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Mattel Aquarius

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Mattel Aquarius
Mattel Aquarius logo.svg
Mattel-Aquarius-Computer-FL.jpg
TypeHome computer
Release dateJune 1983 (1983-06)
Introductory price160 US$ (today $440)
DiscontinuedOctober 1983 (1983-10)[1]
MediaCassette tape, ROM Cartridge
Operating systemMicrosoft BASIC
CPUZilog Z80A @ 3.5 MHz
Memory4KB RAM (expandable to 20KB), 8KB ROM
InputKeyboard
PredecessorIntellivision
SuccessorAquarius II

Aquarius is a home computer designed by Radofin and released by Mattel Electronics in 1983. Based on the Zilog Z80 microprocessor, the system has 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. The Aquarius was discontinued in October 1983, only a few months after it was launched.

History[edit]

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 home 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. Four other companies: CEZAR Industries, CRIMAC, New Era Incentives, and Bentley Industries also marketed the unit and accessories.

The Aquarius was often bundled with the Mini-Expander peripheral, which added game pads, an additional cartridge port for memory expansion, and the AY-3-8914 sound chip. Other 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 adopted Bob Del Principe's mock slogan, "Aquarius -a system for the seventies".[2] Of the 32 software titles Mattel announced for the unit, only 21 were released, most of which were ports of Intellivision games. Because of the hardware limitations of the Aquarius,the quality of many games suffered. There was such a lack of programmable graphics that Mattel added a special character set, so the games could at least use character graphics.

As a magazine of the time put it, "The Aquarius suffered one of the shortest lifespans of any computer—it was discontinued by Mattel almost as soon as it hit store shelves, a victim of the 1983 home computer price wars."[3] Just after the release of the Aquarius, Mattel announced plans for the Aquarius II, and there is evidence that the Aquarius II reached the market in small numbers,[4][5] but was also not a commercial success.

Technical specifications[edit]

Motherboard
  • CPU: Zilog Z80 @ 3.5 MHz
  • Memory: 4K RAM, expandable to 20K RAM; 8K ROM
  • Keyboard: 48-key rubber chiclet keyboard
  • Display: TEA1002 chip, generating 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

Interfacing[edit]

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.[6]

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 MIC and EAR connections from the Aquarius each go to the tip/center of one of the two mini-plugs being attached to the recorder; Ground goes to the base/outside of both mini-plugs.[6]

The printer interface is a mini-stereo socket with 3 lines, the same as on the Mattel Entertainment Computer System. 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.[6] The serial is fixed to 1200 baud 8N2 and provided both carriage return and line feed commands to the printer, thus the printer needed to be set to not auto feed with carriage return.[6]

Pin out for the connector on the Aquarius:

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

Typical serial printers had DB-25 interfaces; some had DE-9 interfaces; and, some Radio Shack (RS) printers had round 4-pin female DIN connector serial interfaces (with the pin sockets numbered left-to-right: 4, 3, 2, 1). The proper cable for connecting such a printer is as follows:[6]

MINI-STEREO PLUG      DB-25    DE-9     RS       FUNCTION
Tip/Center of Plug    Pin 3    Pin 2    Pin 4    Data to Printer
Middle of Plug        Pin 20   Pin 4    Pin 2    Printer Busy/Ready 
Base/Outside          Pin 7    Pin 5    Pin 3    Signal Ground

Character set[edit]

The following table shows the Mattel Aquarius character set. Each character is shown with a potential Unicode equivalent if available.

Mattel Aquarius[7][8][9]
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
0x £ ½ ¼ ¾ ÷ ©
1x
2x  SP  ! " # $ % & ' ( ) * + , - . /
3x 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 : ; < = > ?
4x @ A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O
5x P Q R S T U V W X Y Z [ \ ] ^ _
6x ` a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o
7x p q r s t u v w x y z { | } ~
8x 🮏 🮌
9x 🮎 🮍
Ax NBSP Mattel Aquarius character 0xA1.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xA2.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xA3.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xA4.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xA5.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xA6.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xA7.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xA8.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xA9.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xAA.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xAB.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xAC.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xAD.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xAE.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xAF.png
Bx Mattel Aquarius character 0xB0.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xB1.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xB2.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xB3.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xB4.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xB5.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xB6.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xB7.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xB8.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xB9.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xBA.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xBB.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xBC.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xBD.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xBE.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xBF.png
Cx ·
Dx
Ex Mattel Aquarius character 0xE0.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xE1.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xE2.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xE3.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xE4.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xE5.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xE6.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xE7.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xE8.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xE9.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xEA.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xEB.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xEC.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xED.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xEE.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xEF.png
Fx Mattel Aquarius character 0xF0.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xF1.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xF2.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xF3.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xF4.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xF5.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xF6.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xF7.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xF8.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xF9.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xFA.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xFB.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xFC.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xFD.png Mattel Aquarius character 0xFE.png
� No Unicode equivalent

List of games[edit]

Title Publisher Release date
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin Mattel 1982
Aliens Add On Electronics 1983
Aquapack 1 (Snake, Breakout, Moon Shuttle) Apocalypse Software ????
Astrosmash Mattel 1983
Aquariworm Cronosoft 2020
Battle Zone Add On Electronics 1984
Bounder Add On Electronics 1984
Bomb Catcher II Cronosoft 2021
Breakout Add On Electronics 1984
Burger Time Data East 1982
Bustout Cronosoft 2022
Chess (Dick Smith Electronics) Dick Smith Electronics 1983
Chess (Mattel) Mattel 1983
Chuckman Add On Electronics 1983
D-Fenders Add On Electronics 1983
Deathrace Apocalypse Software ????
Demo Cassette (Stalactites, Macho-Man, Torment, Cute Cubes, Alien Quest, Mad Mould) Radofin Electronics 1983
Disco Fever Add On Electronics 1984
Doomsday Defender Cronosoft 2022
Ed-On Add On Electronics 1983
First Adventure Digital Output 1984
Games Pack 1 (Stalactites, Macho-Man, Othello, Mutants) Add On Electronics 1983
Games Pack 2 (Bounder, Local Bomber, Breakout, Night Driver) Custom Cables International 1984
Games Pack 3 (Metior, Sheepdog, Mastermind, Depthcharge) Custom Cables International 1984
Games Pack 4 (Painter, Pontoon, Grand Prix, Alien Storm) Custom Cables International 1984
GamesTape (Dodge It, Trojan Dragon, Death Trap, Tablets of Hippocrates) Fawkes Computing 1984
Gamespack 1 (Snake, Masterguess, Symon, Bomber, Hi-Lo) Processor Software 1984
Gamespack 2 (Collector, Blocked!, Rocket Run, Minefield, Air-Defence) Processor Software 1984
Grid Bug Add On Electronics 1983
Hopper Microdeal 1984
Invaders Dick Smith Electronics 1984
Kronos Europea Cassette (Gamble, Gunfight, Mad Mould, Outline) Radofin Electronics 1984
Maths Armada Dick Smith Electronics 1984
Mazantics Add On Electronics 1983
Melody Chase Mattel 1983
Millypede Add On Electronics 1983
Mower Man Add On Electronics 1984
N-Vaders Add On Electronics 1983
Night Stalker Mattel 1982
Outpack 1 (Snake, Masterguess, Symon, Bomber, Hi-Lo) Digital Output 1984
Outpack 2 (Collector, Blocked, Rocket Run, Minefield, Air-Defence) Digital Output 1984
Outpack 3 (Gunfight, Gambler, Moonlander, Tracker, Nim) Digital Output 1984
Outpack 4 (Super Slot, Golf, Invasion, Killer Sub, Survival) Digital Output 1984
Outpack 5 (Timetrap, Gro-Worm, Wampus Gold, Bumpers, Space Shoot) Digital Output 1984
Pac Mr Add On Electronics 1983
Phrogger Add On Electronics 1984
Postman Pot Add On Electronics 1984
Rally Driver Micro Mart Software 1984
Scramble Micro Mart Software 1984
Snafu Mattel 1982
Space Ram Dick Smith Electronics 1984
Space Speller Mattel 1983
Tracker Digital Output ????
Tron Deadly Discs Mattel 1982
Utopia Mattel 1982
Zero In Mattel 1983
Zorgon's Kingdom Romik Software 1984

References[edit]

  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. ^ Klooster, Erik. "Mattel Aquarius - home computer with the shortest career". computermuseum.50megs.com. Retrieved 2020-01-28. Besides that, the Mini Expander was equipped with the same sound chip (AY-3-8914) as the Intellivision. But that didn't appeal to the programmers: they almost considered it as a punishment to develop a game for the Aquarius. Programmer Bob Del Principe even invented this cynical slogan: 'Aquarius - system for the seventies!'
  3. ^ "Mattel Aquarius Benchmark". COMPUTE! Magazine, April 1985, p18. April 1985. Retrieved April 4, 2020.
  4. ^ Mattel Aquarius II at old-computers.com Archived 2006-11-19 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved October 6, 2006
  5. ^ Mattel Aquarius at perso.orange.fr[dead link] (translated via Babel Fish, original article), retrieved October 6, 2006 Archived March 11, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ a b c d e Horvat/Parrish, "Mattel Aquarius FAQ," May 6, 2001.
  7. ^ "Mattel Aquarius Homecomputer system".
  8. ^ "Figure 4. Mattel Aquarius character set" (PDF), L2/19-025: Proposal to add characters from legacy computers and teletext to the UCS, 2019-01-04, p. 20
  9. ^ Sources for L2/19-025 (PDF), 2019-01-04

External links[edit]

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