In recent years, TeamGroup has been one of the more innovative companies approaching the problem of keeping your SSD cool under heavy loads. Its drive coolers are often beefy, far-from-timid designs. In contrast, the heatsink on TeamGroup’s T-Force Cardea Ceramic C440 solid-state drive is a thin ceramic-based stripe, rather than an elaborate hunk of metal. It might look cool (pun intended), but the drive doesn’t always garner the performance we hope for at this price point. As one of the pricier-per-gigabyte SSDs on shelves today ($189.99 for the 1TB model we tested), the Ceramic competes with tough SSD stalwarts such as the Samsung SSD 980 Pro, and in that face-off, comes up short. It’s sleek, and fast enough for most folks, but in an upgrade world dominated by motherboard-based cooling solutions, the ceramic sliver feels secondary in the face of the numbers the drive beneath it serves up.
T-Force Cardea Ceramic C440
The T-Force Cardea Ceramic C440 is a four-lane PCI Express (PCIe) 4.0 drive manufactured on an M.2 Type-2280 (80mm long) design. It employs the NVMe protocol over the PCIe 4.0 bus, features a Phison E16 controller, and is rated to hit a maximum throughput of 5,000MBps read and 4,400MBps write in the 1TB version we tested.
The drive is based on Kioxia’s 96-layer, triple-level-cell (TLC) V-NAND flash, and it’s available in two storage-volume sizes: 1TB and 2TB. (Check out our SSD dejargonizer to make sense of that acronym torrent, if need be.) Here’s how those configurations break out…
At 19 cents per gigabyte in the 1TB capacity we tested, the Cardea Ceramic C440 falls at the premium end of the overall SSD spectrum, but it’s a midrange entry among other PCIe 4.0 drives we’ve tested, such as the Seagate FireCuda 520 and the Samsung SSD 980.
Its 1,800 terabytes written (TBW) rating is industry-standard at this point for PCIe 4.0 drives at its capacity, so while the Cardea Ceramic C440 doesn’t take a hit here, it’s not leading the charge, either. (TBW measures total rated write capacity until the drive eventually starts to shut down worn-out cells for “overuse.”)
Now, on to the star of the show: that heatsink. As far as heat-wicking materials go, ceramic is objectively one of the best. Want to cool a superconductor down to room temperature? Ceramic is the material you want. Even at the peak of massive, world-class physics experiments like the Large Hadron Collider, to get the job done, you want a ceramic-based solution. But do you really need to go that far just to transfer around a couple of file folders?
As the PCIe 4.0 generation has grown in the world of SSDs, cooling solutions have at once become more flamboyant and functional. As noted, TeamGroup hasn’t been shy in that regard, with some big, honking passive heatsinks like we’ve seen in the TeamGroup T-Force Cardea II, or at the other end of the spectrum, in its super-trim Cardea Zero Z440.
As is the case for almost every SSD review (notable recent exception: the ADATA XPG Gammix S70 and its sticky, super-thick heatsink), we removed the ceramic element before installing the drive into our test system. That’s because, for all the heat-sapping capabilities a millimeter-thick ceramic element might inherently have, a giant piece of metal stuck to a whirring fan will always do the job better than any passive cooling could.
That said, the one bonus for the ceramic, in this case, was that it actually managed to fit underneath our motherboard’s attached cooling plates. This allowed for full contact between the ceramic element and the heatsink, and while we would have hoped this added cooling power would have translated to faster speeds under load, as you’ll see in our benchmarks below, that wasn’t always the case.
Of course, if you’re in an unusual cooling and upgrade situation that demands an SSD with a thin, stand-alone heatsink, the Ceramic could be a lifesaver. Got a (very) late-model laptop with an M.2 slot, minimal vertical clearance, and PCI Express 4.0 support that needs a drive-capacity boost? The Ceramic could be one of the few fits.
Unlike many other SSD makers whose gear we test, TeamGroup falls under a small category of manufacturers that do not include management software with their drives. While the C440 supports tasks like TRIM and Secure Erase, you’ll need to use third-party applications to make any active tasks happen.
Testing the T-Force Cardea C440 Ceramic: Sporadically Special
We test all of our PCI Express 4.0 SSDs on an MSI MEG X570 Ace motherboard, with an AMD Ryzen 9 5950X 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.
PCMark 10 Overall and Trace-Based Storage Tests
First up is the overall PCMark 10 storage test, from UL, running the full storage suite. The Overall Storage Test score represents how well a drive does throughout the entire PCMark 10 run. It’s the sanctioned score presented by UL’s software at the end of each run. After that are some more granular measures we extract ourselves from PCMark 10’s background “traces.” These PCMark 10-derived tests simulate how quickly a drive is capable of launching a particular program (or, in the first case, booting Windows 10). The Windows 10 trace simulates the full Windows 10 operating system startup procedure and records how quickly the drive can feed the key kinds of data requested. (See more about how we test SSDs.)
After that is a game-launching test set, which simulates how quickly a drive can read shallow-depth small random 4K packages; 4K is one of the more commonly used file-block sizes for game installations, though that composition does depend on the title you’re playing. The drives are also put through a very important test for creative types, measuring launch speeds for Adobe programs. As anyone who regularly works in programs like Adobe Premiere or Photoshop can tell you, a constant pinch point is the time it takes for these programs to load.
Finally, our PCMark 10 copy tests are also derived from PCMark 10 traces. At first, these numbers might look low compared with the straight sequential-throughput numbers achieved in benchmarks like Crystal DiskMark 6.0 and AS-SSD, charted further down. But that’s due to the way this score is calculated and the nature of (and differences between) the source data sets.
These days, it’s rare for a PCIe 4.0 SSD to perform much out of line for its class in our PCMark 10 run, but that’s what we saw in the case of the T-Force Cardea Ceramic C440. It scored a bit behind the comparatively old T-Force Cardea Zero Z440 from last year.
The Cardea C440 doesn’t compete well on the PCMark 10 trace tests with other drives in its cost tier, and in some cases, the drive’s 4K access speeds fell behind some PCIe 3.0 drives we’ve tested, such as the WD Blue SN550 and the ADATA XPG Spectrix S40G.
Sequential Speed and Copy Tests
Moving on from PCMark 10-derived numbers, the Crystal DiskMark 6.0 sequential tests simulate best-case, straight-line transfers of large files. After that 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.
These tests tend to show the advantages of PCIe 4.0 drives over 3.0 ones. Things were a bit better for the Ceramic once we switched over to our Crystal DiskMark runs, in which the drive performed almost exactly to spec in both sequential read and write tests, and topped the field for 4K writes on that specific test.
The AS-SSD copy benchmarks also surprised us, given the results we pulled from PCMark 10. Once again, the Cardea Ceramic almost blows out the chart, Still, this result should be tempered by the more humdrum results we achieved during the copy tests in PCMark 10.
Slim Glitz, Little Glory
These days, many PCIe 4.0-enabled motherboards come with SSD heatsinks built in, same as your CPU or GPU have heatsinks attached to a fan. (On the Intel side, for example, the recent introduction of “Rocket Lake” 11th Generation CPUs, with the platform’s addition of PCIe 4.0 support, has meant a wave of higher-end boards ready to fully accommodate the newer 4.0 SSDs.) Because PCIe 4.0 SSDs tend to run hot under sustained load, most 4.0-capable motherboards already account for that with cooling solutions designed for their M.2 slots, usually far meatier than a thin strip of ceramic. In testing the T-Force Cardea C440, we’re reminded of how ultimately fruitless thin, “passive cooling” is in this particular case, unless you’re trying to cram an SSD into a rare PCIe 4.0-capable laptop, or in a desktop video slot with no vertical clearance, say under an overhanging video card.
Strip the ceramic-laden Cardea C440 of its ivory furnishings, and you’re left with a drive that posts inconsistent performance figures. In light of that, the ceramic shield that sits on top of its cells is no defense against a ho-hum value proposition.
Don’t buy this SSD for its passive cooling unless you simply have no room for anything taller. You can find plenty of drives that perform more consistently for less (several of which TeamGroup already released last year), and spend the extra cash on a PCIe 4.0 motherboard with more robust integrated cooling instead. Your operating temperatures (and your transfer speeds) will thank you in the long run.