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If you’re looking to liquid cool a new Intel build, you certainly have options these days. You could of course choose your own board and a compatible water block. But many companies make boards with the block included these days. Recently, we looked at the MSI Z690 Carbon EK X and the Asus Z690 Extreme Glacial. These boards include a custom-made water block that cools the CPU and VRMs – and more in the case of the Glacial. The MSI Carbon EK X is the least expensive of these boards, a mid-range offering at just over $600, while the Asus Z690 Glacial is more of a flagship or Halo-type product, priced at just under $2,000. ASRock’s option in this niche, the water-cooled Z690 Aqua, sits between those two alternatives, with a current price of $1,149.99 at Newegg. It offers users plenty of connectivity, including a Thunderbolt 4 Type-C (40 Gbps) port, 10 GbE and Wi-Fi 6E, three M.2 sockets, and robust power delivery just like the others. Let’s see what sets these cool operators apart.

Priced at nearly $1150, the Aqua has just about everything you’d expect out of a flagship-class board. Looking past the watercooling, it comes with 20-phase 105A VRMs, a Marvell 10 GbE NIC and Killer-based Wi-Fi 6E. You can’t get much faster or more capable options in Z690. To me, the Aqua is one of the better-looking motherboards for the platform, with nearly all of the PCB covered by steel shrouds, heatsinks and the water block. The black-on-silver/chrome look fits in with most build themes and begs to be the crown jewel of your Z690-based system. That said, it isn’t without its shortcomings. You won’t find a PCIe 5.0-capable (128 Gbps) M.2 socket, and there are only three M.2s total, leaving it a bit low compared to other premium boards that come with four (or more). I doubt that’s a deal-breaker for most users, but the lack of a PCIe 5.0 M.2 socket is disappointing given the price.