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Aquarius Mechanical Keyboard


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Apologies if this ship has sailed already...


I'm drafting up plans and assembling components for an Aquarius mechanical keyboard, one that matches (as much as is practical) the design for the Aquarius II keyboard.


Here are some general specs, requirements, & goals:

  • Use commonly available components
    • MX Cherry switches (inexpensive knock-offs for now)
    • Dye-sublimated keycaps to approximate the colors of the Aquarius
    • Custom PCB
  • Upgrade the Aquarius motherboard keyboard connector
    • Use standard male square-pin headers (0.1"/2.54mm pitch) right-angle connectors, replacing the flex-cable connector
    • Add a key to the 16th pin (GND) and move the GND pin down one to a new 17th pin, drilling a new pin hole and grounding to ground plane
    • Modify removed edge connector of chicklet keyboard to mate to new 17 pin female connector
  • Diodes will stay on the motherboard
  • Include a silkscreen of the keyboard matrix schematic on the PCB as reference
  • Establish mounting holes so that keyboard PCB can be incorporated into a later Aquarius II style case
  • RESET key will be replaced by tac switch, accessible via pinhole in new keyboard bezel, but will NOT be a physical KEY CAP (to avoid accidental resetting of system)
  • Key caps will have markings that match the layout and style of the Aquarius keyboard
    • I will need to experiment with this a bit, but there are a couple of YouTube videos that show great success with a laser embossed/fused approach using plastic dust (toner). I think I might be able to use generic powder coat pigment for this (yay, Harbor Freight!).
    • If the laser part doesn't work, I'll use water-slide decals until a better solution can be found.








Note: I made a similar posting in the Mattel Aquarius Computer group on Facebook a week or two ago.

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 9/10/2019 at 2:32 PM, barnieg said:

Awesome idea. I do wonder if it would be practical to make the keyboard compatible with other retro systems possibly have an adapter for various systems? 

Kinda. Depends on how the target system wires their keyboard scanning matrix. For instance, Aquarius is a 6 x 8 grid. The C64 is an 8 x 8 grid. So the Aquarius is missing 16 more possible "keys" than the C64.


And the mapping of the characters to the matrix is totally different as well. On the Aquarius, keys in ROW 0 (pin 9 on the header) are RTN, P, M, U, V, R, Z, Q. On the C64 keys in ROW 0 are 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, +, POUND/DOLLAR, CTRL.


It is actually NOT that difficult to wire a unique keyboard for each type (aka make a custom PCB for each). Yes, you could add some shift registers that dynamically read and write characters according to a profile, but nothing I do to a stock Aquarius is going to give it the ability to use those 16 extra keys (except maybe adding "CHORDING" routines to a custom Kernal).


And which printed KEY CAPS do you use for them? The Aquarius ones with the BASIC commands on the front? Those are kinda useless on the C64, ZX Spectrum, or Atari. Conversely, I can't use the cool character set from the C64 on the Aquarius (I can't even change the stock character set without some major surgery), so... a new keyboard for each type is actually easier. The USB to keyboard adapter that exists for the C64 is interesting, but I'll have to grow into that project.


Thanks, Barnie!

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And we're off! Key caps and switches from AliExpress arrived...




So I carefully laid them out into the pattern I made for the Aquarius Mechanical Keyboard...



And then I cut a jig to hold them all in place while laser sintering the paint/pigment (powder coat paint) to the keys...




More pics after I get some samples laser sintered.


- Sean

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