One of the things I love the most about AMD is the balance it provides to Intel. While I've spent much of CES looking for Thunderbolt products and lamenting the cost of controllers and devices, AMD put together a concept it calls Lightning Bolt.

Lightning Bolt is an AMD technology that can deliver USB 3.0, DisplayPort and Power over a single cable with mini DisplayPort connectors. I saw the technology demonstrated live, however I wasn't allowed to take any photos.

The technology is designed to be very simple and affordable. On the notebook side is a mux that combines power, DisplayPort and USB 3.0 into a single DP-like cable. The other end of the cable would connect to a Lightning Bolt breakout box that would provide USB 3.0, DisplayPort and power ports.

The cable is a standard mini-DP cable with changes on only two of the pins. AMD's goal is to enable affordable, single-cable docking stations for notebooks. The cost of the mux and associated components on the notebook side would be minimal, around a dollar. The mux would eventually be integrated into a notebook (the AMD demo had them external for demo purposes) and all you'd see is a mini-DP interface with some sort of indication that it was a Lightning Bolt interface. Given that it's a simple mux on the notebook side I'd assume that it would be possible to enable miniDP passthrough and display Lightning Bolt entirely if you wanted to.

There are performance and power limitations to this design. AMD claimed USB 3.0 transfers would be faster than USB 2.0, but not full speed. No word on how much power you'd be able to send over the interface either. As far as the docking stations go, AMD expects that they'll cost about as much as a USB 3.0 hub. 

Lightning Bolt won't be ready in time for Trinity's launch in the middle of the year, but AMD hopes to have it on the market by the end of the year.

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  • SleepyFE - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    You said it. Apple's cheapest PC is 600$, while you can get any other brand for half as much (or just buy parts). Won't be as powerfull, but it's not for gaming anyway.

    Also, Fergy made perfect sense. TB is not an Apple exclusive because they lerned their lesson with FireWire. Now they let Intel try their luck with an expensive port with slow adoption rate because of it. Intel want's to get paid, so they charge for using TB, and that means the price is higher then it could be. The reason Apple is paying anyway is because the have to be the cooltest and they overprice treir products anyhow so it doesn't show on the pricetag.
  • KPOM - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    In case you haven't figured out, the whole Ultrabook concept is an attempt to drag the PC market out of the cheaply made commodity rut they've been in for the past decade. Intel wants 40% of notebooks to be Ultrabooks, and they will average around $800-1000 once the first generation has filtered through. The higher price point ought to allow use of higher end technology like Thunderbolt.

    TB could be a great interface for docking stations, and could provide a standard for the entire industry. Apple's Thunderbolt Display provides a template for the rest of the industry to consider.
  • FaaR - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    Neither you, nor that other guy make any sense at all. TB is royalty-free, any comparisons to firewire is therefore immediately dead in the water.

    You guys simply couldn't be more wrong. TB's gonna go places and you'll come around liking it eventually once you get over your blind apple hate.
  • LtGoonRush - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    That's the thing, there are so few applications for Thunderbolt (over USB3.0) that the only real purpose it serves is to make Intel money. If you really think you need Thunderbolt, nothing stops you from buying a premium model with it included. Much like FireWire, it will never see adoption on consumer devices because of high costs and lack of benefits over USB.
  • Obsoleet - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    Well, if you don't need it, then it isn't entirely useful.
    For me fragmenting connectivity standards is worse than any possible gain. This wasn't some brilliant idea by Intel that will also happen to make them money, it was an idea to monopolize another sector USB has been evolving, and we have other connectivity methods for remaining requirements. Fiber optics is nothing new.
  • repoman27 - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    I'm not sure how USB has been evolving the high-bandwidth digital display interface combined with external PCIe connectivity sector. I'm also not sure how you reckoned that Intel planned on squashing the poor USB-IF (which Intel formed in the first place) with an interface that only supports a total of 6 connected devices.

    It's interesting that you find more than one connectivity standard to be the worst possible thing, yet you're afraid of Intel monopolizing the market with a new standard... The bottom line here is that lack of choice is bad. You can't want USB to have a monopoly on the one hand and then not want a different monopoly because Intel's involved on the other.

    But I guess we should still probably get rid of all of the other interfaces like SATA, HDMI, Ethernet, and ExpressCard, and just focus on USB. There's no reason to have more than one connectivity standard after all.
  • FaaR - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    I demand you stop making sense!
  • Obsoleet - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    You seem to be either very confused, or simply kneejerk in being argumentative and defensive to your precious Thunderbolt/Intel (not sure which). Did you already foolishly spend money on that crap?

    I was the one who said we have interfaces for all those things, SATA, HDMI, ethernet, USB.
    'we have other connectivity methods for remaining requirements.'

    I also, never claimed USB was evolving into external PCIe, I simply said it's cheap, does what it's supposed to do and more, and there plenty of other options for connectivity if you need something else.

    This new standard is doomed to fail in the face of USB3 and everything else that's already well-established.

    Enjoy buying all those Firewire.. I mean Thunderbolt devices.
  • Jaybus - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    I think you're missing the point. TB is simply extending the low-level PCIe bus from the motherboard and/or the CPU to the outside world. In other words, plugging a device into TB is analogous to plugging a PCIe adapter card into a PCIe slot in a PC. That PCIe device could be anything. When you consider that all of the interfaces (USB, SATA, etc.) are already connected to the CPU/GPU via PCIe bridges, even if that bridge is internal to the chipset, then you can see that TB is protocol agnostic.

    Fiber optics is not new. However, silicon photonics is very new. It is not about fiber optics. It is about how the light pulses are generated and detected. Current high speed optical i/o devices, like fiber channel adapters, require very expensive laser driver and detector hardware. Silicon photonics promises integrating the laser, detector, and modulation on the silicon. In other words, it makes it cheap to use fiber optic cables at tremendous bandwidths.
  • ChristophWeber - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    You are so correct. TB's great innovation is to externalize the guts of a PC design by putting PCIe onto a serial cable. Everything else follows from there.

    USB on the other hand is mostly interrupt driven and therefore inherently a bad match to many of the uses we want it for, external disks being one prominent example. Sure, external USB drives work, but it's still hobbled and provides variable, hiccupy throughput. TB, and Firewire before it, solves this cleanly and effectively.

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