Thermaltake Level 10 Review: The Cure For the Common iMacS

My attempts to live with an iMac were met with nothing but grief. I needed a rebound relationship—a total opposite to the prudish minimalism of Apple design—a bad girl with unnervingly fast tendencies.

There was only one computer that could fit the bill. Her body was infamous. Designed by BMW Group DesignworksUSA, the Thermaltake Level 10 (technical review here) is the most treasured centerfold of PC cases. And for $800—before you account for anything like motherboards, processors or RAM—it really should be.

Only one PC manufacturer will actually configure a computer based upon the Thermaltake Level 10 chassis. That's iBuyPower. Despite this exclusive arrangement, the company was wary to send me a review unit. As an uberpreimum PC, they didn't feel it represented their mantra of building powerful gaming PCs for budget-conscious customers.

Having used the system for a few months now, I can understand this perspective.

If iBuyPower were a brothel, a first-timer had just walked in, walked past the line of buxom ladies waiting at the door and demanded to sleep with the madam.

Everyone was polite enough about it, but they already knew how the story would end. I wanted to party with the Thermaltake? Fine. But not having the stamina for the task, it would only end in my own humility.

* * *

She came on a wooden pallet.

Whereas every laptop and PC I'd ever received mystically arrived at my door, neatly confined within the bounds of cardboard, the Thermaltake 10 was lowered off a truck.

My building's door and maintenance men spied the scene from through windows. And as I wheeled her into the room—the personable truck driver eagerly volunteering to help push from the other end—a small crowd asked, "What is that?"

They assumed it was an appliance—a washer or dryer, maybe a half-sized refrigerator. They were waiting to celebrate my domestic responsibility, my investment in hearth and home. I could only answer, "A computer" while anticipating their puzzled, then judgmental response.

Five minutes into the relationship, and she'd already embarrassed me in public.

* * *

Getting her unpacked was no more pleasant. Alone in my apartment, with no one chaperoning the courtship for the first time, I struggled to untangle her wrappings, fumbling with scraps of synthetics interlocking in confounding ways, it took 10 minutes to reach the metal skin.

Thermaltake Level 10 Review: The Cure For the Common iMacS


The silence was unnerving. Neither of us spoke. In retrospect, some music would have eased the unpacking process, if only to mask my grunting as I attempted to carry her into my office. (I'd originally considered dragging her—she really wouldn't have minded—but my sterile wood floors would never have lived down the deed.)

What should have been a triumphant moment as I laid her on the carpet beside my desk felt forced. There was no doubt she was beautiful—everything I'd thought she would be, and more. Angles, curves and a sturdy build that could stop not just a bullet but at least an entire clip. But she didn't exactly fit in with the aesthetic of my reclaimed beechwood desk.

Still, I continued undeterred. Opposites attract, after all.

* * *

The plan: We'd do it all night, just like my wild college years.

Playing PC games for 8-10 hours straight, more and more multiplayer. Mostly Unreal Tournament. Those were the good old days.

It'd been a while since I indulged this side of myself. The Macs I'd been with for the last decade or so didn't like this sort of play. They only wanted it in 5-minute bursts, indulging me when I needed a distraction, but not accepting it as a full-out hobby. The Xbox 360 was ready to party when I needed it—which was a lot—but it wasn't interested in the really deep PC gaming fetishes I craved: D&D-based RPGs, mega RTSs and maybe...maybe some sort of weird hybrid style game I hadn't even seen before.

The $3200 Thermaltake was game for anything from the beginning. A Core i7 980X. Radeon HD 5870 graphics card (not the best, but pretty darn good). 128GB SSD boot drive with 1TB of 7200RPM storage backing it up. 6GB of RAM. Liquid cooling. This is what she was built for.

So I hopped on Steam. It'd been a while since I dug through what I assumed would be a hefty back catalog of diversions. I downloaded Supreme Commander 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Torchlight...and I loaded them up. Drunk with power, I pushed the system without concern, maxing settings, checking every single stupid box I could find. "Checking this box will smooth mouse movements but may hurt frame rates." CHECK! "Checking this box will solely hurt framerates. It's not recommended at all." DOUBLE CHECK!

Thermaltake Level 10 Review: The Cure For the Common iMacS


I was being so wild, so reckless, I thought. But meanwhile, the Thermaltake didn't even break a sweat. Everything I could think of played at perfectly smooth framerates. I had gaming carte blanche for the first time in my life and...and...

After I wore myself out one night, I wasn't all that eager to play the next. My first realization was that most of the best games really do come out for consoles now. Steam is a fantastic product, but once you've played Valve's offerings, its catalog is fairly limited. The shiny PC gaming section at Best Buy—to which I used to make drooling, weekly pilgrimages—is just as barren. My old haunt of a night club, gone.

I also realized something even more unnerving: I used to be obsessed with upgrading my PC. But that's only because the most thrilling part of owning a gaming PC is the quest to level up to digital carte blanche.

Thermaltake Level 10 Review: The Cure For the Common iMacS


The Thermaltake had already leveled up. The rig iBuyPower assembled didn't actually have the most expensive internals on the market, but it had more than enough to crush any game in existence. And the Thermaltake case? There's way too much sheer id appeal here for the mundanities of daily life (do you have any idea what a tool you feel like when you just want to watch some double rainbow parodies on the thing?).

And aside from all these points, what would my mother say?

* * *

More quickly that I anticipated, the once-risque Thermaltake became another fixture in my life, a spot for dust and impromptu coaster duty like any other.

Thermaltake Level 10 Review: The Cure For the Common iMacS


I thought hooking up with the Thermaltake was a deviant maneuver that somehow validated my geekdom. But the Thermaltake just became daily reminder of a life that once was—not some sexy mistress, but a tattoo thereof that I'd grown to equal parts appreciate and regret.

A tattoo, nonetheless, that I may never bring myself to remove, no matter what the Macbook says. Especially since, just this week, Starcraft II came out. And it'd be a shame to play without max settings...

[iBuyPower and Thermaltake]