At long last, Cree is capitalizing on the phase-out of incandescent bulbs by releasing a new low-price ($8) LED bulb that, near as dammit, has the same silhouette as the standard A19 incandescent bulb that you bought at Walmart last week. This new Cree bulb doesn’t just look different, however — this is a brand-new third-generation design that replaces the coated glass casing with shatter-proof plastic, and does away with the external heatsink entirely. Instead of the heatsink there’s a new cooling system called 4Flow Filament Design which uses plain ol’ convection to keep the LEDs cool. Curiously, the new bulbs come with a 3-year warranty instead of the 10-year warranty that Cree previously offered on its LED lights.
This morning, Cree announced four new bulbs based on the 4Flow design — 60W-equivalent soft white (2700K) and daylight (5000K), and the same again in a 40W-equivalent design. All four bulbs take on the standard A19 silhouette, made famous by incandescent bulbs throughout the ages. The most important bulb — the 60W-equivalent soft white — is priced at $8 and available exclusively from The Home Depot. All four bulbs are available to buy online today, and will be with you at the start of November.
The third-gen 4Flow Cree bulb looks very different to its predecessor (the original $10 LED bulb). The bulky heatsink at the base of the bulb is gone, replaced by some simple ventilation holes. There are also some ventilation holes at the top of the bulb. Cree hasn’t released a white paper for its 4Flow cooling tech, so we don’t know exactly how it works, but this is how it’s described in the press release: “4Flow Filament Design uses cross-flow ventilation to cool the LED … Any heat generated from the bulb will draw the cooler ambient air through the bulb to vent the heat into the ambient.” In other words, it uses convective heat transfer — more commonly known as convection — to pull cool, ambient air into the bulb, which is then heated by the LEDs and exhausted.
Inside the new Cree 4Flow LED bulb
Inside a second-gen Cree bulb, with its “LED filament tower” design
As you can see in the images above, Cree’s 4Flow bulbs are very different from the last-gen LED filament tower design. Most notably, though, you can see how the new 4Flow design uses much less metal, which in turn allows for cheaper manufacturing and a tapered shape that’s all but identical to a standard incandescent bulb. The simpler design of the 4Flow bulb, plus its use of shatter-proof plastic instead of glass for the casing, means the new bulbs weigh just 2 ounces (56 grams) — almost half the weight of the last-gen filament tower bulbs.
Read: UGetLight’s liquid-cooled LED bulb: Does it stand a chance against Switch?
This lighter, simpler design isn’t without its tradeoffs, however. While the 4Flow bulb’s price is slightly lower ($8 instead of $10), the warranty is also dramatically reduced (from 10 years down to three). Efficiency is down, too: Cree’s last-gen 60W-equivalent only used 9.5 watts, while the new 4Flow design uses 11 watts — or 84 lumens per watt (LPW) vs. 74. This reduced efficiency means the new 4Flow bulbs, despite costing $2 less, will cost more to run over its entire lifetime.
Cree’s new 4Flow bulbs are an interesting proposition. On paper, except for a new silhouette that looks even more like a conventional light bulb, they’re no better than last year’s LED lamps. Depending on how much you value that 10-year warranty, you could even argue that these new Cree bulbs are worse than their forebears. What’s going on, then? If we had to make an educated guess, the 4Flow bulb is probably all about reducing manufacturing costs for Cree. The press release itself says that the old, heatsink-based design was “expensive” — and indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cree’s margins on the $10 LED filament tower bulb were very small. The margins on the 4Flow design are probably much higher, which means more profits for Cree — which, in turn, hopefully means more R&D dollars and better, cheaper, and more varied LED bulb designs in the future.