Monitor Light Bar vs. Desk Lamp – How Do They Compare?

Monitor light bars (or monitor lamps) are becoming more and more popular by the day. They are sleek, minimal, and have a bunch of useful features.

But how do these monitor light bars compare to a good old desk lamp or task light? Today we’re going to compare the trusty desk lamp against the newer kid on the block: monitor light bars.

desk lamp being used on a minimal desk
Typical Desk Lamp
BenQ ScreenBar mounted on 4K monitor on minimal desk, side angle
Monitor Light Bar

Key Takeaways

  • The main benefits of a monitor light bar are that it takes up no desk space, has a centered beam spread, and produces zero screen glare.
  • Traditional desk lamps are usually cheaper and last longer due to having replaceable bulbs. There are also many more lamp styles to choose from compared to light bars.

Monitor Mounted Light Bars – Pros & Cons

As a light bar user myself, I loved the change from a desk lamp. I ended up writing a more detailed article on all the benefits I experienced when using the light bar. I’ll be reiterating the main benefits in this article.

There are also some downsides to monitor light bars, so we’ll get into those as well. 

Benefits of Light Bars

Zero Desk Footprint

One of my favorite features of the light bar is that it takes up absolutely zero desk space. You can gain serious desk real estate by ditching the traditional table lamp.

I am a pretty minimal person when it comes to what is on my desk. I have my monitor, some speakers, a laptop, my snake plant, a stream deck, and my keyboard/mouse sitting on my desk. 

alex drawer desk setup without computer tower on desk

A normal table lamp with a large round base would crowd my desk up considerably more. I don’t have to worry about that with the monitor light bar. 

I personally love the look of minimal desk spaces with only the essentials. Getting rid of a full-size lamp and replacing it with a thin bar hovering over my monitor definitely helps. 

I have dedicated articles on the organizational tools that will help with minimalism.

Centered Beam Spread

Desk lamps never really place the light where you need it. Usually, the lamp sits on one side of the desk, and you just deal with an offset light source.

This is not a big issue for small desks. However, for those of us who have wider desks, the light source can be pretty far from the center of the table.

This may encourage you to center the lamp or use a higher-lumen light bulb in the lamp. Here is an article on how many lumens a desk lamp should have

monitor light bar

The beam from monitor light bars is a nicely feathered spotlight at the center of your desk. Simply place the light bar above your primary monitor, and you’ll have proper lighting right in front.

I have used plenty of light bars in the past year from Quntis, MELIFO, and BenQ. The BenQ ScreenBar and ScreenBar Halo do the best job of spreading the light in my experience.

Check out our dedicated light bar reviews here:

Simple Cable Management

Many of these light bars are made to be connected to your monitor’s powered USB ports. This may be a disadvantage in some ways, and we’ll explain why in the next section. 

If your monitor has USB ports, you can use these ports to power up your monitor light bar. Doing this can make cable management a super simple task.

Simply mount the light bar, plug in the USB power cable, and tie up the excess cable length. Doesn’t get any simpler.

Zero Screen Glare

Because monitor light bars were specifically designed to sit on monitors, they can control screen glare very well. This is one of the many ways monitor light bars help with eye comfort

When you take a closer look at the light beam from a monitor light bar, you can tell there is a sharp drop-off in the light. That drop-off blocks the light from hitting the monitor and creating a glare. 

To illustrate this, I put a set of Post-its right under my light bar. You can see how the light stops abruptly before it lands on the front of the screen.

Monitor Light Beam Spread

This is how monitor light bars shield your monitor from bouncing light back into your eyes.

Most light bars have rotational adjustments so you can control where your beam is centered and when the light stops. You can even get specific light bars for curved monitors.

With a normal desk lamp, you will have glare if it’s placed anywhere in front of your monitor. Especially if it has a large diffusing lampshade.

You have to reduce glare with typical desk lamps by putting them further away or behind your monitor. This puts the light further from where it needs to be, which is at the center of your desk.

Disadvantages of Light Bars

Now let’s get into the disadvantages of these monitor light bars.

Non-Replaceable Light Source

If a bulb burns out in a traditional desk lamp, you just head over to the store and buy a replacement bulb. The problem is solved quickly and affordably. 

Monitor light bars on the other hand do not have a replaceable light source. If you purchase a light bar from a reputable brand, such as BenQ, they claim these LEDs last a long time – 50,000 hours.

However, when the LED strip inside the light bar dies, you need a new light bar.

quntis light bar pro+ mounted on ultrawide monitor low view

Webcam Placement is Blocked

Webcams are made to be placed on top of your monitor, centered. This unfortunately is where the light bars need to be placed as well, so webcam placement will be a little bit awkward.

You might have to just place your webcam on top of the light bar, and come to terms with that it won’t be a very stable setup. We talk about more ways a webcam can work with a monitor light bar here

If you don’t use a webcam, you don’t have to worry about this. 

If you do use a webcam, you might want to go for the BenQ ScreenBar Halo, which has an optional webcam accessory. We talk about this in more detail in our BenQ Halo Review.

Premium Pick
BenQ ScreenBar Halo Monitor Light

Enhance eye comfort with this monitor light bar's integrated backlight design that illuminates your back wall (bias lighting). With a smart wireless controller, it's easy to adjust brightness and color temperature. Its patented clip design mounts on almost any monitor, saving valuable desk space, and it's powered via USB, eliminating the need for extra wires.

Check Price on Amazon

Power Supply is Not Included

Monitor light bars typically do not come with a power supply. You only get a USB cable in the box.

This is because light bar manufacturers advertise using the USB port on your monitor. However, there are a few problems with this approach.

First, not all monitors have USB ports. Second, your monitor has to be ON for the light bar to work! This second point is a huge disadvantage.

That means if you are writing in your notebook and your PC falls asleep, your monitor will go into power-saving mode and turn off your light bar.

I’ve used a light bar like this and it was infuriating to need to turn on my monitor when I needed light. I use a dedicated power source now.

Not even the expensive BenQ ScreenBar Halo (priced at $179!) has a power supply in the box! If you go for a monitor light bar, I highly recommend using a dedicated USB power source.

screenbar halo light bar contents

The Traditional Desk Lamp – Pros & Cons

Desk lamps have stood the test of time. Tons of people still use them and they are being purchased every day. More people probably use desk lamps instead of monitor light bars because you can find them literally anywhere. 

desk lamp being used on a minimal desk

Benefits of Desk Lamps

Changeable Bulbs

Desk lamps typically come with interchangeable light bulbs. This is something a monitor light bar is unable to do. 

This is nice to have in case your bulb dies out, but it also introduces a new level of customization. 

You can throw in a super cool RGB bulb and turn your desk lamp into an accent light whenever you want. If you like accent lights, check out our review of the Govee RGB accent light bars. 

You can also get a Philips Hue smart light bulb which can integrate your desk lamp with your smart home system. 

If you are a simpler person, you can just choose the bulb with the exact color temperature you like and screw that bulb in. You are not tied to any specific light source with an interchangeable bulb desk lamp.

Wide Variety of Styles

All monitor light bars pretty much look identical. They are a little bar sitting above your monitor. It looks cool, but it’s not a huge style contributor.

Desk lamps on the other hand come in so many shapes, sizes, and flavors. They can really add a ton of aesthetic value to a desk that is otherwise simple. 

Check out the examples below of some great-looking desk lamps. 

Typically More Affordable

A typical desk lamp will usually cost less than a typical monitor light bar. Here’s an example of a $10 desk lamp on Amazon at the time of writing. 

Simple Designs Metal Flexible Neck Desk Lamp
  • Painted metal shade and plastic base
  • Flexible hose neck
  • ON/OFF button switch located on base for convenience
  • Dimensions: H: 14.25" Shade Diameter: 5"
Check Price on Amazon

Desk lamps are just simpler devices. They need a light bulb socket and a switch inside of a little lampshade. Monitor light bars are a bit more unique which is why they are usually more expensive. 

Most monitor light bars start around $30 or $40 for the cheap ones, and up to $180 for the expensive ones.

Disadvantages of Desk Lamps

Can Result In Screen Glare

Desk lamps can easily result in screen glare as we touched on in the “monitor light bar advantages” section. This screen glare makes it harder to see things on your monitor and just leads to a poorer experience working at your desk. 

If you want to get rid of the glare, you have to position your light source behind your monitor. This puts the light further away from the center of your desk where it’s most needed.

Takes Up Desk Space

Desk space is pretty valuable for me. I used a normal desk lamp for a long time and I didn’t like it getting in the way. 

A desk lamp not only takes up desktop space, but air space too. Whenever I articulated the lamp arm to try and direct light toward the middle of my desk, it often blocked my laptop screen. 

It was annoying to have the lamp take up both desk space and airspace. Switching to the light bar really gave my desk more breathing room. 

Benq e-reading lamp - on desk with desk clamp

Not all desk lamps take up space. In our review of the BenQ E-Reading Desk Lamp, they have an optional desk clamp accessory that gives a ton of desk space back.

Off-Center Beam Spread

I like having light where I actually need it. Unfortunately, desk lamps are not great at placing the beam right at the center of the desk.

Desk lamps will always be off to one side or the other. Most people have trouble deciding where to place their desk lamp.

Desk lamps can easily cast shadows on the center of your desk, and it is just not ideal for power users that heavily rely on a centered light source. 

Monitor Light vs Desk Lamp – What Should You Choose?

So what will work best for you? 

My recommendation is to think about how much you would benefit from the footprint change and the centered light beam spread. Those are the biggest advantages I experience on a daily basis with my monitor light bar. 

screenbar halo light bar low shot

If those advantages wouldn’t really do anything for you, maybe a desk lamp is the right way to go. 

I am personally okay with not having an interchangeable bulb. But I do cross my fingers and hope that the LEDs in my light bar reach the claimed 50,000 hours of service. Otherwise, I will have to shell out more cash for a light bar opposed to just changing a bulb.

Photo of author


I'm a big time workspace enthusiast who is constantly experimenting with my setup. Sharing along the way to help people make their own desk setups more functional and inviting, whether it be for productivity or play!

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