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1980s Computers Explanation of terms

The Mattel Aquarius

Mattel Aquarius


Mattel (US)
(But designed and manufactured by Radofin of Hong Kong)



Date Launched

June 1983


Eventually cut to £45.

Microprocessor type

Zilog Z80A @ 3.5 MHz

ROM size

8 kilobytes

Standard RAM

4 kilobytes
(Only 1.7 KB free for programs)

Maximum RAM

20 kilobytes, or 52 kilobytes with expansion box

Keyboard type

Rubber mat
(Required very firm pressure to operate)

Supplied language

Microsoft BASIC

Text resolution

40 x 24 characters

Graphics resolution

No high resolution graphics as such but points could be plotted on an 80 x 72 pixel grid using predefined characters.
The character set also contained a variety of special shapes for missiles, figures etc.

Colours available


Example Screenshot

Aquarius display
The Aquarius's character set showing the block graphics characters, and a triangle plotted using the point setting command.


Monophonic through TV

Cassette load speed

600 baud
A special lead designed for the official data recorder and only available from Mattel was needed – a standard lead made for other models of computer would not work even though it physically fitted. The manual did not make this clear, leading many owners to think the Aquarius was incapable of loading and saving programs!

Dimensions (mm)
Weight (grams)

343 x 150 x 50
Not known

Special features

Some BASIC keywords could be entered by pressing Ctrl and one other key.

Good points

Robust build quality
Cartridge port

Bad points

Memory size was way too small. To increase it meant buying an expansion box plus the memory card. This increased the price to £200 for an 18 KB machine.
Keyboard was worse than the Spectrum's.
Virtually no software was produced for the Aquarius.

How successful?

One of the least successful of all home computers; only around 10,000 were sold.
Mattel had withdrawn the Aquarius by the end of 1983, though it continued to be sold by Radofin for a short time.


The Mattel Aquarius was disastrously underpowered by the standards of mid 1983, compared to the likes of the Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore 64. Expanding it to a reasonable amount of memory made it more expensive than its rivals. (At this time the 48 KB Spectrum cost £130.)
In fact the Aquarius had poorer graphics and sound than Mattel's popular (and cheaper!) Intellivision game console.
The Aquarius really had nothing to recommend it.
Read a review of the Aquarius

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