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MSI Z87I Review

MSI Z87I Review

Manufacturer: MSI
UK Price (as reviewed): £95.99 (inc. VAT)
US Price (as reviewed):$139.99 (ex TAX)

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It's exciting times for small form factor fans with new cases from BitFenix inbound and motherboards from every major manufacturer, all of which have so far been able to keep up with many of the full-size motherboards we've tested when it comes to overclocking.

MSI had had previous experience of an enthusiast-orientated mini-ITX motherboard with its Z77IA-E53, which, unlike Gigabyte's Z77-based effort, did actually allow you to increase the vcore.

The MSI Z87I represents the company's stand when it comes to mixing mini-ITX and Haswell CPUs. It's not as lavish as the Asus Z87I-Pro, which sports 12 power phases compared to the MSI boards four, thanks to the former's VRM daughterboard.

The Asus board has also captured the interest of waterblock manufacturers, with all of Asus' Z77 and Z87 mini-ITX motherboards getting the full cover waterblock treatment. However, the Z87I has one major advantage, which is that it costs just £96. This is a sizeable £30 less than the Asus board, and if you're not fussed about compatibility with a full-cover waterblock, then the Z87I likely has everything else you need.

There are four SATA 6Gbps connectors - enough for most systems and while the PCB is cramped, it's generally well laid out with the SATA ports, 24-pin ATX connector and USB 3.0 header all located on the edge of the PCB. The big exception is the 4-pin EPS 12V connector, which is pretty poorly placed behind the I/O ports and slap-bang next to the VRM heatsink. The CPU, system fan and USB 2.0 headers aren't in ideal locations either, but seeing as the likely home for the Z87I is a small case with plenty of opportunity to run these cables under the PCB to their source, it's not such a big deal as it would be in a larger system.

MSI Z87I Review MSI Z87I Review
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The CPU socket is also positioned some way from the norm in the bottom right corner of the board close to the 16x PCI-E slot. This could potentially limit compatibility with wide CPU coolers that could conflict with the graphics card - rotating them 90 degrees might not solve the issue either as the DIMM slots are also very close. All-in-one liquid coolers should be fine, though, as would more modest-sized heatsinks.

As you can see, there's an on-board Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2230 chip courtesy of a half-size mini PCI-E port, which connects to the rear panel, providing the usual threaded antenna sockets. The rear panel has a modest amount of USB ports - six in total, but at least four of these are USB 3.0. Perhaps catering to the home server/HTPC market, there are also two Realtek Gigabit Ethernet controllers. In all honesty, seeing as the Z87I's strongest point is it's price, we'd sooner see this cropped a little more and do without the additional Ethernet port.

MSI Z87I Review MSI Z87I Review
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As far as overclocking features go, the Z87I does offer two handy items by way of a CMOS clear button and a Go-To-Bios button located on the rear I/O panel, the latter saving you hammering the DEL key when quick boot is enabled.

Specifications
  • Chipset Intel Z87
  • CPU support LGA1150 compatible
  • Memory support 2 slots: max 32GB
  • Sound RealtekĀ® ALC892 8-Channel
  • Networking Dual Realtek 8111E Gigabit LAN
  • Ports 4 x SATA 6Gbps via Intel Z87, 6 x USB 3.0 (2 x via header), 4 x USB 2.0 ( 2 x via headers), 2 x LAN, audio out, line in, mic, Optical S/PDIF out, HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort
  • Dimensions (mm) 170 x 170 (mini-ITX)
  • Extras WiFi Antennas, USB 3 breakout braket