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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  • Obsoleet - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    My 8GB Supertalent Pico-C and 1TB WD Passport (USB 3.0) disagree with you.

    My external storage averages ~100MB read speeds and ~70MB/sec write, a self powered 5400RPM drive.

    Sure it's no SATA drive, but it's more than effective and convenient on technology widely available today. In fact, I've been using it for 2 years now while everyone waits and waits for Tbolt to dominate.
  • XZerg - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    You misunderstand the bigger point being made here. Sure USB 3.0 is fast for most of the tasks, however, it is not fast enough to allow a decent GPU to be hooked up to the computer externally. With TB, due to its implementation, not necessarily due to the bandwidth, you can gut out almost all parts of your computer that are currently only viable as internal devices while keeping the performance experience close to normal. A simple example is being able to use an external GPU on a laptop/netbook/tablet to boost the GPU performance considerably - something that USB solutions cannot do and USB doesn't seem to be driven to tackle that front.

    This isn't to say that TB is perfect but it is at least one step ahead of USB now. Companies need to throw more weight behind TB to create more products that end-users can make use of to simplify devices portability and upgradability.

    I believe USB would be great as a peripherals connectivity (displays, hdd, kb/mouse, camera, printer, ...) and TB for computer hardware (videos, raid cards, accelerators, ...).

    Exploiting such capabilities of TB would be a two edge sword - provide products with greater benefits (portability for re-use) to end-user, however, at the same time lose revenues from end-users as they will buy only one expensive solution for more than one computing system instead of for each system.
  • Wardrop - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    Thunderbolt and Lighting Bolt seem to be completely unrelated, despite initial impressions. Lightning bolt basically combines two existing external interfaces into one cable, for the sack of convenience (docking). It's purely a physical thing.

    Thunderbolt on the other hand makes the bandwidth provided by PCI-e, available externally. It provides capabilities that are otherwise unavailable over any other existing interface (or combination of interfaces). If you need to send more than 5/6gbps to an external device, Thunderbolt is the only solution.
  • r3loaded - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    This is honestly the first thing that came to mind when I read the title of this article:
  • umbrel - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    Return to me the dignity I lost when the people around me saw me fall to floor rolling in laughter!!!
  • Beenthere - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    I think people associate the name Thunderbolt with comics and unscrupulous PC electronics makers, not a solid produce, a lot like Ultra-Flop notebooks.
  • KPOM - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    With yet another incompatible technology vying for use of the mDP, this is bound to just lead to more customer confusion. It was bad enough that Intel and Apple settled on mDP, but at least few PC manufacturers besides Apple had used the port prior to the introduction of Thunderbolt.
  • Hector2 - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    It does seem to just be a merging of USB 3.0 and Display Port. I agree with others about the name. Intel started with "Lightpeak" and that made some sense because it was an optical interface that also supported PCIe, etc.

    Lightening Bolt doesn't seem to have anything to do with optical other than trying to get people to believe its similar to Intel's LightPeak and ThunderBolt.

    In the end its just another name.
  • CUEngineer - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    I sense some patent lawsuits here... lol
    Intels thunderbolt was originally called lightning bolt from what i remember and i think that it was already patented? I think the plan is to call it thunderbolt while they still use coper wires and lightning bolt when it reaches full fruition of using optics.
  • mino - Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - link

    I sense AMD trolling Intel's naming here.

    Thre is no new tech by AMD here - they just serve the role of coordinator to prevent ODM's doing each its own ...

    IMO they key would be a capability to charge the notebook via it. It they can do it , they win big.
    If they cannot, they might succeed.

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