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LEDs set to storm notebook PC displays

Market analysts at iSuppli predict that the days of the cold-cathode fluorescent lamp are numbered "“ in notebook PC applications, at least.

High-brightness LEDs will have almost completely taken over from cold-cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs) in the backlight function of notebook PC screens within five years.

That s according to analyst Sweta Dash, who has just produced a new report on the topic for market research firm iSuppli.

Dash reckons that the much lower power consumption and the absence of mercury in LEDs will increasingly outweigh their higher cost compared with CCFLs, which currently dominate in all large-scale LCD backlights. By 2012, he says that this trend will culminate in a 90 per cent market share for LEDs in notebook PC displays.

Notebook PCs have always been the most obvious large-LCD application for LEDs to penetrate, because power consumption is such an important factor for portable appliances. That contrasts with desktop PC and TV displays, which are generally hooked up to the mains.

At the moment, however, CCFLs remain the dominant technology, with Dash estimating that only 4.7 per cent of notebook PCs manufactured in the closing quarter of 2007 featured LEDs in their display backlights.

Just 2.8 million notebook PCs with LED backlights shipped in the whole of 2007, aded the analyst. But this year will mark the turning point, with a six-fold increase in shipments to 17.4 million units expected.

"CCFL is a proven technology and has a lower cost compared with LEDs, [but] it faces shortcomings in areas of power consumption and thickness," Dash said.

"In the future, as the cost differential between LED and CCFL backlights narrows, LED-based notebook PC panels will gain market share "“ due to their thinner form factor, lower power consumption and lack of mercury content."


Although LED market penetration has only just begun, the technology has had some high-profile backing, most obviously in Apple s MacBook Air, which sports what is claimed to be the thinnest profile around (see related story).

According to Dash s calculations, a typical 13.3 inch notebook PC screen fitted with white LEDs uses up to 20 per cent less power and is 40 per cent thinner and 20 per cent lighter than a CCFL-based equivalent.

But those design advantages do come at a cost: red-green-blue LED solutions remain much more expensive than CCFL backlights, commanding a price premium of up to $80. White LEDs, which are more suited to the smaller backlights, are much more competitive, adding a cost premium of only $25 to the PC, says Dash.

But with that price gap set to narrow as chip costs decline and backlight manufacturing yields improve, demand for white LEDs in notebooks will rocket.

Dash expects the rapid increase in adoption to continue in 2009, with white LEDs claiming a market share in excess of 32 per cent, rising to 75 per cent in 2011 and virtually cornering the market after that.

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