MSI Z370I Gaming Pro Carbon AC
Initially costing the same as Asus’ ROG Strix Z370-I Gaming, MSI soon saw sense and moved the moodylooking Z370I Gaming Pro Carbon AC’s price closer to that of the Gigabyte Z370N WiFi. It still costs a little more than the Gigabyte, though, and the two boards still trade blows in terms of specifications.
The MSI board has just one M.2 port and it lacks a heatsink, whereas the Gigabyte board has two M.2 ports, with a large, effective heatsink for the top-side one. The Gigabyte board also has two Intel LAN ports, more USB ports and, critically, a third fan header too. The Z370I Gaming Pro Carbon AC is the only board on test to only include two fan headers, so unless you use fan splitter cables, you won’t be able to take advantage of MSI’s excellent EFI and software-based fan control to finetune and automate your case fans.
Thankfully, the Gigabyte board doesn’t have it all its own way. The Z370I Gaming Pro Carbon AC offers the full count of six audio sockets, including an optical output. It also has ASMedia-controlled Type-A and Type-C USB 3.1 ports, as well as a clear-CMOS switch. The MSI also has better VRM cooling, more power circuitry phases and a cleaner EFI that’s easier to use. It’s tit for tat, then, and the extra audio sockets and better EFI may be worth the extra cash if you plan on using a high-end audio setup, or if you’ll be regularly visiting the EFI for overclocking and tweaking.
Specifically, all the options you need to apply a basic overclock are all on the same page, whereas the Gigabyte and ASRock systems force you to sieve through several pages just to apply a multiplier boost and set the vcore. That said, overclocking with the MSI wasn’t quite as simple as with the Asus ROG Strix Z370-I Gaming. We had to max out the MSI’s short duration power limit options to prevent our Core i7-8700K from throttling under load once overclocked. According to MSI, this issue was due to the limited number of power phases on the board, but it’s interesting that the Gigabyte board didn’t suffer the same issue.
Once we’d made these tweaks, we overclocked our CPU to 5GHz happily with a vcore of 1.3V, which is a tad higher than we needed with the Gigabyte board.
That said, we didn’t appear to suffer from any vdroop, and the power consumption under load was also lower than with the Gigabyte. The system score rose from
The MSI offers the full count of six audio sockets, including an optical output
185,460 to 208,173 after overclocking, which was the highest system score on test.
The MSI Z370I Gaming Pro Carbon AC comes very close to netting an award, but in the presence of the Gigabyte Z370N WiFi and Asus ROG Strix Z370-I Gaming in this Labs test, it struggles to carve out a niche for itself.
Had it sported an additional M.2 port as well as a heatsink (which MSI was one of the first companies to offer), a couple more USB ports and an extra fan header, it would likely pip the Gigabyte board to the post. However, the latter is a better-rounded offering unless you really need the extra audio sockets, USB 3.1 support or the benefits of a cleaner EFI.
A great board, but the cheaper competition offers more features in key areas.