The Mattel Aquarius F.A.Q.
Version Aqua.01 - August 2000
Created by Fred Horvat
Maintained by Sly D.C.

This F.A.Q. is based on the Mattel Aquarius made by Fred Horvat.
Since it wasn't updated since ???, i sent an e-mail to Fed asking him
if he would do an update soon or if i could maintained his FAQ. Well
sad to say that my e-mail was sent back to me saying that his e-mail
couldn't be delivered since his account was an user unknow.

So i decided to maintain his FAQ until i hear from him, hope that he 
doesn't mind...(and the new look!).

O.K.,Here's the legal stuff: Copyright(c) 2000, Fred Horvat and 
Sylvain De Chantal. 

All rights reserved. This document may be copied, in whole or in part,
by any means provided the copyright and contributors sections remain
intact and no fee is charged for the information. Contributors retain 
the copyright to their individual contributions.

The data contained here in is provided for informational purposes
only. No warranty is made with regards to the accuracy of some
Additional contributions IS welcome! (always needed!!) 
Please mail additional information,opinions, and comments to : 

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Where to get this F.A.Q.:

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Welcome to the FAQ about the 


1.0) The Mattel Aquarius 
2.0) Mattel Aquarius specs
3.0) Software List
3.5) Accessory List
4.0) Unreleased/Protos List
4.5) More Inputs
5.0) Aquarius Emulator
6.0) Credits


1.0) The Mattel Aquarius 

The Mattel Aquarius Home Computer System is mostly considered by many
a computer but if you ask many other collectors, they would say that it
was a better video game system than a computer. 

History by the Blue Sky Rangers: (info taken on their web site)

Once the original Intellivision Keyboard Component was officially dead, 
Mattel Electronics felt they needed a real computer in their product 
line (no, the ECS didn't count). Since the new computer didn't have to 
interface with the Intellivision, they were free to shop for an existing 
system that they could simply market under their name. They found it 
right under their noses -- Radofin Electronics Far East, a Hong Kong 
company that had done much of the manufacturing of the Intellivision for 
Mattel, had designed a Z80-based line of three computers. Mattel 
committed to distribute the first two of these. In-house, they were 
code-named Checkers and Chess; eventually they would be named Aquarius
and Aquarius II.

Mattel required changes to make Aquarius into a stronger game computer. 
An add-on unit (Mini-Expander) was designed that included a sound chip 
and hand-controllers (to make it easier for programmers, the same 
GI AY-3-8914 sound chip used in the Intellivision was used in the Mini-
Expander). In addition, the character set was enlarged: since Aquarius 
didn't have the capability for programmable graphics, the character set 
had to include animations and background pieces that would allow for 
building game screens. The programmers were consulted on what they felt 
would be needed to design screens for games that hadn't even been 
discussed yet. Based on their input, the Mattel Electronics graphic 
designers, principally Joe Ferreira, Monique Lujan-Bakerink, and Peggi 
Decarli, put together a character set that, in addition to the alphabet 
and numbers, included running men, a robot, explosions, and a variety 
of geometric shapes.

Even with this character set, the graphic limitations of the Aquarius 
were so bad that artists looked upon it as punishment when assigned to 
work on an Aquarius game. Designer Bob Del Principe summed up most of 
the artists' and programmers' feelings when he proposed a slogan for 
the 1983 debut: "Aquarius -- System for the Seventies!"

(The Aquarius II had programmable graphics, but no game design was ever 
started at Mattel for that machine. There was a brief discussion of 
adding programmable graphics capability to the first Aquarius -- dubbing 
it the Aquarius 1.5 -- but nothing ever came of it.)

"System for the Seventies" seemed to sum up the public's opinion of the 
Aquarius, also. It totally bombed. It was introduced in Spring 1983 with 
the Mini-Expander, Printer, Data Recorder, Memory Cartridges and a handful 
of games. By summer, Mattel had canceled plans to release Aquarius II and 
additional peripherals. An announced on-line service never materialized. 
In fall, they literally paid Radofin to take back the Aquarius and let them 
out of their contract. Radofin got the unsold stock, all marketing rights, 
plus a "reasonably substantial" amount of cash, according to Allan Meek, 
secretary for Fobel International, the London-based company that owned 

Confident in their system, Radofin's president, Lawrence M. Scott, Jr., 
announced that they would continue to sell Aquarius through a new 
distributor, and would release Aquarius II in March of 1984 and Aquarius 
III in July. None of this happened. 


2.0) Mattel Aquarius specs
Year: 1984 (read section 4.5 to know why...)
Processor: Zilog Z80A 
Clock Speed: 4 MHz 
Internal RAM: 4K (externally expandable to 20K) 
Internal ROM: 10K (8K for Microsoft Basic, 2K character ROM)
Video Output: * Text mode - 40 character x 24 line 
* Graphics mode - 80 x 72 pixels (claimed, may be higher) 
Color Display: 16
Keyboard: 49-keys with shift and control keys 
Sound: 1 sound channel 
Expansion Slot: For program cartridges and Mini Expander 
I/O Port: * TV connector (RF modulator) 
* Tape connector (5-pin DIN) 
* Printer connector (3.5mm stereo jack)
Size: 13.5 x 6 x 2 inches 

Uses a special version of the Microsoft Basic. When it is used with 
basic, only 1.7 KB are available. 

Mattel Aquarius 2 specs:
Year: 1984
Processor: Zilog Z80A 
Clock Speed: 4 MHz 
Internal RAM: 20K (4 KB & extension 16 KB, up to 52 KB) 
Internal ROM: 14K 
Video Output: * Text mode - 40 character x 24 line 
* Graphics mode - 80 x 72 pixels or 320 X 192
Color Display: 16
Sound: 1 sound channel
Keyboard: 49?-keys with shift and control keys 
Expansion Slot: For program cartridges and Mini Expander 

A special version of Logo, called Aquarius Logo was developped 
for this computer.


3.0) Software List 

Game Cartridges: Product#:
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Treasures of Tarmin 4023
Astrosmash 4003
Burgertime 4653
Night Stalker 4595
Snafu 4028
Tron Deadly Discs 4024
Utopia 4596

Software Available:
FILEFORM - is a database/word processing program. (#4177)
FINFORM - is a 63 column by 255 row spread sheet program. (#4178)
LOGO - is a graphics program with Turtle Graphics. (#4391)

Tape Available:
Single tape, title unknown. Packed with the Radofin Aquarius.
- Alien Quest, Cute Cubes, Macho-Man, Mad Mad Mould, Stalactites
and Torment.


3.5) Accessory List

Mini Expander - was an expansion system that made game playing more 
exciting and easier. Came with 2 detachable 6 key 16 position disk hand 
controllers (similar to Intellivision controllers but with 6 keys instead 
of 12 and no side fire buttons). The unit added 2 additional sound 
channels. Had two cartridge slots one for a memory cartridge and the 
other for a program cartridge. (#4063)

Data Recorder - A sequential file medium cassette player to store data 
and programs. 

Printer - 40 column thermal printer. 80 cps in upper/lower case text 
and 20 graphic lines per second. 

300 Baud Modem with originate/answer capability to allow upload/
download ability. 

Extra RAM Carts: 4K RAM Cartridge & 16K RAM Cartridge. 

A special peripheral called BSR X-10 was developped for this computer, 
it allows the Aquarius to directly control up to 255 electric devices. 
When it is used with the BSR, the Aquarius can't be used for anything 
else. Anyone knows if it been ever released ???


4.0) Unreleased/Protos List

Thanks for a posting from Andrew Davie, we know way more about all the
software and accessories that were never released. It's just a pity
that Andrew has parted of his huge Mattel Aquarius collection, it would
have been nice to see pictures, screen shots and scans of the manuals.

Game Cartridge List:
* Bump 'N' Jump 
* Chess 
* Lock 'N' Chase 
* Maths & Mazes 
* Melody Chase (#4652) 
* Sea Battle 
* Space Speller 

Software List:
* Extended Microsoft Basic (#4392) - would give you most if not all the 
remaining commands of MBasic. With this you were also able to access 
the Mini Expanders controllers to write games to use them. 

* Hints From Heloise - Was to be a Question and answer program with 
helpful hints for common household questions. Heloise is an author 
of a popular newspaper column and an authority on housekeeping. 

Tape Game List:
* 3D BATTLE ZONE by Add-On Electronics. 16K tape.
* ALIENS by Add-On Electronics. 16K tape.
* BOUNDER by Add-On Electronics. 16K tape.
* BREAK OUT by Add-On Electronics. 16K tape.
* CHESS (#X-6203) by Dick Smith Electronics. 16K tape.
* CHUCKMAN by Add-On Electronics. 16K tape.
* D-FENDERS by Add-On Electronics. 16K tape.
* ED-ON by Add-On Electronics. 16K tape.
* GAMES PACK 1 by Add-On Electronics. 2K tape, has these following 
games: Stalactites, Macho-Man, Othello and Mutants. Note that
Stalactites and Macho-Man were available with the Radofin Aquarius.
* GAMES PACK 2 by Add-On Electronics - 1984. 2K tape, has these
following games: Crazy Plane, Torment, Alien Quest and Rick O'Shea.
Note that Torment & Alien Quest were available with the Radofin
* GAMES PACK 3 by Add-On Electronics. 2K tape. Games unknown.
* GAMES PACK 4 by Add-On Electronics. 2K tape. Games unknown.
* GRID BUG by Add-On Electronics. 16K tape.
* INVADERS (#X-6110) by Dick Smith Electronics. 2K tape.
* MATHS ARMARDA (#X-6200) by Dick Smith Electronics. 16K tape.
* MILLYPEDE by Add-On Electronics. 16K tape.
* "N"VADERS by Add-On Electronics. 16K tape. 
* OUTPACK 1 by Digital Output. 2K tape, has these following games:
Bomber, Hi-Lo, Masterguess, Snake & Symon.
* PAC MR. by Add-On Electronics. 16K tape.
* PHROGGER by Add-On Electronics. 2K tape.
* POSTMAN PAT (in 1984) by Costum Cables International. 16K tape. 
* READ IT (#X-6201) by Dick Smith Electronics. 16K tape.
* SPACE RAM (#X-6109) by Dick Smith Electronics. 2K tape.
* SPELL IT (#X-6202) by Dick Smith Electronics. 16K tape.

Hardware List:
* 16K Memory (internal) for the Light Pen. Prototype.

* 16K Memory for the Light Pen (#4215). Several exist with box & manual.

* 4K Memory for the Light Pen.

* 32K Memory for the Light Pen (#4217). With box.

* 32K RAM Cartridge - I think it's speak for itself.

* C64 Disk Drive interface for the Master Expansion Module. Prototype
of a cartridge and x2 bare boars exist.

* Colour Printer for the Master Expansion Module (#4615). Supposed
to be only 2 in existance. Box, Pen Replacement and Pre-Production
manual exist.

* Data Recorder for the Master Expansion Module (#4684 & 4685).
manual exist.

* Mini-Expander for the Aquarius III (#4063) - with box, manual and 
2 Controllers.

* Master Expansion Module - was a large expansion box that had 
two floppy disk drives. It would allow you to use floppies on 
the Aquarius and allow you to boot CP/M. 

* Modem. Prototypes for the New Zealand and Australia systems exist.

* Printer for the Master Expansion Module (#4686).

* QD Floppy Disk drive for the Master Expansion Module. Floppy Disks
and DOS upgrade with documentation and ROMs exist.

* VideoTex system for the Modem. Prototype with assembler listing v3.0.

These documents are separate manuals and schematics not part of normal

Pages Item
1 (large) 1983 advertising poster with screen shots of unreleased games
Aquarius DOS commands [ Preliminary specifications 25/4/1988 ]
(long) Aquarius DOS BASIC v2.2 assembler listing

4 VideoTex Terminal advertising flyer
(long) VideoTex assembler listing v3.0
2 Aquarius VideoTex Terminal schematic diagram
1 Aquarius VideoTex Module (MKI) Part Map / Loop and Dialing
1 Programme module PCB schematic diagram
1 (wide) Videotex Terminal Aux. PCB schematic diagram
6 various sample Videotex pages captured
1 Aquarius 5/16/24/32K RAM schematic diagram (hand)
1 8K RAM Memory (Pseudostatic) schematic diagram
1 48K DRAM / 48K SRAM schematic diagram
1 Aquarius 3Port I/O Interface (hand drawn)
1 connecting a Commodore joystick schematic
1 (wide) 16K-32K DRAM Aquarius memory expansion schematic
assorted schematics (hand)
1 (wide) 16-32-48K DRRAM Aquarius memory expansion schematic (x2)
1 (wide) Aquarius memory expansion 32K schematic
1 memory module PCB diagram
1 Aquarius II alternate Character Generator Select schematic
1 Aquarius II expand (extra 16 keys) schematic
1 extra 16 keys keyboard diagram
1 memory map
1 (wide) Aquarius Joystick Adaptor schematic
1 joystick parameters diagram
1 4K EEPROM / EPROM / RAM Board schematic (hand)
1 non volatile RAM schematic (hand)
2 Printer / Tape schematic (hand)
3 (listing) Videotext code header for cartridge

7 Memory Allocation
- ROM Addresses
- I/O addresses
- Some Useful Subroutines
- Extension ROM for BASIC
- Aqua-I and II I/O addresses

4 Aquarius Extended Basic ROM listing (hex)
1 Application ROM schematic (hand drawn)
2 (various unknown schematics - hand drawn)
1 (wide) Radofin Mini Expander schematic diagram
1 (wide) Radofin Aquarius II schematic diagram

60+ Radofin Aquarius 4-Color Printer
Third draft of User's Manual

1 letter Re: Aquarius System Testing
- Test Cartridge A
- Test Cartridge B
- Aquarius Tester

1 Table of Contents
43 - Service Manual
32 - Functional Specification
4 - Looping Exercise Cartridge Functional Specification
7 - Port Tester Functional Specification
- Data Recorder Functional Test Procedure
- Printer Functional Test Procedure
- Mini Expander Diagnostic Cartridge Functional


4.5) More Inputs

Peter Halvorson received some information regarding the Mattel Aquarius
from Paul Raveling when he auctionned a Mattel Aquarius on Ebay. 
Afterwhich, he posted on the newsgroups what Paul sent him regarding 
some mising infos:

Paul Raveling wrote:

Hi, for curiosity I just checked ebay for Aquarius auctions and checked 
the Aquarius FAQ whose url was listed for this one. I can fill in a detail 
or two of missing info, during my relatively brief tenure at Mattel 
Electronics I was the manager who was responsible for Aquarius ROM & OS

The auction identifies Aquarius' date as 1982. 1984 would be more correct 
-- it didn't hit the streets until then, just BARELY before Mattel Electronics 
suddenly went belly-up. It was delayed a bit by problems in FCC certification 
-- when the game controllers were held in certain positions relative to the
mini-extender their cables acted enough like antennas that the system flunked 
its RF emission tests. Another amusing footnote is that as little as 2 months 
before the company had to fold, our principal engineer was (correctly!) 
telling potential new-hires that our last financial results showed a $45,000 
annual profit per employee.

One missing piece of info for the FAQ is the Z80's clock rate -- it was 4 MHz.

I didn't think we actually shipped any maxi-expanders. When I offered my 
resignation, about 1 month before the company folded, we only had physical 
mockups for these boxes, didn't yet have running prototype hardware. Needless 
to say, without running hardware our vendors in Hong Kong couldn't produce a 
BIOS to run Simple CP/M. Tom Rollander and Gary Kildall tended to call it 
Silly CP/M. The BIOS and software such as the BASIC ports were subcontracted 
by Radofin to another Hong Kong company whose name escapes me at the moment 
-- the time of day is > 3 a.m. & it's been a quarter century since Aquarius...
the same company also built the power supplies for Aquarius.

Aquarius was internally known as Aquarius 1. Aquarius 2 was going to be a 
credible home computer rather than just a toy. Unfortunately one sign of the 
company's financial crash was a product management decision to downgrade the 
second in the series to a lower level of capability, one that was identified
as Aquarius 1.5.

Anyway I tend to agree that Aquarius, along with the TI 99, deserves a place 
in history as a milestone of sorts -- it marks the end of a subspecies of 
computers that went extinct. That extinction produced some useful lessons for 
a portion of the industry.

This is a try to forward this morning's message to Greg Chance, maintainer 

ASTEC is the subcontractor I couldn't remember at ~ 3 a.m. this morning. My 
main contacts in Hong Kong were Laurie Scott at Radofin and Paul Yuen at ASTEC.
Aquarius still has a keyboard debounce bug that Paul never acknowledged as a 
bug in their firmware.

I notice the home page lists Aquarius under 1983. As noted in 
the forwarded message, 1984 would be the year for its first-ship date.

Another bit of trivia is to note that Mattel's pricing was set up to sell the 
minimum system at a loss, on the theory that profits would come from sale of 
game and program cartridges. This was necessary for 2 reasons -- (1) The main
competitor was the TI 99, and TI was using the same strategy fairly aggressively; 
(2) Radofin (the Scotts) had a fairly decent sense that Mattel Electronics was 
becoming financially shaky and drove a hard bargain on the price Mattel paid to 

-- Paul

Paul Raveling
Oracle Distributed Systems
Office: El Dorado Hills, (916) 933-5826

Err...after reading the informations that Paul has given, i had to 
make some changes in the FAQ so the informations would be more accurate.
Thanks to Peter Halvorson and Paul Raveling for sharing all this infor-

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = 

Here's some information that were posted on the newsgroups:

From: (Chris Collet)
Subject: interesting aquarius question
Date: 24 Oct 1999 00:00:00 GMT

I bought a book "Basic computing games: microcomputer edition" which is
a great book from 1978 filled with classic basic games designed to run on
an altair 8800 using microsoft basic hooked up to a teletype terminal. I
have typed many of these programs into my post-mattel radofin aquarius,
and suprisingly they all run fine (maybe three or four commands dont work
which wouldnt work in applesoft basic either, and I had to adapt for the
40 column screen).

I find this surprising because I've read everywhere that the mattel
aquarius only has a subset of basic, whereas this aquarius seems to have a
fairly complete basic. According to, the mattel version of
the aquarius doesnt even do for/next loops, whereas mine does them just

Could it be possible that the radofin only model of the aquarius has a
different version of basic built in rom that the mattel version? I realize
both were built by radofin, but the radofin only ones came out later so I
guess it's possible. Of course, the programs I were using only used text
mode (seeing how they were designed for teletype), but were nonetheless

Could someone with a mattel aquarius describe to me how limited the
subset of basic is on thier aquarius? It would be interesting to know if
there was a rom difference between the two models.


From: Erik Mooney <>
Subject: Re: interesting aquarius question
Date: 26 Oct 1999 00:00:00 GMT

>>I find this surprising because I've read everywhere that the mattel
>>aquarius only has a subset of basic, whereas this aquarius seems to have a
>>fairly complete basic.
>In playing around with my Aquarius, I found it to be surprisingly
>full-featured. I can't remember, and don't have the instructions close by, but
>I swear I remember using FOR/NEXT loops myself (a staple of my programming.) I

The Aquarius certainly had For/Next loops.. that's a staple of all Basic
programming, and I'm sure I would've noticed it if they were missing when I played
around with my Aquarius. It might not have had any other looping constructs, like
Repeat/Until or Do/Loop or While/Wend, though.

>don't think you could do peeks/pokes, though, but I might be mistaken... at
>the least, I don't recall seeing these available in my book- very little
>support for people who wanna get "close to the machine".

It has Peek and Poke, although the manual doesn't give any information about
useful addresses to peek and poke.

>Perhaps it's considered limited in comparison to the graphics-rich BASICs
>Microsoft did for other computers (BASIC 4.0 and 7.0), or a lack of
>machine-level communication.

That it may very well be. Aquarius Basic (and I believe the Aquarius as a whole
as well) has no graphics modes, just the one 40x25 text mode. The only graphics
it can produce is by using a set of block text characters; there are six "bloxels"
(bigger than pixels) within each character, 3 rows by two columns (like Braille
dots), and there is a character for each of the 2^6 combinations of those blocks
on or off, to simulate an 80x75 graphics display. The Pset and Preset commands
simulated turning on or off a bloxel by replacing the character at that location
with the character with that bloxel turned on or off. If there was a space,
alphanumeric, or other non-block-graphics character at that location, it'd get
replaced by a block graphics character with that single bloxel turned on; if there
was a block graphics character there, it'd get replaced by a character that
contained the same bloxels plus the newly set one. If that confused anyone who
wants a simpler explanation, tell me. :)


Documentation that exists:
- Dutch User Group club magazines (active about 3 years)
- The Aquarius Program Book by Peter Goode (Phoenix Publishing Associates)
- 30 Dynamic Games for the Aquarius by Tim Hartnell (Interface Publications -
ISBN 0 907563 61 9)


5.0) Aquarius Emulator

There is 2 known Mattel Aquarius emulator, one that is made by Kenny 
Millar (the AqEmu) and the other by James ?? (the Virtual Aquarius).

Kenny Millar's AqEmu was the first emulator. It works on Windows 95/98/NT 
and Windows 2000. You can get on Kenny Millar web site his emulator, the
Aquarius ROM image, a text about ROM disassembly, how-to "dump" your own
Aquarius ROM image and much more. It's still a little bit buggy but it's
the best one out there at the moment.

James's ?? Virtual Aquarius is far from complete. But he managed something 
that the AqEmu doesn't do, you can load a BASIC file written in text with
Notepad and load it so you don't have to hassle to type the whole program.

You can get both emulators (and more) on Kenny Millar web site:

Fred Horvat was in the process of trying to find out the status of the 
Aquarius. If most software was on cartridges which means that they would 
have to be burned into Eproms to use the them. Unless someone was able 
to write a copy program and transfer cartridges to tape/disk and be run 
from that medium like the COLECO ADAM. Anyone knows?


6.0) Credits:

* Fred Horvat (old
Creator of the Original Mattel Aquarius FAQ.
* Andrew Davie (
* Peter Halvorson (
* Paul Raveling (
* The Blue Sky Rangers Web Site:

Thanks and see you in the next version !!!
Copyright(c)2000, Sylvain De Chantal, ""
or come visit my homepage at ""
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