Aquarius - Mattel home computer

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Aquarius - Mattel home computer

The 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 chiclet keyboard, 4 KB of RAM, and a subset of Microsoft BASIC in ROM. It connects to a TV for audio and video output and uses a cassette recorder for secondary storage. A limited number of peripherals were released, such as a 40-column thermal printer, a 4-color printer/plotter, and a 300 baud modem. The Aquarius was discontinued in October 1983, just a few months after its launch.

In an effort to compete in the home computer market, Mattel Electronics turned to Radofin, a Hong Kong maker of Intellivision consoles. Radofin developed two computer systems. Internally they were known as "Checkers" and the more complex "Chess". Mattel contracted them to become the Aquarius and Aquarius II, respectively. Aquarius was announced in 1982 and finally released in June 1983 for $160. Production was halted four months later due to poor sales. Mattel paid Radofin to get the marketing rights back. Four other companies: CEZAR Industries, CRIMAC, New Era Incentives and Bentley Industries also sold the device and accessories.

The Aquarius was often bundled with a Mini-Expander peripheral that added game pads, an additional cartridge port for memory expansion, and an AY-3-8914 sound chip. Other peripherals were a data logger, a 40-column thermal printer, 4K and 16K piston carts. Less common third-party peripherals include a 300 baud cartridge modem, a 32 KB RAM cart, a 4-color plotter, and a Quick Disk drive.

Although the Aquarius was cheaper than the Texas Instruments TI-99/4A and Commodore VIC-20, it had comparatively poor graphics and limited memory. Inside, Mattel's programmers adopted Bob Del Principe's fictitious slogan: "Aquarius is the system for the seventies." Of the 32 software titles announced by Mattel for the division, only 21 were released, most of which were ports of Intellivision games. Because of Aquarius's hardware limitations, the quality of many games suffered. Programmatic graphics were so lacking that Mattel added a special character set so that games could at least use character graphics.

According to a magazine of the time, "The Aquarius experienced one of the shortest lifetimes 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." Immediately after the release of the Aquarius, Mattel announced plans for the Aquarius II, and there is evidence that the Aquarius II entered the market in small numbers, but was also not a commercial success.


  • CPU: Zilog Z80 @ 3.5 MHz
  • Memory: 4 KB RAM, expandable to 20 KB RAM; 8K ROM Keyboard: 48-key chiclet chiclet keyboard
  • Display: TEA1002 chip generating 320 x 192 pixels (all available within borders), 40x24 text (with the 25th "zero" line at the top), formatted as 8x8 pixel character blocks, 80x72 addressable graphics, 16 colors
  • Sound: One voice, expandable to four voices
  • Ports: TV, cartridge/expansion, tape recorder, printer
  • Power supply: Non-removable external power supply built into the chassis providing 8.8 / 16 / 19 VDC