MSI Z370I Gaming Pro Car­bon AC

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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.

Con­clu­sion

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.

VERDICT

A great board, but the cheaper com­pe­ti­tion of­fers more fea­tures in key ar­eas.

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