Despite hours of googling, I could not come to clear understanding how efficiency of 5V addressable LEDs compare to their 12V counterparts.

If 5V is supplied to WS2812, and the red LED only needs 2.1V, will the rest 2.9 be dissipated as heat? If not, why?

If 12V is supplied to WS2815, and exactly the same technology red LED needs 2.1V, where does the rest 9.9V disappear? How come it still produces more oomph per watt of power than WS2812?

And in general, how voltage of these LEDs (SMDs with multiple LEDs) affect their efficiency?

WS2812 5V "Neopixel" characteristics:

  • max current 60mA
  • max power 0.3W
  • total brightness around 6.8 lumen per led
    • ~ 113 lumens per amp
    • ~ 22 lumens per watt
  • voltages of separate components:
    • red: 2.0-2.2V
    • green: 3.0-3.2V
    • blue: 3.2-3.4V

WS2815 12V characteristics (possibly probably something is incorrect because I couldn't find whole lot of info):

  • max current 15mA
  • max power 0.18W
  • total brightness around 5.3 lumen
    • ~ 353 lumens per amp
    • ~ 29 lumens per watt
  • \$\begingroup\$ are you sure they don't use a dc-dc converter somewhere to more efficiently drive the LEDs? \$\endgroup\$
    – Hearth
    Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 0:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Hearth Not a clue.... Thus this question (: \$\endgroup\$
    – Art
    Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 0:31
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe they use 3 LEDs per color (3R, 3G, 3B) in series. That would explain about the same brightness at lower current draw and the minimum working voltage of 9V. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wesley Lee
    Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 0:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @WesleyLee This is the best I could find.... looks like 3 single LEDs on a common anode. \$\endgroup\$
    – Art
    Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 0:39

2 Answers 2


This is more interesting than it first appears. WS2815 appears to have been made in more than one revision but the latest design uses a clever constant current series trick.

enter image description here

The lower half is a constant current (say 16ma) regulator. The top rail is at 12v.

  1. If you want no leds, you turn off the regulator.
  2. If you want 0xFF0000 (red) you turn PWM3 off and PWM1 & 2 ON; the green and blue LEDs are actually shorted out.
  3. 16ma then flows through the red LED only, dropping about 1.2v in the process. The rest (about 10.5v) is dissipated as heat in the current regulator. This is quite inefficient (most of the 192mw goes as heat). However....
  4. Interestingly, the 16ma current consumption of the chip remains the same when you turn on Red+Green or even Red+Green+Blue - the wall-power consumed is the same (assuming 0xff intensity, is more complex otherwise), the difference is that less power is being dumped as heat in the CC regulator, and more is going through the LEDs. Sum is the same.
  5. Hence the efficiency of this is interestingly different to a 5v WS2812B; when driving 0xFFFFFF, it's actually slightly more efficient, however when displaying 0xFF0000 (or any other R/G/B single color) it's much less.
  6. I like it as a design; it's very cheap, it's not as awfully inefficient as I first assumed. It'll work well on longer LED strips for several reasons; not least because a 300 LED strip on 0xffffff now only pulls about 5A @12v not 15A@5v, so less losses and much less heating of the strip due to copper trace resistance. Also, more tolerance of rail drooping.
  7. Adding an actual buck converter inside the LED looks to be impossible (cheaply) at the required power levels.

In short; power consumption on WS2815 is determined by MAX(r,g,b) NOT SUM(r,g,b) as it was on 5v LEDs.

Here's a detailed shot - note that not all WS2815's look like this; it appears that early versions may not have used the series trick

Note the Green and Blue LED dies are insulated from the pads they sit on, and have two wirebonds.

The Red only has one because it's connected to the 12v pad it's sitting on.

"NC" pad is I believe ~5v derived from the CC regulator, and is used to run the chip logic. The component (0201) visible inside the LED is I believe a decoupling cap for that supply

Update: This is confirmed by someone measuring the power consumption of a strip of 75 LEDs; enter image description here

  • \$\begingroup\$ Wow, that's some amazing analysis! Where did you get the info? I couldn't find much about WS2815 at all... \$\endgroup\$
    – Art
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 16:02
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I googled some pictures and figured it out ;-) Twitter thread here fyi: twitter.com/drtune/status/1148742273720434688 \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 19:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for sharing that! It does make a lot of sense. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 0:39

To answer your first question, yes. The rest of the voltage window will be dissipated as heat.
For efficiency, I came to the same conclusion as @Wesley Lee. If you look at the WS2811 driver datasheet (that seems to be what's embedded in the WS281X Neopixels), there's actually an example for 5V with one LED of each color and an example for 12V with 3 LEDs of each color: 5V example circuit

12V example circuit

If you do some quick math, you can see that at 5V, with 2.1V across the LED, you're 2.1/5 = 42% efficient. At 12V with 3 LEDs, you're 6.3/12 = 52.5% efficient, which would explain the lumens/watt difference between the two.

Hope this helps!

  • \$\begingroup\$ These values look very convincing, and the efficiency difference you calculated agrees with the expected luminosity difference with only 5% error. One more thing bothers me tho: why on photos of WS2815 there are only 3 LED-looking-blobs? \$\endgroup\$
    – Art
    Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 3:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's possible that each "LED-looking-blob" consists of 3 LED junctions. I don't see a good reason for manufacturing them seperately and connecting them afterwards. I'm not sure though, so don't quote me on this! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 20:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a decent guess but it turns out they do something cleverer, see my answer \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 7:34

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