Recent developments in Thunderbolt expertise have introduced the flexibility to incorporate a number of downstream Thunderbolt ports on numerous docks and hubs, and CalDigit’s Thunderbolt 4 Element Hub launched earlier this yr does simply that within the type of a compact dock supporting Thunderbolt 4 and USB4.
I’ve lengthy been a fan of CalDigit’s Thunderbolt hubs, and I’ve been utilizing the corporate’s TS3 Plus as my predominant docking station for a few years now. The Element Hub does not provide as many devoted options as a few of CalDigit’s different docking stations equivalent to an SD card slot or Ethernet port, however should you’ve acquired a number of Thunderbolt/USB-C units and possibly a number of USB-A peripherals, the brand new Element Hub may very well be a fantastic choice.
With Thunderbolt 4 help, the Element Hub presents as much as 40 Gb/s switch speeds general, which implies it could drive as much as a 6K show at 60Hz, together with twin 4K shows when used with an M1 Pro/Max or Intel Mac (M1 Mac and iPad Pro fashions are restricted to at least one exterior show). Windows customers may even drive an 8K show by way of the Element Hub, however solely at 30Hz.
The flexibility of Thunderbolt 4 implies that with an acceptable adapter, you’ll be able to benefit from nearly sort of exterior show, together with Thunderbolt 2/3/4, USB-C, HDMI, DisplayPort, Mini DisplayPort, VGA, and DVI.
The Element Hub encompasses a whole of eight ports plus a DC-in port for powering the dock. There are 4 Thunderbolt 4/USB4 ports, which embody one upstream port for connecting to the host pc and three unbiased downstream ports, every of which may help a full 40 Gbps of information switch, although clearly not all concurrently. On the other aspect of the dock are 4 USB-A 3.2 Gen 2 ports that help as much as 10 Gbps of information switch.
While the Element Hub is actually a compact docking resolution, it does require an exterior 150-watt energy brick that is considerably bigger than the dock itself. Fortunately, most customers ought to have the ability discover a place to cover the adapter away and depart a clear, uncluttered look on their desks, however this actually is not a docking resolution you are going to wish to tackle the highway.
Even with the massive energy brick, the Element Hub is proscribed to 60 watts of charging energy, so it will not be sufficient to energy a much bigger MacEbook Pro until you are utilizing it beneath a light-weight load. But for a smaller MacEbook Pro, a MacEbook Air, or an iPad Pro, the Element Hub will work simply high-quality, and CalDigit notes that the dock is able to delivering a full 60 watts of energy no matter different hundreds, so in case you have different Thunderbolt units drawing energy (as much as 15 watts from every Thunderbolt port and 7.5 watts from every USB-A port) from the hub, it will not scale back charging energy to your pc as another docks do.
Since it prices the host pc over USB-C, it will not provide the quick charging capabilities accessible with a MagSafe connection on Apple’s newest MacEbook Pro fashions, however as a desktop hub it is extra doubtless for use for steady energy relatively than rapidly recharging a depleted pocket book anyway. And in case you have one of many greater M1 Pro/Max MacEbook Pro fashions, you may in all probability wish to join up MagSafe anyway for the reason that Element Hub tops out at 60 watts.
One neat design function of the Element Hub is that it may be flipped over relying on which aspect of the pc you need it to be positioned. The prime and backside of the dock are primarily an identical, with the identical matte aluminum end and refined CalDigit branding. The two lengthy faces of the hub the place a lot of the ports are situated are matte black plastic, however they too look good and sit flush and strong with the aluminum physique.
It’s a easy design, nevertheless it’s a strong construct that will get the job executed. Pairs of grooves lower into the floor on all sides add a little bit little bit of design aptitude but additionally function mounting factors for the included rubber ft strips that may be simply utilized and eliminated.
With its exterior energy supply, the Element Hub helps offline charging, so the entire ports on the hub can be utilized to cost linked units even when the hub is not linked to a pc. The Element Hub additionally helps Apple’s TremendousDrive, utilizing CalDigit’s customized driver to ship sufficient energy to help the slim CD/DVD drive. And lastly, CalDigit’s macOS Docking Station Utility quietly lives in your menu bar and allows you to simply eject any storage units connected to the hub all of sudden.
I admire the pliability the Element Hub presents, with the Thunderbolt 4 ports providing a number of choices, whether or not it’s direct connections of Thunderbolt or USB-C cables or with adapters for much more connectivity. And the USB-A ports provide straightforward legacy help for these older units nonetheless utilizing the fading commonplace.
I ran some velocity checks utilizing Blackmagic Disk Speed Test and a Sandisk G-Drive Pro SSD that makes use of Thunderbolt for optimum speeds. The drive is marketed to help as much as a most of two,800 MBps learn velocity, and I get pretty near that when the drive is linked on to my 2021 MacEbook Pro, with learn speeds coming in at over 2,500 MBps and write speeds approaching 2,000 MBps.
External Thunderbolt SSD linked on to MacEbook Pro
Connecting the drive to the MacEbook Pro by way of the Element Hub with no different equipment connected to the hub, I noticed little or no in the way in which of a velocity penalty, with the learn velocity coming in at primarily an identical to the direct connection and the write velocity dropping all the way down to the 1,750 MBps vary. External Thunderbolt SSD linked to Element Hub with no different equipment
While the Element Hub options three downstream Thunderbolt 3 ports every able to supporting a theoretical most of 40 Gbps, it is necessary to keep in mind that they’re all sharing a single Thunderbolt connection to the pc, so in case you have a number of units linked to the hub, efficiency will be impacted.
This is obvious when each the SanDisk SSD and one among my LG UltraFine 5K shows are linked to the Element Hub. The 5K show requires a major quantity of that Thunderbolt bandwidth going from the pc to the hub, so write speeds on the SSD drop to beneath 800 MBps in my testing. Given the primarily unidirectional side of show connectivity, learn speeds for the SSD stay unaffected, coming in above 2,500 MBps.
External Thunderbolt SSD and 5K show each linked to Element Hub
Even with that efficiency hit, the provision of three downstream Thunderbolt ports presents most flexibility when connecting a number of peripherals, and the Element Hub’s extra 4 USB-A ports means it could function a wonderful docking station for a lot of customers. It would require some dongles in case you have HDMI or DisplayPort exterior shows although, and should you require extra options like an Ethernet port, SD slot, or 3.5mm audio, you may wish to take a look at another choices.
Given excessive demand and chip shortages, CalDigit has had vital hassle preserving the Element Hub in inventory, and in the meanwhile the perfect availability is thru Amazon, the place it is priced at $249.99. A 0.8-meter Thunderbolt 4 cable is included within the field, whereas CalDigit presents a number of completely different USB-C adapters for connecting numerous shows.