We were hoping today’s round-up would include a wide range of mini-ITX motherboards serving a wider range of enthusiasts, yet found the gaming-oriented high-end boards missing. Regardless, we're still looking at a couple of mainstream-class boards that could serve the gaming community, so long as you don't overclock too many cores too aggressively.
The obligatory value chart is somewhat misleading, and for a few reasons. To begin, both products have the same regular price, but ASRock's board is enjoying an extended discount. And even if that discount becomes permanent, there’s the feature set to consider.
The current $12 price difference buys you many advantages in the Z97I AC, beginning with display outputs. If you really want the integrated graphics engine, the Z97I AC supports 4K output on both its DisplayPort and HDMI connector. The Z97M-ITX/ac has no DisplayPort, and its HDMI interface is limited to 1080p.
Supposing you don’t care about integrated graphics, the Z97I AC also has a faster wireless controller, supporting up to 867 Mb/s. Twice as fast as the Z97M-ITX/ac’s, that could make this ideal for moving about the home or even setting up at a remote location.
Lots of people tell me they don’t care about Wi-Fi on a desktop, that every place they’d think of putting it has a wired connection at hand. For them, there are the two GbE controllers, which add to the Wi-Fi you didn’t think you’d need to transform the Z97I AC into an extremely flexible home media server, wireless access point and all-around awesome data link between the stuff you already have and the stuff you’re about to get.
OK, so maybe that was over-the-top. But I am trying to explain why $12 is such a bargain. Besides, overclockers know that the most important improvement offered by MSI is that cheap little heat sink on the voltage regulator, which allows the board to overclock at all. It’s not a top overclocker, but it handily outpaces the competition.