It might be expensive, but the TS4 exudes quality from every pour. Those that can afford this hardware are unlikely to be disappointed with the functionality or the performance of this excellent device.
98W of charging power
Tons of ports
Only two-year warranty
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CalDigit TS4: 30-second review
Here is the CalDigit TS4 configuration sent to TechRadar for review:
Compatibility: TB4, TB3, USB 4.0, USB-C
Number of Ports: 18
Ports: 1x TB4 Host, 2x TB4 dowstream, 5x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A, 3x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C, 1x DisplayPort 1.4, 1x universal audio combo jack, 1x Audio out, 1x Audio in, 1x 2.5GbE RJ45 Ethernet port, microSD UHS-II slot, SD UHS-II slot
Downstream power: 98W Thunderbolt, 20W USB-C
Size: 141 x 42 x 113mm (W x D x H)
Weight: 1.41 lbs (0.64kg)
Accessories: Adapter 19.5V/11.8A/230W, TB4 Type-C cable
Those in the market for a Thunderbolt Dock will need to consider many factors, but the limited selection of brands in this sector does tend to focus minds.
One of the best-known and respected brands for this equipment is CalDigit, and its new TS4 model takes the latest Intel Thunderbolt silicon and wraps it in a classic CalDigit-designed case.
Able to be orientated vertically or horizontally, the TS4 comes with a chunky 230W PSU, a Thunderbolt 4 compatible cable and the dock, which offers no less than 18 ports from a single cable connection.
The front-facing options include two USB-C ports, a dual card reader for SD and MicroSD, a 3.5mm audio jack and a USB-A 3.2 Gen 2.
Conversely, the back has four Type-A USB ports, USB-C, Thunderbolt downlinks and an uplink, more audio inputs and outputs, a 2.5GbE Ethernet port, and a DisplayPort 1.4 monitor connection.
That’s a good port selection as any Thunderbolt 4/3 dock, and with the 230w PSU, it can deliver up to 98W charging power to a connected laptop covering even the most demanding systems.
The only caveat is the asking price of $399 (£399), which is at least $100 more than the cheaper Thunderbolt Dock options.
CalDigit TS4: Price and availability
- How much does it cost? $399/£399/€384.66
- When is it out? It is starting to be available now
- Where can you get it? Direct from CalDigit or through online retailers like Amazon.
The pricing model for the TS4 is simple. It’s $399 in dollars, £399 in UK pounds and oddly a little cheaper at €384.66 in France and Germany. There are no special versions, with only one SKU, and the price is the same if you buy it from an online retailer or direct from CalDigit.
That makes it one of the most expensive TB Docks, with Kensington selling its SD5700T for $250, the same price as the OWC Thunderbolt Dock. Those with a tight budget should consider the Sonnet Echo 11, with an asking price of only $199.
Even the Razer Thunderbolt 4 Dock Chroma is cheaper at $329.99.
However, none of these alternatives can offer as many ports as the TS4 or the charging wattage this device can deliver.
- Value: 4 / 5
CalDigit TS4: Design
- Two orientations
- Front and rear ports
CalDigit Thunderbolt Dock designs focus mostly on delivering all the functionality in a compact package, and the TB4 certainly achieves that.
However, with this design, the choice to make the entire exterior from cast and milled aluminium with subtle fins is most likely aimed at handling the amount of heat generated by pumping the amount of wattage out in one direction and the flow of data in the other will undoubtedly generate.
How compact CalDigit made this is impressive, with the whole device being just 14.1cm high, 4.2cm wide and 11.3cm deep when stood vertically.
As an alternative to the ‘book’ orientation, you can lay the dock horizontally, and rubber feet are included in the box for this purpose.
Because of that option, all the ports are on the front and back, making the sides devoid of any functionality, and the one on the end furthest away from the logo is flat.
We noticed a couple of slightly odd things about the port layout that might surprise or confuse a new owner.
It’s common with Thunderbolt docks to have an uplink connection on the front, making it more accessible for laptop users to run a line. However, on the TS4, the two Type-C ports on the front are USB data ports, not Thunderbolt, and the maximum amount of power these can output is only 20W on one and 7W on the other. These ports are mostly for charging Android phones, we’d suggest.
The uplink port is on the back, along with the two Thunderbolt downlinks, and this is the one port that can deliver up to 98W charging to a connected laptop.
Therefore if you intend to use this with your laptop, we’d recommend leaving the included 80cm Thunderbolt 4 compatible cable that CalDigit attached to the correct port for charging, ready to use.
Another curiosity is that the labelling on the front shows the orientation that CalDigit expects the dock to be when laid down with the rubber feet attached. But as the sides are symmetrical, it is possible to put the feet on the other side and place it inverted.
Doing this might make the labels the wrong way up, and the SD card slots are the opposite of what you might expect, but it will work perfectly in this orientation.
What might convince any owner to use a flat orientation is that on the rear, the dedicated monitor connection, DisplayPort, is high up on the vertically placed dock. As the cable for DisplayPort tends to be thick, this might want to pull the dock over if the monitor is moved.
With the dock in a horizontal orientation, this isn’t a problem.
- Design: 4 / 5
CalDigit TS4: Features
- 18 ports
- Bandwidth realities
- Excellent compatibility
Easily the biggest selling point of this dock is the number of ports it has, which is substantially more than most of the competitors are offering.
The Kensington SD5700T, Sonnet Echo 11 and OWC Thunderbolt Dock each have eleven ports, and the Rzaer Thunderbolt 5 Dock Chroma has only ten.
Having eighteen ports is great, although having three audio input/output jacks is a little overkill, even for audiophiles.
What’s critical to realise is that the maximum throughput of 40Gbps doesn’t divide neatly into the bandwidth that potentially would be needed to run all the ports on this device at their maximum potential or even close to it.
There are eight USB ports (three USB-C and five USB-A) that could use 50Gbps between them, and once you add dual Thunderbolt 4 ports (40Gbps each), a DisplayPort 1.4 (up to 32.4Gbps) outlet and a 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet port, we’ve crossed 40Gbps easily at least four times over.
That begs the obvious question are these ports vanity items since you can’t use them all? Technically you can’t use them all at the same time and get full performance, but that doesn’t make them useless.
What this is more about is having options and, by definition, flexibility. Some will want to connect dual 4K screens, and others Thunderbolt 4 external RAID arrays, although you probably don’t want to try doing both those things are the same time.
Thunderbolt is designed to manage bandwidth to make things work in most circumstances, but there are limits to how the 40Gbps data pie can be sliced.
What CalDigit offers with the TS4 are options, which could be important if the hardware is repurposed during its operating life.
In this writer's opinion, the two most useful ports they included are the DisplayPort and the 2.5GbE LAN. Having a single commonly used display connecting technology is vital and avoids the need to buy a Thunderbolt adapter to get that functionality.
Some people will wish it was a HDMI 2.0 port, but CalDigit went with DisplayPort.
The LAN port is a handy feature, and with the increased use of 2.5GbE LAN technology, it is appropriately specified to use the wired networking office users are likely to encounter. Many ultrabook designs don’t come with a dedicated LAN port but do often have Thunderbolt ports allowing them to use the TS4 and circumvent Wireless networking issues.
The other big selling point of this design over some other older designs is the high degree of compatibility baked in by CalDigit.
Being compatible with Thunderbolt 4 and 3 is expected, but this dock will also work with USB-C computers, Chromebooks and a host of Apple equipment. The Apple-branded gear includes any Mac on macOS 11.4 (Big Sur) or later and the iPad Pro, iPad Air and iPad mini using either Thunderbolt or USB-C.
We tried this with Intel NUC systems, and it worked on Thunderbolt, AMD mini systems with USB 4.0 were successful.
There may be some obscure Thunderbolt implementation that it won’t communicate with, but all the modern hardware we tried worked flawlessly.
- Features: 5 / 5
Let’s grab this bull by the horns and address the biggest issue; is the TS4 worth $400?
To be brutally honest, the answer is no, it probably isn’t. But given how often this product is out of stock, it’s a price that many are willing to pay for it, and in many respects, that makes the debate about cost moot.
It is undoubtedly the best Thunderbolt 4 dock we’ve seen, with the greatest number of ports, and it’s beautifully engineered. Our only reservation is that if it’s so well designed and made, why CalDigit only provides a two-year warranty on it?
Because if I spent $400 on one and it died after a couple of years of service, I’d be less inclined to invest so much in the future.
That said, if you can afford it, this is the dock to own.
CalDigit TS4: Report card
|Twice the price of other brands, but it does have the features to justify some of that premium.
|4 / 5
|All metal construction, compact and CalDigit styling.
|4 / 5
|Eighteen ports that include all those most users will need and then some.
|5 / 5
|Even at this high price, the TS4 is the Thunderbolt dock to beat
|4.5 / 5
Should you buy a CalDigit TS4?
Buy it if...
You have a laptop that needs plenty of power
Some mobile workstations can consume more than 85W. Trying to charge them on a dock that only delivers that much could be an issue for using the machine and getting it charged. The 98W that this dock delivers should enable work and charging to occur at the same time.
You need maximum port flexibility
With all the ports on this device, there should be the ones you need for whatever you’ve got planned. Being able to repurpose the dock easily is a big selling point of this hardware.
Don't buy it if...
You are on a tight budget
There are Thunderbolt 4 docks available, like the Sonnet Echo 11, that are half the price. If you need a basic Thunderbolt dock, these cheaper products might be good enough for your needs. But do check what wattage they will supply to any connected laptop.
You only use USB-C
If you don’t have a laptop with Thunderbolt ports, there is little purpose in buying such a high-specification dock, even if it will work with it.
Cheap USB-C docks are plentiful and will provide the same results with the limited bandwidth of USB 3.2 technology as the TS4 but for less money.
OWC Thunderbolt Dock
A much cheaper but still high-quality dock from OWC, this design has even ports and can deliver up to 90W to charge a connected laptop.
What it lacks is a dedicated monitor port, but adapters for HDMI or Display port from Thunderbolt are available. However, once you’ve added these, it might not seem like such a great price.
Check out our OWC Thunderbolt Dock review
OWC Thunderbolt Go Dock
Another more recent design than the OWC Thunderbolt Dock, the Go features an inbuilt power supply making it ideal for those on the move.
It might only have ten ports, but it has at least one of all the critical types and an SD card reader included. And, like its bigger brother, it can deliver 90W of power.
The downside of this design is that it’s nearly as expensive as the TS4.
Check out our OWC Thunderbolt Go Dock review
Mark is an expert on 3D printers, drones and phones. He also covers storage, including SSDs, NAS drives and portable hard drives. He started writing in 1986 and has contributed to MicroMart, PC Format, 3D World, among others.