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‘Mini-Mighty’ MSI Z97I Gaming AC Motherboard Review

Ever-increasing popularity of mini-ITX mainboards is accounted for the augmentation of small-sized PC systems, work- and multimedia stations, as well as gaming platforms. The latter lay down specific demands towards hardware base, requiring the combination of high performance, durability and price-efficiency. MSI is ready to satisfy those demands, by offering ‘mini, but mighty’ Z97I Gaming AC system board. Being a part of Intel Z97 chipset family, this tiny tot owns all ‘Gaming’ series facilities, despite compact dimensions. Let’s check them out.

Specs Overview

MSI Z97I Gaming AC is based on Intel Z97 chipset targeting Haswell-based CPUs for Socket LGA1150 platform (Celeron, Pentium, Core i3/i5/i7 series). The implemented PCB accommodates a pair of DIMM slots for DDR3 SDRAM modules (16 GB volume) with the clock frequencies from 1333 MHz to 3300 MHz. Expansion facilities are introduced by a single PCI-e 3.0 x16 slot with no backup from PCI slots. The board comes with an integrated into the CPU Intel HD Graphics 4600 graphics core and offers a couple of HDMI ports and a single DisplayPort for the connection with the monitors.

Storage subsystem is realized due to 4 channels of SATA 6 Gb/sec port (maintained by Intel Z97) and two eSATA 6 Gb/sec ports. The manufacturer ensures the possibility to organize various RAID configurations (0/1/5/10) also by means of the chipset. The PCB offers two 4-pin sockets for the activation of system fans, as well as one PS/2 port for the connection of peripherals. Interaction with external devices becomes possible thanks to 6 USB 3.0 ports and 6 USB 2.0 ports, both supported by the chipset.

Sound production is relied upon an inbuilt Realtek ALC1150 and Texas Instruments OPA 1652 controllers which produce 7.1-channel sounding. It should be noted that this motherboard features both, an integrated network controller (Killer E2205 gigabit Ethernet) and a dedicated Intel Dual-Band Wireless-AC 7260 adapter that distributes Wi-Fi 802.11 (867 Mb/sec bandwidth) and Bluetooth 4.0 (25 Mb/sec speed) facilities. The model supports AMI UEFI interface and have in store some additional tools, i.e. Gaming Device Port, Clear-CMOS button, USB Audio Power.

The nominal delivery kit includes 2x SATA 6 Gb/sec cables, 2x Wi-Fi antennas, wireless network adapter, I/O Shield, DVD with drivers and software, DVD with soft package for the adapter, user’s manual, and a doorknob sticker ‘I’m sorry busy gaming’.


The mini-ITX Gaming mainboard features a bit unusual localization of all main nodes (due to compact dimensions, of course). The PCB boasts Military Class 4 components with an unprecedented durability. Since Socket LGA 1150 lies close by a single PCIe 3.0 x16 slot, the user might find it impossible to install voluminous CPU coolers. The reverse side of the circuit has got a lot of protruding elements, including a pair of tantalum capacitors.

Audio subsystem Audio Boost 2 employs high-quality Japanese capacitors Nichicon and OP1652 operational amplifier intended to cooperate with headsets with high internal resistivity. VRM node is cooled by two heatspreaders, united by a thermal-siphon tube; the node itself features 6 channels, each of which employs integral DrMOS, and uP1649 chip that serves PWM controller means.

Furthermore, gamers will duly appreciate the availability of Gaming Device Port technology. It heightens the sampling rate of PS/2 and two USB 2.0 ports, enhancing speed and positioning accuracy of manipulating devices. The only disadvantages found in this motherboard are absence of SATA Express support, POST-codes indicators and voltage measurement nodes.

UEFI and Package Software

MSI Z97I Gaming AC uses firmware on AMI microcode with Click BIOS 4 interface. Its top section features an information panel that displays time & date, firmware version, CPU/RAM operational modes, as well as data from two thermal sensors. This is also the place to activate OC Genies automatic overclocking mode and X.M.P. profiles.

‘Settings’ menu is responsible for all basic system adjustments. ‘System Status’ submenu displays detailed info about AMI version and storage subsystem configuration. ‘Advanced’ tab allows the user to configure system logics and expansion facilities, realized with the help of additional controllers. ‘Integrated Peripherals’ submenu offers settings for disk, network and audio subsystems, whereas ‘Integrated Graphics Configuration’ helps in adjusting the integrated graphics adapter.

To continue, ‘OC’ menu takes responsibility for overclocking capabilities, offering two operational modes: Simple and Advanced; the first one features key speed and response parameters, while the second one provides a total control over the board. The latter involves Turbo Boost technology and EIST power-efficiency option.

‘Advanced DRAM Configuration’ allows for adjusting memory frequency and timings. ‘ CPU Features’ submenu gives access to CPU settings, embracing the adjustment of power efficiency, Hyper Threading options, virtualization parameters, and of an integrated power regulator mode. ‘Overclocking profiles’ tab allows the user to save up to six profiles with UEFI Setup settings.

In the end, similar to full-fledged mainboard models, Z97I Gaming AC boasts the availability of updated drivers and utilities. Thus, this model is equipped with Command Center software package targeting the implementation of system monitoring, overclocking and other processes. Moreover, this utility allows for managing all multimedia options and overclocking process from mobile devices on iOS or Android platforms.
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  • 29 August 2014, 13:49
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