Whenever we talk about processors and silicon, one of the key major points is efficiency and performance per watt. One issue to consider is that while that new CPU uses 10W less, it makes little difference if the motherboard or other components eats up the difference. To that end, MSI previewed their ECO range at Computex, promising a power reduction over the normal but primarily aimed at various business customers with a green and white color scheme. We got the B85M ECO and a few low powered Haswell CPUs in to test the claims.

Why go ECO?

Saving energy is a topic to which many column inches are dedicated every month, let alone the incredible amount of money to fund more efficient methods of energy generation, travel or even LEDs. Not only does the product have to be more efficient, but the energy used to create it in the first place should not increase either, unless it acts as a stepping stone to bigger things (insert various arguments relating to Prius batteries vs building the electric car economy to drive costs down and research investment up). To a large extent, the ends can justify the means. But while cars and LEDs are big topics in most discussions, data centers are still one of the world’s biggest suckers of juice, and that juice comes from various methods of energy production. The heart of a data center is the CPU or PCI co-processor, but when you are dealing with 100,000 systems, every milliwatt in DRAM and motherboard design counts as well.

The B85M ECO and MSI’s ECO range are aimed at both the data center and the office. I cannot find the last time we reviewed a B series motherboard at AnandTech (in my tenure we did some H67 back in 2011, and a mini-ITX H series more recently), but the B85 chipset is the current Haswell/Broadwell chipset for businesses that integrate features such as vPro and Intel’s Small Business Advantage platform while retaining full SATA 6 Gbps and USB 3.0 functionality. Even for small businesses, every watt over every system in a tower block can make a difference, and offers the company a platform to promote green practices.

The claim MSI’s ECO range is making is a 40% reduction in power consumption while retaining 100% performance when compared to other boards. This is meant to be achieved by using fewer or more efficient components at every stage of the design, as well as software and BIOS options to disable unused ports or headers when not in use. The end result is that the boards cost ~20% more than usual but are TÜV certified for energy efficiency and long term stability. Like other energy efficiency investments, it takes time to recoup those 20% costs but for most use cases one would hope that occurs within a 3-5 year use cycle. We put some numbers to those claims to test for ourselves. To add to the mix, MSI’s standard 3 year warranty can be bolstered with their Customer Service Model, allowing businesses to order replacements and repairs with a quicker dispatch cycle.

Another poignant point to add was as a result of our initial coverage of the ECO range at Computex. At the time MSI was experimenting with different colors for the PCB and slots, going with a green and white theme. Unfortunately it looks like the green PCB has been dropped for a dark brown one on the B85M model at least, but the green and white theme still gets the idea across despite the main use scenario for the ECO range will be generic boxes under the desk.

MSI B85M ECO Overview

Aside from our discussion about the power consumption differences later on in the review, the MSI B85M ECO felt like a good point if you wanted to just get something up and go. With it being a B85 model it means no overclocking and no MultiCore Turbo, but it still ran all our normal benchmarks a treat on the i7-4770K at stock and our range of low powered S/T CPUs.

In terms of hardware, full two DIMM per channel support might not always make it onto a motherboard at this price but the B85M ECO will accept 32GB quite easily. The only extra controller to speak of is an ASMedia PCIe to PCI bridge using one of the chipset lanes to make a PCI slot, but the PCIe x16 is fully Gen 3.0. In the interests of keeping costs down (or perhaps because it is more efficient), we get an ALC887 audio codec and Realtek NIC rather than anything further up the stack. As this board is aimed at the business crowd, PS/2 is supported along with VGA, DVI-D and HDMI. There is an LPT board at the bottom for good measure, and a TPM between the PCIe layout.

Performance wise, when we set up the system similar to our other LGA1150 motherboards, the system acted like an i7-4770K without MultiCore Turbo as expected, but we did get some interesting system results. DPC Latency was excellent at 53 microseconds, and POST times hovered around 12 seconds. Audio came in as expected, as did USB speeds. Ultimately the B85M ECO comes in at average performance but with a few good parts.

Software and BIOS are green themed to go along with the ECO mentality. Without overclocking options the BIOS seems a bit thin, but both the BIOS and the OS can perform the ECO savings. The BIOS gets use of MSI’s updated fan control system which is good to see, as well as Board Explorer. The OS also gets MSI’s software jewel, Live Update.

Visual Inspection

Having my head buried in higher priced products for several years means when dealing with a low cost (under $100) motherboard like the B85M ECO it brings you back down to earth with a bump. Several things immediately stuck out when I took this motherboard out: the lack of power phases or a heatsink, the lack of components on the board itself, and the color scheme.

Technically Intel only rates its CPUs for a 1-3 phase design. Anything above that requires provisioning or multiplexing in order to let overclocked extreme CPUs go as far as they do. Because B85 is a locked down chipset aimed at low power CPUs, sticking within that 1-3 phase guideline allows MSI to keep costs down. As the motherboard can be bound for office use, basic airflow provided by a stock cooler should be sufficient for cooling that area as well. With the amount of free space around the socket, it would seem any air cooler should fit given appropriately sized memory.

The motherboard has three fan headers – one CPU 4-pin above the socket, one SYS 4-pin next to the 24-pin ATX power connector and a final 3-pin to the left of the socket. A three fan header arrangement is fairly common for the cheaper motherboards and should be suitable for most use cases, although perhaps an extra one might be handy.

On the top right of the motherboard is an ECO switch, replacing the OC Genie switch we see on MSI’s channel motherboard line. This implements the ECO mode, which is explained best when we look at the software later in the review. On the bottom right we have the four SATA 6 Gbps ports and two SATA 3 Gbps ports from the PCH, although the configuration is awkward. There are two SATA 3 Gbos ports at right angles to the board as per normal, and the other four SATA 6 Gbps directly come out of the motherboard. These four are angled in such a way that users with locking cables are going to have a tough time removing them, as the locking latches will be facing each other. This is an avoidable mishap. In between all these SATA ports is a USB 3.0 header from the PCH.

Along the bottom of the board we get the front audio panel header (from the Realtek ALC887), an LPT header, two USB 2.0 headers and the front panel headers. Above these are the PCIe slots, with a single PCIe 3.0 x16 followed by two PCIe 2.0 x1 slots. The bottom PCI slot is provided by an ASMedia PCIe to PCI bridge chip, and just above this is a TPM header.

The rear panel uses separate mouse and keyboard PS/2 ports, important in case an office has not upgraded to USB yet (one wonders how much gunk would be in the old PS/2 models after a decade of lunch-at-desk). If they have upgraded, four USB 2.0 ports are provided alongside two USB 3.0 ports. VGA, DVI-D and HDMI are the supported video outputs, with audio jacks and an Intel network port to finish it off. Behind the rear IO is a COM header as well.

Board Features

Price US (Newegg)
Size mATX
CPU Interface LGA1150
Chipset Intel B85
Memory Slots Four DDRs DIMM slots supporting up to 32 GB
Up to Dual Channel, 1600 MHz
Video Outputs VGA
Network Connectivity Intel I218-V
Onboard Audio Realtek ALC887
Expansion Slots 1 x PCIe 3.0 x16
2 x PCIe 2.0 x1
1 x PCI
Onboard Storage 4 x SATA 6 Gbps
2 x SATA 3 Gbps
USB 3.0 2 x USB 3.0, rear panel
Onboard 6 x SATA Ports
2 x USB 2.0 Headers
3 x Fan Headers
COM Header
LPT Header
TPM Header
Front Panel Header
Front Audio Header
Power Connectors 1 x 24-pin ATX
1 x 4-pin CPU
Fan Headers 1 x CPU (4-pin)
2 x SYS (4-pin, 3-pin)
IO Panel PS/2 Keyboard Port
PS/2 Mouse Port
4 x USB 2.0 Ports
2 x USB 3.0 Ports
Intel Network
Realtek Audio
Warranty Period 3 Years
Product Page Link

On the high end motherboards, manufacturers struggle to find enough PCIe 2.0 lanes from the PCH or enough FlexIO space to fit everything on board. Back down at $100, we end up not using some of them at all. Part of this, especially for the B85M ECO, will be for power consumption. Some of the FlexIO ports are muxed between two possibilities, so by removing those out of the equation it might result in lower power consumption. I have no way to test this hypothesis, but it would certainly be a question for the motherboard designers.

Doing the Math on ECO
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  • Cygni - Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - link

    A Mini-ITX ECO would be right in my wheelhouse.

    I have an HTPC/NAS/Steam Mini-ITX thats on 24/7 and is several years old. It's next replacement cycle would likely last 5+ years, and the lowered power draw (plus lower heat) would be a no brainer over that lifetime. Could also see a market for personal servers and the like in Mini-ITX.

    I would echo the request for undervolting access, even if its rarely worth it. The option would be appreciated to tinker with, if nothing else.
  • PaulJeff - Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - link

    I think the point of these "eco" boards is determined by the economy of scale. For a real world example, you would need to replace dozens if not hundreds of workstations/desktops in an office to realize the true savings potential. If one workstations nets a few dollars a year in savings on power costs, multiply that by the number of workstations that will be replaced, multiply that by the # of years between hardware refresh cycles and that will add up the potential power savings.

    MSI should be selling this "ECO" brand to OEMs like Dell, HP, etc. and then the savings can be distributed on a mass market scale.

    The cost delta between a non-ECO branded board and an ECO board is not worth it for SMB's and home users.
  • ultimatexbmc.com - Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - link

    Good price
  • Daiz - Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - link

    The price of electricity does not take into account the true cost of it's generation.

    It might be good to also consider the amount of fuel that is required or carbon output
    for example 1kWh of electricity requires ~0.5kg of coal and produces ?? kg of carbon dioxide.

    so assuming a 5 year upgrade cycle is going to happen no matter what, you are still stopping ~27.5kg of coal from being burned each year or 137.5kg over the life of the mobo. multiple by the number of machines in an office and every little bit helps.
  • Conficio - Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - link

    Should the energy savings and cost savings not also include the cost for air conditioning/cooling? I know that server rooms care about that. So there should be at least some back of the envelope numbers which should increase the amount of savings somewhat.

    I'm just curious.
  • Lerianis - Thursday, November 27, 2014 - link

    One thing I wanted to point out: 300 Watt power supply? Eh eh...... even a bargain basement, non-gaming intended dicrete graphics card needs 400 Watts minimum, unless it is the REALLY cheap ones sold to HP/Dell/Gateway for their office PC's.
    A regular person cannot even order one of those unless they go online and 'lie' to the HP parts person telling them "Yeah, my video card died and I want to replace it myself, can I order one of your replacement discrete graphics cards?"
    400 Watts is a more realistic minimum for a system with a discrete graphics card, though with the new integrated graphics from Intel being able to push HD 1080p and 1920*1080 resolution other content without a stutter while using less than 2% of the CPU's power on an i5..... they might have an argument that no one needs a discrete graphics card who is not an uber-gamer anymore.
  • KAlmquist - Friday, November 28, 2014 - link

    Actually, a 300 watt power supply should be enough to power a single GTX 980. However, Ian was presumably thinking about the standard business PC, which uses integrated graphics these days. As you correctly note in your last paragraph, the primary market for discrete graphics cards is now gamers.
  • jtd871 - Thursday, December 4, 2014 - link


    Thanks for reviewing a non-flagship board. Like others who have commented here, I could see something like this finding a home in a future personal build for productivity, light engineering and moderate gaming. And it's $25 to $50 less than the Z-series boards. Please, more like this in the uATX and mITX form factors!

    Some feedback for MSI (and other board OEMs): ditch the (non-express) PCI already, please? Any business willing to buy enough of these isn't going to stick PCI add-in boards inside (assuming they can still find drivers for use with their modern operating systems). I would suggest eliminating the PCI slot altogether and keeping the x16 slot separated from the other 2 PCIe slots, as a lot of even low-end GPU cards (for business multi-monitor, say) are at least a double-slot width - rendering the 2nd slot unusable in those situations anyway, and make at least 1 of the remaining slots at least physically x8.
  • azazel1024 - Thursday, December 11, 2014 - link

    This seems like a really stupid test of the power efficiency since that is the main focus. A REAL PSU, like a bronze or higher rated PSU in the 350-500w range should have been used. Either a standard B85, or H85/7 or something should have been compared to it. you have a board with an over abundance of features versus one bereft.

    Otherwise it is apples to oranges.

    Also, if MSI's claims are accurate, the ECO frankly sucks. My Sever with a G1610 in it, H67, 8GB (2x4GB) G.Skill Sniper@1.2v, SSD, 2 HDDs plugged in and a pair of Intel Gigabit CT NICs and Antec Earth Watts 380 burned 21w at idle, drives spun down. The ENTIRE system uses less than what MSI claims a typical uATX boards uses at idle. Based on Intel's numbers for some things like the NICs, I have to assume that the board is using at MOST 15w and probably closer to 12w.

    Seems like at most we are talking 2-3w of power savings MAYBE comapred to a VAGUELY similar board.
  • know of fence - Monday, March 2, 2015 - link

    Being an enthusiast site AT always played down power consumption numbers. But just making assumptions and low balling 4 different variables (price, hours, efficiency, years of operation) is both cumbersome and somewhat disingenuous.
    A more elegant way would be to create a realistic range for those variables and combine them into coefficients for min, max and typical scenarios. You could even do typical US, typical EU, UK, India or whatever.
    For me every 1 W saved 24/7 equals 2 EUR/annum, also 66 cent per Watt per year assuming 8 hours a day operation. Not to mention that PCs actually last anywhere from 5 to 10 years, though they are much less frequently used, once they are handed down to relatives.

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