AMD's Lightning Bolt: Low Cost Thunderbolt Alternative for USB 3.0/DPby Anand Lal Shimpi on January 12, 2012 9:11 PM EST
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.