Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

PC Perspective's reader Craig Mullaney scored the first review with the Thermaltake Level 10 computer case. And the site was kind enough to share it with us, in full, here. Spoiler: it's as ridiculously awesome as we'd expect:

Exterior Evaluation

On December 9th, I received my long-awaited Level 10 computer case! This case was originally announced way back in March of 2009, with an anticipated street date in mid October. As the initial ship date of October passed, I grew skeptical that such a unique case would ever actually ship. I'm glad to say, I was wrong. This case rocks! Let me repeat that again, this case rocks!

I've spent the last 48 hours pouring over this case; top to bottom, inside and out. Clearly, this case was very well thought-out and bears the markings of a serious industrial design firm. Rather than a standard aluminum and plastic case, the Thermaltake Level 10 utilizes a central pillar, with individual compartments hanging from it for the power supply, motherboard, optical drives, and hard drives.

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

Included in the package is a nicely built ‘parts box' that contains the Level 10 manual, 2 keys to the case locks, a Thermaltake carabiner keychain, 5 re-usable zip-ties, motherboard riser screws, HDD screws, ODD screws, PSU screws and motherboard screws. Additionally included is a cloth for keeping your case in tip top, ‘show-me-off' shape.

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

Something that might not be obvious from the pictures: the Level 10 is LARGE. It is 12.6 inches wide, 24.5 inches deep, 26.3 inches high, and weighs nearly 50 pounds empty! The handles on the top and the base definitely come in handy. While I had no trouble transporting the case from the office into my photo studio by myself (the case is well balanced,) the additional handle in the base was nice to have. If two people are used to carry the case, this extra handle makes it a breeze.

The Level 10 case is constructed entirely of heavy-duty aluminum. And I mean heavy-duty. There is no flex in any of the panels, they are rock solid. Aside from the LED lighting surrounding the trim of the edge, there is not a single plastic component anywhere. From the hinges to the latches, the attention to detail for long life performance is obvious. The paint is a matte black (not the glossy black as seen in some of the very early press shots.) The paint has a powdered texture to it, and while it does show some fingerprints, they are easily removed with the supplied cloth.

The wide base supports the large vertical structure carrying the other components. The vertical section is hollow and includes significant channels for cabling as well as a lockable rear access panel on the back.

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

Interior Evaluation

Six independent HDD caddies make up the front of the Level 10, with completely hidden cabling and LEDs. The top 2 HDD drive bays are cooled by 2 separate fans . Each HDD bay has a physical button in the bay to detect the presence of the drive that controls an external LED to signify that the drive is inside. These HDD fans draw air from the bottom of each drive and out across the top. These fans do draw air from all the HDDs, even though they're only located at the top of the #1 and #2 HDDs.

Three 5.25" bays are at the very top, in their own box. The top ODD Bay includs a flip-up cover with an adjustable eject tab to work with most CD drives. The power supply is behind the 5.25" bays inside its own box, and the motherboard occupies the final (largest) compartment just below the PSU.

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

The front-panel connectors include your standard USB 2.0 ports (x4), eSATA port (x1), and standard audio jacks (mic & headphone). The case fits standard ATX, extended ATX and micro-ATX boards. The motherboard tray is removable.

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

The back panel contains two locking mechanisms; one for the HDD/ODD caddies and one for the PSU/MB/Back Panel. While the back panel can be difficult to put on; you sometimes have to fiddle with the hard drive locking mechanism before it will go back, I found that having the HDD in the Locked position solved 99% of that issue...

Removing the back panel reveals a sizable channel of hidden cable management channels. This area provides access to the underside of the motherboard, access to the CPU for easy removal of the cooling bracket / water-block bracket and access to the HDD connectors.

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

Installation

MB installation:

The Level 10 provides a removable motherboard tray that makes installation of the motherboard very easy. 4 screws attach the MB tray to the main column of the Level 10, and are easily removed. The MB Tray is well constructed and houses the 2 supplied Thermaltake fans.

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

H50 Water Cooler installation:

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

My H50 is now installed, but I needed to use a few Zip Ties, as the H50 is a 120mm fan, and the Level 10 uses a 140mm fan for in-flow and a 120mm fan for outflow. The Level 10 In-flow case fan (where I mounted the H50) is not easily exchanged. There is only a single mounting option here for a 140mm Fan, and while the supplied Thermaltake fan is very quiet, I had to zip-tie the H50 in 3 of the 4 corners, but I was able to use 1 screw in one of the mounting slots. The end result is still a solid solution, and the H50 performs as well as in any case I've used prior. I could have mounted the H50 toward the rear of the case, utilizing the out-flow fan, but the H50 performs better with cooler, in-flowing air. Had I chosen the rear mounting position, the H50 would have fit nicely, and with out the need of zip-ties.

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

Power Supply installation:

The installation of the PSU was very simple. There are 2 screws located at the top of the uppermost housing. Once these are removed, the bottom of the PSU housing hangs in slots located in the main column. The detachable PSU bracket is very sturdy. It also includes a sliding rear stop to allow you to secure any length PSU into the Level 10.

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

Aside from the video power cable lengths, I had no problems routing the PSU cables to their appropriate locations. The rear channel of the main column easily accommodates many cables and has many openings to allow for well hidden routing of the cables.

Video Card installation:

I have 2 EVGA 295 CO-Op video cards. These cards fit perfectly with lots of room to spare. Even with the H50 occupying the space at the end of the 295s it was a comfortable fit. These 295s are 10.5" long, so longer video cards would fit in the standard cooling configuration, but may not allow for the H50 to be added where I have installed it.

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

There was, however, one big problem. Cable Lengths. The bottom 295 was simply too far away from the Power Supply to allow the normal cables to reach. This is a challenge that we will see again when I install the DVD drive (more on that later.)

I got lucky with my setup though, I was able to join 2 splitters together to make the cable long enough. If you're not so lucky, and have to get power to a 2nd video card, you may have to resort to soldering in a splice. It's a shame, as the standard cable was only short by 2". I know this was a primary concern of many people, and it looks like some folks should be sure to think through how they would address this, should their power supply cables be short. My PSU is a ThermalTake 1200w modular supply.

DVD installation:

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

The Optical drive bay houses up to 3 drives. The external cover is easily removed, and is held into place by secure metal hinges.

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

The top Drive Bay has a special spring loaded door that allows the drive to eject the DVD tray and move out of the way, but return closed when the tray retracts. Additionally, this cover houses an adjustable sliding knob that allows for various DVD drives to have their eject button pressed by the cover's button.

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

There was, however, one problem with the DVD installation. The SATA connection on my MB was just out of reach of the standard 18" SATA cable. While I was able to eventually ‘make it work' I have ordered a 24" SATA cable to permanently resolve this issue. If your MB has SATA connections only near the bottom (as mine does) then you may want to invest in a longer SATA cable.

HDD installation:

The Level 10 supports 6 HDDs. Each HDD is mounted in its own drive bay. These HDD bays have a physical switch located at the back, which control the LED on the front of the drive bay to indicate the presence of a HDD. (Note: these do not indicate drive usage, only that a drive is in that bay)

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

The top 2 drive bays have SATA plugs mounted for easy slide in operation. The remaining Drive bays require you to manually install the appropriate data cables / power cables from the rear access panel.

My primary drive is a 2.5" SSD. These drive bays have mounting screws for both a 2.5" and 3.5" drive. My SSD mounted without any trouble or adapters.

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

Modding

While there are not many opportunities to mod this case (why would you?) there are a few things you could potentially do. First, you could remove the metal air cover from the front left of the case to expose the pre-installed grill underneath. Perhaps Thermaltake anticipated some setups needing more airflow? While I did not remove this cover myself, only 4 screws hold it on, so removal would be easy.

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

Secondly, you could enhance the look by adding additional lighting around the 2 air ducts on the front. Internally there is plenty of room for additional lighting. With both supplied case fans lit with red LEDs, there's no immediate need to add lighting. Externally the case is lit with red LEDs across the top, and the front edge. The front panel buttons and connections (USB, eSATA, power and reset) all have red back lighting also.

Summary

The Level 10 is a great case. It's huge, it's heavy, it's roomy and it's quiet.

Thermaltake Level 10 Chassis Review: Can BMW Change PC Design?S

Aside form two cable length issues; the Level 10 case is outstanding. It is like no other case I have ever seen. Everything about this case says quality and design. From the edges that wires cross being beveled and shrouded with a plastic gasket, to the hinge and latch points covered by a plastic guard to prevent scraping and squeaking, this case rocks!

Needless to say, I am very happy with my Level 10 case.

(PC Perspective Editor's Note: I haven't had the chance to spend any long periods of time with the Level 10 case so I thank Craig for sharing his experiences with us. It seems obvious to me that Thermaltake should have foreseen issues in cable length and included longer SATA cables and any extenders a user might need to install standard components. For the price, this should be demanded! Otherwise, the Level 10 appears to be an incredibly unique and well built piece of enthusiast hardware!)

If you are interested in the case, be sure to check it out on Newegg.com where it sells for a cool $849!

PC Perspective offers full coverage of the PC industry at varying levels of depth and complexity. Check 'em out for more PC component reviews.