Dimensions: 5.55 x 1.65 x 4.46 inches (141 x 42 x 113mm)
Weight: 1.41 pounds (0.64kg)
Operating system: Windows 10/11, macOS 11.4+
Ports: 3x Thunderbolt 4 (one host), 3x USB-C (10Gbps), 5x USB-A (10Gbps), DisplayPort 1.4, 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet, 3.5mm combo in/out, 3.5mm out, 3.5mm in, SD card reader (UHS-II), microSD card reader (UHS-II), Kensington lock slot
Max video resolution: 8K or dual 4K @ 60Hz
Power delivery: Up to 96W for host laptop, up to 20W for front USB-C, up to 7.5W for other USB-C and USB-A ports
Generally in life, you get what you pay for. Which means that broadly speaking, if you spend a lot of money on a laptop, it'll be better than a cheap one. In a few areas, though, this isn't always the case. And one of these is connectivity.
So if you want an ultralight laptop with the very best processor, screen, speakers and so on, but need to connect up multiple devices, what do you do? In short, you need a docking station, which plugs into one of your laptop's USB-C slot and then gives you a bunch more.
Choosing the best docking station is very much a balance between how much you want to spend and how many ports you need. The CalDigit Thunderbolt 4 dock lies at the far end of that spectrum: it's very expensive and it provides a LOT of ports: 18 in total. But is it right for you? I've spent time with a review model to find out.
CalDigit Thunderbolt 4 review: Design and build
The CalDigit TS4 Thunderbolt comes in a solid, robust and somewhat imposing (in a good way) aluminium box.
At over two-thirds of a kilo, it feels a bit weighty and clunky for travel, but that's not really what it's for. It's clearly been designed for permanent use on a desk packed with devices. The sides are ribbed, which is mainly to dissipate heat, but also helps it looks pretty stylish at the same time.
The dock can be used in horizontal and vertical positions, and rubber feet keep it nice and stable in the case of the latter. Crucially, all the ports are ergonomically positioned so you'll have no problems using every single one of them concurrently. And I didn't just take their word for this but gathered together an army of gadgets to test this claim out.
Encouragingly, I had no problem fitting everything into the slots at once – none of the leads or plugs got in the way of each other – or servicing all the devices simultaneously.
The CalDigit Thunderbolt 4 requires its own power source. So as well as the main dock, you also get a power adapter in the box, and it's a real brick; both large and weighty. So if you're short on space and/or trying to streamline your setup as much as possible, that may be a downside to consider. Also, be aware there's no switch on the box, so you'll have to remember to switch off the plug at the wall once you've finished work for the day.
As well as the adapter, you also get an 80cm USB-C to USB-C cable, which lets you connect the dock to your laptop. That'll be long enough for most people and certainly was for me. It's also nice that the cable is detachable because if it stops working or gets damaged, it'll be pretty straightforward to replace.
As the name suggests, the CalDigit Thunderbolt 4 supports Thunderbolt 4, the latest and fastest protocol for data transfer. However, if you have an older laptop that uses Thunderbolt 3 or just plain USB-C, don't worry: everything's backwards-compatible.
There are so many ports here, it's best just to list them all individually. They are, in no particular order:
- 1x upstream Thunderbolt 4 port (40Gbps, 98W)
- 2x downstream Thunderbolt 4 ports (40Gbps, 15W)
- 1x DisplayPort 1.4 video port
- 5x USB-A ports (10Gbps, 7.5W)
- 1x USB-C port (10Gbps, 20W)
- 2x USB-C ports (10Gbps, 7.5W)
- 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet
- UHS-II SD and microSD card readers (320MBps)
- 3.5mm combo audio jack (front)
- 3.5mm Audio In and Audio Out ports (back)
- 230W power supply
Most of these ports are on the back for ergonomic reasons, as you can see in the image below:
CalDigit have put a few of them on the front, though. And to my mind these are the ones that make most sense to appear there: two 10Gb/s USB-C ports, one USB-A port, the two UHS-II card slots, the 3.5mm combo audio jack, and the Kensington security lock.
Note that you can use the dock to charge your devices directly using either the USB-C or USB-A ports, even if there's no laptop connected. Plus if your laptop itself is out of juice, the dock can also supply to 98W of power to it. Finally, you can daisy-chain up to six Thunderbolt devices, including extra Thunderbolt 4 hubs, so this thing is super-flexible, basically.
The main omission here is that there's no HDMI port. Yes, you could connect an HDMI adapter to either the video port or one of the Thunderbolt 4 ports, but it's a bit of a faff considering how expensive this dock is.
Should I buy the CalDigit Thunderbolt 4 dock?
There's no doubt about it: this is the best Thunderbolt dock money can buy in 2023. And if money is no object, we can't think of a reason not to buy one. But unfortunately, most of us have to watch the pennies. So the question becomes: is this $399.99 / £399.99 that the CalDigit Thunderbolt 4 currently sells for a good investment for your money?
Ultimately, the answer to that question depends on what your needs are. If you're unlikely to ever connect more than four or five things to your laptop simultaneously, we suggest you look for something more basic and affordable. Our best dock roundup is an excellent place to start.
Conversely, suppose you're a software engineer, web developer, video producer or similarly techie professional who often needs to connect between eight and 16 devices to your laptop at once, including monitors, mice, SSD drives, SD cards and audio equipment. In that case, you'll love this sophisticated dock. Partly because of its extensive range of ports, but also because it's well-made, flexible and ergonomically designed to fit in with most desk setups.