High Performance LED

Workhorses That Can Convert Many Watt Of Energy In Blinding Brightness

High performance LED are designed to convert much more current into light than regular LED can. They are used in super bright flashlights, floodlights, illumination, on stages and in studios, and also in emergency lights on police cars and ambulances.

There is no clear distinction when you start to enter the realm of high performace LED but typically these LED start at 3W (compared to 50mW for regular indicator LED). Some high performace LED can go up to 30-50W.

Price And Heat

This performance comes at a high price though, both monetary (they are much more expensive than regular LED) and technically:

No LED is 100% efficient, and a fraction of the energy is not converted to light and ends up as heat. With the high currents of 1-10A, even very efficient LED start to become very hot and need heat sinks or even active cooling. Without, they can be destroyed.

For the same reason, you can no longer use simple series resistors to control the current. Their inefficiency would produce even more heat, and resistors would need to be huge to sustain the currents. Instead, you need to invest in a constant current power supply.

For all of these reasons, you can’t just pick an LED with a huge wattage and hope for the best.

Entry Level

Cheap generic 3W LED are available and come mounted on star-like aluminum heat sinks.

These LED are not much more expensive than regular LED. However, their performance often is similar, too:

  • Low Efficiency: A significant part of the supplied energy is converted to heat. These LED heat up quickly. If you plan to operate them at their maximum of 3W, you will need to add extensive heat sinks and active cooling.
  • Low Light Output: Even then, while being brighter than normal LED, their light output is not nearly as blindingly bright as you probably had hoped for.

If you must use these types of LED, try and operate them at a third of their rated maximum (around 230mA). This will get you almost the same light output but avoids the immense heat problems that can arise when operated at full 3W.

Professional Grade

When you are really after super bright light, go get a high performance LED from a renown manufacturer like Cree. They are more expensive but this money buys you the performance you ask for.

Depending on type and color, typical Cree LED types have a maximum current of 700mA-2.000mA.

These LED are often mounted to metal LED Stars available in various diameters and materials like aluminum and copper (more expensive but better heat conductor).


Even though Cree LED are much more efficient than generic high performance LED, when run close to their maximum current they, too, produce significant heat and cannot be driven without a proper heat sink.

Always make sure you use a proper heat sink or even active cooling for high performance LED

Since Cree LED perform exceptionally well and yield a lot of light output, driving them with half of their maximum current often produces all the light you need without running in heat dissipation problems.

High Performance RGB LED

Similar to regular RGB LED, these LED are also available in high performance versions, both from generic and renown vendors.

Like their “normal” counterparts, they use three or four individual LED internally (RGB or RGBW).

While you could run all four internal LED at their maximum ratings of 1.000mA (10W), this would produce severe heat sink challenges.
Rather, since each color is capable of outputting the maximum light, this allows for a constant brightness throughout the entire color spectrum at around 3W maximum.
Whether you emit pure red light (by driving just the red LED at maximum current), or mix a yellow color (by driving green and red at half the maximum current), the overall light emission can be made comparable for any color.


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(content created Mar 19, 2024 - last updated Mar 20, 2024)