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Light Bulbs

These LED bulbs offer 100 watts worth of light: Which is best?

100-watt replacement LEDs like these are plenty bright and surprisingly affordable. Let's put them to the test.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Most folks think of 60-watt light bulbs as the basic standard for common household lighting. If you want something brighter, you upgrade to, say, a 100-watt bulb. The thing is, most 100-watt incandescents have long been phased out due to rising efficiency standards.

That's why you'll find plenty of "100-watt replacement" LEDs in your local store's lighting aisle. They promise just as much brightness as those old-school incandescents while using a fraction of the energy. Swap one in for the kind of incandescent bulb they're designed to replace, and you'll save an average of about $10 per year in energy costs. They're also more affordable than you might think -- while 100-watt replacement LEDs were retailing for $20 or more only a few years ago, prices have fallen to the point where you can find decent dimmable options for less than $5 each.

That makes it the perfect time to upgrade your light bulbs -- but which ones are right for your home?

With that question in mind, I set out to my local lighting aisles in search of every 100-watt replacement LED I could get my hands on. After dozens of hours spent testing, here's what I found, starting with the best of the bunch.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Best value pick: Utilitech 100W Replacement LED

Dimmable 100-watt replacement bulbs from big names such as Philips, GE and Cree will currently cost you about $13 apiece, but in a lot of cases you can save some money by going with a smaller brand. Head to Lowe's, and you'll see bulbs like that from Utilitech -- including a 100-watt replacement LED that currently sells in a two-pack for less than $10.

That makes it the least expensive 100-watt replacement bulb I've ever tested, and while it isn't without a few minor shortcomings, it's easily good enough to offer outstanding value. For starters, it was the most efficient bulb I tested, putting out 1,574 lumens of yellowy brightness from a power draw of just 14.5 watts, good for 108.6 lumens per watt. Use it for 3 hours a day, every day, and it'll add just $1.74 to your yearly energy bill. Add in the price of the bulb itself, and it's still about half of what you would spend to run a 100-watt incandescent over the same period of time. It pays for itself within months.

It's also pretty decent on dimmer switches. I was able to dim it down to an average minimum of 1.1 percent brightness across all of my test switches, which is better than any other bulb I tested, and I never once caught it flickering. I did hear a faint hum when I dimmed it down to a medium setting on modern, slider-style switches, but it wasn't loud enough to be disqualifying. And it was silent on an old-school rotary dial that wasn't even designed for LEDs.

ecosmart-100w-led-promo-shot-1
Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Also worth a look: EcoSmart 100W Replacement LED

Utilitech gets the top spot as far as value is concerned, but EcoSmart came in a close second. Its current-gen 100-watt replacements sell in a two-pack at Home Depot for just over $10. Like the Utilitech LED, they offer impressive efficiency, with well over 100 lumens per watt. They're a touch brighter, too, putting out 1,597 lumens.

The EcoSmart bulb's dimming performance was more or less on par with Utilitech. It didn't flicker, but it hummed faintly at some settings on some switches. I wasn't able to dial it down quite as low as the Utilitech LED, but it still hit a satisfying average minimum of 6 percent. It's not the best dimmable bulb I've tested, but it's good enough for most purposes, and better than you'd expect for $5 per bulb. For something that dims a little better... well, just scroll down a little bit.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Best dimmable option: Cree 100W Replacement LED

At $13, it's one of the more expensive options in this roundup, but the Cree 100W Replacement LED was the top finisher in my dimming tests. In fact, it's the only bulb I tried out that was able to dim up and down smoothly without any flicker or buzz on each switch in our test rig.

That's not to say that it's perfect. Though the dimming was smooth, silent and flicker-free, the Cree LED was only able to dim down to an average minimum of about 14 percent across all of my switches, which is fairly high. The bulb's claims of improved color quality also seem to be a little overstated -- the quality of light looks fine to me, but it doesn't look dramatically better than the other bulbs I tested.

Still, it's an all-around good light bulb without any significant weak spots, and I love that Cree offers a best-in-category 10-year warranty. If you need a reliable bulb that dims really well, it's worth the extra cash.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Also worth a look: Philips 100W Replacement Warm Glow LED

The runner-up in my dimming tests was the Philips 100W Replacement Warm Glow LED. Philips LEDs have a pretty strong track record in my dimming tests, but the Warm Glow lineup, with bulbs that get "orange-ier" as you dim them down, have been a little hit and miss. This one was a winner though -- it dimmed down to a satisfying average minimum setting of 7 percent, and it didn't flicker on any of my switches, though I did hear a faint buzz on our old-school rotary dial.

There are a few downsides, though. For one, the Philips bulb is just as expensive as Cree at $13, and the warranty is only half as good at five years. It's also the least efficient dimmable LED I tested for this roundup, putting out its 1,605 lumens from a slightly above-average power draw of 18 watts. Those are nitpicks, mind you, but they're enough for me to give the edge to Cree. I might be swayed if the Philips bulb was on sale, though.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Best color quality: GE Reveal 100W Replacement Bright Stik LED

I saw lots of bulbs in this category that claimed to offer superior color quality -- the GE Reveal LEDs were the ones that delivered. GE offers lots of different versions, including new 100-watt replacement Reveal bulbs from its "HD Light" lineup that sell for $15 apiece. I much prefer the 100-watt replacement GE Reveal Bright Stik LEDs -- they're just as good at making the colors in your home pop, but you get two bulbs for the same $15, making them a much better deal.

Two big caveats with the Bright Stik LED, though. First, like most of GE's Reveal bulbs, the special filter used to reduce the impact of the yellow part of the spectrum and boost color quality also means that the bulb isn't quite as bright as you'd expect. With just 1,168 lumens to its name, it's really more of a 75-watt replacement than a true 100-watt replacement, and it's also much less efficient, putting out a category-worst 73 lumens per watt.

The other concern? The Bright Stik isn't dimmable. I think that's less of an issue than you might expect. The places where this kind of bulb really shines -- the kitchen, the bathroom, the walk-in closet -- often aren't places where you'd traditionally need the lights to dim. Still, it's something to be aware of before you make a purchase.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Also worth a look: Target Up & Up 100W Replacement LED

The only other bulb in this roundup that impressed me with visibly above-average color rendering capabilities was the store-brand 100 replacement from Target, which sells in a three-pack for $20. Like the Bright Stik, the bulbs don't dim, but they do a surprisingly nice job of making colors look vivid and true. With a light output 1,603 lumens (well above the 1,500 stated on the box), they're noticeably brighter than the Bright Stiks.


Cree 100W Replacement LED EcoSmart 100W Replacement LED Philips 100W Replacement Warm Glow LED Philips 100W Replacement Non-Dimmable LED GE 100W Replacement LED GE 100W Replacement Relax LED GE Reveal 100W Replacement Bright Stik LED Target Up & Up 100W Replacement Non-Dimmable LED Utilitech 100W Replacement LED
Brightness (in lumens) 1,606 (1,650 claimed) 1,597 (1,600 claimed) 1,605 (1,600 claimed) 1,536 (1,500 claimed) 1,604 (1,600 claimed) 1,637 (1,600 claimed) 1,168 (1,140 claimed) 1,603 (1,500 claimed) 1,574 (1,600 claimed)
Energy usage (in watts) 16.5 15 18 14.5 15 17 16 15 14.5
Efficiency (lumens per watt) 97.3 106.5 89.2 105.9 106.9 96.3 73.0 106.9 108.6
Color temperature 2,700 K 2,700 K 2,700 K 2,700 K 2,700 K 2,700 K 2,850 K 3,000 K 2,700 K
Average dimmable range 14.1-100% 6-98.7% 7-98.5% N/A 17.6-100% 23.5-100% 1.8-99.9% N/A 1.1-98.4%
Lifespan 13.7 years 13.7 years 22.8 years 10 years 13.7 years 13.7 years 13.7 years 10 years 13.7 years
Warranty 10 years 5 years 5 years 3 years 5 years 5 years 5 years 1 year 3 years
Price $12.97 $10.27 (2-pack) $12.81 $12.97 (2-pack) $11.99 $12.99 $15.94 (2-pack) $19.99 (3-pack) $9.79 (2-pack)
Yearly energy cost $1.98 $1.80 $2.16 $1.74 $1.80 $2.04 $1.92 $1.80 $1.74
Total year 1 cost $14.95 $6.94 $14.97 $8.23 $13.79 $15.03 $9.89 $8.46 $6.64

What we looked for

We spent hours testing each light bulb in this roundup, first testing for qualities such as brightness, color temperature and efficiency and then moving on to our dimming and color quality tests. Here's a look at the data.

100w-led-lamp-shot-comparison

All of the bulbs we tested did a reasonably good job of putting out light evenly in all directions, but note that a few were better at making the purple wall look truly purple.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Directionality

With traditional, A-shaped light bulbs, you really want ones that put their light out evenly in all directions. Fortunately, none of the bulbs I tested seemed to struggle here -- all of them put out a decent amount of downward light, which stems from proper bulb design and the simple fact that these are all really bright to begin with. I also didn't notice any odd shadows or contours to the light with any of these bulbs, which was good to see.

Also, that wall behind each bulb is royal purple in color, and as you can see, some bulbs do a better job of lighting it up accurately than others. More on that in just a bit.

LEDs will lose a little brightness as the bulb heats up. All of the 100-watt replacement LEDs I tested were able to hold those losses to less than 10 percent, which is excellent. Some were even able to hold it to less than 2 percent, which is outstanding.

Ry Crist/CNET

Heat management

Like most electronics, LED performance will suffer a bit as the bulb heats up (specifically, the brightness will dip slightly). That's why LEDs incorporate heat sinks, convection vents and other thermal management tricks that help keep the heat at bay. The good ones are able to hold that brightness dip below 10 percent before stabilizing things.

The results here were impressive. The graph above charts each bulb's brightness as a percentage over time (as in: they all start at "100 percent" of whatever the very first reading is and then go down from there). Each and every bulb stayed well below that 10 percent benchmark, and seven of them even held the heat-induced losses below 5 percent. That's a great sign that LED tech is continuing to improve.

Bulbs with better color-rendering abilities will produce whiter whites, more natural-looking wood and skin tones and colors that look vivid and more accurate, particularly reds.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Color quality

More and more, manufacturers are using claims of superior color quality as a way to set their bulbs apart -- but in most cases, the difference made is pretty limited. Along with examining the spectral data of each bulb, we also put each one through the good ol' eye test to determine which ones make a difference that you can actually see. Few live up to the promise of truly eye-popping reds and vibrant whites.

As I said before, the most consistent exception is the GE Reveal line. To a bulb, each and every Reveal LED I've tested has offered visibly strong color quality. But again, those bulbs do it by taking the somewhat drastic measure of filtering out a good chunk of the yellow part of the spectrum, leading to bulbs that aren't as bright as they probably should be.

What we tested

I plan on updating this post throughout the year as I'm able to get new bulbs into the lighting lab, so stay tuned. For now, here's a running list of every bulb considered for this rundown thus far: