The motherboard of a Mattel Aquarius, with a small daughterboard mounted on top

Adding Composite Video To The Mattel Aquarius

In the home computer market of the 1980s, there were several winners that are still household names four decades later: the Commodore 64, the Apple II and the Sinclair Spectrum, to name a few. But where there are winners, there are bound to be losers as well – the Mattel Aquarius being a good example. A price war between the bigger players, combined with a rather poor hardware design, meant that the Aquarius was discontinued just a few months after its introduction in 1983. However, this makes it exactly the type of obscure machine that [Leaded Solder] likes to tinker with, so he was happy to finally get his hands on a neat specimen listed on eBay. He wrote an interesting blog post detailing his efforts to connect this old beast to a modern TV.

The main issue with the Aquarius is that it only has an RF video output, which results in a rather poor rendition of its already very limited graphics capabilities. Luckily, there is a fix available in the form of a composite A/V adapter that’s an almost plug-and-play upgrade. The only thing you need to do, as [Leaded Solder] illustrates in his blog post, is open up the computer, desolder the RF modulator and solder the A/V adapter in its place. Getting to that point was a bit tricky due to heavy EMI shields that were fixed in place with lots of solder, requiring liberal use of a desoldering iron. Continue reading “Adding Composite Video To The Mattel Aquarius”

A small keyboard form factor retrocomputer with blue keys on a black background sits in front of a display and a LEGO model of the Space Shuttle. There are a number of jumper wires and a breadboard coming from an open panel on the right side of the machine.

Aqua PCB Is A Big Upgrade For The Mattel Aquarius

In case you weren’t around in the 80s, or you happened to blink, you may have missed the Mattel Aquarius computer. [Nick Bild] has a soft spot in his heart for the machine though and built the Aqua cartridge to make the Aquarius into a more usable machine.

Originally equipped with a mere 4 KB of RAM and a small, rubbery keyboard, it’s not too surprising that the Aquarius only lasted five months on the market. [Nick] decided on the cartridge slot to beef up the specs of this little machine given the small number of expansion ports on the device. Adding 32 KB of RAM certainly gives it a boost, and he also designed an SD card interface called Aqua Write that connects to the Aqua cartridge for easily transferring files from a more modern machine.

The Aqua Write uses an Arduino Mega 2560 to handle moving data between the SD card and the system’s memory. This is complicated somewhat because a “PLA sits between the Z80 and data bus that XORs data with a software lock code (initialized to a random value on startup).” [Nick] gets around this by running a small program to overwrite the lock code to zero after startup.

Getting data on and off retrocomputers can certainly be a challenge. If you’re trying to get files on or off another old machine, check out this Simple Universal Modem or consider Using a Raspberry Pi as a Virtual Floppy Drive.