Mattel Aquarius

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Mattel Aquarius
ManufacturerMattel Electronics
TypeHome computer
Release dateJune 1983 (1983-06)
Introductory price160 US$ (today $490)
DiscontinuedOctober 1983 (1983-10)[1]
MediaCassette tape, ROM Cartridge
Operating systemMicrosoft BASIC
CPUZilog Z80A @ 3.5 MHz
Memory4KB RAM (expandable to 36KB), 8KB ROM
Display80x72 semigraphics in 16 colors (40x24 character text, 8x8 pixel font)
SoundOne voice
SuccessorAquarius II, Aquarius+

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 audiovisual 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.


The Aquarius with attached expansion block including 4KB RAM expansion and game cartridge inserted, controllers, and tape Data Recorder

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.[2]

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 General Instrument AY-3-8910 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.


The back of the Aquarius, showing connectors for TV out, an external cassette drive and printer

Although less expensive than the TI-99/4A and 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".[3] 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 (see Character set section), so the games could at least use semigraphics.

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."[4] 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,[2][5] but was also not a commercial success.

Technical specifications[edit]

  • CPU: Zilog Z80 @ 3.5 MHz
  • Memory: 4K RAM, expandable to 36K RAM; 8K ROM
  • Keyboard: 48-key rubber chiclet keyboard
  • Display: 80x72 semigraphics in 16 colors (TEA1002 chip, 40x24 text characters - with a 25th "zero" row at top - with a size of 8x8 pixels, equivalent to 320 x 192 pixels)
  • 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


Despite its relatively short time on the market, Mattel Electronics and Radofin managed to have most of the announced peripherals available within a month or so of the release of the system. Some products never materialized beyond prototype phase, and some were available only in specific markets. Beginning in 2016, new user-designed peripherals began to show up, mostly on eBay or on vintage computer forums such as AtariAge.

Name Product Type Year Creator Notes
Mini Expander System expander 1983 Mattel/Radofin Included two Hand Controllers, with slots for RAM and ROM cartridges. Difficult to find outside of North America
Data Recorder Serial storage device 1983 Mattel/Radofin Included data cable and sample software cassette
Thermal Printer Serial printer 1983 Mattel/Radofin Included printer cable and roll of thermal paper
Color Printer Serial plotter 1984 Mattel/Radofin Included printer cable, roll of paper, and spare pens. Unit was a rebrand of a similar Tandy/RS printer
Modem Cartridge-based 300 Baud Modem 1984 Mattel/Radofin Included phone cables and software on cassette
4k RAM RAM cartridge 1983 Mattel/Radofin Expanded available RAM to about 6k
Quick Disk Disk-based storage 1984? Mattel/Radofin? Released only as a prototype unit[6]
32k RAM RAM cartridge 2015 Jay Snellen, III Expanded available RAM to about 34k
Micro Expander System Expander 2016 Bruce Abbot Included 32k RAM, custom ROM with USB BASIC, USB interface, AY-3-8910 PSG, and 3.5mm audio out
Aquarius MX System Expander 2022 Harrington, Mack, Kaylor, et al. Included 32k RAM, custom ROM with MX BASIC 2.0, USB interface, AY-3-8910 PSG, and DB9 hand controller ports[7]


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.[8]

The cassette port a 5-pin female DIN 41524 connector

DIN41524 5 Pin Female 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.[8]

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.[8] 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.[8]

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:[8]

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[9][10][11]
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
0x £ ½ ¼ ¾ ÷ ©
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 🮎 🮍
Cx ·
� No Unicode equivalent

List of games[edit]

Around 75 games were published for this system.[12][13]

Commercial games 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
Battle Zone Add On Electronics 1984
Bounder Add On Electronics 1984
Breakout Add On Electronics 1984
Burger Time Data East 1982
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
Diamond Mine Add On Electronics 1984
Disco Fever Add On Electronics 1984
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
Ghost Hunter Dick Smith Electronics ????
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
Pack 1 (Bombardier, Fruit Machine, Hang Man, Alien Descent, Escape) Mercury House ????
Pack 2 (Dungeon Adventure, U-Boat, Golf, Star Catcher, Moonraker) Mercury House ????
Phrogger Add On Electronics 1984
Postman Pot Add On Electronics 1984
Rally Driver Micro Mart Software 1984
Scramble Micro Mart Software 1984
Shark! Mattel 1983
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
Homebrew games Publisher Release date
AlphaMix Oasis
Aquariworm Cronosoft 2020
Bomb Catcher II Cronosoft 2021
Bustout Cronosoft 2022
Crossword Computer Oasis
Doomsday Defender Cronosoft 2022
Electric Organ Oasis
Fall of the Eastern Blocks Leinen, Jason J. 1999
Flying Oasis
Football D.A. Spencer
Fruit Machine D.A. Spencer
Gunnery Oasis
Mastercode Oasis
Pontoon D.A. Spencer
Rollerball D.A. Spencer
Sketch Oasis
Ski D.A. Spencer
Solitaire Oasis
Space Collision D.A. Spencer
Spacepits D.A. Spencer
Strikeforce D.A. Spencer
Symmetry Oasis
Turmoil 2022 8-Bit Milli Games 2022[14]


  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. ^ a b "RADOFIN ELECTRONICS LIMITED AQUARIUS 2". OLD-COMPUTERS.COM. Archived from the original on 2011-07-20.
  3. ^ Klooster, Erik. "Mattel Aquarius - home computer with the shortest career". 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!'
  4. ^ "Mattel Aquarius Benchmark". COMPUTE!. April 1985. p. 18.
  5. ^ "Mattel Aquarius : Le chant du cygne". ColecORIC. 2007-03-11. Archived from the original on 2007-03-11. Retrieved 2023-06-17.
  6. ^ Spiranto (September 14, 2010). "Mattel Aquarius QD Disk Drive". YouTube. Retrieved December 1, 2023.
  7. ^ Harrington, Sean P. (October 14, 2022). "Aquarius MX". Retrieved December 1, 2023.
  8. ^ a b c d e "Mattel Aquarius FAQ". Horvat/Parrish, May 6, 2001 (accessed on Retrieved October 13, 2022.
  9. ^ "Mattel Aquarius Homecomputer system".
  10. ^ "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
  11. ^ Sources for L2/19-025 (PDF), 2019-01-04
  12. ^ "Mattel Aquarius". Universal Videogame List. Retrieved 2023-06-17.
  13. ^ "Mattel Aquarius Tape Software". Retrieved 2023-06-17.
  14. ^ Hicks, William (April 1, 2022). "Turmoil 2022 Aquarius". Retrieved December 2, 2023.

External links[edit]

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