I am going to tell you something new that I learned about some high-end motherboards that launched either last year or this year (one of them came out pretty recently).
In a previous post I was exposing some benefits of water cooling, as this is a more efficient solution against overheating than the old air-based cooling, and we could see that there was some aftermarket work to be done in order to have the enhanced water cooling systems installed in the PC, especially if the matter was about custom systems. But as technology makes pace, cooler components come to the market – like the so-called “water cooling motherboard”, a sort of Desktop motherboard that simplifies for us the work of mounting a good, custom liquid cooling solution on the PC!
The Waterforce name calling
There are at least two interesting models so far. GIGABYTE, one of the main manufacturers of motherboards, that also owns the famous AORUS gaming division, has delighted us by now with plenty of motherboards for both Intel and AMD Desktop gaming area, and not only on the HEDT segment. As a matter of fact, the two particular motherboards that I want to tell you about in this post belong to the mainstream and to the HEDT segment respectively, and more precisely they are the Intel Z390 AORUS XTREME WATERFORCE and the Intel X299X AORUS XTREME WATERFORCE, both of them coming from Gigabyte, obviously. We can tell them apart by the chipset name: Z390 is a mainstream one, while the X299X part is a fork from the well-known Intel HEDT X299 chipset. So what do the two motherboards have in common, and what do they have to do with the water cooling motherboard principle?
Easier to watercool your mobo – powerful monoblocks
The Waterforce name part on these two masterpieces (and we will surely understand why they are masterpieces) means that the motherboards are somewhat prepared for water cooling from the beginning. In my previous water cooling related article I was explaining that the CPU socket area (and not only) needed a waterblock to be mounted above it, as a part of the water cooling system to be used for better eliminating the heat. And waterblocks are equivalent to those radiators from the old air coolers. Well, now let’s move towards a higher water cooling level – the monoblock one.
When CPU heating is concerned, it is good for us to know that it is not only the processor part that becomes hot. Close to the CPU socket, there is another delicate zone called the VRM (Voltage regulator module), an electronic circuit made of several round-formed pieces that regulates the voltage for the CPU (as its name says), having the main goal to provide a constant amount of voltage for the CPU functionalities.
We will not run too much into technical explanations about how the VRM works; in the context of this article, the idea is that the CPU-related VRM zone gets hot too, it would even fry our fingers if we touched it (over 100 Celsius degrees in heavy workloads), and usually mohterboards come with dedicated heatsinks for the VRM – so this is what those metallic and prominent parts situated “south of” the CPU socket are for – they are VRM heatsinks. However, they do not exactly provide the best possible cooling in the world, there are some better solutions for taking the big heat out of the VRM.
We also have another delicate area on the motherboard, getting hot as well – The Platform Controller Hub (abbreviated as PCH), a chipset area that is located towards the “north-west” part of the motherboard, not too far from the SATA ports. Above it there’s usually a heatsink as well (metallic cover), and again I say that it is not the best possible cooling solution.
And for cooling two or even all three of these zones at once, also in an enhanced manner, monoblocks were invented. Thus, these extended waterblocks cover larger parts of the motherboard and empower us with higher-quality cooling, assuming that the rest of the cooling system we mount is a good one.
There are also aftermarket monoblocks that cover “only” the CPU socket + the VRM area, by example EK Water Blocks sells such gaming monoblocks, but obviously they do not come with the motherboard, this is why we call them “aftermarket” pieces – we buy and mount them separately.
The well-known GIGABYTE AORUS department created these two motherboards which come with larger monoblocks from the beginning – CPU + VRM + PCH areas are all covered by the same monoblock, and the motherboard is delivered at your home along with this monoblock – you don’t have to worry about what waterblock / radiator / heatsink to use for those three “hotties”, Gigabyte has already taken care of this issue. Well, you will have to manually mount this monoblock at first, after installing the CPU of course, and there should be no doubt about the presence of some installation instructions coming with the motherboard. Even if they were missing, maybe you already installed other monoblocks or waterblocks in the past, and anyway there are tutorials on the Internet on how to mount a monoblock.
Incorporated water cooling for huge processors
Earlier I said that one of the motherboards belongs to the mainstream market segment (the Z390), while the other is a HEDT one (the X299X).
So the Z390 Aorus Waterforce part supports 8th and 9th generation Intel mainstream CPUs (Coffee Lake), starting from G4900T Celerons (2 cores and 2 threads, no hyperthreading) and ending with some of the most powerful mainstream CPUs like the 8-core, 16-thread i9-9900KF processor (having a 95W default wattage, but of you want a more powerful mainstream one, then the 127W equally-threaded i9-9900KS is on it). A few years ago, nobody was in the position to own a “mainstream” 8-core Desktop CPU (the 8-core AMD FXes from 2011 were considered as high-end stuff), and since 2014 there was also an Intel 8-core Extreme Edition processor (the i7-5960X), but as its name says… it was Extreme, so HEDT. Thus, we have a solid proof of how the mainstream Desktop CPU world has evolved!
If you want to take a look at this beauty, here’s something:
On the other hand, the X299X Aorus Waterforce motherboard (released this autumn, whereas the Z390 part is from the fall of 2018) is a high-end desktop piece which technically belongs to the famous X299 Intel chipset that was released in 2017, meaning that the LGA2066 CPU socket of this new motherboard would also support older high-end Intel Core i9 processors with 2066 pins in the Land Grid Array – hence that LGA2066 name part – from 2017, but the extra “X” in X299X means the motherboard offers support for the newest 10th-gen Intel Core processors (Cascade Lake-X HEDT CPUs) that are about to enter the market, which are cheaper and simultaneously more powerful than their predecessors (up to 48 PCI-E lanes instead of 44, support for 256 GB of DDR4 RAM instead of just 128).
As for the maximum of the core counts, the new flagship i9-10980XE still features 18 cores and 36 threads like the 7980XE and the 9980XE do, and its default TDP (Thermal Design Power, the average watt-measured power the CPU dissipates at its base frequency while all cores are active) stays at 165 watts, but these processors can also be overclocked towards 5 GHz and even above, and the wattage would increase – then think more carefully, we are dealing with 18 cores and 36 threads, that would of course need one of the highest-quality cooling systems. 18-core multithreaded Intel Desktop processors are real behemoths, notwithstanding the increase of the mainstream core counts, and I can also speak from my personal experience, since in 2017 I deeply profitted from the X299 platform launch and built two different computers with i9-7980XE processors (yes, I have two of those and intensively used them in the meanwhile).
Also, there are some pretty pictures for this flagship:
As for this time, there is at least one review for the X299X motherboard (on overclock3d.net), this mobo is just in beginning-of-life phase and its best processors (the i9-10980XE flagship included) have just been released.
And the Z390 counterpart has been reviewed as well. Installing the monoblocks must be also covered in these reviews. Again I say: people who already worked with water cooling monoblocks in the past will find themselves on known paths :).
Included water cooling block means high prices
Now it is time for some downside to be exposed. These two motherboards may seem fascinating due to their enhanced water cooling approach, but you must know that they are expensive, in my opinion way too expensive, especially the X299X product.
Depending on which store you choose and which part of the world it is located / what currency is used, the cheaper one (the Z390) can be almost $1000 US or even above the one-thousand dollar threshold, while the newbie X299X part, at least in Europe, is clearly above the $1500 US price, being even able to pass above the $2000 thresholds in local currencies. And if you check for it on Amazon, by example, there are still no results yet, but expect the Intel X299X board to be almost as costly as a 32-core AMD Ryzen Threadripper processor (the 2990WX from 2018, but we may also consider a comparison with a $1999 3970X Threadripper).
Of course there are also other special features these motherboards come with, like each of them supports Bluetooth 5 wireless communication, has two Thunderbolt 3 onboard connectors, two BIOS chips (meaning DualBios) and two onboard LAN controllers. In addition, the X299X flagship motherboard supports up to 256 GB of RAM like I said above, not only 128, not to mention that it is made for HEDT rather than for mainstream processors. Still, in my personal opinion, the two “monoblocked” motherboards are quite expensive.
And after installing the CPU & successfully mounting the monoblock on either motherboard, you still have to provide by yourself the rest of the cooling system (pump, reservoir, tubes, radiator+fans) – the motherboard gives you the “base” of your water cooling system which is the monoblock. Well, at least you don’t have to worry about compatibility issues between the “Block” and the “Board”, unlike when you build a custom water cooling system from zero and must be careful with socket compatibility.
The two motherboards from this article are designed to empower their users with the basis for a very good water cooling solution, besides other special features, letting you take care of the rest of the custom cooling loop. And their monoblocks are guaranteed to be compatible with the motherboard areas, besides covering all the main heatening parts (PCH, VRM, CPU). Their drawbacks are the high prices, especially for the stronger one, but let’s not forget that GIGABYTE AORUS XTREME WATERFORCE is a brand that brings also other powerful features. So that it’s up to you, the enthusiast users!