Back in the spring of 2013, the unstoppable LED train otherwise known as Cree launched a series of PSAs that not-so-subtly declared the incandescent light bulb effectively dead and that any nostalgia felt over Edison’s energy-guzzlers was “dumb.”

However, it’s those wistful-over-obsolete-light-bulb types that the North Carolina-based lighting manufacturer appears to be targeting with its latest release: a no-frills, high-quality 40- or 60-watt replacement bulb that sports the non-threatening, reassuring A19 shape of an old-school incandescent.

As for the price tag, Cree’s newest offering, itself a third-generation re-tooling of the game-changing Cree LED, rings in at $7.97. While still more spendy than most (inferior) CLF bulbs or the incandescents that they're designed to replace, Cree’s new budget bulb is the most affordable LED bulb of this caliber we’ve seen to date. The last-generation Cree LED started at $9.97 for a 40-watt warm white replacement while a 60-watt day light replacement bulb retailed for $13.97.

Cree LED bulbThe new Cree LED — in addition to the 40/60W warm white replacement for $7.97 and a 40/60W day light replacement which is available for one dollar more — boasts most of the same perks as its best-selling predecessor. It offers energy savings of 85 percent compared to its incandescent equivalent; a lifespan of 25,000 hours; Energy Star-qualified design to help further drive down the cost once rebates kick in; dimmability; and more. Basically everything that rendered the original Cree LED matchless in an increasingly crowded budget LED playing field is carried over to the new bulb.

Aside from being 20 percent cheaper, the main difference between the revamped Cree LED and the one before it is, as mentioned, its appearance. While last year's bulb boasted incandescent-y looks, the new bulb is slimmer and significantly more lightweight with a profile that even more closely mimics the familiar counters of an incandescent. " ... You see the future, in glorious déjà vu," says Cree of the bulb's "timeless" design.

Cree achieved this by doing away altogether with the bulb’s metal heat sink and replacing it with patented cross-flow convection technology called 4Flow Filament Design. Essentially, the less hefty bulb is kept cool through ventilation openings located both at its top and bottom. Cool air is drawn in through the slits at the bottom of the bulb and after the air passes over the bulb’s heat-generating LED components, the warm air is released through the top of the shatter-proof, plastic-encased (also a new feature) bulb.

I had the chance to give the new Cree LED a test drive and it is indeed significantly lighter than last year's release. That absence of a heat sink really does make a huge difference. In addition to its incandescent-like weight of just under 2 ounces, the durable new bulb was super-easy to screw into my fixture. It was, well, just like changing a light bulb circa 1995.

In terms of light quality, it was difficult for me to discern between the new and old models (both 60-watt equivalents) although the last-generation bulb appeared to emit a slightly warmer omnidirectional light.

So how’d Cree manage to drive down the price of the bulb with all these design improvements? One key difference between the two bulbs lies in the warranty. A new three-year warranty replaces the older bulb's 10-year warranty. This, along with the absence of costly heat sinks, enabled Cree to pass the savings along to consumers. 

Aside from the warranty, there's another caveat worth mentioning in the form of decreased efficiency in the next-generation bulbs. While the new 40-watt replacement bulbs still consume a mere 6 watts like the bulbs that came before them, the 60-watt replacements have jumped from 9.5 watts to 11 watts. A one-and-a-half-watt bump might not seem like much but in terms of overall energy consumption for heavily used bulbs it's indeed a sizeable leap.

So is the decrease in efficiency enough to render the price drop totally moot? In the end, will the new-generation of 60-watt Cree LEDs wind up costing consumers pretty much the same amount of money?

It's hard to say but is something worth considering before you decide between old and new. For those concerned with looks alone, the newer option is the obvious choice.

The new Cree LED, in both soft light and day light models, will hit Home Depot stores nationwide early next month. And while I do hate to break out the “H” word — holiday — in October, I’m thinking that this beautiful bit of lighting innovation is the perfect stocking stuffer for the watt-conscious home improvement junkie on your list. 

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.