AMD has been quietly demonstrating a cost-effective alternative to Thunderbolt at CES. It's unimaginatively called Lightning Bolt and, according to the company, it will deliver USB 3.0, DisplayPort and power over a single cable with mini DisplayPort connectors for a fraction of the cost Thunderbolt controllers and devices command.
Demonstrations were held behind closed doors and no pictures were allowed, but AnandTech was able to see it in action. As the site explains, AMD's goal is to enable affordable, single-cable docking stations for notebooks.
The whole setup consists of a 'mux' on the notebook side that combines power, DisplayPort and USB 3.0, a standard mini-DP cable with changes on only two of the pins, and a Lightning Bolt breakout box at the other end providing the aforementioned ports. AMD claims that the Lightning Bolt multiplexor on the laptop should cost no more than $1 and a compatible dock would be around the same cost as a typical USB 3.0 hub.
While that certainly sounds promising, the protocol is not yet finalized and so there are some performance limitations to the design. AMD says that USB 3.0 bandwidth using the interface would be lower than native USB 3.0 ports' 5Gbps but higher than USB 2.0. In contrast, Thunderbolt can hit 10Gbps. The company didn't comment on how much power you'd be able to send over the interface either.
The technology won't be ready for the launch of Trinity APUs during the summer but rather by the end of the year. Meanwhile, a handful of motherboards and non-Apple notebooks equipped with Intel's Thunderbolt were already announced at CES, and we'll likely see a few more by the time Ivy Bridge arrives in early Q2.
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