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ASRock Z97M-ITX/ac Versus MSI Z97I AC

Our Verdict

Packed with extra features, MSI’s Z97I AC easily overcomes its $12 price premium to become a top-value mid-market mini-ITX motherboard.

For

  • Dual gigabit Ethernet, dual-channel/dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, better video output options and basic overclocking capabilities put MSI’s Z97I AC far ahead of its rival in today’s test.

Against

  • Crowding around the CPU socket limits your selection of cooling devices or orientation. Overclocking is still somewhat limited by the small voltage regulator and—as with today’s competitor—cooling control is limited to two fan headers.

Introduction

In spite of the confusing names, enthusiasts know that mini-ITX is much smaller than microATX, but it’s still not tiny when compared to platforms like ECS’ Liva, Intel’s NUC and Gigabyte’s Brix. The main reason this larger-than-tiny form factor gets so much attention is that it still supports a single graphics card, and that’s handy for building small gaming PCs or adding Cable Card tuners in an HTPC. That is to say, there’s still plenty of demand from those who want something small, powerful and flexible.

Today’s battle is tiny for a different reason, in that only two manufacturers chose to participate. We invited everyone, and most turned us down even though newer Z97 models are readily available. We would like readers to understand that a company’s choice not to participate is theirs alone, and though we occasionally “just buy something” to fill the gap, this month’s “fill the gap” budget has already been spent on other articles. We’ll continue to work with all motherboard manufacturers, inviting them to participate in these reviews, and listening to their feedback and yours. 

Fortunately, the products that were submitted are strong offerings. We have two similarly-priced value-oriented boards competing to cover the entire mini-ITX spectrum, from low-energy silent PCs to highly-overclocked gaming fire-breathers. That latter crowd is a discerning bunch. It's hard for any compact component to compete, let alone a Z97 motherboard priced under $130. Here’s how today’s competitors compare:

Each of today’s contenders is stuck with nothing more than a four-phase voltage regulator, so perhaps we should have said “how they fare” rather than “compare”. We’ll put through these boards through the same battery of tests that any high-end system would face to see if they can survive, before turning our attention to whether either of them deserves an award.


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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