After a slow start Intel’s Thunderbolt (also known as Light Peak) technology is starting to gain popularity among the OEMs, with Apple being the first and biggest proponent of the technology so far. Now it seems AMD wants a piece of this action as well, so they have come up with their own variant of the technology, called Lightning Bolt.
Yes, Lightning Bolt. Like the technology itself the name takes heavy inspiration from Intel’s Thunderbolt. But AMD is not aiming at simply merging various outputs into one port. Their main goal with Lightning Bolt is to reduce the cost of the whole set up.
Starting with the machine itself, which will have a simple multiplexer on-board, mostly in the shape of a mini-DisplayPort. It will then be connected to a simple mini-DP cable, which will only be slightly modified to keep costs down. This cable will then go to a docking station (like a USB hub), which will contain all the various ports. A single Lightning Bolt port is capable of USB 3.0, display out and power out.
Unfortunately, though, there are compromises in performance. Unlike Thunderbolt you won’t be able to daisy chain devices. The USB 3.0 speeds will be faster than USB 2.0 but not at full USB 3.0 level. Even the power output is not going to be significant.
As you can see, Lightning Bolt seems sort of like a poor man’s Thunderbolt. Unfortunately for AMD, by the time they release this tech by the end of the year, Intel would have had a significant head start with Thunderbolt. Cost of Thunderbolt equipment is also dropping and by the end of the year when Lightning Bolt gets released it may not have the cost advantage any longer.
It would be interesting to see where AMD goes with this. Being late to the market has put them into a severely disadvantageous position. If they need Lightning Bolt to succeed, they are going to need more than the promise of low cost. They can start with a new name.