There's more legitimate lighting aisle competition than ever, but Cree's 100W Replacement LED holds up.
The Cree 100W Replacement LED is a bigger, brighter version of the original Cree LED , a highly acclaimed 60W replacement that made its debut back at the start of 2013. With the 100W version, Cree looks to be following the same formula: familiar-looking light, an industry-leading 10-year warranty, and an appealing price point.
Specifically, that price sits just a few cents below $20, which is certainly enticing when you consider that 100W replacement LEDs were selling for $50 or more just a few years ago. That said, Cree isn't the only LED maker that's recently taken big steps forward. For example, GE's 100W replacement costs just a dollar more, and offers that same decade-long warranty along with a more efficient build. Cree's 100W Replacement LED is an excellent bulb -- but it's not your only legitimate option in this class. Put it at the top of your list it if you use dimmer switches, or might need to use it outside, but don't rule out GE, especially if efficiency is your top priority.
Cree's 100W LED looks a lot like the 40W and 60W replacements that came before it, albeit with a bigger bulb and a larger collar of heat sinks around the neck. This gives it some extra bulk compared to competitors like GE's 100W replacement -- that bulb has elongated, fin-like heat sinks, which makes for a narrower design.
Extra girth aside, Cree's LED is still a relative lightweight, weighing less than 6 ounces. The Sylvania 100W Replacement Ultra LED , for instance, weighs more than twice as much.
Cree's LED puts out 1,600 lumens from a power draw of 18 watts. That's very good, putting its efficiency just shy of 90 lumens per watt. Still, both GE and Utilitech do even better, with designs that put out 100 lumens per watt.
As for color temperature, Cree's bulb aims for the same, yellow-toned 2,700 K as most of the competition. If you want something hotter and whiter, Cree offers a 5,000 K version of the bulb for a dollar more. That's a nice option you won't find with every brand.
|Cree 100W Replacement LED||GE Energy Smart 100W Replacement LED||Philips 100W Equivalent LED||Sylvania 100W Replacement Ultra LED||Utilitech 100W Equivalent Warm White LED|
|Efficiency (lumens per watt)||89||100||88||84||100|
|Estimated yearly energy cost||$2.17||$1.93||$2.29||$2.29||$1.93|
|Color temperature (stated / measured)||2,700 K / 2,663 K||2,700 K / 2,602 K||2,700 K / 2,628 K||2,700 K / 2,664 K||3,000 K / 2,999 K|
|Lifespan||25,000 hours||25,000 hours||25,000 hours||25,000 hours||18,000 hours|
|Color rendering index||80||81||80||83||85|
|Weight||5.80 oz.||5.65 oz.||8.50 oz.||11.45 oz.||7.80 oz.|
Like most LEDs, Cree claims that its bulb will last 25,000 hours -- well over 20 years if used for an average of three hours per day. Couple that with the 10-year warranty and the fact that the bulb will only add a little over $2 per year to your energy bill, and the long term value starts looking awfully good.
The color rendering score of 80, on the other hand, is a little less impressive. 80 isn't a bad score per se, but it isn't a standout, either. We've seen affordable competitors from brands such as Utilitech and even Ikea score several points higher, making for a noticeable uptick in accurate color quality.
Outside of the 100W class, we've seen bulbs push that CRI score up even higher. Cree's own TW Series LED does even better, scoring up into the 90s, as does the Editors' Choice-winning GE Reveal LED floodlight and other bulbs from the GE Reveal line. Moving forward, it'll be interesting to see if any of the major manufacturers decide to release a 100W equivalent with those sorts of color-rendering specs, as there definitely seems to be room for such a product.
For most practical purposes, I think Cree's 100W replacement would be an excellent pick. I was pleased with both the brightness and light quality, and appreciated the even, omnidirectional light output.
That isn't something you'll find with every bulb in this class. For instance, compare Cree with the bulbs we tested from Sylvania and Utilitech. Those each only offer about 180 degrees of focused directionality, which means that you'll get plenty of light moving up and out from the bulb, but probably not as much downward light as you'd hope for. This isn't a problem for something like a recessed overhead light, which only needs to shine light in one direction, but if you're hoping to use your bulb in a reading lamp, you'll be disappointed if it isn't omnidirectional.
Cree's bulb is dampness rated, which means it'll work outdoors, at least to a limited extent. For something uncovered that'll be directly exposed to the elements, you'll probably want to splurge on something that's wetness rated, a step up from dampness that tells you a bulb can handle getting rained on. Cree's PAR38 LED is a good example of such a bulb.
Another practical consideration is dimmer compatibility. Many of today's LED offerings, including bulbs from Cree, claim to be dimmable and will, in fact, dim up and down on a variety of dimmer switches both old and new. However, some will dim smoothly, while others will flicker and buzz as you dial the light up and down. With no rating system beyond "dimmable" and "non-dimmable," it can be next to impossible for consumers to be certain that the bulb they're buying into will work well in their homes.
Fortunately, we make sure to test each bulb we review on our dimming rig, which includes dimmer switches from a variety of brands, including an outdated rotary dial intended for incandescents only. In these tests, Cree did great. Even with the older model, it dimmed down smoothly, and hardly flickered at all. I heard a soft buzz if I put my ear right up next to the bulb, but that was it.
In sum, Cree's 100W Replacement LED seems like it'd be a good fit for a wide variety of household lighting scenarios -- certainly more so than a non-omnidirectional bulb, or one that isn't dimmable. My only hesitation would be using it in an enclosed fixture. With the extra diodes, the bulb puts out extra heat (hence the extra large heat sinks). Since built-up, non-dispersed heat will affect LED longevity, I'm not sure that I'd feel confident about sealing this bulb up inside an enclosed setting (or any 100W replacement LED, for that matter). For situations like that, I'd probably stick with a CFL or a halogen.
At $20, Cree's 100W Replacement LED is a very solid value, but it isn't in a class by itself. The GE 100W Replacement LED boasts a comparable level of satisfying performance, along with an uptick in efficiency. It costs an extra dollar, but you'll earn that dollar back in energy savings within a few years.
Those two bulbs currently sit at the front of the 100W pack, offering the most LED bang for your buck. Both are bright, efficient, dimmable, omnidirectional, and backed up by strong warranties. GE's bulb sells at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club, while you'll find Cree's LED lineup exclusively at Home Depot. I say take your pick and buy in with confidence either way.