bit-tech.net

First Look: ThermalTake Level 10

First Look: Thermaltake Level 10

Manufacturer: Thermaltake

Since its introduction last year Thermaltake's Level 10 has been the talk of the PC building town. In part that's because of its enormous £500 price tag and elusive nature - but it's mostly because of the innovative and unique design. Most computer design is evolutionary, iterative; the Level 10 is the rare product that actually seems radical.

Co-designed with car maker, BMW, the case is an all-aluminium build with completely segmented areas for optical drives, hard drives, PSU and motherboard. The chunky metal enclosures all appear to just "hang" off the side column by some clever counterbalancing and everyone has been extremely curious how it all fits together and the cables reach their anticipated destinations.

We've spoken before about how hard we've found it to source Thermaltake products, so we've had to wait to get our hands on the Level 10; the sample actually came from Mesh, who are building systems using the Level 10, and sent in a machine to PC Pro, our sister publication here at Dennis. As it stands out like a sore thumb against the usual array of black boxes in the lab, we couldn't help but nose about. The guys from PC Pro already had it tested (the review will be in their next issue), so they gave us a quick rundown of all the quirks, favourites, features and failures, all while we played about with the anodised aluminium bits for ourselves.

First Look: ThermalTake Level 10 First Look: ThermalTake Level 10
Click to enlarge

First impressions were always going to be "Wow!" - the Level 10 is a commanding presence, that's for sure. It's huge, measuring 318 x 614 x 666mm (W x D x H), but its distinctive looks mean it would work as a feature in any room in its own right. You'd have to have a particularly tidy desk, and dare we say it, a somewhat pretentious working area, to pull off a complementary setting, though. The anodised aluminium shell feels lovely, however if you try pressing a hand on the individual component cages, then it feels more flimsy.

This is because the PSU, optical drive and the motherboard cages are all hinged at one end. The aluminium is thin, so although the cages don't weigh much, because the hinges aren't particularly big and strong the whole cage does have a tendency to sag when opening. The larger cage revealing the motherboard is particularly guilty of this, so much so that it catches on the inside fan (used to provide air for the graphics card) and rear I/O metal sheet. For £500, it should open perfectly, and it doesn't.

First Look: ThermalTake Level 10 First Look: ThermalTake Level 10
Click to enlarge

The smaller PSU and optical drive cages thankfully don't suffer quite so much and they feel a bit more robust. There are issues though. The optical drive cage didn't open more than 45 degrees in our Level 10. It looks like it was getting stuck and we couldn't work out where, but like any end user with an expensive product: we don't want to break it through forcing the issue - yes, we kept Harry away from it. It doesn't look damaged in any way so we have no idea out how Mesh has managed to screw in the optical drive. .

At the other end of the scale though, the Level 10's hard drive cages are fantastic. Strongly built and relatively easy to remove they support both 2.5in and 3.5in hard drives. The only downside is the absence of vibration reduction, which again, should be standard.

Around the back, after unlocking and removing the rear panel we find there's a good inch gap where all the cables are stored. Despite how it looks, the cables should all reach to their intended destination - only if you have a modular PSU with particularly short cables will trying to reach the bottom hard drive slot be tricky.

First Look: ThermalTake Level 10 First Look: ThermalTake Level 10
Click to enlarge

There are other areas where we felt the execution doesn't quite live up to the thrilling promise of the design. The fans are the same bog standard models you can see on A.N. other £80 case and the elegant bar of red light that's meant to glow gently across the top and front is several evidently individual LEDs that show up on their own. Yet more failcake material. You don't make an Aston Martin and drop in a couple of Ford Fiesta seats.

This case should be immaculate in its design and execution, yet for every positive there's a negative. Most, if not all should have been spotted in pre-production, but clearly the company thought it all OK to start tooling and manufacturing. It's a shame given that the design is both radical and yet functional. We're still hoping to get ourselves a brand new, boxed Level 10 to fully test - including some thermal results - but this brief hands on has left us in two minds over a case that looks perfect on the surface but doesn't yet convince on closer inspection.

Related Reading

Thermaltake has a fantastic concept case: Level 10
Thermaltake Spedo
First Look: Lian Li XB01 - Xbox 360 Case
ThermalTake Armour+