MSI Z87i Gaming AC Mini ITX Review
OverviewHardware: CPU & Motherboards
WHAT WE LIKED:Features, Wireless AC, CPU and Memory Support, Overclocking, Design, Style, Quality, Warranty, Price
WHAT WE DISLIKED:Connection layout may be an issue is some cases.
In the scheme of things, mini ITX systems are still a niche market. However it is a market that is gaining a lot of attention because of products like the Z87i Gaming AC. Offering the same full size features in a smaller package opens doors to system configurations that have previously been reserved for the most imaginative of dreamers. Dream no more, go build instead. The Gaming AC board takes full advantage of the Z87 chipset and 1150 CPU socket used to power most enthusiast class machines available today.
That means you can use the top i7 CPU and super fast 3000MHz memory in a system that could possibly be as small and thin as a Blu-ray player. Using just the integrated HD4600 you will be able to display HD video using the HDMI, DVI or Display ports and do some light entry level gaming. If you opted to use a discrete GPU, MSI provided the option of using the GTX 760 mini ITX as a matching pair for a killer look. However you are not obligated to even build a small system or use the matching GPU, the Z87i Gaming AC will work in any case and with any GPU currently available.
Earlier in the review I had mentioned the seemingly odd placement of the 8-pin CPU power connector. As it turned out, it was not a problem in this particular system build. MSI did rather well on the overall layout by clustering the majority of the pins and connectors to the one side opposite of the PCI-e slot making cable management that much easier. Including the WiFi on-board is another great feature that will help keep the system small and well organized. It may turn out to be a quite different if you install the Z87i Gaming AC in the traditional rear mounted position. This would place most of the cables at the top of the chassis, making for some interesting cable management in some cases.
The $179.99AR sticker price may slow some down from making this investment until they check the prices of other mini ITX of this caliber. The Z87i Gaming AC is $30-50 cheaper than the Asus Maximus VI Impact and $20-$30 cheaper then the EVGA Stinger. Overclocking will be fairly close across all of these board and will largely be dependent on the cooling solution deployed. So unless you are a die hard fan of the other brands you might as well save a little money on the board so you can spend it on a better GPU or memory.
MSI has been making great strides in the enthusiast and gamer segments with products staples like the Z87 MPower and Gaming series boards by stacking them with huge feature sets, intuitive useful software, easy to navigate UEFI BIOS and amazing designs. All of those are important to any buyer, but MSI has made the single largest improvement in the area of quality. For me this is why enthusiasts and gamers are flocking to their higher end products, (that and the fact it has a pretty cool looking dragon on it). Take those items then add KillerLan, Wireless AC, Gaming PS2 Ports, steady 5v USB power, Audio Boost, built using Military Class 4 components, and a full 3 year warranty and you create an easy PureOverclock Editors Choose Award winner. That is exactly what we have here today.