Looking at the features and the layout I couldn’t see any obvious compromises, in fact, the more I looked at it the more I liked the layout. When it came to the test build in a Fractal Design Core 500 ITX case, the layout made even more sense. When I’m building a rig, I like to go for a low noise but high performance setup.
An ITX rig is meant to be subtle and ideally you should barely notice its presence in terms of seeing it or hearing it. How does a layout help this? Simple, if you have enough room around the socket and the right case, you should be able to fit a larger air cooler with a slower fan to handle an overclock. Also, if all the cable headers are spread around the outer edge of the motherboard, you can more easily execute some neat cable management for airflow within the case. Low profile heat sinks also make a difference to CPU coolers and graphics cards – as long as they are effective and don’t limit your overclock, the lower the better.
At first, I wasn’t sure about the fan headers and Front Panel Audio at the back edge of the board near the IO ports but in the practical build, it just worked. The CPU fan was able to plug in with minimal slack after rotating the excess around the fan frame on the NH-U12S cooler and the rear fan of the Core 500 case also just kind of dropped into place. I had a few options for routing the FP Audio but went along the roof strut of the case and dropped straight down along the edge of the rear fan. An alternative could have been to run the cable around the motherboard and route it under the graphics card, over the audio capacitors and onto the pins. The header had to be located here due to the isolation of the audio components on the PCB.
I also liked the location of the 8-pin CPU power connector as it was easier to get to and not jammed in the corner between the PS/2 port and the heatsink. This also made the mounting screw hole easier to use when fitting the board into the case.
There shouldn’t be any issues with coolers on this board. I used a 120mm Noctua NH-U9S tower-style cooler with plenty of room to spare and was seriously considering trying a NH-D15S on for size but didn’t have time in the end. The backplate area is clear of the M.2 connection as well so as long as your M.2 card is 42 or 60mm (i.e NOT 80mm), you’re good to go with on-board storage for a really neat build.
The front USB ports are also USB 3.1 Gen 1 standard.
Rear I/O Panel
All the essentials are found on the rear I/O panel with 2 USB 2.0 ports, 4 USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, a 3rd USB 2.0 isolated Audio port, DisplayPort, HDMI, 2 antennas, PS/2 for classic peripherals, CMOS clear (because let’s face it, who want to have to open a mini ITX case to clear CMOS) an RJ45 LAN port and the audio connections. It does look a little bare without a DVI port but the only other thing that MSI might have been able to squeeze on there would be a USB type C port. As is a growing trend, we are seeing less and less of the E-SATA ports on the rear I/O panel.