MSI Z87 Motherboard Roundup: Rockin Haswell


The MSI Z87I is the resident small form factor motherboard in MSI’s Z87 lineup, the mini-ITX board sports an all-black PCB with black and dark silver trimmings for a chilled-out look. MSI managed to fit a satisfactory array of components on this tiny motherboard. There’s nothing at all immediately adjacent to the CPU socket, although there is a small passive heatsink over some of the power array and one over the southbridge. It’s worth noting that there is a secondary power input on this board, but instead of the 8-pin connector that you so often see, the Z87I requires just a 4-pin connector.

Specifications & Features


Onboard Graphics:

Expansion Slots:


Form Factor:
4th Generation Intel Core i7/i5/i3/Pentium/Celeron processors for LGA 1150 socket
Intel Z87 Express Chipset
Supports two DDR3 DIMMs 1066/1333/1600/1866*/2000*/2133*/2200*/2400*/2600*/2666*/2800*/3000* (*OC) MHz,
   up to 16GB Max
Supports Dual-Channel mode; non-ECC, un-buffered memory; Intel XMP
1 x DisplayPort with max. resolution of 4096x2160@24Hz, 24bpp/ 3840x2160@60Hz, 24bpp
1 x HDMI port with max. resolution up to 4096x2160@24Hz, 24bpp/2560x1600@60Hz,
   24bpp/1920x1080@60Hz, 36bpp
1 x DVI-I port with max. resolution up to 1920x1200 @60Hz, 24bpp
Realtek ALC892 Codec (7.1-Channel High Definition Audio)
2 x Realtek 8111G Gigabit LAN controller
1 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slot
1 x Half-size mini-PCIe slot
Supports four SATAIII ports (SATA1~4) by Z87, up to 6Gb/s transfer speed
6x USB 3.0 ports (4 ports on the back panel, 2 ports available through the internal USB connectors)
4x USB 2.0 ports (2 ports on the back panel, 2 ports available through the internal USB connectors)
About $129.99

There are two DIMM slots on the PCB which support up to 16GB of DDR3-3000 (OC) memory. The board has just one PCIe 3.0 x16 slot, although there’s also a half-size mini-PCIe slot, as well; the Z87I ships with an Intel Centrion Wireless-N 2230 WiFi/Bluetooth card installed in that slot, but you can always yank that out if you’d rather connect something else. The WiFi card offers dual-band 802.11b/g/n, Intel WiDi, and Bluetooth 4.

The Z87I has four 6Gbps SATA ports that support RAID 0/1/5/10, and the board supports up to 10 USB ports (6 USB 3.0, 4 USB 2.0); all of the above is provided by the chipset. For audio, the Z87I has 7.1 surround sound via a Realtek chip, as well as Sound Blaster Cinema software that lets you select presets (based on use cases and situations such as movie-watching or video chatting) or customize your own surround setup.

Other than a Clear CMOS button and a handy Go2BIOS button on the rear I/O panel, there are no physical buttons on the Z87I, which isn’t much of a surprise given its size. The back panel, though, has a decent array of ports. MSI included a PS/2 port, which is a nice touch, as well as two USB 2.0 and four USB 3.0 ports, S/PDIF, six audio jacks, the two antenna connectors for the WiFi module, and dual LAN ports.

MSI gave you options for built-on graphics, too, by including DVI-D as well as DisplayPort and HDMI. The latter two both support 4K displays, and you can use any two of the onboard graphics ports for dual-display functionality.

In the box, you’ll find driver and utilities discs, a compact user manual, quick start guide, WiFi module antennae, two SATA cables, and the I/O shield.


With respect to the fact that a mini-ITX motherboard doesn’t give you much room to work with, we found there to be some layout issues with the Z87I. For one thing, the wires from the WiFi module to the WiFi antenna mounts on the I/O panel drape all the way across one side of the board, and they’re completely in the way--especially when you’re trying to connect to the adjacent pin headers. In fact, the headers most occluded by the WiFi module wires are the ones for the power and reset switches and one of the two fan headers.

This is further inconvenient because the headers for power, reset, etc. are not labelled on the PCB at all, so you have to pull out the manual to make sure you’re connecting to the right ones; worse, the headers are tucked in between the CPU socket, the WiFi module, and the south bridge, so if you have any sort of CPU heatsink, it’s pretty tough to reach them. Finally, due to the lack of fan headers in general, in addition to the fact that our CPU fans didn’t fit because the graphics card was in the way, we had to leave our CPU with a passive heatsink and connect two case fans instead.

In summation, the Z87I has some solid features, but the layout of the board is pretty tight in spots and you are going to want to double-check your complementary components for compatibility.

Related content