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ASRock Z97M-ITX/ac Versus MSI Z97I AC

Conclusion

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.

ASRock Z97M-ITX/ac

MSI Z97I AC

Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware, covering Cases, Cooling, Memory and Motherboards. Follow him on Twitter @hardware_tom.

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  • i7Baby
    4K on integrated graphics?

    I think I'd prefer to use a very heavy graphics card.

    Would it be a better deal to get a mitx mobo and add a pcie wifi card yourself?
    Reply
  • Luay
    Well, the reason WI-FI on mitx doesn't matter is because a simple USB WI-FI dongle will do the trick. Arguably, sound chips don't matter either becasue a USB headsets, or even better, HDMI from the video card through an AV receiver will also free up a motherboard's budget for the more important features we want.

    What's unforgivable in those two models is the lack of an M.2 slot.
    Reply
  • i7Baby
    Dongles don't work as well as pcie wifi cards mainly because dongles don't have good antennae.

    I don't think M.2 is worth it yet. The SSDs aren't any faster than sata SSDs - so far any way.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    15721416 said:
    4K on integrated graphics?

    I think I'd prefer to use a very heavy graphics card.

    Would it be a better deal to get a mitx mobo and add a pcie wifi card yourself?
    Don't worry about 4k, think about QHD (2560x1440), particularly in work environments such as displaying large spreadsheets. People say the previous-generation HDMI and single-link DVI is limited to 1080p, but I think that's because they forget about the 1920x1200 option.

    The problem is that the ASRock board doesn't allow ANY resolution above 1920x1200, including the ever-present QHD.

    The solution is that the MSI board allows EVERY resolution up to 4k, including the ever-present QHD.

    I hope when I phrase it like that, you'll understand why 4k isn't the issue: It's the "up to 4k" part--those in-between settings like 2560x1440--that matter enough in typical integrated graphics markets to make this an important feature.
    Reply
  • dvanburen
    This Asrock board doesn't make a sensible purchase. Asrock offers a much nicer version (Z97E-ITX/ac) with a 6-phase power controller, Display Port, Intel LAN, VRM Heatsink, better audio and more. It's usually about $117 AR in the US, only a $15 premium over the reviewed Z97M-ITX/ac.

    Asrock also offers the H97M-ITX/ac, which is virtually identical to the reviewed Z97M-ITX/ac other than the chipset. Seriously, it's the same PCB. It's also $19 less expensive. I doubt that anyone is going to buy the Z97M-ITX/ac to overclock, so what's the point of choosing Z97 over H97? Oh, the H97M-ITX/ac can overclock too. So again, why does the Z97M-ITX/ac even exist?

    TL,DR: Save your money and get the H97M-ITX/ac if you want a decent HTPC/NAS/Whatever. Buy the Z97E-ITX/ac if you want more features and better OC potential. Skip the Z97M-ITX/ac.
    Reply
  • logainofhades
    I wonder why Asrock sent there inferior board? Maybe someone at Asrock goofed. The Z97E-ITX/ac is definitely a far better board and includes an M.2 slot. Also the other companies that declined to offer a review sample, makes me feel they didn't see their product as good enough to compete. I shall avoid their ITX boards, in the future.
    Reply
  • Onus
    Perhaps other mITX offerings will make an appearance soon...
    (If you don't care about overclocking, the H97M-ITXa/c is indeed a nice board)

    Reviews are sometimes centered around a particular price point, which may be why the more premium products aren't shown here.

    I just built Minion using a Maximus VII Impact. The only thing I wish it had, and this is minor, is a second USB2.0 header so I can use an existing card reader with it. I'll just buy an external USB3.0 card reader instead.
    Reply
  • James Mason
    nvm
    Reply
  • logainofhades
    Their price is similar enough, that I don't see the point of the Z97 board we were given, vs the one we really wanted to see.

    PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant
    Motherboard: MSI Z97I AC Mini ITX LGA1150 Motherboard ($122.99 @ SuperBiiz)
    Total: $122.99
    Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when availableGenerated by PCPartPicker 2015-04-21 16:27 EDT-0400
    PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant
    Motherboard: ASRock Z97E-ITX/ac Mini ITX LGA1150 Motherboard ($129.99 @ SuperBiiz)
    Total: $129.99
    Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when availableGenerated by PCPartPicker 2015-04-21 16:27 EDT-0400

    PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant
    Motherboard: ASRock Z97M-ITX/AC Mini ITX LGA1150 Motherboard ($117.99 @ SuperBiiz)
    Total: $117.99
    Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when availableGenerated by PCPartPicker 2015-04-21 16:28 EDT-0400
    Reply
  • Onus
    Vendors choose what boards to send.
    Reply