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[AQUARIUS] New Product: Aquarius 32K RAM Module

mattel radofin aquarius memory upgrade

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#1 jaybird3rd OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Apr 30, 2014 11:20 PM

I resolved at the beginning of this year to get caught up on a number of Aquarius projects this summer, and I think I'm going to begin by dusting off an idea that I had previously put on the shelf ... an inexpensive 32K RAM module:
 
32KFrontCoverSmall.jpg
 
As you may know, 32K is the largest amount of (flat) RAM that you can add to the Aquarius without using the space reserved for cartridge software.  Mattel's original 32K module was big and bulky and was produced only in very limited quantities, but it's now possible to create a much more efficient version of this module using SRAM.  I designed my first prototypes around the same time I was designing the Aquaricart, and I built a few more for collectors who wanted them, but I decided against making it into a product at the time because I thought it would be a better value to integrate that extra RAM into my enhanced Mini Expander design instead.  But the new Mini Expander is going to take a lot longer to finish than I planned, and in the meantime, I've heard from several people who already own the original Mini Expander and wouldn't necessarily want to buy another one just for the extra RAM.  So, I thought there would be value in offering a standalone 32K RAM module, particularly for programmers who need the extra RAM for their projects, or those who are interested in playing the many Aquarius cassette games which required expanded RAM.
 
I've begun the layout for the new boards, and I hope to have them finished and manufactured by the end of next month.  The cost per module will be just under $30, not including shipping, so I hope it will be an affordable and easy upgrade for anyone who owns an Aquarius.
 
I'll post updates, including ordering information, as they become available.

#2 JasonlikesINTV OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu May 1, 2014 12:12 AM

Will I eventually regret not buying this? :)

#3 cmart604 OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu May 1, 2014 12:16 AM

Sadly I'm not even sure what I'm supposed to do with this. I suspect it's cool, but my stupidity when it comes to technology gets in the way. These facts probably don't get in the way of me buying one though as I'd really like to support what you're doing Jay.

#4 JasonlikesINTV OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu May 1, 2014 12:20 AM

Sadly I'm not even sure what I'm supposed to do with this. I suspect it's cool, but my stupidity when it comes to technology gets in the way. These facts probably don't get in the way of me buying one though as I'd really like to support what you're doing Jay.


Rev's exact words for his last "exotic toy" purchase.

(Sorry, Rev. It's for comedy...and science) ;-)

#5 jaybird3rd OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu May 1, 2014 12:21 AM

Sadly I'm not even sure what I'm supposed to do with this. I suspect it's cool, but my stupidity when it comes to technology gets in the way. These facts probably don't get in the way of me buying one though as I'd really like to support what you're doing Jay.

Thanks!  Adding extra RAM to the Aquarius gives you more memory for programming, especially valuable if you work in BASIC, and it also allows you to play those cassette games which needed 4K or 16K of expanded RAM (Martin has a good list of these on his website).  Those games can't be played on a stock Aquarius because it doesn't have enough memory, but this cartridge solves that problem.  You can plug it directly into the Aquarius computer, or into the "Memory" port of the Mini Expander.  It's about as "plug and play" as you can get!



#6 jaybird3rd OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu May 1, 2014 12:23 AM

Will I eventually regret not buying this? :)

Why not buy it so you don't ever have to find out? :)



#7 cmart604 OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu May 1, 2014 12:27 AM

Thanks!  Adding extra RAM to the Aquarius gives you more memory for programming, especially valuable if you work in BASIC, and it also allows you to play those cassette games which needed 4K or 16K of expanded RAM (Martin has a good list of these on his website).  Those games can't be played on a stock Aquarius because it doesn't have enough memory, but this cartridge solves that problem.  You can plug it directly into the Aquarius computer, or into the "Memory" port of the Mini Expander.  It's about as "plug and play" as you can get!


Ah, I see. That almost makes sense. :)

#8 jaybird3rd OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu May 1, 2014 12:38 AM

Ah, I see. That almost makes sense. :)

Maybe this will help: RAM is a kind of memory that computers use as "workspace".  Every application that you use on your computer, every file that you open, and even the media that your computer plays, must be copied into RAM before your computer can do anything with it.  So, the more RAM your computer has, the more useful it is, and that's especially true of vintage computers.  The Aquarius has very little RAM built in, which severely limits the range of applications (such as games) that it can run.  So, by adding more RAM, you're giving the Aquarius the space that it needs to be able to play more sophisticated games.  32K isn't a lot by modern standards, but it's a decent chunk of space for an 8-bit computer, and certainly more than most computers in the same price range as the Aquarius typically included.



#9 MAC-42 OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu May 1, 2014 6:33 AM

I grew up with a stock Aquarius and was always gently envious of my best friend's C64 for all the RAM he had.  (I didn't understand about sprites and sound and stuff that would have turned me positively green!)  So, I'd always bang out these tiny little BASIC programs that never did much.  (This was a small relief, actually, as I never had a cassette drive for this machine.)  You just never could do anything of great substance with the base machine.

 

When I reacquired an Aquarius, Jay sold me one of the prototype 32k modules he described above.  Good heavens, does it change how you look at this thing!  For 30 years, I'd always thought of the Aquarius as the 1k wonder and kept things as spartan as possible.  (Not hard, btw, when you're dealing with the inbuilt BASIC.)  With this module and the Extended BASIC in the Aquaricart, I can actually make the Aquarius do things of some substance.  The Aquarius, its other constraints aside, is actually a rather more usable computer than people give it credit for when you actually pack on some RAM.

 

All of this to say that you should buy one of these.  If you play the cassette games, if you write your own programs, you should buy one.  It really makes a difference in how you view the machine, especially if you're running a stock one.



#10 Gemintronic OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu May 1, 2014 7:05 AM

Is there a reason not to include a bigger RAM chip and allow some sort of Jaybird3rd "RAM page" (ha!) feature to switch between banks?  Or, even better, use non-volatile chips so the BASIC programs stay in memory after shutdown?



#11 jaybird3rd OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu May 1, 2014 1:19 PM

Thanks for the testimonial, MAC-42!

 

@theloon: Bankswitched and battery-backed system RAM are certainly possible to implement, but making these features practical to use would be difficult because the existing Aquarius software isn't designed for them.  Aquarius BASIC and Logo, for example, don't have any notion of bankswitched memory, and I suspect that adding support for it in a way that would be completely transparent to the user would involve some fairly substantial revisions to the original code.



#12 Aquaman OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu May 1, 2014 1:21 PM

As it happens I own an original 32K RAM module and also some 16K ones for that matter. Therefore I personally rather wait for the new Mini Expander to hit the streets, with all the great features it will provide. However if someone doesn't have at least an original 16K RAM module, this 32K RAM Module from Jay is a must have! 



#13 BBWW OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu May 1, 2014 2:48 PM

Gonna need this and the Multi-cart, sometime. I have everything else up and running, printer, tape deck, so now I need to decide what I'm going to do. I would like to revive my Basic Skills which I left behind about 1985. Was thinking about a TI-99-4a as that's what I learned on. But this could work.

 

It would be nice to have an SD card read/write Cart for saving and avoiding the tape deck.


Edited by BBWW, Thu May 1, 2014 2:52 PM.


#14 jaybird3rd OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu May 1, 2014 3:27 PM

It would be nice to have an SD card read/write Cart for saving and avoiding the tape deck.

Some kind of flash storage cartridge is definitely on my list.  I'd like to finish the new Mini Expander first, then design an inexpensive flash cartridge that can plug into the "Memory" slot of the Mini Expander, or be used as a standalone cartridge.  But that's much further down the road.

 

In the meantime, you should be able to connect the Aquarius to the sound card on any modern PC.  The Virtual Aquarius emulator includes utilities to convert cassette images to WAV files that can be played through the sound card into the Aquarius cassette port.



#15 BBWW OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu May 1, 2014 3:32 PM

Thanks, I just read the article about the Aquarius Emulator and downloaded it. I don't have a PC though being a Mac guy…oh wait, I do have an old Pentium 2 Laptop with "VISTA" oh the horrors of thinking about Vista.



#16 BBWW OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu May 1, 2014 3:44 PM

Wait you said MODERN PC.



#17 jaybird3rd OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu May 1, 2014 3:46 PM

I use the term "PC" inclusively, to include Windows, Mac, and Linux machines.  As long as you have a sound card or integrated sound with analog outputs, you should be able to connect it to the Aquarius, although you may have to tweak the volume levels a bit.

 

You can run Virtual Aquarius on the Mac if you have Parallels or some other Windows emulation, but you may be better off using the Aquarius driver in MESS instead; it can use the same cassette and cartridge images that are included with Virtual Aquarius, and it's available in a native Mac version.  The only thing MESS doesn't provide are the CAQ2WAV and WAV2CAQ utilities (for converting cassette images to WAV files and vice versa), which are Windows-only.



#18 jaybird3rd OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue May 13, 2014 7:45 AM

Time for an update!

 

I mentioned earlier that this new 32K RAM module would be offered as an "upgrade kit" for original 4K or 16K modules, but I've since decided that it would be a better idea to offer it instead as a fully assembled cartridge, using the new Intellivision-style cartridge shells.  I think this would make it easier for those who don't presently own any RAM modules at all (which would be a majority of Aquarius owners, I suspect), and it avoids the need to cannibalize an old cartridge.

 

Here's how one of the new cartridges will look inside the Mini Expander (I've also included an original cartridge for reference):

 

newcart.jpg

 

Here's how the board layout looks so far.  I've just about finished it, except for a few tweaks here and there:

 

32Kproto.png



#19 Intymike ONLINE  

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Posted Tue May 13, 2014 9:56 AM

Great idea to put it already in a shell! I was thinking for days what Aquarius cart I could cannibalize. A look on Ebay showed me that buying a Aquarius cart to cannibalize is out of the question. 


Edited by Intymike, Tue May 13, 2014 9:57 AM.


#20 jaybird3rd OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue May 13, 2014 10:16 AM

Great idea to put it already in a shell! I was thinking for days what Aquarius cart I could cannibalize. A look on Ebay showed me that buying a Aquarius cart to cannibalize is out of the question. 

Yeah, Aquarius prices in general seem to have gone up over the last few years, and there are a lot more systems than there are donor cartridges.  I still wish I could afford to reproduce the original Aquarius cartridge shape, since I think that's the best overall look and fit for the Aquarius, but these new shells are a good, economical substitute.



#21 jaybird3rd OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue May 13, 2014 10:22 AM

Here's a fun idea I've been toying with, and I'm curious to know what everyone thinks of it.  Since the Aquarius recently passed the 30-year mark, I'm going to offer the first 30 of these RAM modules as "collector's editions", in transparent cartridge shells.  Would anyone also be interested in adding an LED, so that the RAM module glows when the system is turned on?  It wouldn't be difficult to add an LED footprint to the board at this point, and I can even offer a mix of colors to choose from.  The price will be the same, around $30 per module.



#22 Intymike ONLINE  

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Posted Tue May 13, 2014 10:38 AM

Here's a fun idea I've been toying with, and I'm curious to know what everyone thinks of it.  Since the Aquarius recently passed the 30-year mark, I'm going to offer the first 30 of these RAM modules as "collector's editions", in transparent cartridge shells.  Would anyone also be interested in adding an LED, so that the RAM module glows when the system is turned on?  It wouldn't be difficult to add an LED footprint to the board at this point, and I can even offer a mix of colors to choose from.  The price will be the same, around $30 per module.

 

Sounds like a lot of fun! :)



#23 Gemintronic OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue May 13, 2014 10:51 AM

Here's a fun idea I've been toying with, and I'm curious to know what everyone thinks of it.  Since the Aquarius recently passed the 30-year mark, I'm going to offer the first 30 of these RAM modules as "collector's editions", in transparent cartridge shells.  Would anyone also be interested in adding an LED, so that the RAM module glows when the system is turned on?  It wouldn't be difficult to add an LED footprint to the board at this point, and I can even offer a mix of colors to choose from.  The price will be the same, around $30 per module.

 

I more drool over features than blinky lights, personally.  Unless, of course, you could manually switch between banks of RAM and a series of LEDs indicated which bank you were on :)



#24 mvdsteenoven OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue May 13, 2014 11:14 AM

Sounds great! Can I sign in for such an anniversity item?

 

Regs,

Martin



#25 jaybird3rd OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue May 13, 2014 11:16 AM

Sounds great! Can I sign in for such an anniversity item?

Of course!  I'll be glad to reserve one for you.







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