What’s inside an LED light bulb?

Inside an LED bulb, with detail shot of actual LEDs. Click to view full-size.

This was one of the first LED bulbs I ever bought, nearly ten years ago. It started flickering, and while I could have repaired it, I had no way to replace the glass envelope. So instead I got some parts out of the deal. And you get this post.

At left is the Edison base, a relic of the bulb wars between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse. His bulb bases were called “Mogul base”, and were not interchangeable with the Edison. But Thomas, ever the helpful businessman, would give you (his new customer) an adapter. Screw it into the Mogul socket and it became an Edison socket… permanently. They were not removable – a fact Edison neglected to mention on the label.

Next is the control circuitry. It includes a little step-down transformer and voltage regulator that feeds the LEDs a nice constant stream of low-voltage direct current.

Next is the spring-contacts that allow quick assembly of the next parts. This is actually the part that needed servicing; the contacts had gotten oxidized, causing the bulb to flicker. All the rest of the circuitry is fine.

LEDs mounted on heat sink. Click to view full size

The heavy aluminum part with the fins is a heat sink; excess heat created by the LEDs is conducted to the radiant fins. Today’s LED bulbs still have a heat sink, but usually no fins except for the higher-power models.

At far right, on a 10-sided wrap made of aluminum 1mm thick, is the array of LEDs itself. The aluminum wrap is in close contact with the core of the heat sink, and makes contact with the control circuitry by the spring contacts.

Newer LED bulbs are considerably more efficient, so they produce less heat for a given amount of light output. I wouldn’t expect them to last longer than the older LED bulbs though; the control circuitry tends to be built of cheap parts to make a competitively prices bulb. But they’re still a lot more economical in operation than incandescent bulbs, which waste most of the energy you give them, as heat.

(The Edison base is going in the trash, along with the spring contacts. Control circuitry and LEDs are going in the parts bin. Aluminum heat sink is going in the recycle.)

But wait, there’s more…

This power supply produces 94 volts DC. White LEDs use 3 volts, and there are apparently 10 on the array, so… how’s that work out? The exciting answer in a future post!