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CalDigit TS4 vs. TS3 Plus

Caldigit Ts4 Review
Caldigit Ts4 Review (Image credit: Windows Central)

CalDigit's latest TS4 is essentially an updated Thunderbolt 4 version of the mighty Thunderbolt 3-enabled TS3 Plus. The TS4 adds more ports, better performance, and more charging. The TS4 is what you want if you settle for nothing but the latest and greatest, but the TS3 Plus is still a great choice if you don't want to pay quite as much.

Tech specs

Here's a look at the raw specs that make up each of these docking stations.

CalDigit TS4CalDigit TS3 Plus
ConnectionThunderbolt 4
Detachable
Thunderbolt 3
Detachable
PortsThree Thunderbolt 4 (One host)
Three USB-C (10Gbps)
Five 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)
Two Thunderbolt 3 (One host)
Two USB-C (10Gbps, 5Gbps)
Five USB-A (5Gbps)
DisplayPort 1.2
Gigabit Ethernet
3.5mm in/out
SD card reader (UHS-II)
S/PDIF
PowerUp to 98W to host
Front USB-C 20W
Other USB-C 7.5W
USB-A 7.5W
Up to 87W to host
USB-C 7.5W
USB-A 7.5W
Max display resolution8K @ 60Hz
Dual 4K @ 60Hz
5K @ 60Hz
Dual 4K @ 60Hz
SecurityKensington lock slotNone
Dimensions5.55 (H) x 1.65 (W) x 4.46 (L) inches
(141mm x 42mm x 113mm)
5.15 (H) x 1.57 (W) x 3.87 (L) inches
(131mm x 40mm x 98.44mm)
Weight1.41 pounds (0.64kg)1.04 pounds (0.47kg)
ColorSilver
Space Grey
Silver
Space Grey
MaterialAluminumAluminum
Warranty2 years2 years

Design and ports

CalDigit didn't make any huge changes to the TS4 compared to the TS3 Plus. While the newer Thunderbolt 4 dock is larger and a bit heavier, it has the same ribbed aluminum design that is durable and does a great job of shedding any heat that might otherwise accumulate under heavy use.

Both docks can be used vertically with the attached rubber footing; additional rubber strips can be applied temporarily if you'd rather use the docks horizontally. There's really no difference in operation between the two orientations, and it will come down to personal preference or how much space you have available on your desk.

These are both well-built docks that can withstand years of abuse. I reviewed the CalDigit TS3 Plus at the start of 2018 and have been using it regularly ever since. It still works as well as it did four years ago, and with minor surface wear. Considering the TS4 is built to the same standard, I expect it to also last for years. One extra feature the TS4 has is a Kensington lock slot, something that can no doubt be handy if you're working in a busy office.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The TS4 will work with Thunderbolt 3, USB4, and USB-C, but to get the most out of it you'll want to connect it to Thunderbolt 4. Similarly, the TS3 Plus will work with USB-C devices, but it's best suited for Thunderbolt 3. Your Thunderbolt 4 devices will work with it as well, though at a lower level of performance. I explain the differences between all these standards in more depth in my Thunderbolt 4 vs. Thunderbolt 3 vs. USB4 vs. USB 3 comparison.

In my CalDigit TS4 review, I emphasize that the dock has an intelligent and plentiful selection of ports. CalDigit does some tricky counting with its audio ports — there's a 3.5mm combo jack for a headset, as well as two 3.5mm jacks for audio in and out — but there's still plenty of connectivity available. There are otherwise two downstream Thunderbolt 4 ports and one for the host connection, three 10Gbps USB-C ports, five 10Gbps USB-A ports, DisplayPort 1.4, 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet for incredibly fast internet, and UHS-II SD and microSD card readers that can be used at the same time.

The TS3 Plus holds its own with two Thunderbolt 3 (one for the host), one 10Gbps and one 5Gbps USB-C, five 5Gbps USB-A, DisplayPort 1.2, S/PDIF for digital audio, Gigabit Ethernet, a UHS-II SD card reader, and 3.5mm audio jacks in and out. There's no microSD card reader and one fewer downstream Thunderbolt port, plus the DisplayPort standard is slightly older. Standard Gigabit Ethernet is also considerably slower than 2.5GbE available on the TS4.

Charging and displays

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Part of the beauty of incorporating one of the best docking stations into your setup is that your laptop can receive a charge while you're connected. This allows you to unplug anytime and go mobile with a full battery. While the CalDigit TS3 Plus can deliver an impressive 87W of power back to the host, the TS4 turns things up to a maximum 98W. For many Ultrabooks with integrated graphics this won't matter as much, but for laptops that require more power that extra wattage will certainly help.

These docks don't stop at the host when it comes to charging abilities. The TS3 Plus offers 7.5W of power through its USB-A and USB-C ports, allowing you to charge up other connected devices. The TS4 goes a bit further, offering 20W of power from its front USB-C port, 7.5W from its other USB-C ports, and 7.5W from its USB-A ports.

As for monitor support, both docks will land you a multi-display setup with a Windows PC. The TS3 Plus handles up to a 5K display at a 60Hz refresh rate, or dual extended 4K displays each with a 60Hz refresh rate. The TS4 bumps the single-monitor resolution up to 8K with a 60Hz refresh rate, or dual 4K displays each with a 60Hz refresh rate. If you'd like to push things with a higher refresh rate, 4K can go up to 144Hz, ultrawide 1440p can hit 180Hz, and standard 1440p can hit up to 240Hz.

Go with the CalDigit TS4 for the latest and greatest

The CalDigit TS4 is our pick for best Thunderbolt 4 docking station, and for good reason. It has the most ports, the most power, and the best build quality I've so far seen. Compared to the TS3 Plus, it's the dock you want to buy if you're setting yourself up for the future. The TS4 costs more than the TS3 Plus, and it's about as hard to find due to its popularity. However, it's the right choice for most people going forward.

CalDigit's TS3 Plus is a more affordable option

The CalDigit TS3 Plus is the best Thunderbolt 3 dock out there, but it's been overshadowed by the newer TS4. I recommend going with the TS4 even if you still have a Thunderbolt 3 laptop; Thunderbolt 4 is taking over and the next high-end device you buy will almost certainly have the newer standard. If, however, you'd like to save some money and plan on using a Thunderbolt 3 device for the next few years, the TS3 Plus is still listed at retailers.

Cale Hunt
Cale Hunt

Cale Hunt is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on laptop reviews, news, and accessory coverage. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user, and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.