In response to a new energy-efficiency law, manufacturers are producing more light-bulb varieties than ever. While they're all touted as 60-watt soft-white equivalents, we found quite a range in brightness and color. Here are some of the most switch-worthy options.

NOTE: We gauged efficiency based on the most usable light emitted per watt within a 220-degree arc from a bulb.

Bright away

Bright From the Start Soft White Hybrid Halogen-CFL (© Ben Goldstein/Studio D)

On average, compact fluorescent bulbs took 94 seconds to fully brighten in our tests. But General Electric's Bright From the Start Soft White Hybrid Halogen-CFL 15W ($12.44 for two) solves this problem, combining the instant-on illumination of a halogen with the superior energy efficiency of a CFL. We found that it is 485% more efficient than a traditional bulb. Claimed life span: 8,000 hours (about seven years).

People-pleaser

GE Crystal Clear Halogen A19 43W Bulb (© Ben Goldstein/Studio D)

The light cast from the dimmable GE Crystal Clear Halogen A19 43W Bulb ($5 for two) rated highest with our testers, who even preferred it to that of the traditional soft-white incandescent bulb — and we found it 43% more efficient. Claimed life span: 1,000 hours (about a year), but the one we're cycling on and off has lasted 1,500 hours and counting.

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Super Spirals

Philips' Energy Saver Mini Twister 13W in Soft White (© Ben Goldstein/Studio D)

Philips' Energy Saver Mini Twister 13W in Soft White ($8 for four) brightens quickly for a CFL: in 45 seconds. Feit's Soft White Ecobulb Plus 13W ($4) was a crowd favorite, but takes two minutes to warm up. In terms of efficiency, these rated even better on our test than the winning LEDs — 587% and 593% more efficient, respectively, than an incandescent. Claimed life spans: 10,000 and 12,000 hours (about nine and 11 years).

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Worthy LED

Philips' AmbientLED A19 12.5W (© Ben Goldstein/Studio D)

Don't let the yellow exterior of Philips' AmbientLED A19 12.5W ($25) turn you off — it emits a lovely soft-white glow. It's also dimmable and does an excellent job of spreading light uniformly in all directions — no small feat for an LED, which generally produces more directional light. Our tests show it to be 512% more efficient than a 60-watt bulb. Claimed life span: 25,000 hours (about 23 years).

LED by a mile

EcoSmart LED A19 (© Ben Goldstein/Studio D)

Consumers loved the brighter white of EcoSmart LED A19 13W ($25), which cast light impressively evenly in all directions. Our tests revealed it to be 501% more efficient than a comparable incandescent, and it's even brighter. Claimed life span: 25,000 hours (about 23 years).

How we tested

5 best energy-efficient light bulbs (© Mark Lund)

We tested 28 soft-white halogen, CFL and LED bulbs that claimed light output similar to that of best-selling, traditional 60-watt incandescents. Our engineers measured each bulb's brightness, the evenness of its illumination, the time it took to fully brighten (CFLs are known to have a "warm-up" period), its energy efficiency and its endurance. We also asked consumers to rate light quality — yes, these technologies produce light you'll actually like.

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To test how long-lasting these new bulbs are, Good Housekeeping Research Institute test engineer Erik Eibert left one set blazing and made an apparatus to turn a second set on and off at 15-minute intervals (frequently turning CFLs on and off shortens their lives). In this accelerated test, all 17 exceeded expected life span.

GHRI insight: CFLs are the best value. Their electricity usage is comparable to that of LEDs; while they have about a third the life span, three still cost a lot less than one LED (on average, $9 versus $25). That said, the price of Philips' AmbientLED has dropped by more than a third since its launch. Stay tuned.