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MSI Z270i Gaming Pro Carbon AC Motherboard Review

Rating: 8.0.

If a Z270 Kaby Lake upgrade is on the horizon then a compact mini-ITX motherboard unlikely to be the first port of call in a market dominated by ATX. However, buyers need not be so hasty to dismiss mini-ITX motherboards of the Z270 generation since most are very well equipped, even for a power user. MSI’s Z270i Gaming Pro Carbon AC illustrates this point well and is an interesting proposition for anyone looking to down-size their PC.

What constitutes a high-end PC these days? A subjective question but key items on the agenda would undoubtedly be a powerful CPU, high-end graphics card, high-performance memory and PCIe storage. MSI’s Z270i Gaming Pro Carbon AC meets all these criteria with support for Intel’s latest Kaby Lake CPUs, high-speed memory, PCIe graphics cards and NVMe-ready M.2 drives.

There are obvious limitations of the mini-ITX form factor but for users with a typical amount of hardware – one graphics card, two memory modules, a couple of SSDs and a couple of HDDs – mini-ITX has what it takes. Perhaps it delivers even more than you might expect since MSI’s mini-ITX solution also includes USB 3.1, Gigabit LAN, onboard 802.11ac WiFi, four SATA ports, an overclocking-capable power delivery system, RGB LEDs and audio based on Realtek’s ALC1220 codec, the current best available on motherboards.

Even from the most critical perspective the only hardware that’s missing is supplementary – additional PCIe lanes, memory slots, USB ports and so on. MSI isn’t without competition and the majority of what’s been written thus far applies to most rival Z270 mini-ITX motherboards from ASUS, ASRock, EVGA and Gigabyte.

Even more interesting for consumers is the fact that motherboard vendors are clustering around a similar price point, around £160-180, meaning most mini-ITX models for Z270 are in direct competition. MSI’s unique selling point with the Z270i Gaming Pro Carbon AC isn’t immediately obvious since virtually all Z270 mini-ITX motherboards have 802.11ac WiFi, support RGB LEDs and have NVMe M.2 support. However, there’s no absolutely no shaming in being the perfect all-rounder – so let’s see how MSI’s motherboard gets on through our testing.

MSI Z270i Gaming Pro Carbon AC
Form Factor mini-ITX, 17cm x 17cm
CPU Socket LGA 1151, 5 phase VRM
Chipset Intel Z270
Memory DDR4, 2 DIMMs, up to 32GB, up to 3800MHz+ with OC
Onboard Graphics Intel HD Graphics (supported CPUs), up to 1024MB of video memory
Discrete Graphics Single Graphics Card Configurations only
Expansion Slots 1 x PCIe 3.0 16X electrical (wired to CPU)
Storage 4 x SATA III (via PCH)
1 x M.2 SATA (6Gbps) or NVMe PCIe 3.0 X4
USB 4 x USB 2.0 (2 Front, 2 Rear, via PCH)
4 x USB 3.0 (2 Front, 2 Rear, via PCH)
2 x USB 3.1 (2 Rear, 1 Type-A, 1 Type-C, via ASM2142)
Networking 1 x Intel I219-V Gigabit LAN
Intel Wireless-AC8265 802.11ac with Bluetooth 4.2 (populates a second M.2 slot)
Audio Realtek ALC1220-based 7.1 channel HD audio
Fan Headers 3, all support 3/4pin fans (1 x CPU, 2 x SYS)
Rear I/O 1 x PS/2 mouse & keyboard combo port
2 x USB 2.0 ports
1 x DisplayPort
1 x HDMI port
1 x USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-A port
1 x USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C port
1 x LAN (RJ45) port
2 x USB 3.1 Gen1 Type-A ports
1 x Clear CMOS button
2 x WiFi antenna connectors
1 x Optical S/PDIF out connector
5 x OFC audio jacks

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