oscillator. The Dragon, I believe adds extra logic to stop the clock at certain points to slow it down to 50Hz while adding in the extra lines to make it close enough to the PAL 625 line standard.

The basic Atom used the same chip, but kept it running with NTSC timing - this meant that the black and white output from an unmodified Atom came out with a 60Hz frame rate, and sometimes you had to adjust the vertical hold on the TV to get a picture (sometimes it worked better with old black and white TVs than colour ones). The second version of the colour adaptor did a similar style of timing trickery with the clock to get PAL timing out of it (The first version was a simpler affair that just created the PAL colours, but with NTSC frame timing).

The VTech Laser 200 used the same video chip, although I have no idea whether they fiddled with the timing.

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"Volume adjustments, messing with the cable - nothing could prevent the inevitable ?IO Errors. I suspect the tape lead is not what it once was."

90% of the problem is that the audio input on the ocmputer is line-in levels and the cassette output is expecting a speaker.

Electronics catalogues always used to have a few circuits to terminate earphone circuits properly and attenuate them for line-in levels. It only takes 4 resistors to do it properly.

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Or you could just buy a very ordinary looking cassette player from Tandy, which sported line out in addition to the usual line in and headphone sockets.....

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Still have a Color Computer III with 2 disk drives I pull out occasionally. There is still active development on the NitrOS-9 operating system for it.

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Trollface

Maybe one should give that hardware to a shinto shrine. It could come in handy in the near future.

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Anonymous Coward

Uh...

Steins;Gate != reality

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Ahh yes, old micros...

My original BBC Micro B+ died a long time ago and I sold my Amiga which still makes me annoyed that I did it - but the £100 came in useful at the time.

Fortunately, I was given an Amiga 500 by someone who didn't want it and purchased a BBC Micro model B on eBay. UHF output is incredibly bad on my LCD TV, with the RGB output being tolerable for both.

Good thing about the Beeb is that I managed to pick up one of those MMC card-to-User port kits (one 128MB card stores stores over 100 BBC floppies with lots of room to spare :)).

Anyone remember trying to turn their 40 track single sided BBC floppy discs into 40 track double sided ones by cutting a section out of the plastic sleeve (also known as a flippy-floppy)?

Ahh the good old days! They don't make 'em like they used to..... ;)

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Famous first words

(C) 1982 DRAGON DATA LTD

16 K BASIC INTERPRETER 1.0

(C) 1982 BY MICRISIFT

24871 BYTES FREE

OK

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RF

The RGB monitor output on the back of the Dragon is good enough to drive a SCART (though we likely won't have those on our tellys much longer either) with a properly hacked together cable.

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Currently have a Beeb, Ti99/4a, VCS, Spectrum, C64 and Atari 800xl set up in my living room. Admittedly I'm having a retro gaming night :)

All of the above with the exception of the TI99/4a are loading from SD of CF card. So there really isn't any need to worry about tapes and old floppies.

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hywel@bendigedig.co.uk

Sold my Dragon-32 in 1988 to an electronics student at the Poly of Wales to strip for components. Beer money > nostalgia at the time.

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I have a PDP-11/05 (circa 1975) I rescued from a Skip plus a VS-11 Graphics Device. I will wow the grandkids on Boxing Day playing Lunar Lander. It will also heat the room at the same time.

I have the full schematics for it as well. All 74 series IC's and a wire wrapped backplane.

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PDP-11

"I have the full schematics for it as well. All 74 series IC's and a wire wrapped backplane."

Photos and a video of the gameplay please....

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PDP-11

I have a PDP-11/05 (circa 1975)

How big is it? I worked on a slightly younger PDP-11/23 and it was the size of a wardrobe, with massive lead weights in the bottom (which we only discovered after carrying it upstairs). I also briefly worked on a PDP-8. That was the size of two sideboards.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: PDP-11

"I worked on a slightly younger PDP-11/23 and it was the size of a wardrobe,"

The 11/23 itself wasn't the size of a wardrobe, the stuff around it might well have been.

You could get a perfectly workable 11/23 (except for proper mass storage) in a variant of a VT100 [1] called a VT103. In fact if all you wanted was boot-and-go for (say) a piece of dedicated automation kit, the mass storage problem was already solved, either by the built in TU58 (physical size of a DAT tape, block addressable like a proper disk, just about big enough for a subset of a tiny OS like RT11) or by an external disk (floppy was officially supported, bigger needed extra courage). TU58s were connected via a serial line so if you were clever you used an emulated TU58 on the far end of a serial line so there was no tedious waiting for the TU58 to seek.

"I also briefly worked on a PDP-8. That was the size of two sideboards."

As with the PDP11, various models were available, some smaller than others.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VT100

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Sharp MZ-720 threat

Now I feel the urge to get my Sharp MZ-720 out of the basement, so unloved, unused and unfitted with any OS no to mention any BASIC (you have to load it all first). Cool for CP/M though.

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Re: Sharp MZ-720 threat

I always wanted the Sharp MZ80B. It looked so space age, compared to the rest, sort of a TRS-80 taken to the next level.

I lost hours drooling over the Tandys in the local Tandy in Crawley... Then the Apricots came along. I picked up an old Xi with 10MB hard drive in around 1990. I wanted the Xen, with the built in telephone in the keyboard...

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One suggestion

Chuck out the Dragon32's internals and replace them with a cheap, second hand laptop's innards. Use it to run MESS (mess.org) which will emulate the Dragon32 (and a whole heap of others) in a cute 'retro' case and with the benefit of HDMI-out.

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Re: One suggestion

No. Just No...

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Re: One suggestion

Yes! yes!

in fact scrap the Dragon case , just use your imagination.

That one laptop can emulate every machine your nostalgia can handle.

That's a few acres less dusting to do.

I just wish i could store my other junk on a laptop hard drive. Instead I have a shed full of car parts :)

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Re: One suggestion

"That one laptop can emulate every machine your nostalgia can handle...

I just wish i could store my other junk on a laptop hard drive. Instead I have a shed full of car parts :)"

<slightly tongue in cheek>

By that logic, can't you just get one high performance car and tune the engine management computer and suspension system to emulate a range of classic cars?

</slightly tongue in cheek>

While emulation has its place, you can't replace the buzz of restoring and firing up the original hardware from the days when 8 bits, a couple of MHz clock frequency, and memory measured in kBytes were the norm.

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Re: One suggestion

Take a modern car, and strip half the insulation off all the wiring, then pour salt water on the rest to simulate classic 1970s British car electronics

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Re: One suggestion

"By that logic, can't you just get one high performance car......"

lol, touche :)

but my joy in cars comes in getting a 80's soprts car worth next to nothing and making it outperform the modern equivalents. luckily its easier than it would be with home computers!

althought the 8 bits always did on a pro rata hardware power basis.

theres a vid on youtube of a specrum doing streaming video, pretty cool!

and obvioulsy to showcase that you need the original box :)

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I thought that the Dragon was the best thing in town at the time.. no "dead flesh" keys for me...I learned how to poke stuff into the video on it and then write 6809 assembler with a MASSAM cartridge (which I later considered to be a RISC instruction set compared to the Z80). This was aided by my well-thumbed copy of "Inside the Dragon" that actually looked like it had been typed on a manual typewriter but surely must have been Wordprocessed.

I also remember being quite pleased at managing to get it to play intelligently on a screen-based version of a board game I owned called "Zonkers" that I created.... I was so surprised at how well my algorithm played that I had to show the cards it was 'holding' to prove it wasn't somehow 'cheating' by randomizing the cards! It seems that I got the weighting of which card to play so close to optimum that I rarely beat it...hardly A.I. I know, but I was only a hobbyist programmer working as a TV engineer at the time and I felt like I had written the Zonkers equivalent of the "Deep Thought" algorithm (which didn't yet exist, but you get the idea). Happy days, and something new learned or achieved almost every day.

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Ah... memory fail on the assembler cartridge....it was called Demon/DASM

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The official Dragon Data assembler/disassembler cartridge was called Alldream. Dream = DRagon Editor AsseMbler, IIRC

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While I was rummaging through a box...

... I knew I had a Beeb and various members of the Archimedes family, but now I apparently have an Electron. Mmm, don't remember picking that up anywhere. Maybe I'll play with it if I can find anything capable of playing tapes...or, do I even have any tapes? Can one download WAVs of these things?

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Re: While I was rummaging through a box...

Grab some UEFs from stairwaytohell.com then use something like uefreader.sourceforge.net to output as audio...

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Re: While I was rummaging through a box...

There are companies selling a modern board that pretends to be a disk drive to your old computer and uses an SD card for actual storage. It's a clever solution - you don't need to mangle your old machine, you don't need to battle with analogue audio signals and you control it all using whatever user interface the manufacturer actually intended.

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Nostalgia

I feel nostalgic when I call to mind those elderly instruction sets and codes to which futurity has been unkind.

Programming now is in quite other modes and writing in assembler on a pi will take you far down most unfriendly roads. Even Arduino makes me wonder why a simple board with an instruction set like the 6800, so the kids can try direct drive to a LED or buffer FET from plain instructions, wouldn't serve to make the basics harder to forget.

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Someone Else's Nostalgia in my basement

I bought the local access channel's Amiga 4000T when they moved buildings, thinking I would at least play some original Amiga classics (Shadow of the Beast is the only one that actually comes to mind). I never did, and it's still sitting in my basement. I'm sure *somebody* wants it, but I haven't gotten around to finding that someone yet.

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Re: Someone Else's Nostalgia in my basement

"I bought the local access channel's Amiga 4000T when they moved buildings, thinking I would at least play some original Amiga classics (Shadow of the Beast is the only one that actually comes to mind). I never did, and it's still sitting in my basement. I'm sure *somebody* wants it, but I haven't gotten around to finding that someone yet."

rather amazingly they fetch a fortune on ebay. 2 on there just now for 400 quid each.

I bought one in 2001 when I got the nostalgia bug - it had all the bits - picasso card, etc,etc... would have cost many 1000s in the day.

But after a brief play with, it ended up sitting gathering dust again. so it got sold to the next nostalgia buff.

As of now, the garage has:

1x zx81

1x rubber key spectrum

1x 128k spectrum

1x QL (in original box, etc... but keyboard flecked)

1 original apple mac (with external HD)

1 later apple mac with HD

1 apple mac iifx and monitor.

I dunno why I keep em..

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