MSI Z97I Gaming AC Review: Small Wonder

The mini-ITX market has seen a resurgence of late that has seen the rise of several products that cater to users looking to build a portable machine that offers stellar performance in a small form factor. To take advantage of the increased attention this form factor is receiving, vendors like Asus, Gigabyte and MSI have released motherboards and video cards catered to this segment, with MSI’s Z97I Gaming AC being the standout offering of the lot.

While MSI may not have the market share that is commanded by Asus or Gigabyte, the vendor has been distinguishing itself by offering products that cater to all segments. For instance, in the mini-ITX segment, MSI not only has the Z97I Gaming AC that is targeted at gamers and comes with a Killer Gigabit Ethernet, but also a regular variant called the Z97I AC that is aimed at mainstream buyers.


The Z97I Gaming AC comes with an LGA 1150 socket supports fourth and fifth-generations Intel Core i7/i5/i3/Pentium/Celeron CPUs. MSI is offering an AMI UEFI BIOS with 64 MB ROM that stores confirmation settings. Being a board catered to gamers, the Z97I Gaming AC can accommodate DDR3 memory modules clocked up to 3200 MHz (via overclocking).

The board features MSI’s standard military class 4 components that feature high-quality capacitors and DrMOS MosFETs, which ensure that the board runs stable under extreme conditions and increases longevity. Users also get a hardware overclocking feature in OC Genie 4, and circuit protection with Guard Pro.

In terms of exclusive features, we’ve got Audio Boost 2, which features a Creative Sound Blaster Cinema 2 that delivers 8 channel audio. There’s also 30µg gold plated Nichicon audio connectors and a dedicated headphone out, and a headphone amplifier that delivers 600Ω of distortion-free sound from the board. For users looking to connect an external DAC, MSI offers stable 5V USB ports called USB Audio Power. The USB ports are optimized for stability and feature additional shielding that prevent any fluctuations in voltage. All audio components are shielded from any electromagnetic interference thanks to an EMI cover.