The combination of Haswell CPUs and the up-surge in mini-ITX cases seems to have created new enthusiasm for small form factor PCs. Moreover, for the first time in DIY history, these systems are capable of catering to not only the most discerning high-end gamers but overclockers as well.
We have seen the likes of the ASUS Maximus VI Impact deliver phenomenal performance before, and with the MSI Z87I GAMING AC we expected much of the same, at least where performance was concerned.
Despite its diminutive size, the Z87I board actually packs a number of features that you’ll find on the bigger boards in the GAMING family. Keep in mind however, that this is not for overclocking and the price is lower than that of the Impact board so there will be some things missing. For the most part however this is a fairly interesting board that leaves little to nothing to complain about.
The Z87I features four USB 3.0 ports, eSATA support, five SATA ports, 802.11ac WiFi support (where the AC in the name comes from) and full length PCI Express 16X support. These are but a few of the features on the board. The larger micro-ATX or standard ATX can’t claim to have many more features than what you have here, which is a good thing as you do not want to sacrifice too much when you consider just how expensive mini-ITX boards are in general.
Aesthetically, the bright red and black work very well, just like on the other GAMING products from MSI, so there’ll be nothing to frown upon there. As far as the BIOS is concerned, it’s again the typical MSI OC-Touch BIOS which we’ve stated before is very well presented visually and fairly easy to navigate.
A nice feature that MSI has with the Z87I is the ability to boot straight into the BIOS without using a dedicated button like you find on many other competing boards from other vendors. On the Z87I you simply hold in the power button for four seconds and the board will boot into the BIOS from a cold boot. Unfortunately though, there are no dedicated buttons for power or reset and thus you’re going to need to buy your own switch if you’ll be using this board outside of a case. Another aspect of this board to be aware of is that the CPU socket is fairly close to where the graphics card would be. As far as heat is concerned this isn’t ideal but certainly not the biggest pitfall of this design decision. It becomes an issue because it limits significantly the type and size of CPU cooler you can use with this motherboard with several popular CPU coolers proving to be incompatible with the CPU socket location. This is however, nothing an AIO cooling solution can’t fix, so it isn’t a major problem.
Concerning performance, you’ll find that the Z87I performs just as well as the bigger
boards. Your overclocks will work equally well and most likely with the same settings, thanks in part to Haswell’s fully integrated voltage regulator and the solid PWM provided by MSI. You’ll find there’s no difference in maximum overclocks between this board and any other regardless of the benchmark, thus it proves what we said in the beginning of this review and that is mini-ITX systems can be just as powerful as ATX or even E-ATX based ones.
The rest of this board is standard affair then. MSI has proved as equally adept at manufacturing a capable mini-ITX board as they are at making high-end gaming and overclocking boards.