Hands-On: HP Thunderbolt Dock G4

Posted on May 12, 2022 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Linux, Mac and macOS, Microsoft Surface, Mobile, Windows, Windows 10, Windows 11 with 13 Comments

The HP Thunderbolt Dock now comes in two models and works with Windows 10 and 11 PCs, Macs, Linux, and Chromebooks. It doesn’t look all that different from previous generation versions, but there’s an updated port selection. And the second of the two models uses two cables to deliver 230 watts of power to compatible high-end HP notebooks and portable workstations.

Like its predecessors, the HP Thunderbolt Dock G4—for 4th-generation, though I believe this is, in fact, the third generation—is a squat and heavy little black cylinder, resembling a sort of a one-third height Amazon Echo. It’s designed to sit on your desk within reach, and while most of the ports are available on the back, HP places a single USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 port (with 10 Gbps of data transfer speed) on the front.

If you’re familiar with previous generation HP Thunderbolt Docks, there are three obvious changes this time around. First, HP has dispensed with the top-mounted expansion capability, which only accommodated a single add-on, a mono speaker for conference calls. And the port selection has changed for the better.

Next, where the previous-generation (G2) version of the Dock provided a single full-sized USB-A 3.0 port on one side, the G4 version provides two full-sized USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 charging ports (with 5 Gbps of data transfer speed), one on each side.

Finally, HP has replaced the VGA port on the back with a much more useful HDMI 2.0 port. The rest of the ports—two USB 3.2 Gen 1 (5 Gbps) ports with 7.5 watts of charging power, two DisplayPort 1.4 ports, one Ethernet port (with support for both 1 Gbps and 2.5 Gbps Ethernet), one USB-C 3.2 Gen 1 DisplayPort, and one Thunderbolt 4/USB4 port—remain roughly the same (with some USB generational upgrades).

These may seem like minor changes, but in my book, they’re fairly profound because of the much broader compatibility. Without an HDMI port, the previous generation versions were somewhat esoteric, almost HP-specific (really, HP commercial PC-specific). They make the G4 much easier to recommend, and to a much wider audience.

For those interested in multiple displays, the Dock G4 supports multiple configurations and should meet just about any need. Looking just at the 60 Hz capabilities, the DisplayPort 1.4 ports support up to two 4K displays or 1 8K display, and the Thunderbolt 4 ports support u to two 4K displays.

As for power, the base model of the Thunderbolt Dock G4 delivers 100 watts over its single non-detachable USB-C cable, as before, with another 20 watts for powering the various ports for a total of 120 watts. But now there is a second model with two cables—one USB-C, and one a barrel-type connector that’s compatible with HP commercial PCs and portable workstations—that deliver a total of 230 watts of power, 130 watts of which happen over that second cable. It also provides another 50 watts of power to the ports for a total of 280 watts

I’m reviewing the base 120-watt model, and I’ve paired it with an HP ZBook G8 portable workstation that normally uses a standard 60-watt USB-C power supply. Connectivity is automatic, of course, but I checked the HP Support Assistant app to see whether it would detect the Dock and perhaps offer a firmware update, and it did.

Here, it’s worth noting another new feature: the G4 supports the same Sure Start firmware protection that HP provides with its commercial PCs and workstations, although this implementation is limited to integrity verification and recovery. The idea is to prevent malicious firmware attacks when the system is offline, ensuring that when you boot the PC, there are no compromises. (HP says it is unaware of any previous firmware attacks against its docks, but it’s acting proactively based on its experiences with PCs and other devices.)

I won’t be able to test this aspect of the Dock G4, but it is Intel vPro compatible and supports electronic asset management so that IT departments can remotely update and image systems even when the connected PC is off or asleep. This includes MAC address passthrough—where IT can see the MAC address of the connected PC and display information—and PXE Boot capabilities.

Docking has long been a fairly obvious capability for office workers, and in pre-pandemic times, I suspect that one of the more common use cases was employees who docked at work and then disconnected the notebook and brought it home on nights and weekends. But in this new hybrid era, HP sees a new major scenario at play, where workers will split workdays between home and an office, and they will need docking at home, along with multiple displays and other peripherals. This probably explains the addition of HDMI, since this connection type is far more common out in the world. (That said, I was confused why previous generations didn’t offer HDMI.)

In any event, I’ve long worked at home, of course, and I have a variety of displays from which to choose, including some pro/work-oriented models. (They’re all HPs, too, go figure.) But after a short test at home, I decided to bring the Dock G4 to our new apartment in Mexico City since we were traveling this week and time was tight. My office setup there is for now a work in progress, meaning it’s non-existent, and so far I’ve used it sans external display. But I’ll be getting a display for this configuration soon. And, um, a desk. Come on, we just bought the place. (I took the photos in the hotel before we moved over to the apartment during the current trip.)

With regards to OS compatibility, there are a few limitations for non-Windows users. For example, HP doesn’t offer Mac-compatible audio or Ethernet drivers. And Linux compatibility work is ongoing, though HP tells me that Ubuntu 20.04 LTS with the 5.14 kernel is supported. I’ve only tried it with Windows 11 so far, sorry.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that this rendition of the Dock drops the top-mounted expansion capabilities offered in the previous generation, though HP only offered a single mono speaker add-on to my knowledge, and that was fairly lackluster. And I wish the USB-C cable that connects to the PC was detachable, as some might need a longer part.

But I’ve always been impressed by HP’s Thunderbolt Dock, and the port upgrades put the G4 over the top. This is a terrific centerpiece for a More Mobile setup.

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Comments (13)

13 responses to “Hands-On: HP Thunderbolt Dock G4”

  1. rosyna

    Why would Ethernet need drivers for macOS? No other Thunderbolt dock does. And what audio capabilities are in this dock? It doesn’t have any audio ports.

    • kenosando

      Fairly certain macOS provided drivers for current implementation of Ethernet-over-Thunderbolt they rpodice, and since they're on their own architecture, drivers wouldn't be widely available like they would be with Intel-based Mac.

      Audio can be delivered over HDMI and DisplayPort

    • Paul Thurrott

      Not sure, but I will try to find out.

    • joeaxberg

      I use the previous gen G3 HP TB Dock with a 16" M1 Pro. Ethernet works for me. I assume the same would be true with the G4 dock.

  2. kenosando

    Curious if anyone has used a first-party dock like this one as well as a third-party one (Pluggable) and what you are missing out on either way?

    • shmuelie

      At my previous job I used the G2 version of this dock (with the second cable for more power), a Pluggable, and an OWC dock. While it's been too long to give a detailed comparison, the OWC and this dock were my favorites. Clearly the extra power cable was great, since with the Pluggable and OWC docs I use the power brick too to help get max power. My main issue with Pluggable was the need for extra software/drivers from them, which the G2 and OWC did not need.

    • ken_loewen

      Because of issues with the Lenovo dock provided to me in a previous job, I bought myself a Belkin dock for my new Lenovo laptop and 2 4K monitors when starting my new job a year ago. After wayyy too long working with Belkin support who were unable to solve my "doesn't work" problem despite the specs and support indicating my 2 monitors SHOULD work, I returned it to Best Buy (they said I shouldn't have worked so long with Belkin and returned it in THEIR return window) and bought Lenovo. Minimal problems and good tech support from Lenovo.

      Considering replacing my personal laptop in the next few months with something capable of being a 2nd analytics-capable work laptop - trying to decide on a 2nd Lenovo vs HP.

  3. dougkinzinger

    After having been backordered for forever I just got mine this week, it's sitting right here. Seems solid, nice, and so far so good.

  4. geoff

    A replaceable USB-C cable would be nice.

    I've seen a few cases at work where a USB-C connected screen has stopped working, and every time it's been the cable. Replace the cable and you're good to go.

    I'm not sure if the original cables were poor quality, or if the repeated bending and unplugging eventually destroys the cable, or if they were squashed by a monitor, or whatever. In fact, this happened with the cable for my Lumia 950 Continuum dock, back in the day. A replacement cable fixed it.

    But if the cable is hardwired, a failed cable means throwing the dock away.

    • vaticanuk

      if it's like the G2, the cable _looks_ hardwired but actually isn't. Undo some screws on the bottom to remove the bottom plate and it's just a standard thunderbolt cable plugged into a thunderbolt socket :D

  5. waethorn

    The fans in these burn out really quickly. I know people that had the G2 and G3 versions and the fans were dead shortly after the 1 year warranty ran out. That's pretty pathetic IMO, and there's no option for repair nor is there an extended warranty option for these.

  6. hal9000

    I have the G2 at work and absolutely hate it. While I like the cube design, I hate the short hardwired cable, the whole top plate being the power button (at least this seems to be improved in the G4) and my ZenBook has all sorts of stability and reliability problems when connected to that dock, like screens intermittently going blank, USB devices not responding, and so on. It's the main reason I prefer working from home, where I connect my ZenBook to my Lenovo monitor via Thunderbolt, and that works way better.