Thermaltake Level 10 Review

ccokeman - 2010-03-29 19:47:37 in Cases
Category: Cases
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: June 24, 2010
Price: $799.99

Introduction:

Choosing a case has become a personal experience. No longer do you look at the case as just a beige box to house a utilitarian computer. Now that the computer chassis comes in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors you can usually find a case that fits not only your basic need to house the computer components, but something that fits your style and decor. In the past you had to do plenty of modifications to reach your goal of having a chassis that stood out from the crowd. Now you can buy one right off the shelf. From the basic to the custom-built, it's all available.

The Thermaltake Level 10 is a unique step away from the average box-shaped case that holds the high tech components that we rely on each and every day. Thermaltake has collaborated with BMW Group DesignworksUSA and come up with a case design that is far from ordinary. This case uses an asymmetrical design that houses all of the components on one side of a central tower with each component isolated into their own zone. The design term used to describe this is O.C.A. or Open Case Architecture. Let's see how this concept turned into reality performs and if the collaboration with BMW Group Designworks results in a great design with poor performance or a truly functional work of art.

Closer Look:

Having seen the Level 10 in person this during this year's visit to CES, I knew it was a large chassis, but I was not ready for just how large the box that housed it would be. This is absolutely huge for a box that contains a chassis. Even the box that contained my CM Stacker 810 is dwarfed by the package size. The outer packaging is plain cardboard with an image of the Level 10 on both the front and rear profiles. Plain, but it gets the message across as to what's inside the massive box. Inside this package is where the typical Thermaltake packaging can be seen with the front showing the front view of the Level 10 chassis and highlighting the collaboration between Thermaltake and BMW Designworks. On the side panels, you normally see the specifications and features of the chassis, but Thermaltake directs you to their website for more information in several languages. The other side has the chassis name and the phrase "Inspire the Visionary".

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Popping open the container shows that Thermaltake has packaged the level 10 much like most chassis with a notable exception. The case is supported on the ends with large foam blocks that are custom cut to fit the unique shape of the Level 10. The chassis is covered in a cloth bag to further protect it from scrapes and injury in transit. One thing you notice right away when you go to move this chassis, is the weight. If you were curious and did not look at the specifications and just fell in love with the looks, you will be surprised to know that even with its aluminum construction, it comes in at a hefty 24kg or 53 pounds. That's more than my niece weighs soaking wet with a rocks in her pocket for extra ballast! Yes that is heavy for a case, but the build quality and sturdiness of the chassis means this is no aluminum flexible flier and pays dividends. The accessory bundle is housed in a sleek box that fits snugly into one of the foam end caps.

 

 

When you pull the cloth sleeve off the Level 10, you get the first glimpse of the chassis and just how well put together it really is. Foam blocks are used to support the optical drive bays and power supply bay to prevent any sagging in shipping to to any errant drops, seeing as this case approaches the 75 limit for FedEx and UPS drivers.

 

 

For accessories, Thermaltake has supplied most of the normal items that come with a chassis, such as motherboard standoffs and screws. However, this is no ordinary chassis, so the bundle has been beefed up accordingly. The accessories come in a small box that has a foam liner that is cut for the accessories to fit inside. The manual is an in-depth guide on how to disassemble and reassemble the Level 10 to install your system components. In addition to what would be the standard parts, you get several reusable wire tie wraps, the keys to lock and unlock the drive bays case and covers, a motherboard speaker, lint-free cloth to wipe down the Level 10 and a key ring to make sure you don't lose the keys - although that never seems to keep me from losing car keys.

 

 

 

The case was packaged well and includes a great accessory bundle but what about the details of the case, the form fit and functionality? Will these things put the Level 10 on a plateau higher than the rest of the high-end cases on the market? There's only one way to find out.


 

Closer Look:

The Level 10 uses what is called by Thermaltake, an "Open Compartment Architecture", or O.C.A.. What this means, is that you have a modular design, where each component can be accessed easily without opening up the entire chassis. The Level 10 is built using aluminum as the material of choice and is anodized in matte black inside and out. As beautiful as the finish is, it is easily marred by fingerprints or the odd rub of a box or component. There is no doubt that this chassis falls into the full tower category at 26.22 inches tall. The rest of the critical measurements are 12.52(W) x 24.17(L) in. The left profile shot shows that there are four distinct and separate areas built into the Level 10. You have the power supply zone at the upper left, optical drives go in the top right, the largest zone houses the motherboard and installed components such as the graphics card, and the hard drive bays. The opposite side shows the external components of the "Smart-Lock Security System". This system is used to both secure the chassis and lock the component housings in place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The front view of the Level 10 shows the unique design of the chassis. All of the hardware is mounted on one side of the chassis and hangs off a central tower. On the front of the chassis are the IO connections, power and reset buttons, eSATA and USB connectivity, and the optical drive housing. From the rear you have the IO opening for the rear panels connections on the motherboard, the power supply bay and eight expansion slots. The motherboard section has a single 120mm red LED exhaust fan to pull out the heated air from inside the chassis. The exhaust fan size is not limited to 120mm. There are three mounting holes that let you increase the the fan size up to 140mm.

 

 

Across the top you have a red lens that houses several LED's allowing the lens to glow red when the Level 10 is in operation. The bottom of the case is quite sturdy, as it has the enviable job of keeping the chassis upright. The base has strategically placed rubber feet to keep the aluminum base from causing damage to the desk or floor where it sits. There are two structural braces that hold the two halves of the base together keeping them from spreading under the weight of the Level 10. On one side of the base, there is a handle cut-out that allows you two use both the top and bottom handles to haul this beast around, although LAN parties will most likely be out of the picture, unless you are sporting a serious set of guns, like Arnie in his former glory-days.

 

 

Looking at the front view of the Level 10 you have the optical and hard drive bays. A total of three optical drives can be used with up to six conveniently numbered hard drive bays available. Along the central tower's front face you have the power and reset buttons, the eSATA port, the front panel audio and microphone jacks and four USB 2.0 ports. Each port on the front of the tower has the description of the port functionality light up when in use so you know exactly what you are connecting to. The red lens across the top continues to flow down the front of the case under the IO connectivity and is lit in operation as well.

 

 

 

The initial thought I had when looking at the hard drive bays was that they would be prone to overheating, due to having no air flow over them. Thermaltake and BMW Designworks has taken care of that issue with the large ribbed heat sinks that are visible over and under the drive bays and is integrated quite well into the design. You don't really get the full effect until you pull out the drive bays. More on that later. The main compartment that houses the motherboard has additional venting on the sides, as well as the front and back. It looks like air flow through the chassis was really thought out. The compartments are locked in place and are easily slid open when you unlock the doors. Instead of a smooth lid to the power supply and optical drive bay covers, there is a small depression so you can grip the cover to slide it in the correct direction when opening for service or to install additional hardware. The power supply bay looks big enough to handle just about any power supply you can find.

 

 

 

The Smart-Lock Security system is seen on the back of the tower. There are two locks that interface with the drive bay and component housings, as well as locking the rear access panel in place. The captured screws are a nice touch and make it so the removal of the rear access panel does not require any tools, save the keys included in the accessory kit. You can unlock everything or keep the drive bays locked while you replace an aging video or sound card. Once unlocked, the rear access panel can be removed. Just loosening the screws does not do the trick.

 

 

The outside of the case is just the start of how well this case is put together. Installing the components showed me just how well the design was implemented.

Closer Look:

Looking at the outside of the Level 10 gives you a good look at the design features and gets you ready to dive into the internals. To gain access, you have to remove the rear access panel that is held in place by the Smart-Lock Security System and captured screws. This reveals the back-side of the motherboard tray, hard drive bays and locking mechanisms. The locks each have a different cam on them to engage the release mechanisms. You can see how the drive locking mechanism engages the optical drive bay cover - simple, yet effective.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under the back cover, all of the integral wiring is routed through several available channels. The front panel wiring runs down through the front channel and down into the bottom channel and then into the motherboard compartment. There are two power/data distribution blocks that fill the upper two drives. I guess the thought process may be that most users only use two drives. With a case of this stature, I would have thought that this base would have been covered. If you use more than two drives, you will need to supply the data and power cabling. Right next to the data and power connection points, are two wires that feed a switch that is engaged when a drive is inserted into the bay showing it is occupied.

 

 

 

The power supply cover swings open to the rear of the chassis and contains ventilation, but that's not enough to get the power supply installed. There a pair of screws that hold the cage onto the central tower and the cage then slides up and off the locating slats. The optical drive bay opens up similarly, but you cannot open it far enough to get a drive installed. The designers have addressed this problem by allowing the drive bay cover to be lifted up and off the tower. The hinge pins are mounted to the drive cage cover and the sockets are hard mounted to the tower. Swing the cage open, lift and remove and you have access to install your drives. The drive cage has three available 5.25 inch slots. The top one has a door that hides the front of your drive and opens when the drive opens to have a disc inserted.

 

 

 

Installing a hard drive into the Level 10 is pretty simple, actually. Once you unlock the drive bays, it's a matter of pulling out the aluminum enclosure, popping in the drive and slipping it back home. You would think that a lack of airflow would cause the drive to overheat but again, the designers have taken care of the thermal load on the drives. The whole drive cage is one large interconnected heavily-ribbed heat sink and each of these drive bays is able to house a 60mm fan to reduce the operating temperature of the installed hard drive. The drive bay enclosure supports both 3.5 and 2.5 inch drive specifications, meaning you can slap in both SSD's for performance and large mechanical drives for your storage needs. The internal view of the hard drive bays show the combined data and power connection, the switch that shows drive occupancy, and how the heat sink assembly interfaces with the chassis.

 

 

 

Last, but certainly not least, is the largest compartment of the Level 10. This area houses the motherboard and installed components such as the memory, CPU, video card and any other expansion cards in use. This compartment also has a swing-open door that allows access to the internals. On the front edge of the door is the the 140mm air intake fan for this compartment. On the outer side of the door, you can see the venting for this area and how this could impact the cooling of this chassis.There is a single vent above the CPU heat sink and one lower on the door, that sits above the video card. Once the door is wide open, you have a clear view of how well the motherboard tray and the airflow design is laid out.

 

 

The vents of the main compartment have filters built-in to help reduce the amount of dust build-up inside the Level 10. The front air intake and the CPU air intake both have a flat diffuser to slightly shift the airflow to catch the dust as it flows into the case, while the filter over the video card area is a more traditional open cell foam design.

 

 

 

Believe it or not, there is still more to show you about this chassis.


 

Closer Look:

The Level 10 has a removable motherboard tray, that really makes installation a breeze. It is held in place by a total of four thumb screws. The fans that direct airflow through the compartment are mounted to the motherboard tray instead of being mounted to the chassis and the tray has several large holes in it. The large hole to the left is one that pays dividends if you are upgrading to a bolt-on heat sink after the initial install of the motherboard. The large holes to the right-side of the tray help with routing of the wiring behind the motherboard tray. This way you can minimize the amount of wiring flopping around in the compartment, helping improve the cooling of your system. After all - if you have spent this much on a case, you are almost certainly putting a high-end system inside it. The tray is covered with a plastic cover that illustrates where you will install the motherboard stand-offs, depending on the size motherboard you have. Along the bottom edge, you can see 'Tt Design' embossed in the tray. So far, this all speaks 'high-end' and at 700 dollars plus, it should.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fans that come with the Level 10 include the two 60mm fans for the hard drive bays, a single red LED 120mm fan for the exhaust and a 140mm red LED fan for the air intake. The 120mm fan is rated to run at 1300 RPM and is barely audible at 17dBA. The 140mm fan runs at a low 1000 RPM at 16dBA. The leads on the 120mm and 140mm fans have got to be the longest I have seen in a chassis. On top of the fully sleeved length that terminated in a three-pin connector, there is a foot long 3 to 4 pin Molex power adapter. Needless to say, finding a spot to power these fans is not going to be an issue.

 

 

Mounting the hardware into the Level 10 is really pretty straightforward, though you have a few unique little quirks that are easy to work around. The biggest problem I encountered was when I installed the optical drive, which created two concerns. The first was that when installed with the drive in the forward position, the cover would not close around the bays. I had to move the drive to the rear mounting position so that the cover would close. The other issue was that you will need a long SATA cable to reach the motherboard headers. The longest one I had on hand was 18 inches and it still fell short. I was concerned with the power supply mounting and that the area would be challenged for space, but the largest power supply I own is the Sapphire Pure 1250 watt and it fit with room left to spare. Routing the power supply cables was a simple affair, with all of the wiring fitting through the insulated opening, with room for more wiring.

 

 

Installing the motherboard onto the removable tray is no different than any other chassis. Insert the standoffs and mount the board. I first installed the motherboard with the Thermaltake FRIO CPU cooler to see if there was enough clearance left over to close the cover. At 165mm tall, the FRIO was left with about 3 to 5 mm worth of space above it. This potentially limits your heatsink selection, so you will need to choose wisely. Flipping the tray over, you can see how the heat sink mounting bracket is still accessible.

 

 

For testing purposes I will be using the stock Intel heat sink delivered with the Core i7 920 processor used in my test bed PC. With everything installed, it's easy to manage the wiring of the chassis. There is plenty of room behind the motherboard tray for wiring and this case makes it easy to look like you spent a ton of time on this aspect of the build. The clean wiring makes for great airflow with the low speed fans used in the Level 10 and Thermaltake also says that the Level 10 is liquid cooling capable. You could make a custom setup that mounts externally, but the best bet would be something along the lines of the CoolIT ECO ALC or Corsair H50.

 

 

Let's see if the looks and design spill over to the cooling performance testing.

Specifications:

Case Type
Full Tower
Material   
Aluminum
Color   
Anodized Black
Side Panel
Yes
Motherboard Support   
ATX
Motherboard Tray   
Yes
5.25" Drive Bay
3
Ext. 3.5" Drive Bay
6 - Swappable Tray
With 2.5" HDD/SSD Capability
Int. 3.5" Drive Bay           
Expansion Slots   
8
Front I/O Ports
USB 2.0 x 4
eSATA x 1
HD Audio x 1
Cooling System
- Front (intake) :
140 x 140 x 25 mm Red LED Fan, 1000rpm, 16 dBA
- Rear (exhaust) :
120 x 120 x 25 mm Red LED Fan, 1300rpm, 17 dBA
- HDD (intake) :
Dual 60 x 60 15 mm Silent Fan, 2500rpm, 19 dBA
Liquid Cooling Capable   
Yes
Liquid Cooling Embedded   
No
Power Supply Supported   
Standard PS2
Power Supply Included   
No
Dimension (H*W*D) 
666(H) x 318(W) x 614(L) mm
26.22(H) x 12.52(W) x 24.17(L) in
Net Weight
47.11 lbs
21.37 kg
Security Lock   
Yes   

 

Features:

 

 

 

All information courtesy of Thermaltake @ http://www.thermaltakeusa.com/Product.aspx?C=1416&ID=1897

Testing:

In order to figure out just how the Thermaltake Level 10 stacks up in cooling efficiency, we must test it in "as delivered" condition. To do this, I will run a series of programs to stress-test the components installed in the chassis, while using temperature monitoring programs to measure the maximum temperatures reached by each component. To load the CPU and memory controller, I will use Prime 95 25.11 with a run time of 1 hour, and will average the highest temperatures recorded in Real Temp version 3.0. To stress-test the video card, I will loop 3DMark06 and use MSI Afterburner as my tool to monitor the temperatures delivered. For the board components, I will use the utility supplied with the board - MSI's Overclocking utility - to measure the system and IOH temperatures, taking the highest values for each. To load the hard drive, I will run a disk defrag and monitor the temperatures with HD Tune 4.01.

 

 

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison Cases:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Level 10 did much better than I had anticipated in all four categories. The low CFM fans in the main compartment with the additional venting kept the temperatures competitive across the board, though CPU temperature did peak a little higher in this chassis. The additional airflow gained though having a power supply right above the CPU cooler, no doubt hurts this chassis in that department.

Conclusion:

When I saw the initial prototype pictures of this case floating around the web last year, my first thought was 'why would anyone buy that'? Then after seeing it first hand at CES, the look started to grow on me and by the time I have now finished working with it, I have become a bit more enamored with it. Unlike most cases on the market, you find a few things that just don't "fit" as they should. Things like holes being punched slightly off center, or the expansion brackets bowed out so you need to tweak them back into place to mount your video, sound, and NIC expansion cards. Side and front panels that just do not fit quite right! Those were things I did not find with the Level 10. Everything fits as it was supposed to - no tweaking, no massaging of panels, nothing!

The finish on the Level 10 looks great inside and out. As a matte finish though, it seemed to mar a bit easier than a case with a smooth paint job. You can wipe the marks away with the included cleaning cloth, but it is still easy to mark with an errant fingernail rub. This case is a beast and is solidly built. At 50+ pounds empty, it won't be making the rounds at the latest LAN party, though. This makes my trusty old workhorse Stacker 810 seem like a lightweight. The two handles on the level 10 will help you move it around, but adding another 25 to 30 pounds worth of hardware into it will make this case just that much heavier and much less mobile. However, you won't have to worry about knocking it over by accident.

When it came time to test how well the case cooled the installed components I was surprised at how well it did. The hard drive temperatures were easily just as good under load as any other case I have tested at 35 degrees Celsius. The lower airflow through the motherboard compartment kept the CPU temperature under load a bit higher than a standard case, but without a power supply above the CPU heat sink to pull additional air away from it, the CPU temperature saw an increase. That's an easy fix though, as you can get higher CFM fans. That takes away from the case aesthetics though, as with higher CFM fans, you will get an increase in noise - something there really was none of with the Level 10. One of the higher compliments that was paid to this case, came from my kid who came in to say goodnight and thought something was wrong in my test room. I had all the normal noise makers off and he could not get over how quiet the case was and he thought everything was down and not working. So yes - when it comes to the amount of noise that the Level 10 will impart on your surroundings, there is none, as the case is barely audible.

Testing the case with stock components does not give you an idea how after-market components will fit in this case. It will fit a large tower-style heat sink, but you will want to stick with something at around the 165mm height range, as anything higher may prove to be a problem for the Level 10, which meant that Thermaltake's FRIO overclocking CPU cooler fit just fine. For video cards, you can slap in the biggest kid on the block - the HD 5970 - and not have to worry about running into clearance problems. Likewise, the power supply cage is large enough so that you can use just about any of the high end 1000+ watt power supplies on the market. The largest I have, the Sapphire 1250 watt Pure modular power supply, did not even fill up the space provided for the PSU. Impressed? Yes, I most certainly am. The 6 3.5 inch drive bays allow you to expend some serious dollars for the latest combination of fast SSD's for the operating system and still have plenty of bays left for mass amounts of storage space on traditional mechanical drives. The built-in cooling tower should be able to handle the chore of keeping the drives cool.

As well designed and built as this case is, the market for it is going to be pretty slim, with an almost 800 dollar price tag. But when you play to the top-end of the market, there is an expectation that there will be some exclusivity, as not everyone is going to shell out that kind of cash for a case. That said, the Level 10 is a great looking case that performs admirably across several fronts and will add that extra bit of uniqueness to your gaming or work area!

 

Pros:

Cons: