Mattel Aquarius
Released:June 1983
Discontinued:October 1983
How many sold:8000(?) in US and Australia
Price :US $160
CPU:Zilog Z80A @ 3.5 MHz
RAM:4K RAM, 20K max
Display:Built-in TV modulator
40 X 24 text
80 X 72 graphics, 16 colors
Expansion:expansion connector
Ports:TV modulator
printer, tape recorder
Storage:cassette recorder
OS:Microsoft-Aquarius BASIC 1.0

Mattel had been riding-high on sales of its Intellivision game machine. But now they wanted something better, a real computer.

Since they themselves never designed or manufactured the Intellivision, they didn't plan on designing a new computer either. But they found someone who would: Radofin Electronics Far East, from Hong Kong.

Actually, Radofin Electronics had always been the manufacturer of the Intellivision for Mattel, and by now Radofin had also designed a small, inexpensive computer.

Mattel bought the rights to this new machine, and started marketing it in the US as the Aquarius Home Computer System.

The Aquarius was announced in 1982, but wasn't actually shown to the public until the Las Vegas Winter CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in January of 1983.

Mattel released a number of expansion peripherals for the Aquarius:
  • 4K and 16K RAM memory cartridges
  • Aquarius printer
  • Aquarius modem
  • Data (casette) recorder
  • "Mini-Expander" module with two cartridge slots, improved audio and two game controller

    People noticed, but were unimpressed. Although inexpensive at $160, there were many, many other computer systems available with better features - 1983 was a very busy year for personal computers. With its limitations, the Aquarius is more of a game machine than a computer anyway.

    The first X-10 computer controlled device was developed for the Aquarius, the "Aquarius Home Computer System Command Console". It would allow the Aquarius to control household lights and small appliances via X-10 remote-control devices. Sadly, the Aquarius disappeared before the controller was even released, so it was adapter to the TRS-80 Color Computer instead.
    Mattel released most of their software on cartridges, small modules that plug into the back-right of the Aquarius console.
    They have a very odd shape , but for a reason. When plugged into the Aquarius, they blend into the console, becoming totally unnoticeable. The system seen below has the 4K RAM expansion cart installed.

    Released cartridges include:
    - "Snafu"
    - "Utopia"
    - "FinForm" (spreadsheet)
    - "FileForm" (database/word processor)
    - 4K RAM memory expansion
    - 16K RAM memory expansion
    - 300 baud modem (yes, in a cartridge)

    There's actually not much inside the typical Aquarius cartridge, usually one to three IC chips with the game or application already burned-in for instant access.

    Seen here on the right is the circuit board from inside the "Fileform" cart.

    It is quite uncommon, as it has an EPROM chip with a hand-written label. An EPROM (Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory) is more of a temporary method of making a program chip, because it can be erased and used over again. Either all FileForm carts were made this slow and expensive way, or this is a very early version.

    The vast majority of carts have a ROM (Read Only Memory) chip (which can never be altered) with a generic label machine-printed right onto the chip.

    For further capabilities, Mattel released the Aquarius Mini Expander. It plugs into the expansion slot on the Aquarius, adding additional sound capability, and two expansion slots instead of the original one on the Aquarius.

    From the 1983 Aquarius Home Computer Catalog catalog:

    Lets you enjoy outstanding Aquarius video games from up to eight feet away. The Mini Expander features two detachable hand controllers, each with a l6-position control disc and 6 action buttons. Plus an audio enhancer that gives Aquarius three full sound channels to make game play even more exciting.

    The Mini Expander simply plugs into the cartridge port of the Aquarius unit. The Mini Expander itself has two ports to let the user plug in a 4K or 16K RAM cartridge and a software cartridge at the same time. Allows even more capability for home management and learning applications.

    Although there are two cartridge slots in the Mini Expander, one has to be a memory cart, the other has to be a program cart. This allows for more advanced application use, with the additional memory.

    The Mini Expander is a nice addition, but the 'hand controllers' have to be about the cheapest controllers I have ever seen!

  • The Aquarius has a tiny 4K of system RAM, with only 1.7K available to the user.
  • The keyboard is small and difficult to use, but it has nice rubber keys
  • Like most inexpensive computers, your television is the only display

    Because the Aquarius was quite unpopular, Mattel pulled the Aquarius from the market just 4 months after releasing it.
    In 1984, they sold the rights to the Aquarius back to Radofin and got out of the computer business entirely.
    They even sold the rights to the once-popular Intellivision game system to some former employees and investors.

    Related Links

  • Aquarius FAQ from Digital Press
  • Steenoven's Aquarius computer page

  • Return to the Obsolete Technology Homepage