[section_title title=”Conclusion”]Conclusion

So now that the Haswell refresh boards (Z97) have finally been released with much speculation about Intel not releasing the K (unlocked) CPU’s until Q3/4 this year, have MSI improved on what was an award winning board last time round?  Obviously there are new features that have been brought to the table, but for those who just want the latest and greatest, how does it compare to the Z87 variants?

Well the MSI Z97I GAMING AC, to cut a long story short, is nothing short of impeccable.  If you were to do a blind test and put this next to a full size ATX board, other than obvious constraints such as DIMM slots and PCI-E lanes, I doubt you would be able to tell.  The overclocking ability of this tiny little beast was exemplary and hitting 5GHz stable was no problem at all.  Normally you find that smaller form factor boards have power limitations such as 4pin 12V CPU power connectors and reduced power phases but MSI have gone all out with the Z97 GAMING AC and you can be confident that this board will handle all but the most extreme of overclocks.

In the synthetic benchmarks, the MSI Z97I GAMING AC wasn’t any different to the Z87 board if I’m honest, as you can see by the results in the graphs.  Obviously the same CPU (i7 4770k) was used and technically the differences would only be minor anyway.  The advantages and disadvantages here without sugar coating it could be different if the Z97 chipset had matured a little with a more updated BIOS and drivers available.  Thus going off today’s results, the Z97I GAMING AC certainly improves on the Z87 variant overall which is the important thing here.

Design wise the GAMING AC takes on a new design and in my opinion; it looks miles better than the Z87 version due to the new heat sink design which really sets the board off.  The board also has an amazing amount of ports and options available in terms of connectivity; especially on the rear I/O and even comes with more than the ASUS MAXIMUS VII HERO which is a bigger form factor.  With that being said, you do have a slight limitation on the amount of storage options but for an M-ITX motherboard, this is to be expected.

Aside from the motherboard itself, the MSI Z97I GAMING AC comes with a plethora of applications to make your experience easier such as KILLER LAN which is designed to improve latency and ping so you have a competitive edge during online gaming.  Also included is the 5GHz capable Intel Wi-Fi AC/Bluetooth module which can be very handy where Ethernet ports aren’t available.  Another big feature with the new MSI boards is the XSPLIT Gamecaster software which allows users to stream/record gameplay and upload them to popular mediums such as YouTube; this should please some gamer’s as I do stream myself and XSPLIT is probably the best software currently on the market for this.

In terms of pricing, the MSI Z97I GAMING AC comes in at £129.99 which in my opinion constitutes a bargain considering the premium you usually pay for small form factor components.  Taking Z87 pricing into consideration, the Z97 version comes in cheaper but more importantly, it has a good advantage over competitive boards from other companies (based on Z87 pricing) and is more than capable of handling what Haswell has to offer.  What will happen when the refresh chips come out?  It could be a different ball game altogether but for now; the i7 4770k is king for Z97 and should be embraced! (For now of course)

Overall the MSI Z97I GAMING AC not only offers consumers all the power they could need in a small form factor (M-ITX), but offers a multitude of useful features for gamer’s; after all this is a motherboard aimed at gamer’s!  MSI are well-known for pushing the boundaries and in my opinion, they have taken a great board and made it even better, so credit where credit is due.  For £129.99 you aren’t going to find a better M-ITX motherboard on the market making the brand new Z97I GAMING AC the cream of the crop in my opinion.

Many thanks to MSI for sending the Z97I GAMING AC motherboard in for review and I look forward to seeing more Z97 offerings in the near future.

  • Performance
  • Design
  • Value


The MSI Z97I GAMING AC not only supports current 4th generation (Haswell) Intel processors but has support for the not yet released 5th generation (Broadwell) making this board a good option for future proofing. With many features included such as KILLER NIC, great overclocking potential and a killer aesthetic, it would be hard not to recommend the Z97 GAMING AC to anyone in the market for a potent small form factor PC; more than deserving of our gold award.

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