Overview of capsules with socket TBT4-HUB3C Thunderbolt 4 Hub

Plugable today introduces its Thunderbolt 4 product line, with the TBT4-HUB3C Thunderbolt 4 Hub leading the package. Two Thunderbolt 4 cables – 2m – are connected to it. long TBT4-40G2M and 1m. long TBT4-40G1M.

Intel delivered detailed updates for Thunderbolt 4 in mid-2020 before releasing it in Tiger Lake-based products. As the peak bandwidth (40Gbps) did not get an upgrade over the Thunderbolt 3, many users simply considered it a brand update. In fact, under the hood, the specifications were fine-tuned to bring some features from the USB world. Plugable focuses on these new features:

  • Hub functionality, in addition to the chain link scheme, is prevalent in previous versions of Thunderbolt
  • Active cables up to 2 m long and supporting speeds up to 40 Gbps – maximum possible based on host / device interface (active Thunderbolt 3 cables with non-Thunderbolt 3 Type-C devices are often limited to USB 2.0 speeds)

The TBT4-40G2M (active) and TBT4-40G1M (passive) are Intel-certified Thunderbolt 4 cables, priced at $ 59 ($ 49 after coupon submission) and $ 34 ($ 29 after coupon submission). The price premium is due to increased certification costs (the factory is required to test random production batches for Thunderbolt 4 cables several times, compared to only the initial production operation that was previously performed).

These cables complement the Thunderbolt 4 flagship Plugable-TBT4-HUB3C based at Goshen Ridge. The JHL8440 Goshen Ridge controller used in the hub is a four-port solution – one upstream and three downstream.

The TBT4-HUB3C comes with a passive Thunderbolt 4 cable of 0.8 m, a 110 W power brick and a connected USB-C to an HDMI adapter that supports resolutions up to 4Kp60 with HDR. Only the hub is quite small compared to electric brick, measuring only 118 mm x 18 mm x 73 mm. Despite its small dimensions, the unit has a solid look and feel with a brushed finish. The hub weighs 201 g, light enough to be considered a pocket.

The plug-in also includes a USBC-HDMI adapter (USB-C male to HDMI 2.0 female converter that supports DisplayPort alternative mode from the USB-C side) with the package. The intention is to route incoming display signals from the host to one of the Thunderbolt 4 downstream ports and then to the HDMI monitor. This also reveals the benefits of the hub scheme – Since the daisy chain is no longer pictured for most implementations (every speech in the hub can still be a daisy chain in Thunderbolt 4), users do not have to worry about placing different Thunderbolt Peripherals / screens in the chain. Additionally, it allows peripherals to be separated independently of each other – something that is not possible in a chain topology without breaking connections with peripherals that are intended to be kept active.

Performance testing

The number of use case scenarios for Thunderbolt 4 hubs, such as the Plugable TBT4-HUB3C, is too many to count. Our performance rating is limited to the configurations below. The TBT4-HUB3C ascending port is connected to the Thunderbolt 4 port ASRock Industrial NUC BOX-1165G7-a risky choice, as the port is only certified for USB 3.2 Gen 2 / DisplayPort Alternative Display Mode. The downstream ports were connected according to the list below.

  • Port # 1 – DIY Thunderbolt 3 SSD using TEKQ Rapide and WD_BLACK SN750.
  • Port # 2 – eGFX PowerColor Gaming Station Solution with PowerColor Radeon RX Vega 56 Nano.
  • Port # -USBC-HDMI port on LG34WK95U configured to display desktop 3840×2160 at 60 Hz (8-bit RGB)

The Thunderbolt Control Center can be used to approve connected devices. All primary connections to the Thunderbolt port (except the screen and the associated fear of routing) are visible on it.

Different load combinations were processed to determine the actual bandwidth sharing effects between peripheral devices connected to the hub. The DIY Thunderbolt 3 SSD was subject to fio workload, while the eGPU at the Gaming Station was subjected to an OpenCL bandwidth test (data transfer from the host to the VRAM of the device and back).

Including Thunderbolt 4 hub (TBT4-HUB3C)
Bandwidth Sharing Analysis (Gbps)
Port # 1 (DIY TEKQ Rapide Thunderbolt 3 SSD Port # 2 (eGFX PowerColor Gaming Station) Port # 3 (Connecting to LG34WK95U via Plugable USBC-HDMI)
He reads It says Host-device Host-to-Device
11.44 10.98
16.2 16.74
13.7 17.64
13.78 14.4
22.12 14.4
14.1 14.4
23.0 14.4
8.99 9.21 14.4
11.0 19.14 14.4
13.5 12.46 14.4

It must be noted that Thunderbolt data rates are two-way – logically speaking, we have a 40 Gbps connection from host to device and another 40 Gbps connection from device to host. As part of our experiments, we tried to activate traffic in pairs – one set with screen routing turned off and the other with the active USBC-HDMI part.

It can be noticed that activating the display output connection reduces the performance for host-to-device traffic from 20.57 Gbps to 13.78 Gbps, while the total used bandwidth on the host side of the device moves up from 20.57 Gbps to 28 , 5 Gbps. On the flip side, the maximum bandwidth was shown to be 22.11 Gbps.

Investigation of the 5K display output from the node downstream port and its bandwidth implications will be covered in future reviews.

Concluding remarks

The plug-in TBT4-HUB3C reveals the capabilities / advantages of Thunderbolt 4 over previous versions of Thunderbolt in an efficient and customized way. The hub feature brings Thunderbolt and the traditional consumer understanding of USB functionality to the same table, and this can only be good for the market as USB4 starts to gain in strength.

The TBT4-HUB3C can support a total of 40 Gbps over three downstream ports without favoring one port over the other. Although we have evaluated a number of interesting uses that include displays, Thunderbolt SSDs, and eGPUs, the capabilities provided by the hub are much more diverse. With compatibility with the previous version – we even tested the functionality of the device as a USB 2.0 hub when connected to a USB 2.0 port – it can be said with certainty that the functionality of the hub is limited only by the characteristics of the upstream host.

Priced at $ 174 (after applying the $ 15 discount coupon to the $ 189 IFRS), the center is a great deal in this area. Plugable was a little late to the Thunderbolt 4 market, as other Goshen Ridge solutions have been available in the market for some time (although supply chain problems meant that actual availability was limited). All Thunderbolt 4 hubs / docks make full use of the four JHL8440 port, allowing one upstream Thunderbolt 4 port and three downstream Thunderbolt 4 ports. For $ 230 CalDigit Thunderbolt 4 Element Hub tags on optional USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports. The Razer has two docking stations – a 10-port version with an SD card slot, an audio port, an Ethernet port and three USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports for $ 320, and an RGB version for $ 330. The $ 330 Kensington SD5700T is similar to the Razer dock, but with an optional USB-A charging port only.

The closest competitor to the Plugable TBT4-HUB3C is actually the OWC Thunderbolt Hub which has a similar port shape and appearance. In addition, it has a USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A port for $ 179. Despite reducing the OWC unit by $ 5, Plugable was able to include a $ 20 plug-in in the USBC-HDMI adapter. Overall, Plugable has an effective starting Thunderbolt 4 product that will expand market acceptance and understanding of the latest Thunderbolt 4 and USB4 ecosystem. We look forward to the company expanding its offering and creating a TBT4 line similar to the one they currently carry for the Thunderbolt 3.

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Naveen Kumar

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