Team Group Cardea Zero Z340 NVMe Review

Often times we see NVMe drives with impressive read speeds, but they are lacking when it comes to input/output performance and write speeds. Team Group’s Cardera Zero Z340 offering aims to compete with the very best Gen 3 NVMe drives, but with a price tag that resembles a mid-range drive. Did they succeed at creating a top NVMe contender? Follow along as we explore the features, performance, and value of this NVMe based SSD.

Specifications and Features

To accomplish this feat and deliver top-tier performance, Team Group turned to the Phison PS5012-E12S series controller. A blazing fast controller alone won’t get the job done so they paired 3D TLC NAND flash memory and DRAM cache to round out the hardware selection. In terms of performance, the Z340 boasts sequential read and write times of 3400 / 3000 MB/s, respectively which puts the drive performance in the upper echelon of third-generation NVMe drives. For comparison, the best SATA III drives on the market are still about six times slower. We’ll see later on if they deliver on the claims and how it stacks up against other high-end NVMe drives.

When pushing the limits of NVMe speed, modern drives tend to heat up quite a bit. We’ve seen drives released on the market with all sorts of fantastic coolers to combat the ever-increasing heat concern.  The Cardea Zero Z340 uses a minimalist heat sink of sorts to fight that issue. Coming in at a scant 1/64th of an inch it hardly qualifies as a heatsink by itself. However, composed of graphene, this new heat sink technology might just be enough to combat thermal throttling under extreme workloads.

Some may see the lack of a large heatsink as a potential downside to the drive, however, we see it as a selling point. Disassembling a newly purchased NVMe drive and potentially damaging it, as well as putting the warranty into question, is a bad idea. Team Group’s unique ultra-thin graphene heat sink might be the only OEM NVMe cooler on the market that can fit underneath a motherboard integrated heat sink.

Quick Features

  • Features global wear leveling to equalize the wear of each NAND flash block, ensuring longer reliability and stability of the SSD
  • Includes over-provision (OP), which increases the SSD’s reserved space to improve performance and durability as well as to reduce NAND flash wear, therefore extending the lifespan of hard drives
  • DRAM Cache Buffer to improve read/write performance
  • Built-in E2E data protection for enhanced data transfer integrity
  • Engineered with low-density parity-check (LDPC) coding to ensure accuracy of data transmission and reliability of data access
  • Supports TRIM commands, enabling the SSD to efficiently manage reusable space as well as significantly reduce hard drive wear out
  • Features our S.M.A.R.T. software for operational monitoring

Full specifications are in the table below:

Cardea Zero Z340 Specifications
Model Cardea Zero Z340
Capacity / Model Number 256 GB / TM8FP9256G0C311
512 GB / TM8FP9512G0C311
1 TB / TM8FP9001T0C311
Heat Sink Color  Charcoal / Gold
Heat Sink Material  Ultra-thin graphene
Form Factor M.2 2280
Weight 9 grams
Interface PCIe Gen3x4 with NVMe 1.3
Flash 3D TLC NAND
Controller Phison PS5012-E12S-32
DRAM Cache Buffer Kingston Technology D2516ECMDXGJD
Dimensions 22.0 x 80.0 x 3.7 (mm)
Endurance (TBW) 256 GB: Up to 380 TB
512 GB: Up to 800 TB
1 TB: Up to 1665 TB
Sequential Read / Write (Max*) Up to 3400 / 3000 MB/s
4KB Random IOPS Read / Write (Max*) Up to 450,000 / 400,000 IOPS
Operating Temperature 0°C ~ +70°C
Voltage DC +3.3 V
Shock Resistance 1,500G / 0.5ms
MTBF 2,000,000 hours
Warranty 5 Years
Pricing 256 GB $49.99
512 GB $79.99
1 TB $139.99
Product Download Page Cardea Zero Z340 Downloads

Packaging/Product Tour

Likely to reduce cost, Team Group has implemented a single-use packaging system. On the front, we are greeted with the drive itself as seen through a thin plastic casing. On the backside, they’ve given us all the information we need and didn’t overload us with multiple languages.

Realistically, we expect this type of packaging to be reserved for the purely budget orientated NVMe offerings. For a drive that aims to compete with the very best Gen 3 drives out there, we had higher hopes for the packaging and unboxing experience, but it is just packaging. Be careful where you cut, as there’s a sticker tucked away inside the package.

The Cardea Zero Z340

Out of the package, we get our first glimpse of the drive. The 1 TB model we are reviewing today has no IC’s on the underside. All of the circuity is located on the top.

The heat sink proposes a difficult conundrum with NVMe drives. On one side of the fence, users would prefer a high-quality heat sink that can adequately cool the drive. However, the other argument is that the drive should not have any heat sink so the motherboard’s integrated armor can be used instead. Team Group tries to bridge the gap and make both camps happy. At just 1/64th of an inch, it’s thin enough to fit underneath integrated motherboard heat sinks. As the heat sink touches the entire topside of the drive, it disperses the intense heat focused at the controller and thus helps cooling if used with no other heat sink.

With the heat sink removed, we can get a good look at the actual hardware.

Software

Team Group offers a nice piece of free software that applies to the Cardea series of SSDs. To measure drive temps and overall health, Team Group has a nice utility, the SSD Toolbox. This aptly named application includes all the built-in features needed to check the status of the drive. We tested Version 5.13 with Windows 10.

The software is simplistic but does provide enough useful information to be useful.

 

 

Testing Method and Test System

We know what some of the performance specs are on paper, but how does it actually perform in real-world tests? To answer that we’re going to put both drives through the gamut of benchmark programs to evaluate the relative performance. In between each major benchmark phase, the drive will be sanitized from the motherboard bios and formatted to NTFS with default settings under Windows 10.

With a naked drive and no cooling at all, there was no thermal throttling observed, even running the benchmarks back-to-back to simulate a worst-case scenario. All benchmark results and stress testing with done in an open-air test bench with no fans or direct airflow.

Below are the tests we run with a brief description.

  • Crystal Disk Mark v 7.0.0 x64 – Run at Default Settings (5 Passes)
  • AS SSD v 2.0.7316 – Run at Default Settings
  • ATTO v 3.05 – Run at Default Settings except for the QD Set to 10
  • Thermal Testing – 5 passes back-to-back of Crystal Disk Mark.
  • DiskBench v2.7.0.1 – Use predefined 120 GB transfer file
  • Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers Benchmark – Run at Default Settings
  • Anvil Storage Utility Benchmark v 1.1.0 – Default Settings
Test System Components
Motherboard ASRock X570 Taichi
CPU AMD Ryzen 9 3900X
CPU Cooler Corsair H115i RGB PRO XT
Memory T-Force XTREEM ARGB 16 GB (2 x 8 GB) 3600 CL14-15-15
SSD ADATA Swordfish 1 TB (OS)
Power Supply Seasonic Prime SSR-1200PD 1200 W
Video Card EVGA RTX 2080 Ti Kingpin Edition

All tests will be performed with the Z340 installed in the top M.2 slot to utilize the direct CPU interface.

Benchmark Results

CrystalDiskMark

 

The Z340 has a rated speed of 3400/3000 MB/s for sequential read/write speed in Crystal Disk Mark. As we see here, our drive realized the rated speed. The Samsung 970 EVO Plus is known to be one of the fastest performing third generation drives on the market. In almost every test case we can see the Z340 performed admirably and very comparable to the 970 EVO Plus.

We were particularly excited to see that the Z340 came out on top for both of the random write tests. The multi-thread random write test clearly illustrates the difference between budget drives and top-tier ones.

AS SSD

At this point, we know that the drive is blazing fast and a top competitor compared to the others we tested. As we mentioned in the intro, many budget drives boast high sequential read numbers, but they fall short in the write tests. The Z340 performs just as well in the write tests as it does in the read tests.

ATTO

There were no big surprises here.  Like the Crystal Disk Mark benchmark tests, this drive is quite fast and easily scores over 3400 MB/s in the read performance. It’s rated for 3000 MB/s write performance but it doesn’t quite make it there in ATTO.

Thermal Testing

In an effort to be as thorough as possible we will use a K-Type thermal probe and a Fluke F51-II digital thermometer for temperature readings. The thermal probe has been taped to the actual drive with Kapton tape and we tried to center the probe as close to the controller as possible.

While it wasn’t as hot as the Samsung drive, it was still quite hot during our thermal torture test. The ultra-thin heat sink didn’t offer much in terms of cooling, however, it did not throttle in our tests.

One of the big selling points is that this drive has a heat sink and is natively compatible with the motherboard heat sink armor. We wanted to see how the drive performed with the ASRock X570 Taichi M.2 integrated heat sink attached. In that test, we observed a maximum drive temperature of 53 °C which is significantly lower.

DiskBench

Performance benchmarks are great, and they give us a good understanding of drive speeds, but they don’t give us much of an insight into daily usage. DiskBench allows us to specify a file and it will transfer from one directory to another while keeping a record of speed and time.

We used a 120 GB file composed of random data and specified that it be moved from drive to drive.

When it came down to real-world tests, the Cardea Zero Z340 didn’t perform as well as we had expected. In synthetic benchmarks, it was highly competitive with the Samsung 970 EVO Plus, but the file transfer test showed a pretty big difference in speed.

Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers Game Load Test

Square Enix added scene loading metrics to the Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers benchmark. The program renders simulated 3D game scenes and evaluates the overall system performance. One of the aspects of the benchmark is that it records the time it takes to load each scene. If the game is launched from the SSD drive in question, then it gives us an indication of how game performance can be affected by hard drive speed.

Similar to the file transfer result, our test drive didn’t perform as well as we had expected based on the synthetic benchmarks.

Anvil Storage Utility

Anvil’s storage utility can monitor and test read and write speeds on hard drives and also produces an output performance score for comparison. It’s a great utility that also provides further information such as partition and volume information.

 

Conclusion

Overall we are very happy with the Team Group Cardea Zero Z340 SSD. They’ve packed the drive with the high-tier Phison PS5012-E12S controller, 3D TLC NAND flash memory, and DRAM cache IC for superb speeds. To keep it running cool they implemented an ultra-thin graphene heat sink. While it’s obviously not a powerhouse cooler, it does a very good job of dispersing the heat and stopping the drive from throttling. Most of the heat is concentrated at the controller IC, and the heat sink spreads out that heat effectively to reduce the hot spots. It’s a very unique cooling solution that allows you to use as-is or with an integrated motherboard heat sink.

When it came down to performance we were quite impressed. Our drive scored an excellent 3441/2999 MB/s sequential read/write performance in Crystal Disk Mark. The drive is undoubtedly fast, but we observed the random write speeds were exceptionally fast across the various benchmark programs. In particular, the Z340 beat Samsung’s infamous 970 EVO Plus in the Crystal Disk Mark RNDS4K-Q1T1 test. In the AS SSD read test, the Z340 outpaced all drives we compared and even came out ahead in 4K-64THRD write as well.

Priced at $139.99 for the 1 TB option, it’s certainly not the cheapest 1 TB storage solution on the market. However, when we look at performance relative to price point, then the drive really stands out from the crowd. We saw that in just about every test case, the Z340 was a serious contender for the Samsung 970 EVO Plus. Considering that the Samsung drive is $189.99, it becomes clear that the Team Group has a much stronger price/performance ratio. We highly recommend this drive to anyone who wants the best that Gen 3 NVMe has to offer.

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