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.
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:
|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)|
And here is a comparison between my old and my new hardware
|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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|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.
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.
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.