Plugable USB4-HUB3A review: Adds 3 super-fast Thunderbolt ports

Add 3 super-fast ports to your Mac with Plugable’s Thunderbolt hub [Review]

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Plugable USB4-HUB3A Thunderbolt hub review
The Plugable USB4-HUB3A doesn’t take up much room on your desk, and adds three Thunderbolt 4 ports to your Mac.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

If you want more Thunderbolt ports for your Mac, the Plugable USB4-HUB3A hub offers a trio of them. And they are fully functional, offering up to 40 Gbps transfer speeds and support for 4K monitors. Plus, there’s a USB-A port for good measure.

I put Plugable’s new Thunderbolt hub through a round of testing to be sure it lives up to specs.

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Plugable USB4-HUB3A Thunderbolt hub review

USB-C ports that support Thunderbolt offer some of the fastest data transfers between accessories you’re going to find. It can hit 40 Gbps with the right devices.

And every recent Mac offers Thunderbolt. Even the most recent iPad Pro has it.

Using a regular USB-C hub to connect your computer to an accessory that supports Thunderbolt really slows the connection down. That’s where the Plugable USB4-HUB3A comes in.

Hardware and design

Plugable’s hub measures 4.8 inches by 2.9 inches by 0.5 inches, so it won‘t take up much room on your desk. The casing is aluminum in a dark gray, generally matching Apple gear.

When I saw how tiny it is, I thought the USB4-HUB3A would be small enough to take on the road. Then I saw the bulky power supply. That thing measures 6 inches by 2.1 inches by 1.3 inches — more than double the size of the hub. In the office, you won’t care, but you probably don’t want to carry a 0.8-pound power brick on a business trip.

The power cable plugs into the back of the hub, so it’s out of the way. And it can charge your computer at up to 60W. Which is part of the reason the power adapter is so large.

Ports

Plugable USB4-HUB3A review: The hub has three downstream Thunderbolt 4 ports on its back.
The three downstream Thunderbolt 4 ports on the Plugable USB4-HUB3A are on the back.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

The centerpiece of this accessory is a trio of Thunderbolt 4/USB4 ports on the back of the hub. These are ready to connect to multiple high-speed external drives, a monitor or two … whatever. And these ports are backward-compatible, so they can be used with slower USB-C accessories, like flash drives. They provide up to 15W for powering downstream devices

Plugable built its hub around the Intel Goshen Ridge chipset to automatically adapt to the capabilities of your computer. You connect your computer to the Plugable USB4-HUB3A through the Thunderbolt port on the front of the hub. It comes with a 2.5-foot (80cm) cable. If you want a different — perhaps longer — cable, be sure it’s Thunderbolt 4-certified, or you’ll slow down your connections.

Also on the front is a single USB-A port. This supports USB 3.2 Gen 2, so it can handle transfers at up to 10Gbps. Really, it’s there for legacy accessories, like thumb drives.

There’s no HDMI port in the hub but Plugable threw in its USB-C to HDMI adapter as a bonus. That should let you connect to virtually any monitor. (It’s a nicer version of the adapter I reviewed in 2020.)

A Plugable USB-C to HDMI Adapter comes bundled with the Thunderbolt hub.
A Plugable USB-C to HDMI Adapter comes bundled with the Thunderbolt hub.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Plugable USB4-HUB3A performance

I put the Thunderbolt hub through some real-world testing to see how it performs in everyday use.

Thunderbolt 4 is so quick there was no point in wasting time with small files. I used a 10.5 GB one in these tests. Moving it onto a Thunderbolt-compatible SSD took 9.5 seconds. Copying the file from drive to computer happened in 10 seconds.

The file is 100Gb and it transfers in ~10 seconds, so the real-world speed is ~10 Gbps. That’s not the maximum possible, but one rarely sees that in the real world. Plus, I used the OWC Envoy Pro SX for the test, and I get approximately the same transfer speeds when I connect the computer straight to the SSD without going through the USB4-HUB3A, so the hub isn’t slowing transfers down.

Don’t forget Plugable’s hub is useful for more than external drives. It can handle up to two 4K 60Hz displays or one 8K 30Hz display. (Macs with Apple’s M1 processor are limited to one display).

So, as part of my testing, I connected my computer to the Innocn 27-inch 4K Computer Monitor 27C1U through the hub. It worked exactly as expected, whether it was connected through USB-C or through the bundled HDMI adapter.

I also used the USB-A port to be sure it can do what I need. I was able to transfer a file off a thumb drive. And it can charge my devices.

Plugable USB4-HUB3A final thoughts

A USB-A port and the Thunderbolt upstream port are on the front of the Plugable USB4-HUB3A.
A USB-A port and the Thunderbolt upstream port are on the front of the Plugable USB4-HUB3A.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Years ago, USB-A hubs were all the rage. Then USB-C started to take over. But if you’re a professional who regularly works with large files, you should use Thunderbolt 4 whenever possible. It’s hard to argue with 40 Gbps, even if that’s only the theoretical maximum.

Plugable’s new hub adds three Thunderbolt 4 ports, and that’s a real boon if your MacBook has only two. Besides, you can attach all your desktop accessories to the hub and connect your MacBook to them with a single cable.

The USB-A port is a nice bonus. Like a cherry on top.

Pricing

The Plugable USB4-HUB3A costs $189. The company doesn’t do direct sales — it points buyers to online retailers instead.

Buy from: Amazon

You’ve surely noticed that the price is higher than a USB-C hub would be, but the cutting-edge capabilities of Thunderbolt add to the cost. Consider the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock. It adds a pair of Thunderbolt ports plus many others, and it costs $269.

If you just want more USB-C ports and can live without Thunderbolt, try the Satechi 4-Port USB-C Hub instead. It’s only $39.99. Or the EZQuest USB-C Gen 2 Hub Adapter is $79.99.

Plugable provided Cult of Mac with a review unit for this article. See our reviews policy, and check out more in-depth reviews of Apple-related items.