Plugable today launched the UD-4VPD, a USB4 docking station that you’ll be able to connect a pair of 120Hz 4K displays to, provided that you own the right equipment. The price is also quite noteworthy: under $200.
Plugable’s UD-4VPD includes two HDMI 2.1 ports, allowing your laptop to power a pair of 4K displays at 120Hz, or a single display at an 8K resolution. Though it uses USB4, it’s essentially the equivalent of a Thunderbolt dock.
Typically, both Thunderbolt docks and their USB counterparts, the USB4 docks, connect to two 60Hz displays, so what Plugable has accomplished is an achievement. But what Plugable promises won’t necessarily be what your laptop achieves, owing to the caveats inherent in the docking station market.
First, your laptop will need to support USB4, the open industry standard of Thunderbolt. Though Intel has said that it has made Thunderbolt licensable to companies like AMD, you’ll typically find Ryzen notebooks use USB4, and Intel Core-based notebooks use Thunderbolt. Since the Ryzen notebook market is about the fifth the size of Intel Core-based notebooks, the market for the UD-4VPD would seemingly be smaller. However, Thunderbolt 4 and USB4 are functionally equivalent; a Thunderbolt port can connect to a USB4 dock, and vice versa.
If your laptop has Thunderbolt 3, however, it may have problems recognizing and connecting to the USB4 dock. In that case, it will fall back to USB specifications: 10Gbps, versus the 40Gbps USB4 and Thunderbolt 4 allow.
The Ryzen notebook will also have to support HBR3, a high bitrate standard, to achieve the 120Hz capabilities. “If your laptop doesn’t, it will naturally fall back to whatever it is that’s the maximum that your laptop supports,” explained Bernie Thompson, Plugable’s founder and chief technical officer, in an interview last week.
Plugable / Amazon
And that might be support for just 60Hz displays. Because laptop makers typically don’t disclose the full I/O capabilities of their expansion ports, all this might be a bit of a crapshoot for users.
If this is all unexpectedly confusing, Thompson acknowledges it: “It’s tough for users to separate this stuff out,” he said. But the rule of thumb is that newer hardware works best with Thunderbolt and USB, and Thompson called out Intel’s Evo program as one that will support the full set of technologies necessary to achieve the dual 120-Hz displays.
USB4 can save you money
The more tangible benefit of the UD-4VPD, however, is price. “The number one contributor is Thunderbolt is actually a pretty extensive testing requirement to get Thunderbolt certification…and it has to go through testing through both Intel and Apple or one of their approved test labs,” Thompson said. “And it adds a lot of costs to every Thunderbolt product.”
Most Thunderbolt docks ship with an Intel chip inside, code-named “Goshen Ridge.” But the open USB4 specification allows for more competition from various chip vendors, and the UD-4VPD includes a chip that costs less than Goshen Ridge, lowering the dock’s overall price.
Aside from that, the Plugable UD-4VPD includes features that are commonly found on a USB4 or Thunderbolt dock: 100W host charging, meaning that this powered dock will charge your laptop, too. The pair of HDMI 2.1 display ports are complemented by the four USB ports, including one USB-C port to charge your phone with 20W of charging power. The dock also incudes an SD/microSD card reader, 2.5Gbps Ethernet, and an audio port adapter.