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MSI Z97I Gaming AC review

Andrew Unsworth
13 Sep 2014
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
110
inc VAT

Good performance and great overclocking features, but this board is cramped

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Specifications

Processor socket: LGA1150, Dimensions: 170x170, Chipset: Intel Z97 Express, Memory slots: 2, PCI-E x16 slots: 1, PCI-E x1 slots: 0, PCI slots: 0, USB ports: 4x USB, 4XUSB3, Video outputs: 2x HDMI, 1x DisplayPort

The MSI Z97I Gaming AC is a Mini-ITX motherboard designed for those who need a small board for a small case but don’t want to sacrifice performance or overclocking features. Indeed, the board has a Killer E2205 Ethernet controller, which is designed to reduce network lag and prioritise gaming traffic, and a backpanel CMOS switch so that you can quickly reverse any dodgy overclocks you may have applied.

The 170x170mm board is tiny, and its surface soon gets cramped once you’ve installed memory, a CPU and a CPU cooler, and you’ll need to choose your CPU cooler carefully. The stock Intel cooler was ideal, but our SilverStone Argon AR03 obscured the memory slots or graphics card slot depending on orientation, as well as other pins and connectors. If you want to overclock the board, you may be better off buying a small liquid cooler, assuming you can mount one in your case.

The board is dark, which meant that it was difficult to see some headers and pins on our test bench, never mind in a dark case. It’s a shame that some of the connectors and pin layouts aren’t coloured so that they’re more visible.

There’s only one PCI-E slot, and that’s a x16 slot for a graphics card. Two memory slots let you add up to 16GBs of RAM, and the Z97I Gaming AC supports overclocked memory up to a high 3,200MHz. The Z97I Gaming AC has one USB3 header and one USB header, which provide a further two ports of each if used. There are only four SATA3 ports on the board, but that’s perfectly adequate for a Mini-ITX board, which is likely to go in a small case with only one or two drives.

Ports on the back panel include four USB3 ports, four USB ports, one PS/2 port, an optical S/PDIF audio port and six 3.5mm audio jacks. There are no analogue graphics outputs, just two HDMI and one DisplayPort outputs, which is ideal if you’re using the board as the basis for a home-theatre PC.

One welcome extra included with the board is an 802.11ac Wi-Fi adaptor that you can attach to the rear of the board, near the back panel. It’s connection speed is rated at 867Mbit/s, so it isn’t the fastest 802.11ac adaptor you can get, but it’s still faster than an 802.11n adaptor. You’ll need to have an 802.11ac router to achieve the highest wireless transfer speeds, but you can still use it with older routers, and it’s compatible with Bluetooth, too. The Wi-Fi adaptor supports Intel’s Wireless Display technology, so you can stream video to a compatible TV wirelessly.

PERFORMANCE

The MSI Z97I Gaming AC scored 105 overall in our new benchmark tests, which is slightly higher than average. We overclocked the CPU to 4.7GHz and the RAM to 2,133MHz, and the setup scored 129, which is a bit lower than we’d expect but still a good result.

The Z97I Gaming AC’s BIOS is typical of MSI boards. Unlike some of the newer, flashier BIOSes seen on Gigabyte and Asus boards, the Z97I Gaming AC’s BIOS is text heavy. Powerusers will prefer this, but the menus could be better organised with proper subheadings and clearer sub-menus. As it is, there’s too much information for our eyes to process, and it’s easy to miss options as we scroll through them.

All the BIOS options you’d expect on a high-end gaming board are present, though, and there are many advanced settings to adjust the frequency and voltage of the RAM, CPU, chipset and on-die graphics processor. The board’s software installation discs include the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility, so you can even tinker about with settings within Windows, should you not want to do so in BIOS. The CMOS Reset button makes it easy to undo any disastrous or unreliable changes you make, and its position on the back panel is a god-send; using a jumper to clear CMOS would be an absolute nightmare considering the board’s cramped surface.

This a board for those who want to build a PC once and keep upgrades limited to the graphics card and perhaps the RAM. Even so, the generous amount of advanced options and the back panel Clear CMOS buttons gives users the freedom to tinker with their setup to achieve maximum performance. We’d prefer onboard connection ports and pin groups to be coloured so that they’re easier to see in a dark case, but we like this board and would recommend it if you want a well-priced Mini-ITX board for a living room games machine.

Hardware
Processor socketLGA1150
Form factorMini-ITX
Dimensions170x170
Processor support4th- and 5th-generation Intel Core, Pentium and Celeron processors
Processor external bus100MHz
ChipsetIntel Z97 Express
Supported memory typeDDR3
Maximum memory speed3,200MHz
Memory slots2
Maximum memory16GB
Motherboard power connectors1x 24-pin ATX, 1x 8-pin 12V
PCI-E x16 slots1
PCI-E x4 slots0
PCI-E x1 slots0
PCI slots0
Motherboard fan headers1
SATA II ports0
SATA III ports4
RAID support0, 1, 5, 10
Wired network ports1x 10/100/1000Mbit/s
Motherboard sound (ports)Realtek ALC1150 (6x analogue, 1x optical S/PDIF)
USB ports4x USB, 4XUSB3
USB headers4x USB, 2x USB3
Video outputs2x HDMI, 1x DisplayPort
Other ports1x PS/2,
Cables included2x SATA
Motherboard clock adjustmentCPU/RAM/GPU/chipset
Motherboard voltage adjustmentCPU/RAM/GPU/chipset
Buying information
Price including VAT£110
Warrantyone-year RTB
Supplierwww.dabs.com
Detailsuk.msi.com
Part codeZ97I Gaming AC

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