Date: Thursday , August 23, 2018
MSI is one of the leading motherboard manufacturers in the world and a massive sponsor of eSports events. The company was founded in 1986 and has grown to be one of the biggest names in DIY computing and PC gaming. While MSI began with motherboards in the 1980s but, has diversified in recent years. MSI now makes laptops, monitors, desktops, graphics cards, peripherals, and more. MSI is seriously reaching a point where it will be possible to build a PC with nothing but MSI branded hardware in it. CPU, RAM, and a case seem to be about the only things that will be missing MSI logos in such a build.
MSI has consistently impressed me with the quality of its products in recent years. Gone are the days of color coding their RAM slots differently than anyone else or putting roller coaster heat pipe heat sinks on motherboards. The company transformed itself from the run of the mill motherboard company with mediocre motherboards into a company that focuses on PC gaming like no other company in the industry. Sure, ASUS and GIGABYTE have gaming brands, but MSI is the company that put nearly everything they make into a "gaming" brand. Oddly, the motherboard we are looking at here is not part of the usual gaming brand. The B350I PRO AC has no red and black colors, no "gaming" printed across the box or anything of the sort. This is one of those rare products in MSI’s catalog that sits as almost a niche within a niche. It’s a non-gaming part and a mini-ITX motherboard on top of that.
The MSI B350I Pro AC is based on AMD’s B350 chipset. This is a chipset that we haven’t dealt with before. So far, we’ve generally tackled X370 and X470 chipsets from AMD and avoided the budget-oriented offerings. However, with the mini-ITX space, these chipsets may be more alluring as the SFF tends to build more efficient and less expensive builds. Much of the time there is a focus on low power and silence as much as performance.
We are huge fans of mini-ITX builds at the [H]. I have built several for myself, although not as a primary gaming platform. A few years ago, most gamers wouldn’t ever consider an SFF build as a primary gaming platform. With multi-GPU solutions not only becoming unnecessary but, falling out of fashion and storage options becoming so large, there really isn’t a need to have enormous gaming towers anymore. Mini-ITX motherboards do make some concessions compared to traditional form factors by their very nature. You still sacrifice some expansion capabilities, but again this isn’t the early 2000’s. Much of what you need is already provided on the motherboard or can be done externally.
Main Specifications Overview:
Detailed Specifications Overview:
The packaging for the B350I PRO AC is very basic. The box isn’t much larger than the motherboard itself. The artwork doesn’t really exist, it just has the branding on the box. Inside the box is a sparse bundle but it gives you everything you need to get up and going. Included are the following accessories: User guide, I/O shield, WiFi antennas, SATA cable, and driver disc,
The PCB layout is exquisite. The motherboard has a thin, yet straight PCB. The layout makes most of the usual concessions that mini-ITX motherboards must make due to the minimal PCB real-estate. You lose two DIMM slots and all but one expansion slot. You get 2 fan headers, 2 RGB headers, 1x USB 2.0 header and 1x USB 3.1 Gen 1 header.
The CPU area is as clear as it can be on any mini-ITX motherboard. You can see the 4+2 power phases indicated by the chokes. However, the MOSFET coolers are the most anemic I’ve ever seen on any modern motherboard. While this is somewhat expected in the price point, I can’t help but feel these should have been more substantial. That said, doing general desktop tasks the heat sinks remained a reasonable temperature. I’ll talk about this in more detail in the overclocking section. The benefit to the heat sink size is that they create minimal interference with CPU coolers. You don’t have to work around mammoth MOSFET coolers to plug cables in or anything like that.
One of the main concessions made for mini-ITX motherboards is a lack of PCB real estate for memory slots. There are two 288-pin DIMM slots, supporting a total of 32GB of DDR4 RAM. These slots require slots with a single locking tab for module retention. Each slot is allocated to one memory channel allowing for dual-channel memory mode operation. Because only two slots are present, color coding wouldn’t be necessary even if the manufacturer wanted to do it and discard aesthetics for the sake of being slightly more user friendly.
The chipset is cooled by a simple flat heat sink. It is one of the most basic I’ve seen. It reminds me of the heatsinks CPUs used back in the day when a 486 DX2 66MHz CPU was hot stuff. The low profile isn’t quite as necessary as it doesn’t block the expansion area. One layout concession that doesn’t appear on MSI’s B350I PRO AC is ridiculous SATA port placement which forces cables to end up draped over the system RAM. All four ports are located in the same place. These are located directly in front of the DIMM slots on the left, closest to the PCIe slots.
The expansion slot area is simple as there is only one PCIe slot. This slot has up to 16x PCIe lanes allocated to it. This slot uses a standard locking tab which is somewhat difficult to manipulate, but not anymore than it is on other motherboards of this type. The tab is right next to the DIMM slots creating issues in releasing the PCIe locking tab.
The I/O panel has a good deal of connectivity options for such a small and basic motherboard. This includes 2x USB 2.0 ports, 2x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, 1x DisplayPort, 1x HDMI port, 1x RJ-45 port, 1x PS/2 mouse/keyboard combination port, 2x WiFi antennas, and 3x mini-stereo jacks. These are color coded with plastic rings on the outside of the jacks.