[section_title title=Introduction & Closer Look]
MSI Z170I Pro Gaming AC Introduction & Closer Look
Model: Z170I Pro Gaming AC
UK Price: £128.97 @ Amazon UK (At time of review)
US Price: $189.90 @ Amazon US (At time of review)
I am a huge advocate of smaller form factors such as M-ATX and M-ITX as sometimes ATX systems can be a little…well big! Of course if you are using multiple PCI cards or graphics cards in SLI or CrossFire, ATX is certainly the way to go, but what about for those using only 1 x graphics card and doesn’t ever plan to upgrade? Well the ITX form factor might be more suited to you as it does have advantages and disadvantages to the ATX full sized counterpart.
Firstly, ITX systems tend to be smaller, a lot smaller thus is giving you extra desk or floor space. Another positive is the weight, they tend to weigh less and this makes them more transportable; perfect if you are a LAN goer or want to swap rooms with your system often. Of course the major downside is price, but maybe MSI have something that not only provides performance where it’s needed, but doesn’t empty your wallet as hard as it would have done in the past?
I am of course talking about the new MSI Z170I Gaming AC ITX motherboard which as you probably guessed it, is MSI’s latest gaming themed and branded entry into Intel’s latest Skylake chipset (LGA 1151). Like previous iterations of the board, this is obviously feature packed, but some of the stand-out ones include a single Turbo M.2 32GB/s slot on the rear of the motherboard, wireless internet support via the Wi-Fi 802.11ac wireless networking chip pre-installed and included Audio Boost 3 which is designed to deliver superior on-board sound.
From a bird’s eye view, you can see that the MSI Z170I Gaming Pro AC has a multitude of features for its small framed ITX design. Firstly, MSI utilise a digital 5 phase design which might seem lacklustre to some (I’m looking at you overclockers), but it is surely ample enough for a gaming ITX board; which this actually is. One could be fooled that more power phases = better overclocking prowess, but that simply isn’t the case in this day and age as a solid 4-6 phase design beats a mediocre 8-10 phase configuration any day of the week.
With DDR4 being the new standard in memory and DRAM, MSI have included 2 x DIMM slots to allow DDR4 memory with speeds of up to 4200MHz with overclocking applied; more should however be achievable depending on the IMC of your processor, but 4200MHz is very high and the need for such fast memory is situational at best.
There are also 4 x SATA 6GB/s ports which are situated either side of the DIMM slots; 2 on each side. SATA Express 10GB/s is also featured on the Z170I Pro Gaming AC which is nice to see, but it’s already currently being phased out by NVMe supported devices via the new U.2 port.
A single PCI-e x16 Gen3 port is present on the port due to the ITX form factor being a limitation on PCB space; just above this MSI have installed their Wireless-AC 8260 Wi-Fi module which is provided by Intel and is dual band. To the right of this is the MSI red and black themed PCH heat sink which is low profile and unobtrusive.
For those wondering, Intel’s Z170 chipset features the LGA 1151 socket which supports Intel’s latest Skylake 14 nm processors. As previously mentioned, the MSI Z170I Pro Gaming AC features a 5 way fully digital phase design for efficient and stable power delivery and is cooled by a black/red heat sink; this fits in to the general red and black aesthetic the board displays, pretty much like all MSI Gaming themed boards on the market.
To save space, MSI have mounted the CMOS battery to the side of the RJ45/USB 3.1 Gen1 port enclosure on the rear I/O; a clear CMOS button can be found on the rear I/O just underneath the Wireless 802.11/ac dual antenna mounts.
Connections wise, the MSI Z170I Gaming Pro AC ITX motherboard does have a wide variety of connections available to satisfy most consumers; a full arsenal of USB 3.0 ports would have been nice, but 2 x USB 2.0 ports isn’t too bad considering you get 3 x USB 3.0 and 2 x USB 3.1 Gen1 ports to play with.
A full list can be found below:
1 x PS/2 port
2 x USB 2.0 ports
3 x USB 3.0 ports
2 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports
1 x DisplayPort 1.2 port
1 x HDMI 1.4 port
1 x 5V USB audio port
2 x Wireless 802.11ac antenna slots
1 x Clear CMOS button
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
1 x Set of 3.5mm inputs for on-board audio
A single M.2 port sits on the rear of the motherboard due to being ITX and one could argue that this does offer more storage compatibility to the ASUS Z170 Maximus VIII Impact ITX board; ITX M.2 ports do however have size limitations and the one featured on this board is no different with a maximum supported size of 60mm. No good if you want to utilise the performance of the latest Samsung M.2 SSDs and slightly annoying. The good news however is, MSI actually went with an M.2 port in favour of a new improved U.2 slot.
Isn’t it just as good on average as the Asus Z170i, meaning partly clearly better, and in 3DMark and CPU tests of all things?
As an unconvinced buyer I hate both boards, which are kind of the only selection, but I don’t know why the MSI usually gets the worse average performance score and the Asus’ problems are often not even noticed. Asus shucks… Completely unreliable. But the others are not even trying, in mini ITX and humane prices, at least.
It’s horses for courses really. The overall difference in performance isn’t MASSIVE, but there is still a minute difference which is why we compare! 😀