To help us provide you with free impartial advice, we may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site. Learn more

MSI Nightblade Z97 review

MSI Nightblade
Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £296
inc VAT

The Nightblade is a compact, well-built gaming PC, but it's a little noisy


Processor socket: LGA1150, Chipset: Z97, Memory slots: 2, PCI-E x16 slots: 1, USB ports: 2x USB, 4x USB3, Video outputs: HDMI, DisplayPort, Max 2 1/2in drive bays: 2

More Computers

Most barebones PCs are just that: empty shells with a motherboard and power supply that are designed to make building a new PC less of a hassle than if you picked the base components separately. Many have little room for later expansion, but the MSI Nightblade is different. It’s aimed at gamers and power users who want to squeeze the most powerful components possible into a small case. 

The steel chassis is finished in black with a brushed aluminium finish at the front and splashes of red trim. A small foot elevates the case at the front, aiding airflow and giving you something to grip when moving the case.

MSI Nightblade side

As well as a cutout for a slot-loading optical drive, two USB3 ports, two regular USB ports and 3.5mm headphones and microphone jacks, the front panel has an OC button that can overclock processors with unlocked multipliers by 15 per cent. Simply push this button before pressing the power button, and the OC button glows red and a red LED shines from the front grille to let you know your CPU is running faster. With an unlocked Intel Haswell processor the overclock is entirely automatic. 

Both side panels and the roof pop off for easy installation. The 600W 80 Plus Gold power supply inside should be more than powerful enough for a high-end gaming PC, with twin 8-pin PCI-Express power connectors for a power-hungry graphics card and enough SATA power plugs for multiple SSDs, hard disks and an optical drive. There’s no room under the motherboard, so you have to wedge the remaining cables around the power supply or SSD drive cage, but at least they don’t spill out and obstruct the CPU cooler.

Nightblade browser

The installed MSI Z97I Gaming AC mini-ITX motherboard has a single PCI-Express x16 slot, four SATA3 ports, six USB3 ports, six USB and integrated 802.11ac wireless. The wireless card also supports Bluetooth LE and Intel WiDi wireless displays. Unsurprisingly for a mini-ITX board, it has only two memory slots, but it can take up to 16GB of DDR3 RAM. 

There’s room for a full-length dual-slot graphics card at the bottom of the case. A mesh vent in the case floor gives the card plenty of room to breathe and a dust filter keeps it clean. Few small barebones PCs can accommodate an Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 or AMD Radeon R9 290X, but this one can.

With our reference components installed (an Intel Core i5-4670K processor and 8GB of RAM), the system scored 113 overall in our multimedia benchmarks. That’s what we’d expect, making the Nightblade powerful enough to handle any desktop task and play any game when paired with a graphics card.

The Nightblade isn’t the quietest small form factor PC, mainly because it has an 80mm exhaust fan rather than a larger, slower 120mm model. There’s no front intake – just a small mesh grille at the bottom of the case, although you can add a 120mm side-panel fan if you find the PC gets too hot. However, if you demand performance in a tiny package and don’t mind mostly building it yourself, the Nightblade is an excellent barebones PC.

Processor socketLGA1150
Memory slots2
PCI-E x16 slots1
USB ports2x USB, 4x USB3
Video outputsHDMI, DisplayPort
Max 2 1/2in drive bays2
Max 3 1/2in drive bays1
WarrantyOne-year RTB

Read more