MSI sent us their latest Mini ITX Gaming products to check out - Are the big rigs of old an endangered species? Read on to find out.
Since the Z77 chipset a couple of years ago, we have seen some feature rich Mini ITX boards that perform on par with their bigger siblings. Since then, case manufacturers have increased their ranges to cater more specifically for mini ITX form factor gaming and enthusiast builds. Small seems to be the new 'black' and when you look at the power you can cram into a case not much bigger than a shoe box, it's not hard to see why these builds are becoming more popular. The compromise really only comes down to a couple of SATA connections, 2 RAM slots and SLI/Crossfire - the Z97I Gaming AC has Killer Gigabit LAN, WIFI/BT, 4xSATAIII, AudioBoost 2, Gaming Device Port, DisplayPort and Dual HDMI.
With 2 RAM slots, you can still have 16GB in total and most Mini ITX cases don't really cater for more than 4 SATA devices so the outgoing eSATA ports are probably more use anyway - the only thing I'd really consider missing here is an NGFF/M.2 SSD slot.
With the new Intel Z97 chipset release came a swag of new motherboards from the manufacturers - in many sizes and specifications. MSI sent us their smallest Z97 offering from their range of 26 new motherboards, the Z97I Gaming AC along with their new Radeon R9 270X Mini ITX Gaming Graphics card for a complete Mini ITX gaming experience. Having received the goodies with the slogan "JUST GAME" emblazoned on it we felt compelled to put the pair to the test with some benchmarks and a practical build in our white Fractal Design Node 304 case.
The R9 270X Mini ITX is a stubby looking card with a chunky but nicely shrouded heat sink. It has a single fan on it and a very solid heat sink - when hooked up together on the test bench and in our practical build the package makes an impressive gaming platform for the size and money. The R9 270X chip has 2GB of Video RAM which is suitable for 1080P gaming and matched with the pixel pushing power of the GPU itself - as we found out, it's spot on for gaming in your lounge room on a FULL HD TV.