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Tuesday | September 21, 2021
MSI Z270I Gaming Pro Carbon AC Review

MSI Z270I Gaming Pro Carbon AC Review

Mini ITX systems mean more location flexibility. Perfect for small studies, games rooms and LAN parties, the case for more these diminutive designs is clear. Mini ITX motherboards allow systems to deliver strong performance without hogging leg, desk, or shelf-room. And the Z270I Gaming Pro Carbon AC is our first look at a 200-series solution. We’ve already seen strong performance from MSI’s 200-series range, so we’ve certain expectations. Can this motherboard deliver a persuasive mix of power and parts?


  • Form factor: Mini-ITX
  • Chipset: Intel Z270
  • CPU support: LGA1151 (Skylake, Kaby Lake)
  • Memory support: Dual-channel, XMP, max 32GB
  • Audio: Realtek ALC1220 Codec
  • Networking: Intel I219-V
  • Ports: 1 x M.2 PCI-E 3.0 x4 32Gbps/SATA 6Gbps (up to 2280), 4 x SATA 6Gbps, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-A, 4 x USB 3.0, 4 x USB 2.0, 1 x LAN, audio out, line in, mic, Optical S/PDIF out, HDMI 1.4, DisplayPort

DesignMSI Z270I Gaming Pro Carbon AC Flat

Mini ITX motherboards are traditionally concerned with function over style. Having said that, the market has moved on in recent years, and a Mini-ITX option doesn’t mean a green PCB and zero frills. Smaller systems may generally have less use for windowed side-panels, but Mini-ITX cases have evolved, and motherboard manufacturers can’t assume their products will be hidden away.

The Z270I Gaming Pro Carbon AC is smart, sleek enough to suit the odd look in its direction. The black PCB is off-set by grey and silver detailing, and MSI’s Steel Armor DIMM and PCI-E reinforcement follows the trend. MSI has also laid some styled diagonals, and some understated but on-theme branding on the heatsinks.

This motherboard’s physical presence may be limited, yet there is some more to additional sparkle elsewhere. Mystic Light support means the right underside is fitted with RGB LEDs. As with other MSI boards, Mystic Light supports an RGB strip while other RGB products can be synchronised to a theme. It’s a nice option for those who enjoy it.


With PCB space restricted, the Z270I Gaming Pro Carbon AC is – naturally – limited to one PCIe slot and two DIMM sockets. There is some interest here though: While both are encased in MSI’s Steel Armor, MSI has done its best to ramp up the memory potential. The DDR4 capacity limit here is 32GB, but a maximum speed of 3800MHz (OC) is achievable with a Kaby Lake processor (3600MHz with Skylake). That’s not bad at all, and on par with MSI’s own Z270 Gaming M5. That’s the level of efficiency MSI is targeting in spite of form factor limitations.

Those limitations mean this board is two DIMM sockets and one PCIe slot down on an ATX board. On first sight it appears there’s another omission here too…an M.2 slot. Happily, it is present but MSI has positioned it on the rear. We’re not picky as long as there is one; especially when the likes of ROG Strix Z270i packs two slots for a slightly higher budget.

The other key feature here is clued in the name. MSI has endowed the Z270I Gaming Pro Carbon AC with Wi-Fi as well as Gigabit Ethernet connectivity. For our part we think it’s a decent idea. Some may prefer a lower cost motherboard, or an extra M.2 option, but Mini-ITX systems are portable. Wi-Fi makes sense, and especially with more and more ATX enthusiast motherboards including it.

Finally, among the expected inhabitants of the rear I/O ports, a clear CMOS button makes a pleasing appearance.


Mini-ITX boards are up against it, and the layout here raises a couple of minor gripes. The first is that, like rival products, this board splits the SATA ports either side of the DIMM sockets (two on the right and two on the left of the sockets). It’s not ideal and it’s not an MSI-only issue, but we wish it could be avoided.

Our second minor gripe is with the fan headers. Not the amount, because what’s offered is good, but the location of them. Placing the CPU and two 4-pin fan headers next to the rear I/O ports and onboard Wi-Fi makes things fiddly. The SYS_FAN-1 connector is particularly tricky due to the wires around it, but really all three are best connected even before the CPU cooler is in place.


The BIOS of this motherboard is much like that of the H270 Tomahawk Arctic. Information, navigation and accessibility is good, and we were able to find options and features with ease. Enabling XMP with a single-click from the first screen is a bonus, and we easily achieved a modest overclock with our Core i7-7700K. A 4.5GHz base clock speed should be achievable on all Z270 motherboards, and we suffered no issues.















In testing we pitted the Z270I Gaming Pro Carbon AC directly against the Gigabyte Z270-Gaming K3 – probably the best performing Z270 motherboard across tests we’ve seen to date.

We’ve also added in the scores of the H270 Tomahawk Arctic. This allows a comparison across MSI products, and provides added continuity. The H270 Tomahawk Arctic isn’t capable of overclocking, but all tests were conducted with stock settings and XMP enabled (the H270 Tomahawk Arctic has a 2400MHz upper limit on memory).

Test System*:

  • Intel Core i7-7700K
  • Samsung 850 Pro SSD
  • 16GB Crucial Ballistix DDR4-3000 kit
  • Noctua NH-U12S
  • Corsair AX1500i
  • Windows 10 Home Edition

*No graphics card installed


MSI Z270I Gaming Pro Carbon AC – Conclusion

This is a strong performing Mini-ITX motherboard, living up to what we now expect of MSI Z270 products. As our tests show, the  Z270I Gaming Pro Carbon AC delivers admirably – notable scores arriving in Geekbench, memory bandwidth and Fires Strike benchmarks. There’s fine gaming performance here too, with the motherboard matching both the Z270-Gaming K3 and H270 Tomahawk Arctic in our bruising no-graphics-card Fallout 4 and BF1 tests. Performance then is no issue for the Mini-ITX grunt offered here.

What else should you consider? Well, if you want two M.2 slots, you can get it elsewhere for a little more (while still retaining the wi-fi included here). That means this motherboard isn’t quite the unique proposition it might first seem. What it is though is well built, well-featured and it will provide a good base for a Mini-ITX Kaby Lake system. If we’re picky we’d like to see the pricing a little lower, but overall we think MSI has got this offering just about right.

Recommended Award

Review Date
Reviewed Item
MSI Z270I Gaming Pro Carbon AC
Author Rating

About Author

Kevin Pocock

Kevin is a tech-lover with over a decade's experience testing, reviewing and writing about all kinds of kit.

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