We took a look at how the MSI H81M-ECO Performs. Like. Seriously.

When budget is concerned, we often go for what’s the cheapest option, regardless of feature set. While it’s true that you could shave some, and spend some more on other components to balance things out, motherboard selection remains the same – it’s still important and selecting the right board to go out with your desired built is a must, be it an HTPC, a budget office build, a Gaming PC, or a solid 24/7 power efficient download machine you’re after.

This brings us to MSI’s H81M-ECO motherboard, a well thought of product suited for those who wants all the necessary features of an Intel H81 chipset motherboard with power saving features in mind. For starters, the H81M-ECO support the current generation of Intel processors, 2x 1600 MHz DDR3 DIMMs in Dual Channel Mode, USB 3.0, SATA III, and so much more, in a mATX form factor. LEARN MORE

MSI ECO Motherboard Features (1)

The H81M-ECO prides itself as a power efficient board, hence the ECO on its name and the TÜV Certification backs it up, receiving the Energy Efficiency and Long Term Stability certificates of the said testing company. Claiming a 40% power efficiency over competing H81 models, the board certainly has to live for it and we are going to check out if the additional 20% price point over your average H81 motherboard is justified. Let us check it out.

FIRST LOOK AT THE H81M-ECO BOARD :

The MSI H81M-ECO motherboard wont win any luscious awards in the aesthetic department, but it’s not a slouch either. It features a green theme, perfect for that eco approach, and would certainly fit gaming oriented builds too, as green is an easy color for the eyes of the gamers. The power phase appears to be 3+1, which  is adequate, and appears to conform to Intel’s standards. The memory slots supports DDR3 DIMMs with 1600/ 1333/ 1066 MHz frequencies, and has a maximum of 16GB supporting capacity.

MSI H81M-ECO (2)

The M stands for micro-ATX, as there’s no need for an ATX form factor to fit the necessary components of the H81M-ECO. It could be slimmer width wise, since there’s a lot of PCB real estate left un-touch at the 24-Pin power connector side. Overall layout seems fine, with fan headers nicely laid-out, with the 1155 socket’s placement pretty spacious, and the main headers nicely lined at the bottom of the board. The CMOS battery is placed above the x16 PCI-E slot for easy access, so whenever good ol’ Zeus decided to zap your day up, you’ll be up in no time to clear the BIOS.

MSI H81M-ECO (1)

Headers are a-plenty, with the legacy ports tucked on the far-end of the board (TPM header) with the HD Audio front header, while the USB 2.0 &  3.0 headers are located on the bottom-right side of the board. The SATA ports supports SATA II & SATA III interfaces, with the angled one supporting the older SATA II interface. The PCH heatsink is also located below which is small but again. adequate solution as the PCH never appeared to run hot to touch. Do note that the PCI-E slots (x16, x1, x1) only supports PCI-E Gen.2.

MSI-H81M-ECO-(7)

I/O panel side seems okay, with legacy PS/2 support for the mouse and keyboard as well as an abundant amount of USB 2.0 (x4), and USB 3.0 ports (x2). Display ports for the internal graphics are also a-plenty, with an HDMI, VGA, and DVI port to boot. Last but not the least, we’ve got the Intel I218-V Gigabit LAN, plus the 8 Channel ALC887 audio from Realtek. Overall, I like the looks and build quality of the board as well as the chosen components as we thought MSI would skimp on good components to alleviate the cost.

UEFI / BIOS WALK-THROUGH:

MSI’s venerable UEFI based Click BIOS 4 also made a huge ECO-istic turn with the H81M-ECO, featuring a green theme that just looks on par with the board. Up front, we could see the essentials that you need to see once you entered the BIOS, including the temperature for both the CPU and the board, plus the real-time configuration of your machine. An Eco button is present here which we should detail later.

MSI H81 ECO BIOS UEFI (1)

The UEFI’s menus are divided in 6 categories, where the settings menu features the advanced err… settings.

MSI H81 ECO BIOS UEFI (2)

The advanced sub-menu features most of what the chipset has to offer, including the options for the integrated graphics, USB configuration, and power management settings. Although it might looks like that there’s many settings to play with, I felt like they are lighter than what you would normally expect, which is probably a factor of the eco approach. I like that MSI included the option for the Windows 8 / 8.1’s fast boot feature.

MSI H81 ECO BIOS UEFI (3)

Now the eco menu is where the action’s at for this board as it is where you could manually disable the power on certain components of the board, check out the current CPU configuration, enable and disable XMP, and many more. Do note that Memory-Z for this particular board offers only a visual inspection of your DIMM’s settings. You cannot change the voltage nor alter any of its settings except for the XMP profile.

MSI H81 ECO BIOS UEFI (4)

The cut power is basically where you could manually disable components of the board, which is by default attributes to the power efficiency of the board. Pressing the eco button disables these components.

MSI H81 ECO BIOS UEFI (5)

The usual overclocking profiles we used to see from MSI’s boards has been replaced by an eco profile which you could use to store your very own eco settings. You could even save or load your own profiles from the USB  which is nice.

MSI H81 ECO BIOS UEFI (6)

The hardware monitor is MSI’s interactive fan control settings, where you could profile the fans on your system to run at a certain RPM via a temperature percentage (85c being 100%). It’s not the best, but it’s useful nonetheless.

MSI H81 ECO BIOS UEFI (7)

Finally, we’ve got the board explorer, which is basically a simple troubleshooting tool for your board and its components. It’s a basic tool yet a very good one.

MSI H81 ECO BIOS UEFI (8)

The UEFI of the MSI H81M-ECO is a refreshing sight to see on the H81 chipsets, specially if we’re talking about the idea behind the board. Normally for an H81 board, you would see a not so fantastic UEFI front end, but the H81M-ECO proved otherwise.

BUNDLED SOFTWARE

The heap of the MSI H81M-ECO’s software leans towards the betterment of its power efficiency, specifically the Eco Center Pro which is a desktop software aimed to closely work with the board – meaning that it is essential for the whole eco claim.

MSI H81 Softwares (10)

The Eco Center Pro is a sleek, no frills software that is divided in 3 sections. The ECO power is where you could disable ports, LEDs, and components of your PC such as the CPU fan, and it does it in a simple fashion. There are also 3 presets available with their respective configurations. You could even set them up as your BIOS’ default settings.

MSI H81 Softwares (9)

The lounge mode and the server mode are Two of the other settings you could configure, with the lounge mode disables most of the components whose deemed unnecessary for video and music playback. The server mode on the other hand enables those essentials needed for a home server to run.

MSI H81 Softwares (2)

The Eco Center Pro’s power management sub menu features the processor’s power management & performance features that you as an end user could enable or disable. That includes the option to disable hyper threading, disable cores, and set limits which should further enhance the board’s power efficiency.

MSI H81 Softwares (3)

The hardware monitor is similar to the one found at the BIOS, but since it’s an application, it’s easier to change the settings on the fly as there is no need for a reboot.

MSI H81 Softwares (4)

Strangely enough, MSI added the Intel XTU or Exterme Tuning Utility in the package. It wont help you overclock the H81M-ECO’s components, as the board doesn’t support overclocking. But, as far as stress testing and benchmarking is concerned, it got you covered.

MSI H81 Softwares (7)

The MSI Live Update is a staple software for MSI’s boards, and if you’d want your system to stay in shape – driver wise, there’s no reason not to use it, although I prefer the manual method. It’s sleek, works, and is a good complement for those who wants system that is up to date.

MSI H81 Softwares (6)

THE H81M-ECO ACCORDING TO MSI:

As said earlier, MSI claims the H81M-ECO  to feature 40% power efficiency gains over other “generic” H81 motherboards. This claim has been achieved via a combination of hardware and software features that enables the board to perform according to its claims. Of course, that 40% figure has been achieved via most likely a controlled setting, but MSI wont be stating those claims haphazardly.

MSI H81M-ECO Power Savings (1)

Based on MSI’s numbers, a normal H81 motherboard consumes about 26W normally, while an MSI H81M-ECO board should consume 17.3W normally, and 15.6W on ECO Mode according to the tests they conducted. With that said, you’ll save 8.7W with the MSI H81M-ECO normally, and you should save 10.4W on full ECO Mode. Those are 33.4% to 40% savings on an average.

HOW MUCH WILL YOU SAVE?

Now if we take things further and calculate the savings yearly, which should be done by calculating the standard working hours in the Philippines and the cost of electricity in the country, and then comparing the values attained using the said formula for both your average H81  motherboard and the MSI H81M-ECO motherboard, then we should be able to calculate the total consumed power of the H81M-ECO based on a yearly, kWh basis.

  • Standard Working House In The Philippines: 40 Hours (A Week) x 48 Weeks (A Year) = 1920 Hours
  • Average H81 Motherboard Peak Power Output @ 26 W = 49.92 kWh
  • MSI H81M-ECO Peak Power Output @ 17.3 W = 33.22 kWh
  • MSI H81M-ECO w/ Eco Mode Peak Power Output @ 15.6 W = 29.95 kWh

Now since the Philippines is f*cked up with different load charges, which the governing energy regulators in the country uses to determine the cost per kWh, we just did a quick check and it leads us to a Php 10.50/kWh for a household that has a bill for around 2, 000 to 3, 000 Pesos in a month. Now that we cleared that up, MSI’s numbers, coupled up with our own numbers, should feature the following figures:

  • Average H81 Motherboard Peak Power Output @ 49.92 kWh x Php 10.50 = Php 524.16 / year
  • MSI H81M-ECO Peak Power Output @ 33.22 kWh x Php 10.50 = Php 348.81 / year
  • MSI H81M-ECO w/ Eco Mode Peak Power Output @ 29.95 kWh x Php 10.50 = Php 314.48 / year

Based on the values calculated above, there is a fine difference between your average H81 motherboard and MSI’s H81M-ECO, especially if we’re going to look at a 3 year life cycle which should be covered by MSI’s motherboard. For an instance, you’ll save as much as  209 Pesos yearly with the ECO board using its Eco Mode, while you’ll save 629 Pesos with the same comparison for 3 years. The longer you use the board, the more you save, but do note that the service & warranty of the MSI board is limited to 3 years alone, hence, you are on your own after those years.

Another thing worth nothing is the initial cost, as MSI stated that the H81M-ECO is going to be around 20% pricier compared to competition. A glance at Newegg puts the MSI H81M-ECO @ 59.99 USD while the lowest H81 board we could find is around 33.99 USD, with the majority of the boards at 49.99 USD whom, are the nearest to the 20% markup. Again, do note that these are solely based on MSI’s power figures, and does not wholeheartedly represent real world usage and user benefit scenarios.

HOW ABOUT THE REAL WORLD SAVINGS?

So we have another H81 motherboard, and the MSI H81M-ECO as well. So what do we do? Well, we check out the power differences of the boards for both idle and load then we applied the same formula we used to the figures that we received from MSI.

MSI-H81M-ECO-CPU-Z

It’s not always as easy as 1, 2 & 3 to compare components, as we do our best to provide results with less than a 3% margin of error. In order to do that, and as usual, all the components used are the same from CPU down to DIMMs & other devices. External devices are plugged on the same USB type too (e.g. keyboards should be plugged at USB 2.0 ports) to minimize discrepancies if there’s any, and softwares used has to be exactly the same except for vendor exclusive applications.

CPUIntel Pentium G3258
MOTHERBOARDMSI H81M-ECO
CPU COOLERIntel Stock Cooler
MEMORYKingston HyperX Savage @1333MHz 8GB
GRAPHICS CARDIntel HD Graphics
INT. STORAGEKingston HyperX Fury SSD 240GB
PSUBitFenix Fury 650W
DISPLAYDELL S2340L 23″ IPS
OSMicrosoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1 (Updated)
SOUND CARDOnboard Audio
EXT. STORAGEKingston HyperX Fury USB 3.0 Flash Drive

HUGE THANKS TO KINGSTON, BITFENIX, & WD FOR PROVIDING THE TEST SYSTEM COMPONENTS

Idle results were taken after a 15 minute break, with power options set to balanced and without enabling standby mode at the OS. As for load, the AIDA64 Stress Test is used and is left to run for an hour, taking notes of the consistent maximum load results after every 5 minutes for average load power consumption. A socket based power meter is used to achieve the results.

MSI H81M-ECO Power Savings (2)

Based on the results we received, the MSI H81M-ECO is 23.89 % more efficient than your normal H81 motherboard, while the H81M-ECO together with the ECO Mode, is 28.33 % more efficient than the norm.

  • Standard Working Hours In The Philippines: 40 Hours (A Week) x 48 Weeks (A Year) = 1920 Hours
  • Average System w/ H81 Motherboard Idle Power Output @ 36 W =  69.12 kWh
  • System w/ MSI H81M-ECO Idle Power Output @ 27.4 W =  52.61 kWh
  • System w/ MSI H81M-ECO + Eco Mode Idle Power Output @ 25.8 W = 49.54  kWh

If we took our formula earlier for the yearly savings, you’ll save as much as 173.35 Pesos with the H81M-ECO alone, while you’ll save 205.59 Pesos with the board + the ECO Mode. Triple those values and you’ll get a non-shabby savings for the H81M-ECO’s life cycle of 3 years.

  • Average System  H81 Motherboard Idle Power Output @ 69.12 kWh x Php 10.50 = Php 725.76 / year 
  • System  w/ MSI H81M-ECO Idle Power Output @ 52.61 kWh x Php 10.50 = Php 552.41 / year
  • System  w/ MSI H81M-ECO + Eco Mode Idle Power Output @ 49.54 kWh x Php 10.50 = Php 520.17 / year

MSI H81M-ECO Power Savings (4)

  • Standard Working Hours In The Philippines: 40 Hours (A Week) x 48 Weeks (A Year) = 1920 Hours
  • Average System w/ H81 Motherboard Idle Power Output @ 61.2 W =  117.50 kWh
  • System w/ MSI H81M-ECO Idle Power Output @ 48.8 W =  93.70 kWh
  • System w/ MSI H81M-ECO + Eco Mode Idle Power Output @ 46.7 W = 89.66  kWh

Again, taking the formula from earlier, you’ll save as much as 249.9 Pesos with the H81M-ECO alone, while you’ll save 292.32 Pesos with the board + the ECO Mode combined. Triple those values again and you’ll get a non-shabby savings for the H81M-ECO’s life cycle of 3 years at 876.96 Pesos.

  • Average H81 System Idle Power Output @ 117.50 kWh x Php 10.50 = Php 1233.75 / year 
  • System  w/ MSI H81M-ECO Idle Power Output @ 93.70 kWh x Php 10.50 = Php 983.85 / year
  • System  w/ MSI H81M-ECO + Eco Mode Idle Power Output @ 89.66 kWh x Php 10.50 = Php 941.43 / year

WHAT ABOUT THE PERFORMANCE?

Performance is another thing that needs to be discussed with the H81M-ECO, as MSI stated that there’s hardly any loss even when using the board with its ECO Mode enabled indefinitely. We’ll check how the ECO Mode compares to your normal H81 motherboard’s performance, while also being pitted against itself without the ECO Mode just to find out if MSI’s claims are in fact true.

CPU & OVERALL SYSTEM PERFORMANCE:

AIDA64 is a streamlined Windows diagnostic and benchmarking software for home users. We’ll use the built-in CPU benchmarking tools of the AIDA64 to determine the system’s CPU performance.

MSI H81M-ECO-Benchmarks (1)

CINEBENCH R11.5 is a real-world cross-platform test suite that evaluates the computer’s performance capabilities. CINEBENCH is based on MAXON’s award-winning animation software CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation.

MSI H81M-ECO-Benchmarks (5)

wPrime is a multi-threaded benchmarking application designed to measure the raw computational power of a CPU. It can be configured to run on a custom number of threads to accommodate multi-core CPUs.

MSI H81M-ECO-Benchmarks (6)

MEMORY PERFORMANCE:

AIDA64 is a streamlined Windows diagnostic and benchmarking software for home users. We’ll use the built-in memory benchmark tools of the AIDA64 to determine the memory’s performance.

MSI H81M-ECO-Benchmarks (2)

USB 3.0 STORAGE PERFORMANCE:

Crystal Disk Mark measures the sequential reads/writes speed of your storage devices. It also measures random 512KB, 4KB, 4KB (Queue Depth=32) reads/writes speed.

MSI H81M-ECO-Benchmarks (7)

AUDIO PERFORMANCE:

RightMark Audio Analyzer (RMAA) is a suite designed for testing quality of analog and digital paths of any audio devices. The results are obtained by playing and recording test signals passed through the tested audio path by means of frequency analysis algorithms. A more common mark is also provided for those unfamiliar with measured technical parameters. – https://audio.rightmark.org

Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB+0.06, -0.00Excellent
Noise level, dB (A)-81.9Good
Dynamic range, dB (A)81.8Good
THD, %0.0034Very good
THD + Noise, dB (A)-74.9Average
IMD + Noise, %0.024Good
Stereo crosstalk, dB-81.4Very good
IMD at 10 kHz, %0.023Good
General performanceVery good

The MSI H81M-ECO together with the ALC887 from Realtek isn’t exactly going to blow your mind, as far as audio performance is concerned but its general performance is actually good, and even better to some on-board audio I have dealt with in the past.

THE VERDICT:

The MSI H81M-ECO is an interesting motherboard, featuring an eco-friendly approach to the system builders by focusing onto the greener aspect of things which is beneficial and should be a practice of most manufacturers as time goes by. We applaud MSI’s take on energy efficiency, but does it really really count?

MSI’s claims of 40% power savings might be too much for our tests, as we saw a maximum of 28.3 % power savings when the system is idling, and 23.7 % savings when the system is at full load. This might be due to our choice of motherboard to compare with, being a board that almost conforms to the ITX standards with a similar power phase count, but rest assured, and to our delight, the results conforms to the 20% price mark-up if compared to other H81 boards. Together with a negligible difference in benchmarks except for a few. Also please do note that in the Philippines, the higher your electricity load is, the higher you’ll save with the MSI H81M-ECO. So if a household or an establishment has electricity bills for more than 7,685 Pesos every month, you’ll  actually pay P11.80 per kWh for it. Good, if you’re managing a small business.

Performance wise, there’s nothing to complain, except for the SATA III write performance which is not so underwhelming, yet kind of an unexpected result as it is quite lagging in the write speed department. CPU performance, particularly when it comes to wPrime, is also noteworthy to mention – as we saw actual difference in performance if compared to your average H81 motherboard. Those were just seconds of difference though and almost negligible for the average users.

Going back to the main points of the board, and the results we gathered, our thoughts now lies to the life-cycle of the product – as it is a major importance if you’re actually going to consider the board. For example, if you’re not willing to use it for more than 2 years, then the cash you spent wont even make it to the break-even point. So, it is advisable to use the board at its fullest by achieving the 3 year life-cycle (as dictated by the manufacturer warranty). This also had us thinking that MSI should’ve extended the warranty to 4-5 years. To be fair, Small-Medium businesses such as BPOs, and computer shop owners in the Philippines usually extends the product’s life-cycle to oblivion on their own, only replacing their system components when it breaks and  that usually happens around 5 years of use. For peace of mind, the TÜV certificates for Energy Efficiency and Long Term Stability should play a major role here. Long term investment is the key word here, and if you’re itching to break-even before a year with the H81M-ECO, then you’re not committed enough.

Is there a place for the MSI H81M-ECO? Certainly there is, and no doubt about it. Although honestly it depends on what you will use it for, and how long will it be used – e.g. HTPCs, Home Servers, & Internet Cafe builds – together with other factors such as electricity cost per kWh on your country.  If those mentioned above are met, then there’s no reason not to grab the opportunity to build a low power PC based on this very promising energy efficient platform exclusive from MSI.

THE MSI H81M-ECO RETAILS FOR AROUND 59.99 USD, AND IS BACKED BY A 3 YEAR WARRANTY.

THE VERDICT

PROS:

  • GOOD VALUE FOR MONEY
  • GOOD LAYOUT & BUILD QUALITY
  • GREAT FOR HTPCS & HOME SERVERS
  • ECO CENTER WORKS LIKE A CHARM
  • POWER EFFICIENCY
  • SNAPPY UEFI BIOS
CONS:

  • COULD USE AN EXTRA YEAR OF WARRANTY
  • LIMITED CPU & MEMORY UEFI SETTINGS
RECOMMENDED

 

MSI H81M-ECO Motherboard
  • PERFORMANCE
  • BUILD QUALITY
  • FEATURES
  • AESTHETICS
  • VALUE
4.1

Summary

The MSI H81M-ECO is an interesting motherboard, featuring an eco-friendly approach to the system builders by focusing onto the greener aspect of things which is beneficial and should be a practice of most manufacturers as time goes by. We applaud MSI’s take on energy efficiency, but does it really really count?