MSI Z270i Gaming Pro Carbon AC
Z270 ITX offering.
In the early noughties, an interesting concept arose from our fervent pursuit of more powerful technology: as transistor size shrank, efficiency per watt increased, and die size fell, manufacturers aggressively pushed for smaller and smaller devices. The ITX form factor was developed in 2001 by VIA Technologies as a way of shrinking desktop computers to a more manageable size, and it has since become a staple for enthusiasts looking to build a tiny desk-sitting powerhouse.
MSI’s Z270i Gaming Pro Carbon is the first in the latest line of Kaby Lake boards we’ve seen that deals with ITX. And we’ll be honest: although the on-board support is as good as, if not better than, it has ever been, the rear I/O gives us pause. This isn’t limited to MSI, though — Gigabyte, Asus, and ASRock have all stripped down the rear I/O of their ITX offerings and put about 25 percent less stuff on it. Because, you know, ITX system users have fewer peripherals, or something. Yeah, we don’t get that logic either. Anyway, let’s compare the Z97i Gaming AC against the Z170i Gaming Pro and the Z270i Gaming Pro Carbon. The Z97i has four USB 3.0 and four USB 2.0 connections, giving a total of eight. The Z170i has four USB 3.1 and two USB 2.0, for a total of six. And the Z270i has three USB 3.1 and two USB 2.0 — a total of just five. It sounds like a petty complaint, but look at the plethora of peripherals that connect via USB, and it’s easy to see how quickly those connections can be taken up. A mouse, a dual-port keyboard with a pass-through, a webcam, a USB headset — that’s five ports taken up immediately. Got a wireless dongle? Too bad. A wireless controller? Not any more.
USB woes aside, MSI’s Z270i Gaming Pro Carbon is a solid board. It’s nice to see the ITX layout get finalised, with 24-pin and 8-pin power getting concrete placement, and SATA and USB being more accessible than before. The reinforced DDR and PCIe ports, although laughable, do give you a little more assurance — the weight of a GPU isn’t going to shatter them. And the M.2 PCIe x4 slot on the back keeps us happy when it comes to super-fast storage.
Performance was consistent, as always, with little variance between many of the benchmarks. Memory latency took a hit, and our X265 benchmark was the worst of the boards we’ve tested so far, but that was made up for by the lower power draws.
Overclocking was a little under par — our lowest undervolt from stock was 1.1V, the highest of the boards we’ve tested, and we managed 5GHz at 1.32V, compared to the 1.3V of last issue’s more overclocking-oriented XPower Titanium. It is a solid offering — it’s just a shame that the rear I/O is shrinking at such a rate.