Date: July 4, 2011
Author(s): Ryan Perry
When Thermaltake released its Level 10 chassis, it was unique in both its design and price-point – the latter of which kept it out of the hands of the regular enthusiast. Enter the Level 10 GT, a ~$270 variant that retains much of the aesthetic appeal of the original, but is easier to build with and has other cool features added to boot.
Oh, the glamorous life of a hardware reviewer. The parties, the girls, the booze… well, I haven’t actually been to a sponsored party yet and the only girls I’ve seen are in pictures of the booth babes after the trade shows, but I have the booze part covered! That’s right, we live in the lap of luxury alright, and as such have access to some of the craziest gear out there.
It doesn’t get any crazier than Thermaltake’s 2009 launch of the Level 10 full-tower case. Designed in conjunction with German automotive heavyweight, BMW, it was a radical departure from typical cases by featuring a unique compartmentalized layout where nearly each component was separated from the rest.
But what made it stand out the most for many of us in the tech world was the price; $800! Luckily, Thermaltake has released the Level 10 GT, a case that shares the name and overall outward appearance of the original but gives us more features that we, as computer enthusiasts want and need, at a more affordable price.
To start off, the Level 10 GT comes in a black cloth bag with the brand, model and slogans for each silkscreened onto it. This keeps the case in pristine condition, protecting it from dust and scratches during shipping.
The front of this now steel and plastic behemoth, like all areas, gives us a lot of ground to cover. So, I chose to take an overall shot of each side and then individual shots of different features to ensure that nothing is missed.
Starting at the top are four 5.25″ and one 3.5″ mesh covered drive bays, each hiding an air filter on the inside to help keep dust out. All of the covers can be removed by squeezing on the clips on either side. Just to the left of the 3.5″ bay is a lock that will keep hard drives safe and secure. Set into an accent on the right that eventually turns into a handle at the top is the first I/O area. From top to bottom are the power and reset buttons, the hard drive activity LED, the first set of USB 2.0 ports, 3.5mm microphone and headphone ports and a second set of USB 2.0 ports at the bottom.
Moving on down finds the five 3.5″ or 2.5″ hot swap drive bays, each with its own release button next to the drive number. Once unlocked, the button can be pushed and the drives pulled free from the left. Since all of the bays are hot swap, switching out drives can be done on-the-fly if the motherboard being used supports AHCI. To keep each drive cool is a 200mm ColorShift LED intake fan. What’s Colorshift? Well, keep reading.
The left side looks somewhat similar to the original Level 10 but it does not feature a true compartmentalized layout.
At the lower front are the hard drive bays mentioned earlier so I’ll leave them be. Above them is a mesh area with a small rubber insert. This insert is labeled with the word “hanger” and can be removed so the included headset holder can be installed.
The rest of the side is covered by a panel that allows access to the remaining components. At the top left is a window that allows a peek into the system to see what makes it tick and is trimmed by a piece of plastic that gives a nice, clean look instead of simply a metal edge with screws or pins.
Below the window on the right is another lock to keep wandering hands away from expensive gear and is step one to opening this panel. To the right of the lock is a small lever that controls a vent under another mesh area on the far left. This vent controls how much air is pulled into the system by another 200mm ColorShift fan. There is also a removable air filter that slides out the back for easy cleaning.
Hanging on a metal loop around the back at the top left is a set of keys to unlock both areas, but the loop is meant to keep peripherals secure. A thumbscrew is removed from the inside of the loop placed over the cables meaning nobody can walk off with your keyboard or mouse without causing some serious damage.
To the right are three holes with rubber grommets for some water cooling, but wait… three holes? More on that in a bit. Heading south shows the motherboard I/O opening and a 140mm non-LED exhaust fan. Below that are 8 vented PCI slot covers that have the thumbscrews on the outside, a PCI slot cover, uh, cover and an extra vented area to the right. Rounding out the back is the opening for the power supply at the bottom and a second security loop to the right.
The right side has a little bit of detail in the form of the brand, model names and slogans just as the cloth bag had. Almost all of the panel is raised giving users more room to route cables and has an additional raised T-shape for a bit of extra styling. Held on by two thumb screws, this panel slides back and can be removed to access the locking mechanisms for the 5.25″ drive bays and the back of the motherboard tray.
Up on the top of the case at the front left are more connections. This time around there is one for eSATA and two for USB 3.0. The two USB 3.0 ports are given connectivity by the included USB cables that connect directly to free ports on the rear I/O panel and is the reason why there is a third hole above the rear exhaust fan. There are also two buttons to increase or decrease the speed of all fans in the system and another to change the colour of the LEDs, which is why they were given the name ColorShift. The rest of the top front area is taken up by yet another mesh area directly above the 5.25″ bays.
The final vented opening at the rear hides a third 200mm ColorShift LED fan. The cover on this fan can be lifted up and away by pushing in on a tab at the very back. If needed, this fan can be removed and replaced by a 240mm radiator for some water cooling fun.
A quick look at the Level 10 GT’s belly shows off four server-style case feet that swing outward for extra stabilization and have a small rubber pad to help keep slipping and vibration under control. Running down the center is the removable air filter for an optional 120mm bottom mounted fan and the bottom mounted power supply. On the left side towards the front foot is the second step for opening the left side panel; the release button that allows the panel to swing open when pressed.
Phew! I’m exhausted already! There are a ton of features on the outside of the case and the inside is no different so it’s time to pop off some panels and have a look.
As mentioned before, the left panel must be unlocked and then the release button on the underside of the case pressed. This disengages the latch mechanism and the door swings open where it can be lifted away.
On the inside of the door is one of the 200mm fans and the adjustable vent as well as the metal contact pads the provide power to the fan. The vent is controlled by the lever on the outside of the door while the contact pads allow the fan to draw power without the need for pesky cables.
Moving onto the motherboard tray, the Level 10 GT has cable management covered with rubber grommets lining the holes in the motherboard tray to keep the system looking tidy. There are different holes to route cables so proper cable management can be performed regardless of the form factor of the motherboard. Up top there is a large cutout to help with mounting CPU coolers with back plates and a final cable management area in the top left corner to route the 12V power connector.
The bottom of the case has the openings for the extra 120mm fan and power supply. The power supply rests on three braces that lift it up to allow for extra air to be drawn in.
On the back inside panel is everything that can be found from the outside. Again, the PCI slots have the thumbscrews on the outside and we get to see the USB cables routed through one of the holes near the top along with a good view of one half of the metal contact pad used to power the side fan.
On the top is one of the 200mm fans with the mounting points for the 240mm radiator faintly visible. Aside from that, there isn’t much to see.
On the back of the motherboard tray are a ton of wires. All of the top and front panel wires and cables are routed through here as are the connections for the hard drive bays, fan leads and extra power leads for the fan controller. Instead of the typical metal loops where zip ties can be used, there are metal fingers built into the motherboard tray and are capable of holding a large number of wires tight.
At the top front are the locking mechanisms for the 5.25″ drives, which can be opened easily by pulling back. Once the drive is in place it will click and then the lock can be pushed forward.
Below this are the power connections for the 3.5″ or 2.5″ hot swap drive bays. As if having hot swap capability for all drives isn’t enough, one cable is used to power all of the drives and will help cut down on clutter a bit since most power supplies normally allow for only three drives to be powered per lead.
Thermaltake has included a nice bundle of hardware that starts off with a 4 or 8-pin 12V cable extension to help those with shorter power leads reach the cable management area in the top left corner of the motherboard tray. There is also a speaker, the user manual and a product brochure, the headset hanger, four reusable cable ties and a set of keys that can be used on both locks.
Also included are screws for mounting 2.5″ drives, in a separate bag are screws for securing the motherboard, another containing the motherboard standoffs, extra screws for mounting a fan in the open area at the bottom of the case and four screws for securing the power supply and finally, a bag with large, flat screws for mounting 3.5″ drives.
I’m pretty sure the kitchen sink is in there somewhere but it will have to wait. I’ve been wanting to throw some gear in this case for far too long so let’s get to it.
Installing gear in the Level 10 GT was a breeze and it turned out to be one of the fastest builds in recent memory. The power supply slid in on the braces cleanly and there was enough room through one of the cable management areas to run all of the power leads without the grommet pulling away from the motherboard tray as some cases are prone to doing. Also, all front and top panel connections were long enough to reach the correct connector, including the front panel audio header that is along the bottom back edge of the motherboard.
Hard drive installation was also a snap, even though both required tools to secure them to the trays. Our test system uses a hard disk drive but in order to take the hot swap feature for a spin a solid-state drive was installed and immediately picked up by the operating system. There is however the fact that requiring tools to unmount the drives somewhat negates the hot swap ability seeing how users can’t just pop the drive out and slap it into an enclosure.
There were no problems with the optical drive either. Pulling back on the lock allowed the drive to slide right in until it clicked. The lock was then pushed forward and held the drive in place firmly with no give either way.
Installing the optional headset holder was easy enough as well. Just remove the rubber stopper and hook the plastic holder into the slots to help keep a headset within reaching distance.
The inclusion of two metal loops that can be used to keep peripherals safe is also a welcome bonus to those who may be taking their system to a LAN party. That coupled with the ability to lock hard drives and the left door adds up to peace of mind when nature calls.
I have to question Thermaltake’s choice of including a strange little cover plate on the PCI slots. In order to add or remove anything a little cover plate needs to be removed by loosening two thumbscrews, also from the outside. It’s a necessity due to the flat design of the rear panel but it’s another step in adding or removing components, albeit a brief one. A typical rear layout would have eliminated the need for this cover.
One thing that made me a bit wary was that the metal fingers used to hold cables in place on the backside of the motherboard felt as if they could snap if they are stressed to many times. Think about how break away PCI slot covers are removed by twisting them back and forth until the metal weakens. It felt like the same situation here when I had to pull back hard on one of them that looked to be pushed in too far at the factory. I’d exercise caution when using them over and over again.
So what can users expect for an end result? Well, even without a great deal of cable management, this was what I ended up with using a fairly light system. I left the included cables secured behind the motherboard tray just as the case ships from the factory but could have gotten an even cleaner look if I rerouted some of them or pulled them tighter. These cables are the perfect length for a build using an ATX motherboard so it looks like Thermaltake is trying to help speed along the build process a bit. Regardless, there’s nothing that would hinder airflow.
On the back of the motherboard tray, things don’t look nearly as nice. Cables are everywhere, but if users take the time to properly route and secure cables, things will look much nicer in the end. Even with this mess, the right panel went on without any problems although space does seem limited and those with beefy systems may run into problems.
All of our testing is performed in a near steady 20°C ambient environment with readings taken before and after with a standard room thermometer. AIDA64 Extreme Engineer is used for monitoring and recording all system temperatures throughout the testing process.
Windows is allowed to sit idle for 10 minutes after startup to ensure all services are loaded before recording the idle CPU and GPU temperatures. CPU load temperatures are generated by performing a 20 minute run of OCCT LINPACK using 90% of the available memory, while GPU load temperatures are generated by OCCT’s built in test, also for 20 minutes.
Stock CPU settings were obtained by setting the AI Tweaker option with the BIOS to Auto and the maximum stable overclock frequency of 4.0GHz was obtained after extensive testing to ensure stability. The final clocks for the GPU are 760MHz on the core and 1000MHz QDR (4000MHz relative) for the memory with the voltage increased to 1.087V using MSI’s Afterburner overclocking utility. As with the CPU overclock, testing was done prior to ensure full stability.
The components used for testing are:
Techgage Test System
Intel Core i5-661 – Dual-Core (3.33GHz)
ASUS P7H55D-M EVO mATX – H55-based
Corsair Dominator 2x2GB DDR3-1600 7-8-7-20-2T
EVGA GeForce GTX 470
Western Digital 2TB Green
Antec TP-750 Blue
Corsair Obsidian 650D Mid-Tower
Corsair SE White 600T
SilverStone Raven 03
Thermaltake Level 10 GT
Corsair H60 (Exhaust Configuration)
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
Now this is what I’m talking about! The Level 10 GT comes out on top if almost every respect by at least two degrees or ties the highest performing competitor. Seeing how this case has an adjustable vent, all tests were run with it wide open to ensure the fan is pulling in the most air possible.
I can’t say as I’m really surprised by the results though. The inside of the case is cavernous and features a ton of airflow thanks to the three 200m fans and one 140mm fan. It’s a good thing such a high-end case performs so well; it may just help offset the cost in the minds of some potential buyers.
All of these large fans, even when running at full clip, remained very quiet with the loudest one, the 140mm exhaust fan, making only 16 A-weighted decibels according the official specifications. Let this be a lesson to all of the manufacturers out there – bring on the big’uns and keep ’em quiet!
So what do you think, buyers? Have I twisted your arm enough to send you running to the store?
No doubt the price of the Level 10 GT will be one of the primary factors of whether or not someone runs right out to snatch one up. Normally I like to save that this kind of talk until the end of the review but this case is so expensive I thought I would get it out of the way. Coming in at over $250, this is a niche product for someone who wants to show off or has everything else that they could ever want. But luckily it’s not all show and buyers will get their money’s worth.
The case itself is huge, both on the outside and the inside. There was more than enough room to work in and the build quality was solid as are the locking mechanisms for all drives. I did notice some flex in the right side panel but it’s so large that there is really no way to guard against that unless some cross braces were used to strengthen it – but then you lose the ability to route cables.
As mentioned before, everything installed flawlessly, there is tons of room for expandability internally and externally in terms of connectivity, and the performance is enough to put this case at the top of the pack thanks mostly to the three large but quiet ColorShift fans.
Oh, right! What’s ColorShift? I think it’s best if I show you:
While the fancy light show does nothing for me, I’m sure there are some out there that will absolutely love this feature. When the system is powered off, the LEDs reset, so they will always be solid blue when the system is powered back on. This isn’t so much a strike against the case as an annoyance, but surely the ability to retain the user’s settings could have been squeezed into this case.
Thermaltake has gotten the formula right on this one and it would be wrong not to give the Level 10 GT an Editor’s Choice award. This is great news to me considering I personally have not been a big fan of Thermaltake cases, but this is by far the most expensive one I have tinkered with so I would be worried if my past problems were to show up again.
All in all it’s a solid case with some great features and styling, provided one’s wallet is fat enough – although it’s nothing for a high-rolling reviewer like me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some girls waiting with some Cristal in my stretch Escalade. Well, actually I’m going to put my 2-year old to bed and watch some Mythbusters on the couch with my wife and eat some popcorn.
Yessir, I’m living the hardware reviewer high-life!
Contest: We’re giving away a Thermaltake Level 10 GT chassis! Entering is easy, check out our contest post!
Thermaltake Level 10 GT Chassis
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