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Power-Saving Motherboards: Fact Or Fiction?

Power-Saving Motherboards: Fact Or Fiction?
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The days of significant performance differences between motherboards are over. Really?

Motherboard makers have come a long way. First they’ve differentiated their products by adding storage, interface controllers and other complementary components. Then, they’ve upgraded their overclocking capabilities, making many high-end motherboards great for hardcore enthusiasts. Massive cooling structures made of copper and creative shapes followed, all in an effort to assist cooling capacity.

Now, though, as manufacturers embrace the need to go green—improving energy efficiency for the sake of the environment—we’ve discovered noticeable differences in the way power-saving techniques are implemented, and how they affect performance.

Green IT To The Rescue?

This has been the year of green computing and the IT industry has been using the color green, typically associated with nature and ecology, to designate environmentally-friendly products and strategies. But manufacturers don’t go green just because they care about the environment. They do it because it’s required by law in key markets, and because users increasingly demand it. But make no mistake about it: going green is a business decision.

The European Union’s RoHS guideline, restricting “the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment” went into effect in 2006; it prohibits the use, specifically, of lead, mercury, cadmium, and various other substances in printed circuit boards. Virtually all motherboards are now RoHS-compliant. Production, however, is still resource-intensive, which is why no manufacturer likes to disclose the amount of water and power necessary to produce a motherboard. Clearly, the products are more environmentally friendly, but manufacturing isn’t. Still, no RoHS, no business.

The next step toward making computers environmentally friendly is to reduce their power consumption by minimizing the amount of energy that components—graphics solutions, processors, and, yes, even motherboards—waste when they run idle. Any component that requires power has the potential to save power.

Motherboard Power-Saving Techniques

The best way to reduce motherboard power consumption is to limit the number of electrical components. Every FireWire controller, every sophisticated voltage regulator, every memory module increases system power consumption in two ways: it takes energy to operate these components and their use contributes to the total absolute power loss of your power supply.

Motherboard makers offset some of their products’ power consumption by dynamically switching voltage regulators on and off: relying on all six to 12 voltage regulators for processing provides more reliable power under high currents, while using only one or two voltage regulators reduces power requirements during idle periods. These technologies are a big part of marketing nowadays and we want to figure out if they actually work. We test six motherboards from ASRock, Asus, Foxconn, Gigabyte, and MSI to see which is most efficient.

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  • 14 Hide
    kittle , November 14, 2008 4:55 PM
    Choice of components makes a huge difference here.

    You have an 850watt power supply hooked to a system that never pulls more than 140 watts from the wall. so your running the PSU at 15-16% of its rated load.
    Recall from your previous PSU article, how well things performed at 20% or less load -- in short, Lousy.

    I say re-run the test with a 300 or 350 watt PSU and you'll see some differences as the PSU will be at around 50% load and will be running much more efficently. Less waste heat, less power needed for cooling and less overall consumption.
  • 11 Hide
    danielgr , November 14, 2008 10:08 AM
    Indeed, I never understand it's always about the extremes... You have to be either a crazy overclocker seeking maximum performance or an absolute greeny seeking minimum energy use... Why can't you be a sensible person seeking reasonably good performance with a reasonably low energy consumption? I am indeed planing to buy a mid-range (Q9450) quad processor because I need the processing power, but i still want to keep my overall energy use as low as possible. Am I the crazy one?. I've seen other reviews before showing that GB and Asus products do decrease energy use in such configurations, but I would have liked THG to check it out as well...
Other Comments
  • 0 Hide
    slomo4sho , November 14, 2008 8:07 AM
    Wow, the ASUS power management features really are a mixed blessing...The MSI board is the only one showing real improvement in power consumption.

    Would it be possible to test the boards power consumption with a quad core CPU as well?
  • 11 Hide
    danielgr , November 14, 2008 10:08 AM
    Indeed, I never understand it's always about the extremes... You have to be either a crazy overclocker seeking maximum performance or an absolute greeny seeking minimum energy use... Why can't you be a sensible person seeking reasonably good performance with a reasonably low energy consumption? I am indeed planing to buy a mid-range (Q9450) quad processor because I need the processing power, but i still want to keep my overall energy use as low as possible. Am I the crazy one?. I've seen other reviews before showing that GB and Asus products do decrease energy use in such configurations, but I would have liked THG to check it out as well...
  • 3 Hide
    Onus , November 14, 2008 10:54 AM
    Slomo and daniel, I agree, especially the comment about the extremes. That is a word I don't think anyone would use to describe me, and it is the more general and practical information I look for (and try to offer) at THG and on the forumz.
    rbcsod, I don't have any of the problems on any of the systems I use to access THG. Whatever valid editorial complaints you may have, be careful of making technical ones until you've checked your own system and settings.
  • -5 Hide
    anonymouse , November 14, 2008 11:17 AM
    The intro makes it seem like the main factor for energy efficient computing is the environment. What about those who don't so much care for the environment, but like the idea of less energy being wasted in the form of heat, which reduces the number of fans you have to listen to constantly.
  • 0 Hide
    Pei-chen , November 14, 2008 11:56 AM
    Will, I couldn't get my Asus P5B Deluxe/WiFi-AP board to lower E6400 CPU voltage at idle. It would reduce the multiplier from 8x to 6x but still maintain the 1.3125v core voltage. I now just run the CPU at 2.56Ghz @ 1.125v.
  • 0 Hide
    sublifer , November 14, 2008 12:15 PM
    I wonder if the power saving features work when overclocking and which would be the best in that scenario. That would probably be a bit more relevant for a good majority of us.

    Find the best overclock that all of the boards can handle and test the power savings/ usage then.
    I don't know if you all have time, but a follow-up article covering this would be great.

    Still good article though guys. I actually just bought an ASUS P45 board and wish now that I got the MSI... :(  oh well... my work gets to pay the power bill on this one ;) 
  • 6 Hide
    zcubed , November 14, 2008 1:24 PM
    great article. very informative. would it be possible to try out the newer gigabyte p45 ultra durable 3 boards? i would love to know how their power consumption fares compared to the gigabyte board you tested here.
  • 6 Hide
    dangerous_23 , November 14, 2008 1:29 PM
    Watt-Hours is a unit of energy not power.
  • 3 Hide
    dangerous_23 , November 14, 2008 1:33 PM
    "The MSI P45 Diamond requires the least power (118 Wh) in terms of Watt-hours consumed by the test systems to complete a SYSmark 2007 run"
    should be
    The MSI P45 Diamond requires the least ENERGY (118 Wh)...
    power (measure in watts) gives you the rate at which energy is expended
    which is different to energy (watt-hours)
  • 0 Hide
    Proximon , November 14, 2008 2:13 PM
    Good stuff!
    A note about other power saving measures, such as an efficient PSU and video card, etc. might have been good. I did suspect this was true, but I'm glad to have some research to back it up.
  • 0 Hide
    zak_mckraken , November 14, 2008 2:37 PM
    It's sad to see the power-management features that some manufacturers advertise as "ultra power efficient" are not quite as they should be. However, it's nice to see that the current trend goes towards green computing. You don't have to be a tree-hugging hippie, a cheap consumer who wants to save on his power bill or a low-noise freak to seek a good power/performance ratio. It's all about balance, like danielgr suggested earlier.
  • 1 Hide
    jerreece , November 14, 2008 3:51 PM
    Considering Quad Core processors are the thing of the future, and becoming more popular by the day, you'd think Tom's would have thrown in a Q6600 or something to test energy efficiency with it as well. Limiting the test to a Dual-Core is only half the market. Sure they are less power hungry than quads, but we have to realize Quads are becoming ever popular.

    Just based on this test however, I'd probably either skip out on buying one of these motherboards completely, or go with the MSI board. Then again, I'm a Quad Core user, and still don't know how much affect any of these boards would have on quads since Tom's didn't test that... :( 
  • 14 Hide
    kittle , November 14, 2008 4:55 PM
    Choice of components makes a huge difference here.

    You have an 850watt power supply hooked to a system that never pulls more than 140 watts from the wall. so your running the PSU at 15-16% of its rated load.
    Recall from your previous PSU article, how well things performed at 20% or less load -- in short, Lousy.

    I say re-run the test with a 300 or 350 watt PSU and you'll see some differences as the PSU will be at around 50% load and will be running much more efficently. Less waste heat, less power needed for cooling and less overall consumption.
  • 2 Hide
    one-shot , November 14, 2008 8:55 PM
    I agree with Kittle. PSU efficiency should be taken into accout for this test. The efficiency varies at different load levels and using a large PSU on a low end system isn't a very good comparison.
  • 2 Hide
    zodiacfml , November 14, 2008 11:00 PM
    Oh, was thinking about that too. Efficient motherboard is nothing if it uses an inefficient power supply. An example would be using 400 watt power supply with a system using only integrated graphics.
    Hope Tom's could test something like that.
  • 3 Hide
    unclefester , November 15, 2008 12:26 AM
    So what you boys are saying is: If I can save 1 watt at $.07 a killowatt-hour running 24/7, I would save the planet and a whole nickle a month.WOOHOO
  • 4 Hide
    malveaux , November 15, 2008 12:51 AM
    Um...

    So where's the class action suit for false advertising? If it says energy efficiency, I expect something more than a frigg'n watt. My green harddrive at least only uses 4watts for chrissakes.

    Cheers,
  • 2 Hide
    Onus , November 15, 2008 1:59 AM
    If the Consumer Protection Agency had A) one clue, B) a pair of gonads, and/or C) more than half an ass, companies like Raidmax, Coolmax, and Apevia would have long since been fined out of business, or at least be unable to peddle their ordure in the USA.
    This article was about mobo power saving though, above and beyond, or independent from, reductions in energy usage that can be achieved with an efficient PSU. I'd like to have seen quads tested too, to see if any of the reductions scale with the number of cores.
  • 2 Hide
    Hatchet , November 15, 2008 9:14 AM
    The Asus board used more power under load with EPU-6 enabled because the EPU-6 software on auto overclocks the CPU 3% under high load by
    default. This can be set as low as 1% or as high as 30%. Also on the auto setting the system down-clocks 1% to 50% in idle.

    It is a simple Bus Speed OC. I have an Asus P5Q pro and am enjoying this feature as I can do an easy OC if I choose to but the system will only be in the higher OC state when the CPU power is needed. I've only tried as high as 15% though and would probably want to set more in the BIOS if I went higher.
  • 1 Hide
    fudgeboy , November 15, 2008 10:08 AM
    such an interesting subject. maybe they could investigate further with more variables (as mentioned above) like different cores (1,2,4), power supplies, intergrated, dual, tri and quad GPU set ups and even an AMD vs Intel set up.
    could make it into something similar to how they have the graphics card of the month thing.
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