So you’ve been eying one of those $200 to $300 LED reef ‘Gro Lights’ and you can’t figure out why it’s so much cheaper than the brand name LED manufacturers like Aqua Illumination, AcanLighting, Maxspect and Ecoxotic. Well in addition to using bottom of the barrel LEDs which look awful and have really poor efficiencies, one of the ways that cheap LED lights keep their prices low is by using the cheapest form of cooling possible. As you can see from the image above, this cheap LED light which has been operating on a reef tank for less than a year has fan guards which are completely clogged; this will result in the already crappy LEDs not being as bright nor running as long as they should, not to mention the fans being really loud.
The best LED lights will have an aluminum heatsink with a balance of mass and surface area as well as a cooling fan to help vent heat off the heatsink. Aluminum is pricey in the quantities needed to provide significant thermal support for high powered LEDs but small computer fans cost almost next to nothing. Cheap LED lights skimp on the value on longevity of their fixtures by ditching as much aluminum as possible and load up on fans instead. If you want to sell yourself short on the cheap LED lights be prepared to experience all the compromises firsthand and in the end you’ll be wishing that you’d gotten a reef light with a little more engineering and long term value.