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Significant improvement in the performance of AlGaInP/AlGaAs visible vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser diodes has been achieved in gain-guided planar-geometry devices utilizing proton implants to define the current injection path. Threshold currents as low as 1.25 mA were measured on 10 μm-diameter devices, with maximum power output of 0.33 mW from larger devices. Continuous-wave (cw) lasing was achieved at temperatures as high as 45/spl deg/C. The improved diode performance is attributed to better lateral heat-sinking and reduced parasitic heat generation afforded by the planar device structure, relative to previously-reported air-post structures. This work represents the first realization of efficient room-temperature operation of AlGaInP-based visible VCSEL diodes.