Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
Within the last few generations, enthusiast motherboards have been under pressure to provide more and more features. Many vendors have taken on this task by adding monoblocks to their top-end solutions alongside the latest hardware updates. This, in a roundabout way, takes the hassle out of finding motherboards capable of using full board blocks and offers the consumer a complete package in a box with a warranty from the vendor.
In some cases, this has undercut the aftermarket, but large suppliers like EK have garnered OEM business from the likes of ASUS and MSI for their solutions. The Aqua OC takes a different route, though. Likely produced by an OEM supplier, the OC uses what ASRock calls Aqua Armor, a custom-designed solution to efficiently pull heat from the VRM and CPU while keeping a "classy" aesthetic with RGB lighting.
The Z690 Aqua comes in two SKUs; the standard Z690 Aqua, a board that offers an identical hardware platform to the board we are testing today, with the difference being four DIMM slots, while the Aqua OC features two DIMM slots, a design more typical of enthusiast OC boards. Outside of that, both platforms offer support for 12th Gen Intel CPUs on the LGA1700 socket. Memory is supported from DDR5 4800 through 7000+ with an overclock, capacity dependent on platform, the standard Aqua at 128GB, and the Aqua OC, 64GB.
The expansion includes two PCIe x16 Gen5 slots. These operate in x16 or x8x8 modes, and a third full-length slot pulls from the chipset at x4 while a fourth slot offers Gen3 x1 connectivity. Storage includes three Hyper m.2 slots, one pulling CPU lanes to the right edge of the board and the other two coming from the chipset. SATA is broken up with four ports coming from the Z690 chipset, ASRock adding an ASMedia ASM061 to add an additional two SATA ports.
Networking on this board gets the top end treatment from Intel, pulling in its Killer Networking E3100G for 2.5GBE and AX1675 for WiFi6e. In addition, something we don't normally find on OC boards in 10Gbe functionality, ASRock has thrown that in too, with the AQC113CS chipset from Marvell.
Port connectivity on the rear of this board is rather slim, as expected, but it does include two Thunderbolt 4 ports that live alongside four USB 3.2 Gen 1.
The ASRock Z690 Aqua OC carries an MSRP of $1499.99 with a three-year warranty. It is also a limited-edition motherboard, with only 500 being produced.
Packaging, Accessories, and Overview
Packaging and Accessories
ASRock has given the Aqua OC attractive white packaging. Chipset and CPU support bottom left and branding on the right.
On the back, specifications are listed along the bottom with a rear I/O diagram to the left and board to the right.
ASRock Z690 Aqua OC Overview
The Aqua OC has a good-sized accessories list that includes thermal pads for the CPU and M.2, Wi-Fi antenna, and SATA cables.
In addition, ASRock has includes a leak tester for the water block.
The board is void of any ASRock branding and carries a simple Aqua OC logo on the chipset and Z690 on the Rear I/O cover. The board uses premium materials, including stainless steel and brushed aluminum.
The rear thermal plate is a single piece of aluminum, Aqua logo bottom right.
Rear I/O includes Wi-Fi and Audio connections plated in gold. HDMI at the top, followed by PS/2 and four USB 3.2 Gen 1. Thunderbolt 4 sits next to the 2.5Gbe and 10Gbe connections with dual DP inputs at the bottom.
The board layout starts with WIMA audio caps along the bottom next to the front panel audio connections. We move right into RGB and fan connections.
Further down, we have a USB 2.0 header and the debug LED and power buttons.
Around the corner, we have a 6pin for additional PCIe power alongside all six SATA ports.
Further up this side of the board, we run into USB 3.2 Gen 1 and 2 headers, fan connections, and the 24-pin power input.
Along the top, we have two 8-pin power connections.
Both DIMM slots are shielded on this platform and to the right manual OC buttons.
Under the Rear I/O cover, the Aqua OC offers an OLED panel that offers voltages and temperatures of the CPU, motherboard, and chipset.
UEFI, Software and Test System
This BIOS should look familiar for anyone that has used an ASRock platform in the last few generations. Starting with EZ Mode, we have CPU and memory information on the top left and temperatures to the right. Down below, the dashboard is split up into categories for DRAM, Fans, and Storage, with each having their own respective options. To the far right, we have quick access to boot priority.
OC Tweaker includes current CPU and memory clocks at the top, tuning for both down below. The Advanced menu includes options for SATA storage and PCH along with Thunderbolt and NVMe. CPU config includes the ability to enable/disable cores, including E cores and P cores, separately.
Monitoring is included alongside fan control, while the tool menu allows you to control RGB and Secure Erase storage devices.
ASRock A-Tuning allows for quick access to performance profiles seen above.
Users also have the ability to manually tune from the OC Tweaker menu.
System Info offers current data on the motherboard and its hardware.
Motherboard Testing Supporters
Sabrent supports our storage testing with the Rocket 4 Plus.
TweakTown Intel Motherboard Test System
- CPU: Intel Core i9 12900K
- GPU: NVIDIA RTX A5000
- RAM: Kingston Fury DDR5 5200MHz 16GB CL40 (buy from Amazon)
- OS Storage: Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus 1TB (buy from Amazon)
- Power Supply: ASUS Thor 1200W (buy from Amazon)
- OS: Microsoft Windows 11 (buy from Amazon)
Cinebench R23 and AIDA64
Cinebench and AIDA64
Cinebench is a long-standing render benchmark that has been heavily relied upon by both Intel and AMD to showcase their newest platforms during unveils. The benchmark has two tests, a single-core workload that will utilize one thread or 1T. There is also a multi-threaded test that uses all threads or nT of a tested CPU.
Starting our testing, the Aqua OC got off to a great start pulling in 2021 in 1t.
nT showed 27416.
AIDA was recently updated to version 6.6, which improved performance in both AES and SHA3 workloads for Alder Lake CPUs. You will notice this performance jump in the charts below when compared to any previous Z690 reviews.
In AES, we initially pulled lower than average numbers from the Aqua OC, from BIOS 4.05. Recently, ASRock released a new BIOS that fixed those issues. BIOS 7.02 resolves these issues, as seen in the chart above.
SHA3 tapped in at 6034.
Memory throughput was a bit below our Z690 platform average, 75K read, 68K write, and 68K copy.
PCMark10, 3DMark and CrossMark Benchmarks
UL Procyon Suite
The UL Procyon Office Productivity Benchmark uses Microsoft Office apps to measure PC performance for office productivity work.
The Photo Editing benchmark uses Adobe® Lightroom® to import, process and modify a selection of images. In the second part of the test, multiple edits and layer effects are applied to a photograph in Adobe® Photoshop®.
The Video editing benchmark uses Adobe® Premiere® Pro to export video project files to common formats. Each video project includes various edits, adjustments, and effects. The benchmark score is based on the time taken to export the videos.
New to our testing is UL Procyon, offering us the ability for more real-world testing in motherboard reviews. Seen above, the Aqua OC performed right with our Maximus Extreme.
Crossmark turned a score of 2308. This is on par for the average across all platforms tested.
The Aqua lands middle of the pack with 16-threads testing at 10441.
Timespy showed the Aqua on par with all other platforms, the score came in at 924 using the UHD graphics.
Firestrike, like Timespy, shows performance on par with other Z690 motherboards.
Storage Benchmarks and Final Thoughts
3DMark Storage Benchmarks
UL's newest 3DMark SSD Gaming Test is the most comprehensive SSD gaming test ever devised. We consider it to be superior to testing against games themselves because, as a trace, it is much more consistent than variations that will occur between runs on the actual game itself. This test is, in fact, the same as running the actual game, just without the inconsistencies inherent to application testing.
In short, we believe that this is the world's best way to test an SSDs gaming prowess and accurately compare it against competing SSDs. The 3DMark SSD Gaming Test measures and scores the following:
- Loading Battlefield V from launch to the main menu.
- Loading Call of Duty Black Ops 4 from launch to the main menu.
- Loading Overwatch from launch to the main menu.
- Recording a 1080p gameplay video at 60 FPS with OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) while playing Overwatch.
- Installing The Outer Worlds from the Epic Games Launcher.
- Saving game progress in The Outer Worlds.
- Copying the Steam folder for Counter-Strike Global Offensive from an external SSD to the system drive.
With several motherboards now tested under the new storage benchmark we are starting to get a good idea of where our Rocket Plus should run. That said, the Aqua OC offered us a new top score for this drive at 590 MB/s, the previous best being 514.
The Aqua OC is technically in its 3rd generation, starting several years back with 10th Gen Z490 platforms. This board has come a long way aesthetically, now offering a more refined design with premium materials, 12-layer PCB, and all-digital VRM. On the hardware side, the Aqua has never been better, keeping with its tradition of offering the best connectivity available, starting with Thunderbolt 4, 10Gbe, and WiFi6e. ASRock adds to this with USB 3.2 Gen 1 and PS/2 for enthusiasts looking to overclock this platform in legacy operating systems while offering plenty of internal expansion for enthusiasts who want to purpose a build for gaming.
Testing went well overall. The Aqua OC did show issues with AES and SHA3 workloads; for now, we chalk it up to the latest BIOS release, which we tested on 4.05. Outside of AIDA, we found performance on par with past platforms in scenarios like Procyon, 3DMark, and CrossMark. In fact, we reached our highest storage score ever with this board.
Overclocking with this board was quite good too. With built-in profiles, thanks to Nick Shih, our DDR5 kit of Hynix was easily pushed to 6400MHz CL32 with 1.4v and did boot 6800MHz CL38, but after an hour of trying to get it stable, I was unable to do so. CPU clocks were on par with other platforms. This board easily pushed my 12900K to 5.4GHz all core while maintaining reasonable temps thanks to the monoblock. This gave us a boost in R23, seen above to nearly 29K in multi-thread and nearly 2K in 1T.
With this motherboard being a limited run of 500, alongside all the high-end hardware that has been deployed, this board carries a hefty MSRP. At $1499.99, it's one of the more expensive Z690 platforms available. For anyone wanting a feature-packed platform, ready for custom water-cooling with a near-neutral aesthetic, this board may be one of the only current-gen platforms to fit the bill.
The Bottom Line
ASRock's Z690 Aqua OC is a premium motherboard that offers top-end connectivity and matching aesthetic, though it comes with a hefty price tag.