MSI H97M ECO Mini-Review – The perfect board for a Homeserver? *Updated*

UPDATE:
After using the Server for a couple of weeks, I can say that I’m quite pleased with the power consumption and the stability. After tweaking some settings it can now idle at 17W and just 21W when streaming a file from the server to my XBMC HTPC. That are some very good values. Although even when there is only medium load, the power consumption quickly rises! Apparently the old i3 T Model had a better efficiency under working conditions. My initial posts showed a much higher power consumption until I managed to enable the C-State Package Limit, not sure why the BIOS wouldn’t let me enable it in the first place. Just don’t touch that setting in the ECO Center Software until there has been some updates on the software and UEFI.


My Server 2012 R2 had some stability issues and I suspected a hardware error. A good oportunity to upgrade the hardware. And just as it happens MSI released a new Mainboard Series: The ECO Series. Apparently it should be very energy efficient and MSI even advertises it with special power saving levels. You can chose between ECO, Lounge and Server. Nice, sounds like the perfect board for your Homeserver? Well let’s see if that’s true.

Hardware Overview

IMG_8806

If you want to know more about the Mainboard and it’s full specifications check out the official Site at MSI.

Here’s just a quick overview:

Chipset Intel H97
Socket Socket 1150
RAM 4x DDR3 1066/1333/1600 MHz
PCIe Slots 1x PCIe 3.0 x16 / 2x PCIe 2.0 x1 / 1 PCI
External Connectors 1x VGA, 1x DVI-D, 1x HDMI 1.4, 2x USB 3.0, 4x USB 2.0, 1x Gb LAN (Intel I218V), 3x Audiojack, 1x PS/2 Keyboard, 1x PS/2 Mouse
Internal Connectors 2x USB 3.0, 4x USB 2.0, 6x SATA 6Gb/s (H97), 1x CPU-Fan, 4-Pin, 1x Fan 4-Pin, 1x Fan 3-Pin, 1x COM connector, 1x LTP connector, 1x TPM, Audio: 7.1 (Realtek ALC887), RAID-Level: 0/1/5/10 (H97)
Form Factor mATX

 

And here is a comparison between my old and my new hardware

Part Old New
CPU Intel Core i3-2100T (Sandy Bridge) Intel Pentium G3240 (Haswell Refresh)
Mainboard MSI H67MA-E45 (B3) MSI H97M ECO
Power Supply Cougar 300W (80Plus Bronze) beQuiet PurePower L8 350W (80Plus Bronze)
RAM 2x 2GB DDR3
HDDs 1x SSD, 6x 4 TB WD Green / Red

I know that I can’t exactly calculate how efficient the board is, since I also did change the CPU and the Power Supply at the same time. Unfortunately I don’t have enough spare hardware to really only test the Mainboard. So take my measurements just as an indicator on how efficient it can be.

The board itself only comes with a bare minimum you would need for a homeserver. It features an Intel Gigabit NIC and no more Realtek. A lot of people suggest that Intel NICs are superior. Well we are going to find out if that’s true.

Unboxing

IMG_8804

MSI doesn’t add a lot of stuff. Just the manual, driver CD, I/O Shield, Quickstart Guide and two SATA cables. Not even those small jumper connectors are included which help when installing the cables for the power switch and so on.

Installation

Be careful when you replace your old mATX board because this one does only use 6 Screws instead of 8! If you leave a spacer between your case and the mainboard at a place where there is no screw hole an electric shortcut will happen and the board will not work (or might be even damaged, but usually it just doesn’t turn on). Other than that, installation is fairly simple if you switch from a previous MSI board. Most connectors are in the same place. What pretty much sucks, is that you can connect only two System Fans! I was used to having three connectors on my old board.

BIOS

Fairly standard BIOS / UEFI from MSI. They all look the same now. Blue for Desktop Mainboard, Red for the Gaming Series and now Green for the ECO series. It should be noted that there doesn’t seem to be any Overclocking Option. Not even for the RAM. I will check if you can Undervolt later. Maybe the Intel Extreme Tuning Software helps when ran from Windows.

Running Server 2012 R2

Well I did just exchange the hardware but left my installation alone. Windows Server 2012 booted up like usual, detected the new devices and basically worked. Network was unavailable and the driver from Intel does not support Windows Server 2012. Yep, that’s not joke. You can still get it working but it’s a hassle. I will write about in the next blog post. Other than the NIC everything went fine. Just install the Chipset and Management Engine Drivers and you are good.

Power Savings
Update! I have been able to change the Package C State in the BIOS but for some reason the machine seems to stay at C3 – you can check it using ThrottleStop 6.0. Still under certain conditions, with all HDDs turned off the Power Usage can drop to 17W! If you stream a movie or write to the server using the LAN though it’s usually back at around 34 W. I think the BIOS needs some more optimization, but basically it can be very efficient.

So let’s see how the new platform fares against the old one. I expected quite some power savings when the System is idle due to the fact that a Haswell CPU should be more efficient than a Sandy Bridge CPU.

State Old New
Idle, all HDDs powered down 29 W 17 W
Normal Load, copying data from the network 44 W 21-34 W*
Heavy Load, calculating parity over all HDDs 58 W  48 W
Full CPU only Load, IntelBurnTest 77 W 58 W

*(Updated: It varies a lot, 21 W when just streaming to my HTPC but sometimes it goes up to as much as 34 W, probably depending on how many disks are being accessed at the same time due to my disk pooling software)

I’m using real world values here and trying to replicate the scenarios as best as I can. All values are measured by my APC BackUPS Pro.

The ECO Center Software looks like it might save you a few Watts as well since you can disable most of the stuff when using the Mainboard in a Homeserver. Sadly it didn’t save more than 1-2 Watts.

eco center

So, it is a bit more efficient. But I think most comes due to the CPU change. MSI boards have always been known to be more efficient than something like ASUS or ASRock due to the fact that the other companies often add a little bit of overclocking. I’m still a bit disappointed as I was expecting more, especially from the ECO Control Center Software. Also after each reboot the Monitor Output Ports are enabled again. I guess as a failsafe, it doesn’t seem to make any difference in power consumption either.

UPDATE: Even after updating the BIOS to the latest version (end of July) I wasn’t able to manually set the Package C State. It always reverted back to C3 instead of C7/C7s. Maybe that is a bug and it will be even more power efficient in the future. The ECO Center lets you control some BIOS Settings but this particular setting I did not find in the real BIOS and the software was unable to override it apparently.

 

Conclusion

Would I recommend this board for a Homeserver? Probably yes if you are upgrading anyway, although you have to know the limitations. The MSI H97M-E35 costs about 8 Euros less in Germany at this time and seems to be close to identical to this one, except it features a Realtek NIC and only got two RAM slots. So I think the price for the MSI H97M ECO is justified and it will probably save a few Watts but not that much. I suspect it to safe around 2-5 Watts compared to the H97M-E35. Maybe some hardware related site will do a real review between those two boards in the future.

12 thoughts on “MSI H97M ECO Mini-Review – The perfect board for a Homeserver? *Updated*

  1. Hi.
    I’m interested in this motherboard, I’m thinking about using it to build a home server. I would like to build it in the most efficient way.
    I would like to know if it’s possible to underclock and/or undervolt the CPU and the RAM.

    Thanks for posting this mini review, it’s the first one I find on the new MSI ECO mobo.

    • Hi,

      sorry for the late reply (just came back from Holiday). Unfortunately with the current version of the UEFI BIOS it is not possible to underclock or undervolt the CPU or RAM. In theory you could use the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility to change the Voltage settings. It let’s me set the Processor Input Voltage from 1.8 to 2.3 V and the Core Voltage from 0.8 to 1.3 V. Memory Voltage starts at 1.35 V up to 1.8 V.
      I haven’t tested this tool yet though, so I can’t say for sure that those settings will be applied.

  2. How did you update the BIOS from Windows Server2012? I installed my new Homeserver yesterday and didn’t manage to do so.

    • Hi Mathias,

      actually I’m not 100% if I did it under Windows or not, since I played around with another MSI Board at the same time. I was expecting it to work under Server 2012 as well, but if it didn’t work for you (using LiveUpdate 6) you can try copying the BIOS file to a USB stick, restart the PC and go to the BIOS. There it should be possible to update it from the USB stick. I’m afraid that I can’t test it right now since I’m abroad for a couple of days.
      Hope you manage to get it working!

      • It can be updated directly from the bios. Just copy the download content onto a USB drive.
        Good thing MSI explains that with the supplied BIOS Downloads.

        I went the more difficult path, using a bootable usb drive with some sort of MSI tool, but I guess that was unnecessary.

        Thanks for your help.

  3. This looks really good! Are you using this computer? What´s your experience with those “only 2 system fans”? Is it OK or would you really prefer to have three?

    • Of course I’m using it as NAS with Windows Server 2012 R2 installed. I’m still quite pleased with it – very stable so far. Currently I can manage with the 2 system fans, as the 3rd fan can be manually controlled through a switch that came with the Fractal R4 Case.

  4. Hello,
    do you know if this board supports Wake-On-Lan with the onboard chip? I can’t find anything about it in the manual.
    Thx!

    • Hi,

      yes it works flawlessly. I’m using it with Lightsout (which automatically puts the PC to sleep if it is not being accessed) and my XBMC HTPC is configured to send WoL. I also tested some WoL Apps for the iPhone which worked fine as well.

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