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Mattel Aquarius

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Mattel Aquarius
TypeHome computer
Release dateJune 1983; 36 years ago (1983-06)
Introductory price160 US$ (today $402.49)
DiscontinuedOctober 1983 (1983-10)[1]
MediaCassette tape, ROM Cartridge
Operating systemMicrosoft BASIC
CPUZilog Z80A @ 3.5 MHz
Memory4KB RAM (expandable to 20KB), 8KB ROM

Aquarius is a home computer designed by Radofin and released by Mattel in 1983. It features a Zilog Z80 microprocessor, a rubber chiclet keyboard, 4K of RAM, and a subset of Microsoft BASIC in ROM. It connects to a television set for audio and visual output, and uses a cassette tape recorder for secondary data storage. A limited number of peripherals, such as a 40-column thermal printer, a 4-color printer/plotter, and a 300 baud modem, were released for the unit.


The Aquarius with attached expansion block including 4KB RAM expansion and game cartridge inserted, controllers, and tape Data Recorder
The back of the Aquarius, showing connectors for TV out, an external cassette drive and printer.

Looking to compete in the standalone computer market, Mattel Electronics turned to Radofin, the Hong Kong based manufacturer of their Intellivision consoles. Radofin had designed two computer systems. Internally they were known as "Checkers", and the more sophisticated "Chess". Mattel contracted for these to become the Aquarius and Aquarius II, respectively. Aquarius was announced in 1982 and finally released in June 1983, at a price of $160. Production ceased four months later because of poor sales. Mattel paid Radofin to take back the marketing rights, and four other companies—CEZAR Industries, CRIMAC Inc., New Era Incentives, Inc., and Bentley Industries—also marketed the unit and accessories for it. Bentley Industries (of Los Angeles) and New Era Incentives, Inc. (of St. Paul) are still in business, though they no longer have any affiliation with the Aquarius product line.

The Aquarius often came bundled with the Mini-Expander peripheral, which added game pads, an additional cartridge port for memory expansion, and the GI AY-3-8914 sound chip, which was the same one used on the Intellivision console. Other common peripherals were the Data recorder, 40 column thermal printer, 4K and 16K ram carts. Less common first party peripherals include a 300 baud cartridge modem, 32k RAM cart, 4 color plotter, and Quick Disk drive.

Although less expensive than the Texas Instruments TI-99/4A and Commodore VIC-20, the Aquarius had comparatively weak graphics and limited memory. Internally, Mattel programmers dubbed it "the system for the seventies"[citation needed]. Of the 32 software titles Mattel announced for the unit, only 21 were released, most of which were ports from Mattel's Intellivision game console. Because of the hardware limitations of the Aquarius (such as a lack of programmable graphics), the quality of many games suffered. This is in contrast to other home video game companies of the era such as Atari and Coleco, who were branching out into the home computer market with computers that matched or exceeded the capabilities of their dedicated gaming consoles.

The Aquarius was discontinued almost as soon as it hit store shelves; a magazine of the era declared the Aquarius had: "One of the shortest lifespans of any computer."[2] Just after the release of the Aquarius, Mattel announced plans for the release of the Aquarius II, and there is evidence that the Aquarius II reached the market in small numbers,[3][4] but was never a commercial success.

Technical specifications[edit]

  • CPU: Zilog Z80 @ 3.5 MHz
  • Memory: 4K RAM, expandable to 20K RAM; 8K ROM
  • Keyboard: 48-key rubber chiclet keyboard
  • Display: 320 x 192 pixels (all available within borders), 40x24 text (8 x 8 pixel character block), 80x72 addressable graphics, 16 colors
  • Sound: One voice, expandable to four voices
  • Ports: Television, cartridge/expansion, tape recorder, printer
  • PSU: Non-removable external power supply hard-wired into case providing 8.8 / 16 / 19 VDC

Game Cartridges:

  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Treasures of Tarmin (#4023)
  • Astrosmash (#4003)
  • Burger Time (#4653)
  • Bump and Jump (#4925C)
  • Night Stalker (#4595)
  • Reversi (#4594)
  • Snafu (#4028)
  • Tron Deadly Discs (#4024)
  • Utopia (#4596)
  • Chess (#4393)
  • Lock 'N' Chase (#4029)
  • Sea Battle


The Aquarius manual did not contain details of any of the ports available. The cassette port although using the same 5-Pin DIN 41524 connector as the TRS-80, did not have the same pin out and thus was incompatible with readily available cables for the TRS-80, even though they physically fit the sockets on both the computer and cassette player. The Aquarius branded cassette deck came with the appropriate cable.[5]

The cassette port a 5-pin female DIN 41524 connector

DIN41524 5 Pin Female connector
Pin Function Aquarius Function TRS-80
1 MIC REMote
2 Common Ground Common Ground
3 EAR REMote
4 Not used EAR
5 Not used MIC

The Aquarius using the pins the TRS-80 uses for remote motor control (not available on the Aquarius) for data in and out, whilst the data in and out for the TRS-80 are not connected.

The printer interface is a mini-stereo socket with 3 lines, the Aquarius printers came with their own cables. The interface conforms to RS-232 serial signal standards (+12VDC/-12VDC), with the knowledge of the pinout it is possible to interface printers with a corresponding RS-232 interface.[5] The serial is fixed to 1200 baud 8N2 and provided both carriage return and line feed commands to the printer, this the printer needed to be set to not auto feed with carriage return.[5]

Pin out for the connector on the Aquarius:

Aquarius Function
Tip Data Out (TxD)
Ring Printer Busy/Ready (DSR)
Sleeve Ground (GND)


  1. ^ Page 49, InfoWorld, 23 Jan 1984, ...John Allen, president of The Lisp Company...announcing TLC Logo, which could run on the Mattel Aquarius...Today, the Mattel Aquarius is virtually off the market...
  2. ^ COMPUTE! Magazine, April 1985.
  3. ^ Mattel Aquarius II at, retrieved October 6, 2006
  4. ^ Mattel Aquarius at[dead link] (translated via Babel Fish, original article), retrieved October 6, 2006 Archived March 11, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ a b c Horvat/Parrish, “Mattel Aquarius FAQ,” May 6, 2001.

External links[edit]