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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  • shadowofthesun - Thursday, January 12, 2012 - link

    Tech is cool and all, but did they really have to name it Lightning Bolt? That's one way to make an alternative technology sound like a cheap off-brand knock off.
  • chizow - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    Pretty much, I had the same reaction a few weeks ago when AMD decided to use "K" of all available letters to differentiate their unlocked APUs....

    These classic clips from Coming to America come to mind immediately when I see AMD (or any company) do this kind of thing:

    Explaining Lightning Bolt name:

    AMD marketing department hard at work:
  • sigmatau - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    What the hell is a thunder bolt? Thunder is the noise caused by lightning when it strikes the ground. Intel should have called their stuff Lightning Bolt. Maybe they should have kept it Light Peak.
  • Camikazi - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    Webster dictionary seems to say that Thunderbolt is a word.

    As does Oxford.

    BTW thunder is not caused when lightning hits the ground, it is the caused by the sudden expansion of air in the path of the lightning, so the sound starts before it hits the ground.
  • tim851 - Saturday, January 14, 2012 - link

    Thunderbolt and lightning,
    Very very frightening me.
  • [deXter] - Sunday, February 5, 2012 - link

    GALILEO! Galileo, GALILEO! Galileo, Figaro, Magnificoooo....

    (Glad I'm not the only one who thought of this song when reading this article ;) )
  • Th-z - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    The word exists because it was before the phenomenon was truly understood. Other languages also have similar tradition, because our ancestors used to think the sound precedes the lightning (or lightning is originated by the sound), thus the word "thunderbolt". I think the word should be deprecated today, most people would say lightning bolt because it's scientifically correct.
  • tekkitan - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    Actually lightning doesn't "hit" the ground. Lightning streaks inside a cloud, between clouds, and from clouds to the ground. Lightning is a flow of electrons (a negative charge) that zigzags downward in a forked shaped pattern (scientists call this a step leader). As it nears the earth, a stream of positive charges moves up to the charge of electrons (negative charge). When they meet, the power flows. We can't see this because it moves too fast (first stroke). The return flow (positive charge) moves upward more slowly. This is what we see and call lightning (return stroke). If there is a flicker, the upward stroke is repeating the process.
  • kingius - Friday, January 20, 2012 - link

    A thunderbolt is a clever poetic construction, like being hit by a 'wall of noise'... or being struck by a 'hail of arrows'. These comparisons conjure up evocative images in our minds and are good for the spirit.
  • xrror - Friday, January 27, 2012 - link

    Well Intel kinda took the "light" out of Light Peak to make Thunderbolt. I wonder what Intel will call the "real" Light Peak when it's released with the optical transceivers...

    I'd laugh if one of the reasons AMD named their standard Lightning Bolt was to troll the name first ;p

    Either way, I always get the feeling that Intel themselves don't really plan to continue Thunderbolt in the long term, they really want the optical interconnects. They managed to get Apple excited on it enough to take the hook, then again Apple isn't bashful about abandoning prior standards they had just embraced a generation ago.

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