MSI Z97I AC
MSI’s Z97I AC doesn’t provide any additional USB ports compared to ASRock's board, but still manages to fill out its I/O panel with three additional connectors. These include a second gigabit Ethernet port, a sixth analog audio jack and a DisplayPort connector. Even the HDMI connector, which is limited to 1080p on the ASRock board, supports 4K resolutions here.
MSI also puts its antenna on a bracket to simplify installation, screws its 802.11/ac controller in place at the factory and upgrades that controller to a 2x2, 867 Mb/s model. If all that Wi-Fi goodness still hasn’t gotten your attention, notice the voltage regulator heat sink that should facilitate greater power output (for higher sustained CPU frequency) and the tiny I/O-panel CLR_CMOS button for clearing any nonfunctional overclock settings.
But enough of the good news. Let’s talk layout! To begin, MSI places the Z97I AC’s CPU socket a little close to the graphics card, leaving room only for coolers up to 120mm wide. Supporting fins past the edge of a 120mm fan, or even wire fan clips, can force builders to choose alternative cooler orientations. We were forced to mount our own 133mm-wide Thermalright MUX-120 sideways, with its fan blowing towards the back of the graphics card.
Because of the socket position, all four SATA ports, along with the USB 3.0 header, are on the upper (or right, if it’s laying down) edge of the circuit board. The ATX12V power connection is moved directly behind the CPU. And both front-panel USB headers are found between the ATX 12V and SATA ports. These locations will compel you to connect those cables before installing the CPU cooler. With all of that crowding, we’re both unsurprised and slightly disappointed that the Z97I AC has but one case fan and one CPU fan power connector.
The Z97I AC includes only two SATA cables in its installation pack, along with the Wi-Fi antennas, I/O shield, drivers, software and documentation.
Network Genie is an MSI-branded version of Realtek’s packet-prioritization software.
Live Update polls MSI’s servers for the latest motherboard software and firmware updates. It can also be set to check for updates periodically. Because the update folder can be difficult to find, I’ve found that its “Total Installer” is the easiest option.