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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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  • mino - Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - link

    There is USB3 in there which is more than enough (even at reduced speed) for ethernet or whatever IO you might need ... Reply
  • teng029 - Thursday, January 12, 2012 - link

    And here I thought Thunderbolt was a silly name... Reply
  • SilthDraeth - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    They are both silly names, but Thunder doesn't come in bolts, and lightning does.

    Just saying...
    Reply
  • BSMonitor - Monday, January 16, 2012 - link

    Enough with the "Just Saying"

    Just Saying, just saying
    Reply
  • XZerg - Thursday, January 12, 2012 - link

    Just pure stupidity if they proceed with this product. The reason why TB is/will be better than LB is pure and simple TB is PCIe based and so can actually help externalize hardware such as GPU which is something notebooks can't do. At least not well - usb 2.0/3.0 based solutions wouldn't live up to even an integrated gpu's performance. Reply
  • redisnidma - Thursday, January 12, 2012 - link

    Yeah, but remember that it's intel who's in dire need of external GPUs because of their IGPs being crap. That's why they came out with this gimmick. Reply
  • Obsoleet - Thursday, January 12, 2012 - link

    This is one of the craftiest, wisest gimmicks of all time. Provide what appears to be what Intel is pushing, for MUCH cheaper, riding on the back of USB3.0.

    I'm entirely happy with my USB 3.0 external storage and 5870.
    If Tbolt can even be limited or stopped, everyone besides Intel wins. Brilliant honestly.
    Reply
  • repoman27 - Thursday, January 12, 2012 - link

    How does everyone besides Intel win if we limit or stop the inclusion of 20Gbps I/O interfaces on laptops and all-in-ones?

    Have you considered that there are uses for a 20Gbps interface besides external storage or GPUs? Just cuz you don't have need of it, doesn't mean it's not useful.
    Reply
  • Fergy - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    If Intel wanted to make the world better with thunderbold they should have followed USB's example. Instead they follow firewire's example. USB won because it is cheap and anybody can implement it. Thunderbolt will only be available on more expensive devices. And if Intel integrates TB into their chipset it will be an Intel only technology. Reply
  • repoman27 - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    Last I checked, Intel was on the panel that created USB, they currently integrate USB into their devices, and USB is not an Intel only technology. USB was not initially cheap compared to existing standards, nor was it immediately adopted en masse. Thunderbolt is currently available on the $599 Mac Mini, the cheapest PC that Apple offers.

    The only statement you made that makes sense to me is that Thunderbolt bears some resemblance to FireWire.
    Reply

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