MSI appears to sniff that we love SFF stuff so they decided to send the Z590I Unify for a much needed review. This is a high-end Mini-ITX motherboard featuring Thunderbolt connectors and a chunky set of aluminum heatsinks. This board also supports DSD playback via the ALC1220P codec. Interesting!


Aside from those defining features, the motherboard also sports a 2.5GbE LAN, Wi-Fi 6E and the usual stuff that came with the Intel Z590 chipset.

Disclosure: MSI sent this motherboard together with a retail sample of the Intel Core i9-11900K for the purpose of this review. The company did not pay me to say anything particular about both. That said, all thoughts and opinions are of my own.

Technical Specifications

Processor
CPU Support Intel 11th/10th Gen Core, Pentium Gold, Celeron Processors
Chipset Intel Z590
Socket Intel Socket LGA1200
Memory
SDRAM DDR4 Non-ECC, ECC in Non-ECC Mode
Slot 2x DIMM
Channel Dual Channel
Frequency 5600MHz (Max)
Capacity 64GB (Max)
Graphics
GPU DisplayPort 1.4, HDMI 2.0, 2x MiniDP
Multi-GPU
Expansion
PCI Express PCIe 4.0 x16
Bifurcation
Storage
SATA SATA III
M.2 SATA III, NVMe
RAID RAID 0, 1, 5, 10
Network
LAN Intel I225-V 2.5Gbps
WLAN Intel Wi-Fi 6E AX210
Bluetooth Version 5.2
Audio
DAC Realtek ALC1220P
ADC Realtek ALC1220P
Amplifier Embedded
Channel 7.1
Rear IO
USB 2x 3.2 Gen 2, 2x 3.2 Gen 1, 2x Legacy
eSATA
Thunderbolt 2x Type-C, 2x MiniDP
LAN RJ-45
Audio 3x 3.5mm
Display DisplayPort 1.4, HDMI 2.0, 2x MiniDP
Front IO / Internal
USB USB 3.2 Gen 2, USB 3.2 Gen 1
SATA 4x SATA
M.2 2x M.2
Audio AAFP
Fan 3x 4-Pin
LED 3-Pin
Dimensions
Length 170mm
Width 170mm
Height 45mm
Weight

Packaging and Accessories

MSI had the Z590I Unify packed in their usual double compartment motherboard packaging.

MSI MEG Z590I Unify 1

The product comes with the following items inside:

  • Main Unit
  • Wi-Fi Antenna
  • User Manual
  • Quick Installation Guide
  • USB Thumb Drive
  • MEG Stickers
  • Reward Program / Flyers
  • Cable Stickers
  • Product Catalogue
  • Registration Card
  • Cleaning Brush
  • 2x Screw Drivers
  • Case Badge
  • 2x SATA Cables
  • ARGB LED Cable
  • DP to MiniDP Cable
  • 2x M.2 Screw Set

Pretty awesome bundles we got here. Appropriate for a high-end motherboard model.

Design, Build and Connectivity

MSI went all black with an egde for the MEG Z590I Unify’s colorway. This is a beefy Mini-ITX motherboard with thick aluminum heatsinks and rear IO top cover. Yes, the rear IO’s top cover is actually made out of aluminum and is a part of the cooling solution.

MSI MEG Z590I Unify 2

Back area shows more about the soldering job involved into making the board. It’s nice to see a passively cooled VRM area here along with the PCB separation for the audio components.

MSI MEG Z590I Unify 4

Powering the CPU is a direct 8 phase digital power design featuring INTERSIL’s digital PWM controller and 90A power stages. We also got the 4-pin fan headers here all of course capable of PWM and DC mode.

MSI MEG Z590I Unify 8

We have the usual suspects here as far as storage headers are concerned. I want to see the TPM header here though as opposed to its actual position under the PCIe slot’s latch.

MSI MEG Z590I Unify 7

Bottom row is busy as usual. We have a double decker style M.2 slot design here so cooling for both is shared along with the chipset’s. That’s something you have to think about if you’re going to populate the slots with ultra-fast SSDs.

MSI MEG Z590I Unify 6

Rear I/O ports are excellent. We actually have four display outputs here, quad Thunderbolt ports and a clear CMOS button. You’d also find perforations here for the onboard 40mm fan.

MSI MEG Z590I Unify 3

Excellent board design and quality wise with the exception of the sandwich style M.2 slot design, and the TPM header at the wrong place.

Firmware Interface

Ah, the Click BIOS 5. This is an old interface that I love and hate – because I know every nook and cranny of it and in spite of its age, the UEFI still doesn’t support wide aspect ratios. Pictured below is the Easy Mode.

MSI MEG Z590I Unify BIOS UEFI 2

There are 6 main menus under its Advanced Mode with of course the OC menu being the most important one for tuning. Lotsa options here including cooler based optimization. Basically, picking either down-draft, tower or LCS will net different power profiles. I wish this is based on the cooler’s rated TDP.

MSI MEG Z590I Unify BIOS UEFI 6

Hardware monitor shares the same page with the fan profiling which makes absolute sense.

MSI MEG Z590I Unify BIOS UEFI 7

Firmware is good but it’s really getting boring. Hope we’ll see something refreshing for the next MSI motherboard. :)

Test Setup and Methodology

Motherboard performance is evaluated by industry standard benchmark tools and real-world applications – if deemed necessary. It is important to note that we are testing the sample after burn-in, with at least 24-hours of uptime in the case of motherboards. This is done so to negate the physical FOB state performance of the unit, yielding better benchmarking consistency. The device is tested with the following configuration from our test system:

  • UEFI configuration: Default
  • Windows Power Plan: Balanced
  • Windows Game Mode: Disabled
  • Windows Game Bar: Disabled
  • Windows Security: Disabled

Outlined below is the test system specifications as well as the software used for the review:

Test System Specifications
CPU Intel Core i9-11900K
Motherboard MSI MEG Z590I Unify
Cooler Noctua NH-U12S Redux
Memory ADATA Premier 2666MHz 16GB
GPU ASUS Phoenix GTX 1660 SUPER 6GB
Storage Plextor M9Pe PCIe 3.0 NVMe 512GB
Case Mechanical Library JXK-K3
PSU Thermaltake Toughpower GF1 650W
Display LG UF680T
OS Microsoft Windows 10 Pro 64-bit

Temperature:

  • AIDA64 Extreme Edition – System Stability Test, CPU Sensor

Power:

  • AIDA64 Extreme Edition – System Stability Test, Kill A Watt

Noise:

  • AIDA64 Extreme Edition – System Stability Test, SPL Meter

CPU, Memory and GPU:

  • AIDA64 Extreme Edition – Quick Report, Cache and Memory, GPGPU Benchmark

Storage:

  • CrystalDiskMark – Sequential Benchmark

Audio:

  • RightMark Audio Analyzer – Test Report

Network:

  • NetIO-GUI – Network Transfer Rate

Temperature

We utilized the AIDA64 System Stability Test to check out how the system handles thermals. For this measurement, we loaded the stress test with the CPU as the only option enabled. Temperature readings are taken with HWiNFO with an ambient temperature of 27°C. CPU cooler used for this test is the Noctua NH-U12S Redux.

MSI MEG Z590I Unify Benchmarks 1

CPU temperature using the tower preset is pretty decent – comparable to other Z590I motherboards with the exception of the GIGABYTE one with a more aggressive fan profile.

Power Consumption

Total system power is also checked out. Power readings are then recorded with a watt-meter while voltage readings for the Vcore and the most common rails are taken via HWiNFO.

MSI MEG Z590I Unify Benchmarks 2

Power consumption is respectable for the little giant.

Noise Level

Noise level is also taken into consideration to check the differences between fan controllers. Decibel readings are taken with an industrial grade A-weighted sound-level meter. Ambient noise floor is ~30dB(A).

ASRock B560M Steel Legend Benchmark 3 V2

Noise is about where I expected it to be with how it handles thermals. We never even got the chance to get the VRM fan to spin.

CPU, Memory and GPU:

CPU performance is gauged via AIDA64’s CPU Queen Benchmark. This simple integer benchmark focuses on branch prediction capabilities and misprediction penalties of the CPU. Simple, easy to run and replicate.

MSI MEG Z590I Unify Benchmarks 4

Memory latency is also tested with the Cache and Memory Benchmark built within AIDA64. Latency is what interest us here due to how motherboard designs could affect it.

MSI MEG Z590I Unify Benchmarks 5

The graphics card and PCIe interface performance are also checked with AIDA64 using the GPGPU Benchmark. We selected the Single-Precision FLOPS benchmark for this test. Results are posted in GFLOPS.

MSI MEG Z590I Unify Benchmarks 6

Well there yah go. The MSI MEG Z590I got the best memory latency performance out of the bunch.

Storage Interface

CrystalDiskMark is a simple storage benchmark widely used in the industry. For the storage test, we aim to check out the performance of the most commonly used interfaces found in a motherboard. The sequential read and write are the focus here. Storage devices used are the 256GB (External) and 512GB (Internal) Plextor M9Pe PCIe 3.0 NVMe SSDs.

MSI MEG Z590I Unify Benchmarks 7

NVMe performance seems within the ordinary. Nothing is out of place here.

Audio Interface

The RightMark Audio Analyzer is a nifty tool to measure the quality of the motherboard’s audio interface. Our results are obtained by playing and recording test tones passed through the audio chain using the Focusrite Scarlett Solo as the ADC. Sampling rate and bit-depth are at 48KHz and 24-bit respectively.

MSI MEG Z590I Unify Benchmarks 8

Frequency response should be as flat as possible with acceptable minor deviation across the frequency range of around +/-0.5dB. Test signal for the frequency range contains harmonics from 5Hz to 22KHz.

MSI MEG Z590I Unify Benchmarks 11

Now THD+N estimates the amount of harmonic distortion that takes place when a signal with large amplitude passes the testing chain. The test signal used here is a sine wave at 1kHz.

MSI MEG Z590I Unify Benchmarks 12

IMD on the other hand estimates amount of intermodulation distortions when a more complex signal passes through a test chain. Measurement uses a two sine wave test signal consisting of low frequency 60Hz tone linearly mixed with a high-frequency 7KHz tone.

MSI MEG Z590I Unify Benchmarks 10

With objectivity in mind, the MSI MEG Z590I Unify’s front panel audio comes with a decent -92.5dB(A) noise level. THD+Noise could be better though at -85.3dB(A) along with a slightly lower stereo crosstalk performance as seen on the not so flat (slight roll at the bass) frequency response.

Now as for the rear panel, it is a cleaner measuring output but not really great for high impedance headphones – since it is really intended for speakers. You may use it to connect to a desktop amplifier though or be happy with it using sub 150Ω offerings – with the exception of current hungry planar-magnetics.

Network Interface

NetIO-GUI is a straight forward Windows frontend application for the “netio” command-line utility. This benchmark requires a client and server for it to work. The ASUS ROG Rapture GT-AC2900 is our router of choice here to test the Ethernet and Wi-Fi performance of our motherboard.

MSI MEG Z590I Unify Benchmarks 9

Network performance is pushing my 1GbE setup like the rest. Nothing to complain here really.

Software, Lighting and Special Features

MSI bundled the motherboard with some niceties including a USB stick for easier software and driver installation. Other motherboard vendors should follow suit. We even got double sided brush and a pair of screw drivers.

MSI MEG Z590I Unify 10

Can’t say anything about RGB lighting since I don’t believe this one comes with any – embedded. We have a 3-pin ARGB header though for good measure.

Final Thoughts

The MSI MEG Z590I Unify is a well measuring SFF motherboard. It is definitely among the best I have tested.

Of course, nothing is perfect and the Z590I Unify is no exception to this rule. The TPM header is located in a tight spot and the front panel audio performance is inferior to that of the rear. We also got a sandwich/double decker style M.2 slot design which is not ideal for higher end SSDs that comes with their own cooling solution.

I may be nitpicking here but those are just the downsides I could find within this board. Everything else is fantastic and with that said, I could happily recommend this Mini-ITX motherboard for those who got the budget to spare.

TechPorn Awards 2018 (1)

MSI MEG Z590I Unity
  • 9/10
    Performance - 9/10
  • 9/10
    Build Quality - 9/10
  • 9/10
    Connectivity - 9/10
  • 8/10
    Firmware - 8/10
  • 9/10
    Features - 9/10
8.8/10

Summary

The MSI MEG Z590I Unify is one well-balanced high-end motherboard. It comes with everything you’d expect from a flagship model with a few extras here and there for good measure. A few hiccups could be seen but it wont stop me from recommending this one though. It’s that good.


2 Comments

  1. Avatar for Ben C Ben C
    June 12, 2021
    • Avatar for Leo Bien Durana Leo Bien Durana
      June 12, 2021

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