MSI Launches Water-Cooled Motherboard

ExtremeTech
Jun 4, 2020 · 3 min read

by Joel Hruska

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Back in early May, we discussed Asrock’s $1,100 motherboard and the fact that it didn’t seem to be designed for any actual group of users. Now, MSI has announced its own water-cooling product line, and it looks to be considerably more practical than what Asrock showed in May.

The MSI MPG Z490 Carbon EK X (MPG? Carbon?) features a custom water block built in partnership with the premium water block manufacturer EKWB. The cooler block is designed to cool both the CPUs and VRMs, which means it’ll fit this motherboard specifically but won’t work with others unless MSI goes to the trouble of guaranteeing backwards-and-forwards water block compatibility.

Feature-wise, the board supports what you’d expect from a product of its caliber, with USB 3.2 Gen 2×2, Wi-Fi 6, and 2.5G Ethernet support. The motherboard includes a leak-testing kit and RGB support done in MSI’s colors with support for 16.8 million colors and 29 effects. With this kind of color and effect support, you can keep it looking like a unicorn horked a rainbow into your office all year round.

Price: Reasonable!

The biggest reason I didn’t like Asrock’s shot at the water-cooled market is that it wasn’t clear who was actually supposed to buy an $1100 motherboard as a serious product. When fully custom kits from EKWB cost less than half that much, asking consumers to shuck out that kind of cash for a motherboard takes some guts, whether the product in question is “limited edition” or not.

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Thankfully, MSI doesn’t follow Asrock’s lead in the pricing department. The MSI MPG Z490 Carbon EK X is expected to retail for just $399, and while that’s still quite high, it’s much closer to something enthusiasts might consider reasonable than $1,100 was.

Will This Trend Hold?

The most interesting thing about the fact that we’re seeing multiple companies pushing custom loop solutions as default on a motherboard is the implication that this could become more common in years ahead. AMD and Intel’s power consumption isn’t going down, and power demands are only increasing.

To put it another way: If Intel or AMD kicks a 500W CPU out the door and declares it’s for top-tier water-cooling enthusiasts, you’d see a spike in custom loop sales.

Nothing within realistic reach of a conventional PC enthusiast can trump custom loop water cooling with an internal or external reservoir. Single-stage freon cooling is much colder, of course, but not many people have the expertise to build one. EKWB, in contrast, sells prebuilt water cooling kits to take all the guesswork out of the equation.

I think the chances of this happening are still quite small, the PC industry has never collectively embraced water cooling, preferring to instead find ways to further extend air cooling performance. If absolute PC power consumption keeps increasing, they won’t have a choice. With that said, water delivers excellent results on the whole. When I reviewed the VisionTek CryoVenom back in 2014, I was astonished to see how well the GCN GPU responded to high clocks — from 949MHz to 1225MHz, at a maximum temperature of just 46 degrees Celsius. Water definitely has cooling potential that air can’t match, but whether we’ll see it catch on in the mainstream market? That’s a different story.

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Originally published at https://www.extremetech.com on June 4, 2020.

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