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Thermaltake Level 10 Gaming Station Review
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Date: Mar 25, 2010
Section:Misc
Author: Mathew Miranda
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Introduction

Computer cases tend to reveal certain things about their owners. With one glance, your friends can estimate just how serious (or casual) your computer hardware addiction may be. Whether the chassis is a generic, cream-colored throwback from the 90's, a standard mid-tower with a couple of LED fans, or an extravagant full-tower gaming behemoth with see-through side panels and custom graphics, first impressions unavoidably start with the enclosure.

Although the market is loaded with a myriad of attractive cases, one product from Thermaltake caught our attention from the moment we laid eyes on it and it has captivated us ever since. The Level 10 gaming tower is a new over-the-top enclosure made specifically for enthusiasts who want to make a statement without saying a word; or at the very least, appreciate cutting-edge design and absolute precision build quality. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but few can deny the Level 10's eye-catching good looks and extraordinary construction. As you may have heard, this case was created by BMW Group Designworks USA for Thermaltake. The BMW Group designs new concepts for a variety of industries, such as yachts, trains, and aircraft. Let's check out its latest creation made specifically for gamers, to see if it's really as revolutionary and well-built as it looks...


Thermaltake Level 10 Enclosure
Specifications and Features

Model

Level 10

Type

ATX Full Tower

Color

Black

Material

Aluminum

Expansion

3 x External 5.25" Drive Bays
6 x Internal 3.5" or 2.5" Drive Bays
8 x Motherboard Expansion Slots

Front I/O Ports

4 x USB
1 x Audio
1 x eSATA

Cooling

2 x 60mm Drive Bay Fans
1 x 120mm Red LED Fan
1 x 140mm Red LED Fan

Physical Dimensions

24.17" x 12.52" x 26.22" (Length x Width x Height)

Weight

47.11 lbs

Warranty

3 Years Limited (parts / labor)

Price

$850



In general, the features speak for themselves but a few details really stand out. First, we should address the size of this case. The Level 10 is about two feet high, two feet deep, and one foot wide. In other words, this thing is huge. Needless to say, it is one of the largest enclosures available and will require serious real estate around any desk it's installed next to. In addition to its massive size, this case is extraordinarily heavy. It weighs 47 lbs before adding a single component to it. A warning on the box even recommends a two person lift. But most importantly, the Level 10 carries a rather painful $850 price tag that speaks clearly to the fact that only hardened computing enthusiasts need apply.


The Level 10 comes with a small but sufficient bundle to aid the installation process. It includes an user's manual, warranty card, cleaning cloth, cable ties, assorted screws, a speaker, security keys, and a key chain. However, don't think you can set the bundle aside and jump into the installation. The manual will definitely come in handy for new Level 10 owners as there are several features to get accustomed with, due to the unique design of this chassis.  In addition, the keys should be available to access the enclosure's panels and drive bays. The cleaning cloth will be necessary after the build is complete and down the road for the occasional buff-up for a product that you'll likely feel compelled to care for like a new car's finish.

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Exterior



"Rather than covering the expensive interior of the tower, Level 10 celebrates the ensemble of the individual modules by creating a unique component landscape." - Thermaltake


Thermaltake has consistently pushed the limits of computer enclosure design and the Level 10 is no exception. It is unlike any other case we have ever seen and an exciting step in the evolution of gaming towers. Instead of sharing the same space, each component has its own area with pronounced borders that aid in the dramatic effect of the product's architectural design.

Early photos of the Level 10 hinted at a shiny, acrylic looking chassis but Thermaltake decided to go a different route. The entire case is made of aluminum and painted matte black. The finish is mostly smooth with a hint of texture that reveals fingerprints if handled excessively.  However, the included cleaning cloth works well to eliminate any markings to restore the product's appearance.  



Above we see the front I/O ports and 5.25" drive bays. The case provides an On/Off switch, reset button, eSATA connector, microphone jack, headset connector, and four USB ports. There is also a strip of red LED lights that travel the length of the case along the top edge, from the rear to the front of the chassis and also below the I/O ports. The lights don't cycle in any way, but they remind us a little bit of KITT, the car from the TV series Knight Rider.  


A look at the rear of the enclosure reveals a 120mm red LED fan, eight expansion slots, and openings for the motherboard I/O panel and power supply. There are several mounting holes available for different fan sizes if so desired. This angle also shows that the red LED's do not extend past the top edge of this area.



The side panel sports two security locks that must be opened in order to access the main components of the system. One keyhole is for the motherboard, power supply, and side panel. The other secures the optical drive bays and hard drive bays. Even with both of these locks opened, you still need to turn two thumb screws and slide out the side panel to access the system's cabling.

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Interior


The Level 10 features four primary zones that are divided into their own miniature enclosures. Its largest panel houses the motherboard tray and associated components. The power supply panel is located above the motherboard area and features a similar door cover. Also, this case allows for three 5.25" drives to be installed within the optical drive bay panel. Further, six individual hard drive bays are found below the optical drive compartment and support both 3.5" and 2.5" drives.


The removable motherboard tray is easily accessed by opening the cover and loosening four thumbscrews. We pulled the tray away from the enclosure and were able to install mobo standoff screws in the appropriate locations. Two fans are pre-installed for cooling purposes; A 140mm red LED fan pulls in cool air towards the expansion cards, while a 120mm fan pushes hot air out the rear of the case. The Level 10 supports motherboards that utilize up to eight expansion slots.  While adequate for the majority of motherboards on the market, there are a few models, like EVGA's X58 Classified 4-way SLI, that require 10 slots. 


After sliding out the HDD tray, we can see the SATA power and data connectors inside the enclosure. The large red button is depressed when a drive is installed and activates the red LED for that drive cover. Note that while there are six 3.5" drive bays available, Thermaltake only provides two of these SATA connectors with the case. At $850, we feel that the product should include all necessary parts in order to make use of all its features.

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Installation

HotHardware's Test System
Core i7 Powered

Hardware Used:
Intel Core i7 870 (2.93GHz) Processor

Gigabyte P55A-UD7 Motherboard
(P55 Express Chipset)

XFX Radeon HD 5970 Black Edition Videocard

4GB Kingston HyperX DDR3-1600 C9
(2 X 2GB)

Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus Heatsink


Antec TruePower Quattro TPQ-1000W Power Supply

Crucial M225 128GB SSD
Seagate Barracuda 2TB Hard Drive
Western Digital VelociRaptor 300GB Hard Drive

Sony DVD Burner


In order to get a feel for the installation process, we decided to use some of the latest components we could get our hands on. We assume that Level 10 owners would likely install high end parts, so that led us to choose Gigabyte's P55A-UD7 motherboard, a Core i7 870 processor, 4GB of Kingston HyperX DDR3-1600 memory, and an XFX HD 5970 graphics card. One of the questions we had going into this showcase was about graphics card compatibility, so naturally we were anxious to find out if the foot long HD 5970 would fit in the provided space. In addition, we chose Cooler Master's Hyper 212 Plus cooler, Antec's TPQ-1000W power supply, a 2TB Seagate hard drive, and a Sony DVD optical drive. The Hyper 212 Plus is one of the taller CPU coolers we had available and we were curious about height clearance issues with it during installation.


As with any computer case, a removable motherboard tray is a luxury for installation purposes that we enjoyed having. The area provided by the Level 10's mobo tray was sufficient for our parts as both the CPU cooler and videocard went in without incident. Initially, we thought the 140mm fan would have to be removed in order to house the 12" graphics card but fortunately that was not the case. The 6.2" tall CPU cooler also installed without any problems so unless you plan on using an extremely large HSF, its' safe to say that the Level 10 will accommodate it.


Installing the power supply was simple enough. Swinging open the PSU cover, we then removed two small screws holding the power supply cage in place and lifted it off the enclosure. Like the motherboard tray, the power supply cage allowed us to install the PSU separate from the main enclosure. Once inside the cage, we secured the assembly with the two screws that were removed earlier and ran the cabling through the available opening. Although this particular installation step went smoothly, were were a little surprised at the diminutive size of the screws that secured the cage to the main chassis. But we admit, the PSU cage felt stable once installed so we have to trust Thermaltake did its homework on this issue.


To access the 5.25" drive bays, the cover must be opened and removed from the case. Optical drives, fan controllers, and card readers can then be installed using screws included in the bundle. We installed a standard Sony DVD burner in one of the drive bays with ease. As large as the case is, its peculiar that it limits users to only a maximum of three slots. But considering the layout of the Level 10, it seems that Thermaltake decided to provide more hard drive / SSD options than 5.25" bays.


We installed several drives in the Level 10 to test compatibility. Two 3.5" hard drives and one 2.5" SSD were chosen to see if there would be any installation issues. Both the Seagate 2TB hard drive and Crucial 128GB solid state drive worked perfectly but the Western Digital Velociraptor would not line up with the SATA power and data connector located inside the drive bay.  To use a Velociraptor, you must install it in a drive bay without one of the hot swap SATA connectors. This is a limitation of the WD drive's SATA connector placement, relative to its 2.5" format that resides in a 5.25" frame, rather than a limitation of the Level 10 case.

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Conclusion

Looking back, the installation process was a healthy success. Once finished, all our fingers were still in place and we avoided the types of cuts and scrapes sometimes associated with system building. The Level 10's removable motherboard tray made that component installation straightforward affair and the power supply cage worked as advertised. Hard drive and SSD installation was painless, but WD Velociraptor users should remember to use the bays without the SATA hot swap adapter.

Furthermore, we found that our 18" SATA cables were able to connect the optical drive to the motherboard with a little bit of slack left over. The power supply cables from the Antec TPQ-1000 easily reached their destinations except for the CPU Power cable, which was barely long enough but still made it. The PCIe cables running to the graphics card had plenty of slack and we estimate that a multiple video card setup would still be compatible as well. Make sure your power supply cables are all at least 22" in length and it should work with the Level 10 without needing extensions.

At this cost, the Level 10 becomes a status symbol as much as it is a computer case. Its obvious that this product is not for everyone as the current MSRP of $850 puts it clearly out of reach for the majority of consumers in the market for a PC enclosure. There are hundreds of choices available to those looking for a standard chassis that will protect your components, and some excellent models start below $100. In this regard, the Level 10 is not very practical. Come to think of it, we could assemble an entire midrange system for $850. Though we suppose, just like every cutting edge product, the price will eventually drop after some time. You can already find it online for around $700 at several etailers. Still, we highly doubt it will ever be truly affordable enough for mainstream consumers.


So we raise the question, is the Level 10 worth its asking price?  For most consumers, of course not. Although we think the design looks fantastic and would be a show-stopper wherever it goes, the case is not perfect. Besides the obvious price hurdle, we have a couple of minor quibbles that turn us off. Specifically, the Level 10's massive size and weight make it an immovable object. This is one enclosure you won't haul around to LAN parties obviously. In addition, this high end case doesn't provide a means to install custom water cooling within the panels or anywhere else on the case. Water cooling compatibility is a common feature found in most extreme enthusiast PC cases, and it's noticeably absent here.

That said, the Level 10 continues Thermaltake's long line of cutting edge enclosures that push the boundaries of how we think a computer case should look and perform. It was not long ago that they released Xpressar featuring a refrigeration cooling system, the popular Armor Series with 10 PCI slots, and the SwordM with built in water cooling and hydraulic panels. These models are still available for purchase, but none have made the same impression within the enthusiast community as the Level 10 has. We have closely monitored the buzz surrounding this case and noticed that it has grown steadily since the CeBIT 2009 show. And like most hardware enthusiasts, we wondered when it would finally arrive. Finally getting our hands on the retail version in person and having the opportunity to build a system within it, we think it lives up to the hype. Unfortunately, most of us either can't afford or remain unwilling to spend this much money for a PC case, no matter how attractive it looks. But for the select few that have disposable income and crave the exclusivity this product provides, we feel the Level 10 is a solid choice with an undeniable coolness factor that is sure to please the true computing enthusiast among us.

  • Very unique
  • Beautifully designed
  • Heat isolating areas
  • Great cable management

  • Painfully expensive
  • Extremely heavy
  • Not water-cooling enabled




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