MSI Z87I GAMING AC & GTX 760 GAMING ITX Review

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Small form factor (SFF) gaming PCs have exploded in popularity recently. Valve has even released their own SteamOS that turns PCs into console-esque gaming machines, which has prompted a rise of the Steam Machine or Steam Box from many manufacturers in the pre-built PC business. MSI has a couple of products that are designed specifically to fit into the SFF gaming PC segment, the Z87I GAMING AC motherboard and the GTX 760 GAMING ITX graphics card. They look to be a great core for a DIY Steam Machine or even just an everyday SFF PC.

Specifications & Features

MSI Z87I GAMING AC

(Courtesy of MSI)

MSI Z87I GAMING AC Specifications
CPU Support
Intel Haswell LGA 1150
FSB/BCLK
100 MHz
Chipset Intel Z87 Express Chipset
DDR3 Memory
DDR3 1066/1333/1600/1866*/2000*/2133*/2200*/2400*/2600*/2666*/2800*/3000*
Memory Channels
2
DIMM Slots 2
Max Memory
16 GB
PCI-E x16 1
PCI-E Gen
3.0
USB 3.0
2 Front & 4 Rear
USB 2.0 2 Front & 2 Rear
SATAIII 5
eSATA 1
RAID 0/1/5/10
LAN 10/100/1000 Mbps
Audio Ports 6 Rear
DVI 1
DisplayPort 1
HDMI 1
Max Shared VRAM
1760 MB
DirectX Version
11
Form Factor Mini-ITX

Features

  • KILLER E2200 Game Networking
  • USB Audio Power
  • Audio Boost
  • VGA Boost
  • Super RAID
  • Gaming Device Port
  • Military Class 4 Components
  • OC Genie 4
  • Click BIOS 4
  • Command Center
  • Supports DDR3-3000 Memory
  • Intel WiFi AC, Bluetooth, and WiDi

MSI GTX 760 GAMING ITX

(Courtesy of MSI)

Here we have a GPU-Z snapshot of the GPU’s specifications…

MSI GTX760 Specs

MSI GTX 760 GAMING ITX Specifications

Features

  • Pre-Overclocked Performance
  • Gaming App
  • Advanced Thermal Design RADAX
  • Military Class 4 Components
  • Predator
  • Afterburner

Packaging & Accessories

MSI Z87I GAMING AC

The front of the box showcases a large dragon logo, unique to MSI’s GAMING series. There’s some good information as well, such as the product model, chipset, supported CPUs, and a couple features. On the back of the box, there is a specifications table, details about the board’s features, and a rear I/O overview. The only thing missing on the box would be a shot of the board so consumers know what it looks like before purchase.

Front Box

Front Box

Back Box

Back Box

There are quite a few accessories included with the motherboard:  aluminum case badge, rear I/O plate, WiFi antennas, two SATA cables, two driver/utility disks, manual, quick install guide, and a door hanger.

Accessories

Accessories

MSI GTX 760 GAMING ITX

Again, MSI’s GAMING dragon logo is prominently displayed on the front of the GPU’s box along with “Mini-ITX” to make sure the consumer knows that the product is designed with small form factor PCs in mind. The back of the box has an angled picture of the GPU and an overview of some of the card’s hardware and software features.

Front Box

Front Box

Back Box

Back Box

There isn’t anything excessive in the box as far as accessories go, just the necessities. We have a quick user’s guide, driver/utility disk, mini-DP to DisplayPort adapter, DVI to VGA adapter, and a 6-pin to 8-pin PCIe power adapter.

Accessories

Accessories

Meet MSI’s ITX Gaming Series

MSI’s ITX Gaming series consists of their Z87I GAMING AC motherboard and GTX 760 GAMING ITX graphics card.

MSI ITX GAMING

MSI ITX GAMING

Here’s a 360 view of the GPU installed on the motherboard. The shortened GTX 760 is about the same length as the motherboard is wide, so roughly 6.7″ (17 cm).

MSI ITX GAMING

MSI ITX GAMING

MSI ITX GAMING

MSI ITX GAMING

MSI ITX GAMING

MSI ITX GAMING

MSI ITX GAMING

MSI ITX GAMING

A Closer Look

Now to take a more detailed look at the parts separately…

MSI Z87I GAMING AC

MSI Z87I GAMING AC

MSI Z87I GAMING AC

Here’s a good look at the motherboard from all angles, without the GPU in the way. The Z87I GAMING AC is a nice looking board with a mostly black theme and a few red accents on the heatsinks.

MSI Z87i GAMING AC

MSI Z87i GAMING AC

MSI Z87i GAMING AC

MSI Z87i GAMING AC

MSI Z87i GAMING AC

MSI Z87i GAMING AC

MSI Z87i GAMING AC

MSI Z87i GAMING AC

On the back panel, we have a PS/2 dual-port for those who like ∞-key rollover and direct interrupts. There are two USB 2.0 ports underneath the PS/2, and I try to always use USB 2.0 for my USB keyboard and mouse so that I know they’ll work without needing drivers. Beside the USB 2.0 ports is a small CMOS reset button, which is very nice for those who will be BIOS tweaking a lot. The video outputs for the CPU’s integrated graphics include HDMI, DisplayPort, and DVI-I. Above the video outputs is where the optical S/PDIF out and WiFi antenna connectors are located. Next, we have four USB 3.0 ports, an eSATA, and the RJ-45 LAN port. It’s worth noting that the LAN controller is a KILLER E2200 instead of the typical Intel controller. Finally, we have the audio I/O to round out the back panel I/O.

Back Panel I/O

Back Panel I/O

In the top-left section of the board is where the SATA ports are located, along with the USB 3.0 header to the right. Below the SATA ports are the USB 2.0 header, front panel I/O header, and the speaker header. We can’t forget the Z87 chipset located beneath the heatsink adorned with MSI’s dragon logo for it’s GAMING series of products.

Top Left Corner

Top Left Corner

The CPU gets its power from the 8-pin power connector, which is then converted to the Vccin by the 6-phase power section. Finally, the CPU itself converts the Vccin into all the individual voltages it needs:  Vcore, Cache/Ring voltage, System Agent, Digital I/O, Analog I/O, etc. The VRM heatsink is also cut in the shape of a dragon to go with their logo on the chipset heatsink, but this design shouldn’t compromise on cooling since there’s still plenty of surface area.

Mid-board

Mid-board

Mid-Board

Mid-Board

The most prominent part of the top-right section is the Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 module, which supports 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and WiDi (wireless display). The 24-pin motherboard power connector is across the top of the board, and the two DDR3 DIMM slot are along the right edge. Between the Intel module and the Z87 southbridge heatsink are the two PWM fan headers, one CPUFAN and one SYSFAN1 (not sure on the need for the 1 since there isn’t a SYSFAN2).

Top Right Corner

Top Right Corner

Audio Boost consists of a Realtek ALC1150 codec which is underneath the EMI shield. The signal is sent through a Texas Instruments OPA1652 amp that can be seen to the left of the shield, and it also gets sent through the capacitors before reaching the the audio I/O.

Lower Left Corner

Lower Left Corner

MSI GTX 760 GAMING ITX

Now for the solo look at the GTX 760 GAMING ITX graphics card. The black and red theme match the colors of the GAMING series motherboards, and it also has the dragon logo to the left of the fan as well.

MSI GTX 760 GAMING ITX

MSI GTX 760 GAMING ITX

MSI GTX 760 GAMING ITX

MSI GTX 760 GAMING ITX

MSI GTX 760 GAMING ITX

MSI GTX 760 GAMING ITX

MSI GTX 760 GAMING ITX

MSI GTX 760 GAMING ITX

The fan on this GPU is MSI’s unique RADAX hybrid fan, and even the name is a hybrid of RADial and AXial. What makes this fan a hybrid is that it has the typical axial fan blades combined with both internal and external radial fins.

msi_radax_fan

There’s a back plate installed on the GPU that’s a VRAM heatsink, protects the PCB, and prevents it from bending.

Back Plate

Back Plate

Unlike reference cards, this GTX 760 uses a single 8-pin PCIe power connector instead of two 6-pin connectors. There are two SLI connectors for up to 3-way SLI, although we won’t be using SLI with an ITX motherboard. The video outputs include two mini-DisplayPorts, HDMI, and DVI-I for up to four simultaneous displays.

You may also notice that the video outputs only take up one slot, this allows plenty of ventilation for the stock cooler. The single slot outputs also mean that a single slot waterblock with single slot I/O plate could possibly be used with the card to save even more space.

Power Connector

Power Connector

CrossFireX Connectors

SLI Connectors

Video Outputs

Video Outputs

I was a little disappointed when I saw this “Warranty Void If Removed” sticker on one of the screws… This means that any aftermarket cooling will void your warranty, so no single slot water cooling if you want to keep the warranty.

Warranty Voiding Sticker

Warranty Voiding Sticker

With the back plate removed we can see the thermal pads for the four vRAM chips located on the back of PCB. On the business side of the GPU, there are four more vRAM chips, the core, and power section.  The power section looks like a 4+1 phase with four for the core and one for the vRAM.

Back Plate Removed

Back Plate Removed

Heatsink Removed

Heatsink Removed

The heatsink made very good contact with all the major heat-producing components, and there wasn’t an excessive amount of TIM slopped on the core typical of factory applied TIM.

Heatsink Contact

Heatsink Contact

The GTX 760 is based on the GK104 core like the majority of NVIDIA’s GPUs for the past two generations, and it fits just behind the GTX 670 in specs. The Elpida W2023BBBG-60-F vRAM is rated at 1500 MHz at 1.6 V, so I wouldn’t expect much overclocking headroom.

GPU Core

GK104 Core

Elpida VRAM

Elpida W2032BBBG-60-F

UEFI BIOS

MSI Z87I GAMING AC

MSI’s Click BIOS 4 has an aesthetically pleasing GUI using a red and black theme. MSI’s Gaming Series dragon logo is prominently displayed in the center of the BIOS. The top banner displays some basic information like date, time, BIOS version, CPU clocks, RAM clocks, RAM amount, temperatures, and boot order. On the sides of the BIOS screen there’s a total of six brushed metal themed buttons that will take you to more detailed sections of the BIOS.

Main Screen

Main Screen

The Settings button takes you to what’s usually the last section in many BIOSes where the most used sections would be Boot and Save & Exit.

Settings

Settings

Boot

Boot

Here are the rest of the screenshots from the Settings section for those interested…

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I’m most interested in the OC section, which happens to be the next button. Here we can find all the settings for voltages, ratios, clocks, timings, etc. which is all that’s needed for overclocking the CPU, motherboard, or RAM. A small detail that I can appreciate in this section is that the current voltages are displayed beside the setting, so that you know what you’re sitting at before deciding how to adjust the setting.

Overclocking

Overclocking

Overclocking

Overclocking

Overclocking

Overclocking

Here are the CPU Specifications, Memory-Z, and CPU Features sub-sections. The first two are pretty much just specs, and the CPU Features is where cores, Hyper Threading, EIST, C-States, etc. can be enabled and disabled.

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The next three buttons, M-Flash, OC Profile, and Hardware Monitor take you to relatively small sections. M-Flash is where all the BIOS flashing and saving happens. The BIOS saving feature allows you to make a backup of your BIOS before trying out a new one, so that you can always go back if you don’t like the new version. The OC Profile section is rather self-explanatory, and allows you to save up to six different BIOS setting profiles on the board and also save/load profiles to/from USB external storage. The Hardware Monitor section doesn’t show much outside of fan speeds and temperatures, but there are some basic voltages displayed along the bottom of the window.

M-Flash

M-Flash

OC Profile

OC Profile

Hardware Monitor

Hardware Monitor

The Board Explorer is a way to visually explore the motherboard and get information on the different sections of the board, such as the currently installed hardware.

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Software

MSI Z87I GAMING AC

MSI’s motherboard software is called Command Center and is used for all of the in-OS overclocking and system monitoring. The most useful tabs would be the CPU and DRAM tabs shown below, and they allow changing of major ratios and voltages without having to dip into the Advanced section.

Something I’m not really a fan of is how the tabs and arrows work. Clicking a tab or arrow makes the software side scroll, but what’s displayed doesn’t always match with the highlighted tab. For example, the DRAM tab is highlighted, but the first thing shown is CPU voltage…doesn’t make much sense to me. When a tab is highlighted I think it should only show settings corresponding to what that tab reads.

CPU Tab

CPU Tab

DRAM Tab

DRAM Tab

Here are the GPU, RAMDisk, and OC Genie tabs. The first thing I noticed is the GPU tab should actually be called iGPU for integrated GPU, I was disappointed when it didn’t have Afterburner built into it. Also notice that both the GPU and RAMDisk tabs have settings that shouldn’t be displayed for those tabs. To me, the main screen and tabs for Command Center need some work.

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Anyways, enough of the main screen, let’s get to the much better part of the software, the three buttons you may have noticed toward the bottom of the software window.

With the Advanced button highlighted, we get three options to choose from: Voltage, Fan, and DRAM. This will probably be the most used by overclockers since it has all the in-OS overclocking settings such as ratios, voltages, and RAM timings.

Advanced Button

Advanced Button

Advanced

Advanced

The Setting button allows access to the Record, Warning, and Mobile Control sections of the software. The section names describe exactly what the section is in the shortest way possible…Record allows you to monitor and record voltages, temperatures, and fan speeds; Warnings allows you to set up warning thresholds so the the PC will warn you when something is outside of those thresholds; Mobile Control allows you use a mobile device to control and monitor your PC’s settings in real time.

Setting Button

Setting Button

Setting

Setting

The Information button gives you all the specs of your CPU, Memory, and Motherboard. The HW Monitor section of Command Center has many voltage readings, temperatures, and fan speeds.

Information Button

Information Button

Information

Information

MSI GTX 760 GAMING ITX

MSI’s GPU overclocking software, Afterburner, should be familiar to the majority of overclockers out there. Afterburner allows for easy editing of GPU voltage, power limit, clocks, and fan speed.

MSI Afterburner

MSI Afterburner

However, my favorite part of Afterburner is all of the different settings available to be monitored. I love data, and everything I would ever want to monitor is available in Afterburner.

Monitoring

Monitoring

Test Setup

Test Setup
CPU Intel i7 4770K
CPU Cooler Thermalright AXP-100
Motherboard MSI Z87I GAMING AC
Memory 2x4GB Mushkin Redline DDR3-2133 9-11-10-28
(DDR3-1866 9-9-9-24 for GPU Testing)
Graphics Card MSI GTX 760 GAMING ITX (WHQL 331.82)
Hard Drive
1TB Samsung Spinpoint F3
Power Supply
Seasonic X750
Operating System
Windows 7 Pro x64

Motherboard Benchmarks

  • Intel XTU
  • Cinebench R11.5/R15
  • SuperPi 1M/32M
  • wPrime 32M/1024M

Graphics Card Benchmarks

  • 3DMark Vantage
  • 3DMark11
  • 3DMark – Fire Strike
  • Unigine Heaven Xtreme (HWBot Version)
  • Batman: Arkham Origins
  • Battlefield 4
  • Bioshock Infinite
  • Crysis 3
  • Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
  • GRID 2
  • Metro Last Light
  • Check out the Overclockers.com GPU Testing Procedures article for all the details on how we test our graphics cards.

Benchmark Results

MSI Z87I GAMING AC

Overclocking the i7 4770K on this motherboard was painless, as usual with the past few CPU generations. I was able to reach 4.5 GHz on the CPU with 1.25V and was able to complete all of the benchmarks at that speed. The highest core temperature I saw was during Intel XTU when a couple of the cores reached 83 °C, which is fine since the TJmax is 100 °C. I left Core Temp open in the multi-threaded benchmarks so we can see the type of temps to expect at this overclock and with a SFF heatsink.

1119 Marks

1119 Marks – Intel XTU

5.32s 32M & 161.43s 1024M

5.32s & 161.43s – wPrime 32M/1024M

SuperPi 1M

8.018s – SuperPi 1M

SuperPi 32M

7m 4.196s – SuperPi 32M

CineBench R11.5

9.80pts – CineBench R11.5

CineBench R15

910cb – CineBench R15

MSI GTX 760 GAMING ITX

To make sure it’s clear the GTX 760 has a default clock of 1006 MHz and a rated Boost clock of 1072 MHz, however the actual Boost clock is 1136 MHz. So that’s what the card is running at during our stock benchmarks below. Also keep in mind that the following graphs are in relative performance, meaning the GTX 760 is representing 100% and the other results are relative to the GTX 760 result. This gives us how much percent better or worse a card is than the GTX760

In our synthetic tests the GTX 760 looks to be tied with the R9 270X, but the R9 270X does come out a little ahead in 3DMark 11.

gtx760_syn_graph

The game tests are a little different than the synthetics. The GTX 760 and R9 270X are basically tied in BF4 and Batman, GRID 2 is the only game showing the R9 270X coming out on top, and the last four games have the GTX 760 in the lead by a decent margin. Overall, the GTX 760 comes out on top of the R9 270X in our tests, which makes sense with its MSRP being a little higher as well.

gtx760_game_graph

The table below has all of the hard numbers used to make the relative performance graphs above.

msi_itx_gpu_table

Overclocking the GTX 760 was rather easy, especially since there is only 0.012 V of voltage adjustment. I just maxed the voltage, power limit, and fan speed, then started raising the core clocks. I was able to get a +125 MHz in Afterburner which resulted in a 1254 MHz core clock. The vRAM wouldn’t budge at all, even without a core clock overclock. So, the core and VRAM were on opposite ends of the overclocking spectrum…

4.5GHz CPU & 1254MHz GPU

4.5GHz CPU & 1254MHz GPU

Cooling & Noise

MSI GTX 760 GAMING ITX

The cooling performance of the GTX 760 was pretty linear and diminishing returns don’t really show up until after the 70% fan speed mark. Temperatures are fine at all fan speeds, so there’s no need to turn up the fan when running the GPU at stock speeds.

gtx760_cooling_graph

The SPL was measured at 10 cm from the GPU’s intake fan, then estimated to 1 m and 2 ft using methods explained in our GPU Testing Procedures article. There was a rather large jump in SPL and perceived noise at the 50% fan speed setting that doesn’t justify running the fan at or above 50%. With the temperatures being fine at 30-50% fan speed in the previous graph, I would just run the GPU fan at a constant 30-40% to prevent any unneeded noise. Of course, overclocking may require faster fan speeds to compensate for the higher speeds and voltage.

gtx760_sound_graph

System Power Consumption

The power consumption of this system based on MSI’s ITX GAMING parts is relatively low compared to the performance you get. These numbers were with the CPU at 4.0 GHz (1.1 V), RAM at 1866 9-9-9-24 (1.5 V), and the GPU at stock. According to the Kill-A-Watt, the system didn’t even get up to 250 W when running Unigine Heaven Xtreme. There are plenty of decent small form factor PSUs in the 300-450W range that would go well with MSI’s ITX GAMING parts and their “small with power” theme.

msi_itx_power_graph

Conclusion

MSI’s GAMING series of products sport a black/red theme that’s common among gaming products of many manufacturers. MSI’s theme is mostly black with red accents, which I like better than an even distribution or majority red. They also have the dragon logo in a few places, but it’s relatively subtle instead of “in your face” like some logos I’ve seen before.

The Z87I GAMING AC and GTX 760 GAMING ITX both overclock well, allowing 4.5 GHz on the CPU and 1254 MHz on the GPU core. Unfortunately, the GPU’s vRAM wouldn’t budge at all, but it doesn’t affect gaming performance as much as the core clock anyways. So, I was definitely satisfied with the overclocking ability.

The performance with MSI’s ITX board and mini GTX 760 is great, despite the small size of the components. The only games that the system couldn’t run maxed at 1080p with at least 30 FPS was Crysis 3 and Metro: Last Light, and both of those are known to highly stress GPUs. The GTX 760 GAMING ITX stays cool even when the fan isn’t turned up at all, and the system power consumption is very low with this GPU.

Overall, MSI’s Z87I GAMING AC motherboard and GTX 760 GAMING ITX graphics card make a great core for a performance per volume SFF PC.

Overclockers_clear_approvedClick the stamp for an explanation of what it means.

– Matt T. Green (MattNo5ss)

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