The motherboard manufacturer Asrock has announced a unique Z490 motherboard that seems almost certain to win the coveted 2020 award for Most Expensive Yet Pointless Feature. At first glance, the fact that the Z490 features a built-in water cooler for the CPU might seem like an interesting perk for enthusiasts. But the ultra-high price of the board ($1,100) and the limited availability (Asrock is only building 999 of them) effectively neuter any enthusiast appeal.
The problem, as it often is with these sorts of things, boils down to price and positioning. A top-end EKWB all-in-one cooling kit for an Intel or AMD CPU with an included radiator, reservoir, piping, tubing, and CPU mount block will run you $420. While it’s true that you’d have to put the kit together yourself, you won’t be tied to a single motherboard when you finish. The Asrock board still requires you to purchase all the other hardware to build an overclocking rig except the CPU block.
Asrock wants $1,100 for a motherboard. EKWB will sell you an entire water-cooled PC with a Ryzen 5 3600X and an RX 5700 with a custom CPU/GPU loop for $1,900. I’m not saying that’s a great deal, either, but it puts the situation in some perspective.
Who is This Product For?
The one reason you’d build a product like this is for overclocking, and everyone knows that high-end overclocking hardware is insanely expensive. Surely the motherboard makes sense in that context, right?
If you’re a serious overclocker who wants to break world records, you’re going to be using LN2, not water. If you’re an enthusiast who wants to push the envelope in a more sustainable way and you can afford to drop $1,100 on a single component, you’ve probably already invested in a custom water loop with a chiller — assuming you aren’t using single-stage freon or immersion cooling. The problem with shifting so much cost to the motherboard and tying it to a single component (the CPU water block, in this case), is that it assumes your customer base needs that component to start with. An affordable motherboard with an integrated cooler positioned as a relatively entry-level platform for the idea of water cooling would actually be really useful to the community. An $1,100 board isn’t going to do that.
All of this assumes that Intel’s 10th Gen CPUs have any overclocking capabilities at all. That’s not a great assumption. Intel’s 14nm silicon process has been pushed to the limit to build these CPUs in the first place. It’s not going to be leaving a lot of headroom in the cores for overclockers without LN2 to exploit.
I’ve got nothing bad to say about the board design — it’s very nice — but stunts like this are more about grabbing headlines than pushing motherboard design forward. It would be fantastically interesting to see motherboard companies offer more support for external reservoir water blocks, but only if they can manage to do so without charging more than twice the price of a top-end external water-cooling kit.
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