Author: Hienrich Jager
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Tuesday, March 27th, 2012
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/s/thermaltake_level_10_snow_edition/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.
Thermaltake has become nearly a(n enthusiast's) household name in computing since their inception in 1999. Operating with around 500 employees worldwide, this medium sized company started making waves with their 'Golden Orb' processor cooler back when turbine heatsinks were as of yet unheard of. Since then they have expanded to several different enthusiast PC component markets including liquid cooling, case fans, power supplies, and last but not least, cases. Thermaltake cases have come a long ways from the days of the first Thermaltake Armor, though most would argue that they had it right the first time as that particular case is definitely in among the top ten favorites of case aficionados.
Thermaltake's Level 10 series shows demonstrates their desire to expand on their line-up. Born as a collaboration between Thermaltake's engineering team and BMW's DesignWorks group, this series of cases is characterized by the compartmentalized design structure. With the GTS series, most of the really neat design features have unfortunately been sacrificed, but the resulting cost savings should more than make up for this as most individuals cannot afford, much less justify, spending $700.00 on the original Level 10 cases.
The Level 10 GTS "Snow Edition" is under the Neoseeker spotlight today. This case has been designed around the standard rectangular tower form factor that defines 90% of all cases on the market, but hopefully some of the nice features of the full-fledged Level 10 will shine through.
||Steel Construction, w/ Plastic Front Bezel|
||USB 2.0 x 2, USB 3.0 x 2, Mic x 1, Headphones x 1|
(W x H x D)
233 x 462 x 510 mm
8.20 x 18.2 x 20.1 inches
||6.8 kg / 15.1 lbs|
5.25" Drive Bays
3.5" Drive Bays
1 x Exposed
4 x Hot-Swap
1 x Internal
CPU HS/FAN Clearance
||315 mm with HDD|
FRONT: 1 x 200mm (Blue LED)
SIDE: 1 x 200/180/140/120 mm
REAR: 1 x 120mm
TOP: 1 x 200/140mm or 2 x 120mm
Bottom: 1 x 120 mm
3 x Rubber Gromets for
Pass-through Holes in rear
Through out my time spent working with this case something about it reminded me of those stormtroopers from Star Wars. Must have been the coloration. It probably didn't help that the Level 10 GTS stands a little shorter than our base-line case But don't let our bad references dissuade you, as this case has plenty of room for most enthusiast grade hardware. Being a mid-tower design, there are of course some tight corners experienced with the base-line hardware that I use to test out all new cases, but nothing that caused serious problems.
The Level 10 came out of its box wrapped in a paper-based cloth instead of the typical plastic bag. This deviation from standard practice is nice is as shows Thermaltake has put a little more care into the presentation and hopefully the quality of this product. This bag is also a lot more biodegradable than a plastic protector covering ever will be.
This case definitely lives up to its "Snow" moniker, as this case has a really nice flat white paint job that looks great. This will be the first case that I have reviewed with a white exterior, but not the first that I have seen. At CES 2012 I saw several cases that had just been released earlier in the year, or will be released, that were also showcased in white. However, some of those sported a glossy paint job that I personally did not care much for. Flat (matte) paint jobs like the Level 10's look much better in my opinion, and I bet that they will not show wear or dirt as easily.
Looking at the front-panel of the Level 10, the four release buttons for the hot-swap hard drive bays are quite prominent as they are a major design feature on this case. The black grill-work works well with the "star-destroyer" white of the rest of the case, as this stark contrast serves to highlight other various features like the four USB ports and the locking mechanism for the hard drives. Behind this front grill is a large 200mm LED fan, but we will get to that later.
The rearmost side is fairly unique as far as most cases go. Instead of the usual recessed motherboard backplate and recessed PCI expansion slots, both are mounted flush with the rear frame. This means that the engineers at Thermaltake had to push out the retention thumbscrews for the PCI cards and instead develop a custom retaining bracket for the entire assembly. I personally do not care for this "feature" one bit as it removes one of the main handles usually used for lugging around a computer case. This, combined with no other good handles on the front panel, means that the Level 10 GTS is a royal PitA to carry around. Consider yourself warned. There are also some clearance issues created by this, but I will cover that on the next page.
The left panel comes with pre-drilled, rubber grommet mounting holes for use with a 200mm, a 140mm, or a 120mm intake fan. This intake port also comes with a built-in plastic dust filter that sits between the fan and the case wall to help keep most dust outside. Thanks to this design, cleaning this filter should be fairly painless as well. The filter is kept in place by any case fan that you would install, or with four plastic clips when there is no fan. This allows for airflow through the side panel no matter what. The right side panel has the characteristic raised section that all modern cases have, with an eye towards cable management. This extra area is enough to facilitate some amount of cable routing, however when using power supplies with thick cabling or many individual cables, this extra room gets used up quick and cable management can start to be a chore.
The top panel of this case supports a wide array of options for cooling. There are screw holes for both 120 and 140 mm exhaust fans directly above the CPU region, but there are also a set of holes for a massive 200mm fan much like the one that serves as an intake. There are also mounting holes for another exhaust fan directly above the RAM slots, however this mount will only accommodate a 120mm fan. The case did not come shipped with any fans pre-mounted in the top-slots, so make sure to pick some up should you choose to get yourself a Level 10 GTS.
The main feature of Thermaltake's Level 10 is that all the hard drive slots have been designed to be hot-swappable. While you are only limited to four of these bays (with an internal one used either for an OS drive or a FDD), that's enough for a barebones RAID 6 configuration and even then people would be fine with a RAID 5 set up. These hot-swap bays are kept in the case via locking mechanism located behind the button that is visible in the picture below. There is also a barrel-style locking mechanism that prevents any of the hard drives from being removed. This system will be discussed in greater detail later.
A neat little feature of this case is the plastic bracket located on the side of the case that serves as a hook to hang your headset when not in use. This is a simple but interesting feature, and I must admit that this is the first time that I have seen it on a computer case. I think it is a good idea and it could come in handy when at a LAN party or in some other situation where desktop real estate is at a premium. This hook seems quite sturdy and it will be interesting to see what other uses people will have for it.
Removing the side panel is as easy as with any other case, even with the odd-shaped cut out that fits around the hard drive bays. The thumb screws that have become ubiquitous in the industry have actually been machined such that they remain with the door when you unscrew them. This is nice because it makes it nearly impossible to actually lose them when working with the Level 10. There is a downside however, as the screws are a little bit more difficult to screw in and easier to accidentally strip the paint; you are unable to actually see the screw hole with it being protected by the metal of the case.
Time to remove the plasteel armor and see if this is just a clone trooper (ugh!).
Right I need to stop the stormtrooper jokes.
Under its white exterior, the skeletal structure of the case comes forth. Unlike the innovative and revolutionary design concept that the Level 10 sports, the GTS is definitely based on the standard doctrine of rectangular steel boxes that 90% of all computer cases follow. At least all the panels were quite easy to remove, affording system builders a great degrees of access for installing or removing parts.
The front panel was quite easy to remove from the case and with it out of the way, the massive 200 mm intake fan is exposed. This 500-900 RPM Blue LED fan comes pre-installed in the GTS. I'm usually not fond of most LED fans because more often than not the color looks washed out and pathetic, but the fan that Thermaltake has included with the GTS is quite rich in deep cobalt color. When you receive your Level 10 GTS, I highly recommend popping off the front cover and checking to see the included dust filter is still attached properly. The securing mechanism is fairly robust, but I guess the rigors of shipping were too much for it in my case.
There are not too many differences visible with all panels removed. The release buttons for the hard drives remain, but the locking mechanism gets removed with the front panel.
This case seems to have been designed around the hot-swap hard drive system, as it takes up nearly the entire front section of the case. There are some really nice features that have gone into it and I would go so far as say that this is the defining piece of the entire case.
The four slots are visible without their hard drive inserts in the left-facing image, and to the right the very nice wiring system can be seen. I really like how these drive bays have their own dedicated power cables because there won't be serious issues with all the extra cables getting bunched up back there, putting pressure on the hard drive connectors. This specialized power line makes cable management so much easier and cleaner, and is particularly welcome given the small amount of room that is available in this case. Another thing worth bringing up is the assumption that all of your hard drives will have their connectors in the exact same place. I will be the first to admit that 99% of all modern drives will not suffer from this, but if you are looking to migrate one of your Velociraptors with their custom heatsink attachment, be forewarned. They will not work with the hot-swap rail system.
At the bottom of the case is a removable dust filter that covers both the power supply intake port (if you choose to mount it like that) and the 120 mm intake port right in front of it. I really like that so many dust filters have been designed into this case, because that is normally what I pick cases apart over.
The locking mechanism for the 5.25" drives are fairly standard. I do like how they used round knobs for the locking mechanism, as it fits quite well with the overall stylistic considerations for this case. The hot-swap trays themselves are surprisingly rigid and have more plastic reinforcement than I was honestly expecting, lending a quality feel to the mechanism.
This design is not quite a perfect Sabacc hand though, as I do not particularly care for the tolerances that were used for the rubber grommets and the retention screws. There is just enough of a tolerance mismatch that the screws do not quite fit in these grommets. It is still possible to screw in the hard drives, but it requires some non-trivial pressure on the screw as you fish around for the hole. I say fish around, because there is no real way to see if the hard drive hole aligns the screw so you mainly have to line it up as best you can and then fish around for it by feel. It gets easier once you have a screw in place on either side, but still is not quite how I would have done things.
This case comes with pretty much the bare bones in the way of accessories. There are bags for hard drive screws, fan mounting screws that accommodate the rubber grommets that can be found in the top and side mounts, screws for the motherboard mounts, a handy 4-pin MOLEX-to-fan header converter and some pretty short cable ties. One thing that I should mention at this point is the poor cable tie-down mounting points on the back side of the motherboard tray. Be advised that you should probably thread the mounting holes with your tie downs before installing the motherboard itself, because it will become impossible once the board is set up.
Though this case is fairly large and squat for a mid tower, there are a few clearance issues. Firstly, with the back panel flush with the structure, the exhaust fan that is behind the CPU is practically right behind it. It is hard to tell in the picture above, but there is only ~1/2 an inch of space between the two parts. Admittedly the Noctua NH-U12P SE2 is by no means a small heatsink, especially with dual mounted fans, but it is not the largest of its kind and if CES 2012 was any indication, Noctua has no plans to start shrinking the enthusiast lineup in terms of product measurements. The case specifications list a maximum heatsink height, but no dimensions for width. I guess manufacturers will need to start considering this metric and including it. I know that I would have been right annoyed if I had bought this case only to discover that my heat sink would not fit.
All the parts have finally been installed, so its time for some testing!
The Level 10 GTS will be tested by running OCCT 3.0.1's CPU, GPU, and Power Supply tests. High and Low temperatures will be recorded with HWMonitorx64 after a continuous burn-in of 30 minutes. Between each test I will allow the system to equilibrate for an additional 30 minutes.
Temperature data will be recorded at the processor, the video card, the hard drives, and the chipset. Ambient air temperature was recorded with your standard glass-alcohol thermometer. Throughout the testing the ambient room temperatures never varied from between 24°C and 26°C (74°F).
For all of this testing: the CPU cooling fans were set to 100%, the videocard fan was left on auto, and the case-fans were left at their only speed.
There are several things worth mentioning with respect to the numbers above. With the advent of a really early spring here in Florida, temperatures have been quite warm and I was required to turn on my AC for the first time in months. The final ambient temperature was as listed above, but the room's airflow is different than that measured in previous reviews. Another thing to note is that I have since upgraded to a 1200W power supply and an XFX 7970 Black Edition video card. Both are configured to vent out of the case, but there might be some extra radiant thermal heat present.
Though not the best on the charts, the Level 10 GTS' performance was acceptable. The CPU and the GPU were cooled in line with other similar cases, but both the chipset and the hard drives saw increased temperatures. Nothing to worry about in my opinion as neither of these components are huge thermal sources
The Level 10 GTS features one of the better designed hot-swap hard drive rail systems I have seen to date. Not only are they rugged in construction and have that solid feel to them, they are key-lockable and the removal mechanism is easy and intuitive to operate. There is a lot to be said for things that just work and I think that this is a major selling point of this case. However as I mentioned earlier, be forewarned that if you are looking to put a Velociraptor or any other hard drive with non-standardized connection ports, you may run into issues. Normal 3.5" and SSD's should be fine to use.
I really like the paint job on the Level 10 as well. The flat finish on the exterior is just about the only way to go when designing a white-colored case in my opinion, and it really contrasts nicely with the deep black of the internal workings and the trim. Another upside is that any dust that shows up is hardly visible thanks to the white color. Speaking of dust, this case has an absolutely excellent method of filtering out dust in the airflow. Those who read my articles often will know just how big of a deal that is with me. I am quite pleased to see the level of effort that went into this with the Level 10 GTS.
The Level 10 GTS "Snow Edition" is an attempt by Thermaltake to provide a budget case solution for its enthusiasts that still retains the Level 10 name. I must admit that this case is quite well constructed and has some nice features. Yet this case is not truly a budget offering, as the MSRP of $114.99 still feels rather expensive for what you get. I guess the old adage of paying for the name is at work here, though we can imagine the BMW design team playing its part in this regard.
Please do not redistribute or use this article in whole, or in part, for commercial purposes.