The T-Force Cardea Zero Z440 ($249 for the 1TB version tested here) is memory maker TeamGroup’s first dance with the PCI Express (PCIe) 4.0 specification of internal M.2 SSDs, and if we had to classify it, it’s a dizzying tango. The drive achieves fine marks for both its tested performance and rated durability, while ditching cumbersome cooling solutions seen in previous TeamGroup efforts like the T-Force Cardea II. The drive didn’t post scores far enough away from recent PCIe 3.0 all-stars to justify (for most folks) an all-out system upgrade by itself if you’re still on the older spec. But as a sample of what’s waiting on the PCIe 4.0 horizon, the Cardea Zero Z440 is an exciting peek into the future. It’s also the best SSD we’ve tested named after an obscure Roman goddess. (Warning: That link will lead you down a rabbit hole.)
From Zero to Hero
The $249 TeamGroup T-Force Cardea Zero Z440 is a PCIe 4.0 M.2 NVMe SSD, based on a second-generation, 96-layer 3D TLC NAND manufacturing process. (Check out our SSD dejargonizer if you need to untangle that trove of esoteric terminology.) This Type-2280 (80mm-long) drive comes in just two storage-volume sizes: the 1TB version on the bench here, and a bigger 2TB at exactly double the list price.
TeamGroup rates the 2TB variant of the drive for peaks of 5,000MBps on sequential reads and 4,000MBps on writes. The latter figure, quite unconventionally, is rated faster—4,400MBps—on the lower-capacity 1TB version of the drive. (Usually it works the opposite way, with higher capacities offering higher rated speeds within a given SSD family, thanks to parallelism of data transfers across more NAND chips, among other reasons.) The drive is rated for a massive terabytes-written (TBW) endurance rating of 1,800TBW in the 1TB variant (a figure that doubles to 3,600TBW in the 2TB version). In keeping with that robust rating, it carries a five-year warranty.
Here’s a summary of the specs for the two available capacities of the Z440…
On the surface, the 25-cent per-gigabyte TeamGroup T-Force Cardea Zero Z440 might look like a ho-hum value, but this isn’t necessarily the case for two reasons. One, right now the 1TB version of the drive we tested is hovering around $190 across several major etailers, making it a competitor to some of the higher-end PCIe 3.0 drives we’ve benched it against, like the $180 (street price) Samsung SSD 970 EVO .
Second, the extremely high TBW rating and five-year warranty add value at levels that most PCIe 3.0 drives will struggle to match. In this way, the drive is more comparable to the PCIe 4.0-enabled Corsair Force Series MP600 that PC Labs tested alongside it, both in its durability rating and the length of its warranty period.
Cooling With Graphene Foil
The Cardea series of drives from TeamGroup are known for their performance, but they also have another quirk, in some models, that sets them apart: massive passive heatsinks. Take a look at the heatsink on the Cardea II model PC Labs tested last year…
Like the Corsair MP600, the TeamGroup T-Force Cardea II carried a bunch of extra weight on it, thanks to its gaudy heatsink meant to keep the drive from overheating during extended write or read processes. Of course, some desktop motherboards incorporate their own passive heat spreaders over the M.2 slots that render heat sinks like these unnecessary. In the case of the MP600 and the Cardea II, you could simply unclip the heat sink from the drive and use the SSD with a motherboard’s own cooling solution.
With the Z440, TeamGroup has ditched that approach for a sleeker design, incorporating only a thin strip of passive cooling on top. The strip is made of graphene copper foil, which is trim enough to fit under most of the default heatspreaders that come standard with higher-end X570 and TRX40 boards designed to support the PCIe 4.0 spec.
For example, in our PCI Express 4.0 storage testbed, which has an MSI Godlike X570 motherboard installed, the storage heatspreaders are attached to a separate heatsink that has its own fan attached. A board like this will do much more to cool the drives than a larger passive heatsink ever would, so it’s nice to see TeamGroup thinking practically about how users will prevent high temperatures during intense usage scenarios rather than defaulting to a blunter “bigger is better” approach.
A small ding for the Zero Z440, though, is its lack of management software. Though a “TeamGroup SSD Toolbox” was available to download from the company’s website when we reviewed the Cardea II, clicking the same link now brings you to an empty page with no search results that point to where it went. I can’t speculate on why the company chose to remove the software and whether it’s coming back, or offer any avenues to download it.
What Is PCIe 4.0? A Whole Lot of Speed (if You Need It)
Before we jump into the benchmarks, let’s talk a bit about PCIe 4.0. I included the same discussion in our review of our first tested PCIe 4.0 SSD, the Corsair Force Series MP600 mentioned earlier, but it bears repeating here if you haven’t read that review. These drives have their own special set of considerations.
Launched to the first mainstream products in 2019 at the same time as the third generation of Ryzen desktop CPUs and the first AMD Navi-based graphics cards, PCIe 4.0 is the latest technical iteration on the channel that your motherboard uses to talk to expansion cards in your PC, including graphics cards, Wi-Fi cards, and the latest SSDs. This version doubles the bandwidth ceiling of the last, taking the max theoretical throughput of PCIe 3.0 from 16GBps up to 32GBps. We say “theoretical” because in real-world usage scenarios, today’s PCIe 4.0-capable SSDs won’t come close to that. (Today’s models max out right around 5,000MBps read and write, which is significantly higher than the approximate 3,500MBps peaks the best PCIe 3.0 SSDs are rated for.)
It’s also important to recognize that while PCIe 4.0 drives may have much higher bandwidth ceilings than PCIe 3.0 in straight-up sequential read and write speeds, during our testing we’ve found that the 4K read and write speeds don’t vary nearly as much. And 4K random read and write operations are tied to many more aspects of a system than sequential read and write, including how operating systems, applications, games, and certain creative projects are stored on the disk.
Just as important, though, is the actual applicability of these SSDs to today’s PCs: They’re relevant only for users, upgraders, and builders of late-model AMD desktops. Right now, PCIe 4.0-capable M.2 SSD slots are only found on AMD motherboards based on the AMD X570 (enthusiast-grade Ryzen), AMD B550 (newer mainstream Ryzen), and AMD TRX40 (high-end Ryzen Threadripper) chipsets. Until B550’s debut right around the time of this writing, none of these chipsets was known for its boards’ affordability, so keep that in mind before you make the plunge into a full-on upgrade involving PCIe 4.0. B550 boards from $100 to $150 are expected to hit the market any day now, so PCIe 4.0 compatibility is finally coming to more mainstream-priced platforms. But most X570 and TRX40 boards aren’t cheap.
As for Intel? Even on its latest desktops, it’s not even on the PCIe 4.0 map. The new-for-2020 Intel-based Z490 boards that rolled out with the company’s 10th Generation “Comet Lake-S” desktop processors don’t have support for PCIe 4.0, though the rumor mill has posited that support for PCIe 4.0 will be coming to this platform in the future. (Some Z490 board makers have advertised that their Z490 motherboards are PCIe 4.0 “ready,” while Intel is mum on the matter.) But as of today, none of the company’s in-market mainstream chips, 10th Generation or below, is capable of supporting the PCIe 4.0 spec.
To be clear, PCIe 4.0 SSDs should be backward-compatible with PCIe 3.0 M.2 slots (albeit limited to PCIe 3.0 speeds). But there’s not much point in opting for a premium-priced PCIe 4.0 SSD today if your system doesn’t explicitly support it. Expect these drives to be cheaper by the time the support is mainstream, anyway.
Testing the Cardea Zero Z440
We test all of our PCI Express 4.0 SSDs on the MSI Godlike X570 motherboard mentioned above, with an AMD Ryzen 9 3950X CPU installed. We use 16GB of DDR4 Corsair Dominator RAM clocked to 3,600MHz, and the system employs an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition as its discrete graphics card. Meanwhile, our PCIe 3.0 SSDs are tested on our main storage testbed, which is built on an Asus Prime X299 Deluxe motherboard with an Intel Core i9-10980XE Extreme Edition CPU. We use the same RAM, clocked the same, and the same discrete graphics card.
In the charts below, the TeamGroup, Corsair MP600, and Seagate FireCuda 520 (review forthcoming) drives are PCIe 4.0 models, while the rest are PCIe 3.0.
PCMark 10 Overall Storage Test
First, there’s the overall PCMark 10 Full System Drive Benchmark from UL. This score represents how well drives do throughout the entire PCMark 10 run, and are the sanctioned scores presented by UL’s software at the end of each run. This score includes a weighted average of every simulated activity that the PCMark 10 storage test runs, from copying files to launching games, booting an OS to running creative applications. It’s a general indicator of how consistently a drive can perform through 23 different usage scenarios.
Right out of the gate, the TeamGroup T-Force Cardea Zero Z440 shows that PCIe 4.0 certainly has its advantages. It isn’t as far ahead of the PCIe 3.0-based WD Blue SN550 as I think it should be given the cost of upgrading to the new spec and the price per gigabyte of each, but bear in mind that this test is measuring UL’s model of throughput on real-world copy and launch tasks, as opposed to straight-line drag-race reads.
Booting Windows 10
Next is a more granular measure derived from one of PCMark 10’s background “traces” that we teased out of the PCMark 10 Storage raw data. This and following PCMark 10-derived results represent a simulation of how quickly a drive is capable of launching a particular program or booting Windows 10 by recording how many megabytes per second the drive is reading what are known as “shallow-queue 4K random” blocks of data (i.e., of the kind in which most applications, games, or operating systems are stored).
The first chart is the Windows 10 boot trace, which simulates a full operating system startup procedure and records how quickly the drive is able to feed the data required for that task.
Here the PCIe 4.0 drives tested so far lead the field, with the WD Blue an interesting PCIe 3.0 interloper.
Next up is a game-launching set, which simulates how quickly a drive can read shallow-depth small random 4K byte packages. This is one of the more commonly used file sizes for game installations, though that composition does depend on the title you’re playing.
While the three games shown here from PCMark 10’s data are primarily stored in small random 4K, tests from around the web have shown that MMORPGs can more often use the 16K file size, and other genres may go as large as anywhere from 32K up to 128K. For the sake of these tests, 4K small random read is the most accurate metric to measure the launch speeds of three popular FPS titles: Battlefield 5, Overwatch, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4.
Though we’ve only just begun the process of incorporating deep PCMark 10 data into our analysis of various SSDs, it’s good to see that there are already clear leaders in the race. Here the Cardea Zero Z440 tied or topped this competitive set in each run.
Launching Creative Applications
As anyone who regularly works in programs like Adobe Premiere or Photoshop can tell you, oftentimes a pinch point is the time it takes for the program to launch. There are a lot of elements that creative applications need to load.
These two tests don’t tell the whole story of how a drive will perform for all creative applications. But they’re nonetheless interesting fodder for folks who live and breathe these Adobe apps.
Here the TeamGroup drive placed midpack, though interestingly, the PCIe 4.0 drives generally underperformed the 3.0 ones in this particular data set. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues in future reviews of PCI 4.0 drives.
Finally, some copy actions derived from PCMark 10 traces. While at first these numbers might look low compared to the straight sequential-throughput numbers achieved in benchmarks like Crystal DiskMark 6.0 and AS-SSD, that’s due to the way this score is calculated and natural differences between the test files.
PCMark 10 expresses the average throughput of a transfer when the file is being copied on the same drive. If you’re regularly copying multiple versions of files on your drive from one folder to another, this test is a handy relative throughput measure.
Here PCIe 4.0 has the best chance to shine over the 3.0 drives so far: on raw throughput. In these tests the T-Force Cardea Zero Z440 posts top numbers so far on the ISO and JPEG copy runs. (Note: The PCIe 4.0-capable Seagate FireCuda 520 curiously underperforms on the ISO trial here.)
Crystal DiskMark 6.0
Okay, let’s move off of the PCMark 10-derived tests and on to some classic ones. The Crystal DiskMark 6.0 sequential tests simulate best-case, straight-line transfers of large files…
Speeds? Meet ceiling. This test is a clear indicator of the bandwidth differences between PCIe 3.0 and 4.0, with all drives in the latter category scoring within margin-of-error of one another, while also leading potential 3.0 threats like the WD Blue SN550 by a comfortable clip.
In contrast, the utility’s 4K (or “random read/write”) tests simulate typical processes involved in program/game loads or bootup sequences.
Here the drive sets the pace for 4K random read speeds that we’ve seen thus far among PCIe 4.0 drives (tying with the Seagate FireCuda 520). The 4K write speeds, though, were in line with the rest of the 4.0 drives but topped by two of the 3.0s.
AS-SSD Copy Tests
Last up is a series of file and folder transfers done in the SSD benchmarking utility AS-SSD. This trio of tests involves copying large files or folders from one location on the test drive to another…
The Zero Z440 leaves our benchmarking arena with one last clear win, this time in the Program Folder copying tests, and a near-win on the Game Folder trial.
Though drives like the Corsair Force Series MP600 might have been the first to the scene, the TeamGroup T-Force Cardea Zero Z440 show what happens when new technologies have a bit more refinement time.
While the drive isn’t an outright winner in every category it competes in, it posts enough technical speed wins to be dubbed the overall fastest PCIe 4.0 drive of the three tested thus far, albeit in most cases by tiny margins. At 25 cents per gigabyte MSRP, the drive is assuredly more expensive than most equivalent-capacity PCIe 3.0 M.2 drives, but as far as we’re concerned (taking the discounted street price into account), this is the price you pay for living on the bleeding edge.
That said, those who want near-Z440 performance but don’t want to pay the premium to upgrade to an X570 board would do almost as well with substantially cheaper PCIe 3.0 drives like the WD Blue SN550 instead. At half the per-gigabyte price and netting you most of the performance under most circumstances, the WD Blue SN550 and its 3.0 ilk come close enough to the Cardea Zero Z440 to feel much the same in most everyday tasks.
If you have an appropriate AMD-based system (or are building one for demanding tasks like content creation and expect to do loads of large-file copies and saves within the same SSD), go for 4.0. You might gain some benefit from those straight-line transfers and the high TBW rating. But today’s PCIe 3.0 drives remain solid next-best options for less intensive users who own a motherboard that’s still 3.0-bound and don’t mind a step down in long-term write durability.
TeamGroup T-Force Cardea Zero Z440 Specs
|Internal or External||Internal|
|Interface (Computer Side)||M.2 Type-2280|
|Internal Form Factor||M.2 Type-2280|
|Capacity (Tested)||1 TB|
|Bus Type||PCI Express 4.0|
|Rated Maximum Sequential Read||5000 MBps|
|Rated Maximum Sequential Write||4000 MBps|
|Terabytes Written (TBW) Rating||1800 TBW|
|Warranty Length||5 years|