Doing the Math on ECO

On MSI’s website, a number of statements are made by their internal testing.

One picture shows a regular MSI mATX motherboard based on a low cost design drawing 29W. It does not state if this is idle, load or what CPU is used, but based on our testing it could easily be idle numbers with a reasonable CPU and a discrete GPU installed.

Next to the 29W number is an ECO motherboard indicating it uses 22W. Next to this is the same motherboard but with ECO Center software enabled, and 17W being used. MSI’s 40% claim of power reduction comes from the difference between 17W and 29W (~41%). Any company publishing numbers on its own products have a vested interest in making them sound as good as possible, so I took these numbers to run a regular working year analysis on them. Follow the math with me, and see if you agree with my conclusions.

  • Normal motherboard uses 29W
  • ECO motherboard uses 22W, which is 7W fewer
  • ECO with ECO Center software uses 17W, which is 12W fewer

The standard working year is 1920 hours long (8 hours per day, 5 days per week, 48 weeks per year).

This means that each motherboard uses the following amount of energy:

  • Normal motherboard at 0.029 kW for 1920 hours uses 55.68 kWh
  • ECO motherboard at 0.022 kW for 1920 hours uses 42.24 kWh
  • ECO motherboard with Software at 0.017 kW for 1920 hours uses 32.64 kWh

At a price of $0.12 per kWh, this means that:

  • The normal motherboard costs 55.68 * $0.12 = $6.68 per year to run
  • The ECO motherboard costs 42.24 * $0.12 = $5.07 per year, a saving of $1.61
  • The ECO+S motherboard costs 32.64 * $0.12 = $3.92 per year, a saving of $2.76

So by using MSI’s own numbers, an ECO motherboard with ECO center enabled would save $2.76 per year. If we extend that to a 3 year upgrade cycle (based on warranty), that means that the ECO motherboard should only cost an $8.28 maximum difference over the base board. MSI told me that the ECO range would cost 20% more than the standard range, and if that number is accurate, it means that the non-ECO boards should only be $41.40 ($8.28 / 0.2), and the ECO boards should be $49.88 maximum. If MSI were to move on to a five year warranty and this would extend to $13.82 in savings, a $69.12 base price and an $83.94 ECO price.

One quick blast to Newegg shows that the B85M ECO is on sale for $73.

One of the big problems with marketing components like motherboards as ‘eco-friendly’ is that when we are dealing in sub 10W savings, the cost of the extra components can vastly out-weigh the savings unless the product cycle is extended and supported accordingly.

Another interesting point to note is MSI’s quoted effect of the ECO Center software at load. Here MSI quotes 52.1W for an ECO motherboard at load which drops to 50.1W when the ECO Center software is enabled. It comes across a small drop, but that it important when it comes to our numbers.

Our Numbers

While MSI doesn’t state which motherboard they used to get the 29W value, we recently reviewed the MSI Z97I AC and thought that would be a good starting point. Being a mini-ITX motherboard it should have fewer components, but it is in the $140 price bracket and thus has a controller or two.

Normally we do our power readings with the same power supply across all motherboards. This means that while the numbers might be a bit inefficient at the lower part of the spectrum, they are all on the same efficiency line. Using our stupidly overpowered 1200W Gold power supply (for example) and an i7-4770K, the comparison between the Z97I AC and the B85M ECO gives:

Peak Power Consumption w/GTX 770 Equipped
Long Idle 56W 47W
Peak CPU Load (OCCT) 154W 129W

Even if you ignore the power efficiency, we have a 9W difference at idle and a 25W difference at load, which both works out to around 16%.

If we extrapolate 9W out in our mathematics, this equates to $1.84 a year, whereas 25W is $5.76. The more you load up the ECO system, compared to another loaded system, the more savings are to be had is a perfectly valid qualitative conclusion. The ECO certainly scores top marks in our standard motherboard power tests, coming top of our Z97 series by a good margin.

We tested the B85M Eco with four CPUs and two different power supplies with and without a discrete graphics card to get an understanding of how the power savings work. The power supply here is a 500W Platinum unit from Rosewill. All numbers given are peak power readings at the wall for the system as a whole.

Power Consumption w/GTX 770

Power Consumption w/Integrated Graphics

Our testing shows that the ECO mode affects a 1-2W difference in peak loading, but this correlates with MSI’s own numbers when using an ECO board vs. using the ECO board with the software enabled.

It was interesting to see that when the integrated graphics were in play, the i7-4770K downclocked to 3.3 GHz to hit the 85W mark. If we directly compare the POV-Ray results of each CPU in normal and ECO mode, the T/S processors stay within 2% but the 4770K reduces significantly enough to be noticeable:

POV-Ray Results
BIOS Defaults
in ECO Mode
i3-4130T 605 596
i5-4570S 1205 1186
i7-4790S 1336 1333
i7-4770K 1541 1412

MSI claims 100% performance at all times, but our i7-4770K CPU did reduce in frequency to hit the power point. We passed our information on to MSI although we are waiting on an official response. Chances are this behavior will be fixed in a future BIOS update.

MSI B85M ECO Overview, Visual Inspection, Board Features MSI B85M ECO BIOS
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  • DanNeely - Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - link

    "We used MSI’s base numbers (which in the world of marketing usually show the product in the best light possible), and calculated that in comparison to a standard range motherboard the MSI ECO can make financial sense to users with a 4-5 year upgrade cycle. Any shorter and it won’t make sense, though arguably our own numbers showed that the more the system is used in terms of loading, the better the financial outcome. If businesses are sticking to a 3 year upgrade cycle, this might not be enough of a saving to make sense."

    It's worth keeping in mind for breakeven considerations that a price that's marginal at average electric prices will be a big winner in areas that have prices well above average. Hawaii pays almost 3x the national average, New York (and much of new england) are roughly one and a half times the average.
  • xenol - Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - link

    While the target market and idea is noble, I'm thinking... unless MSI can get an OEM to use these boards, I just don't see any business bulk ordering them from Newegg and assembling those thousands of custom rigs.
  • Flunk - Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - link

    OEMs don't generally use retail boards, they contract out for their own variant. I can't see them doing that with this design right now because of the tight margins involved in PC sales and the difficulty in marketing a computer that's 10% more energy-efficient.

    For $73 this would be right at home in a SMB or home server, HTPC (although with all the little android boxes out there this is a rapidly dying segment) or just your average little desktop. Even without the ECO claims the board isn't overpriced.
  • just4U - Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - link

    I'd have been more interested in a eco friendly variant that has long life claims similar to Asus Tuff series.
  • mike_m_ekim - Friday, December 12, 2014 - link

    Agreed; on the other hand, corporations that order thousands of computers do care about power consumption, so there is a chance of OEM adoption.
  • yudha haryo saputro - Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - link

    i alerdy confuse about this spesification is Four DDR4 DIMM slots supporting up to 32 GB
    Up to Dual Channel, 1600 MHz, but the test setup is G.Skill RipjawsZ 2x4 GB DDR3-1600 9-11-9 Kit,
    DDR3 , what the real spesification?
  • Mikemk - Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - link

    LGA 1150 would be DDR3
  • Ian Cutress - Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - link

    It's DDR3, a copy/paste error from my table generation. Fixed!
  • yudha haryo saputro - Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - link

    okey, Thanks for improvement
  • simonpschmitt - Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - link

    I live in Germany witch seems to be a target market going by the "TÜV-Saarland" certification and a medium size buisness I do the IT for has electrical costs of ~0.26€ / kWh = 0.32$ / kWh. Using your workyear assumptions this gives us savings of 7.73$ per year. With a more realistical 5 year product cycle you would save nearly 38$.

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