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Thermaltake's Level 10 enclosure


The Ferrari Enzo of computer cases
— 9:56 PM on July 8, 2010

Manufacturer Thermaltake
Model Level 10
Price (Street) $699.82
Availability Now

Computer cases have undergone quite a metamorphosis over the past decade or so. The dull, buttoned-down beige boxes of the 1990s are all but a distant memory, having slowly given way to smooth, futuristic lines, two-tone color schemes, and piano-black finishes. These days, even a $499 Dell looks almost good enough to prop up on a desk—without making everyone in the room want to start filing TPS reports.

As pre-built PCs have grown more aesthetically pleasing, a whole industry has developed to cater to folks who'd rather build their own PCs. Firms like Thermaltake have become famous for making enclosures that both look cool and have the right internals for the DIY crowd. This enthusiast friendliness can mean drive rails, thumb screws, and not too many sharp edges. It can also mean clear windows, LEDs out the wazoo, and liquid-cooling support, if you happen to be one of the more hard-core hobbyists out there.

Where does Thermaltake's Level 10 fit into all this? With a $700 price tag at Amazon, a weight of almost 50 lbs, and an aluminum frame co-designed by BMW Group DesignworksUSA, the Level 10 sounds like the big daddy of enthusiast enclosures—the climax of a decade of evolution toward better aesthetic design and greater DIY-friendliness. It certainly looks the part, too.

Photos and brochures make the Level 10 look like something one might excavate out of a lunar crater in a sci-fi story. However, images alone don't do justice to the sheer size of this monolith. The Level 10 Gaming Station, as Thermaltake calls it, measures an imposing 2.2 feet tall, a little over a foot in width, and two feet in depth (67 x 32 x 61 cm). If this enclosure's unique design didn't prohibit its placement under a desk, its size does. The thing is simply too tall.

When we first heard about the Level 10 in early 2009, we said it looked like a school lunch tray. That turned out to be an uncannily unflattering description for a product that went on to win awards from the Industrial Designers Society of America and Japan's Industrial Design Promotion Organization. There's some truth to the comparison, though. Much like a lunch tray that keeps the cole slaw cold and the curly fries hot, the Level 10 isolates ingredients—the motherboard, power supply, and storage devices—in individual compartments, making heat dissipation more surgical and targeted. Sort of like bombing runs over a Taliban stronghold... where everyone is having curly fries for lunch. Or something.

Thermaltake says this compartmentalized design also makes sense for tinkerers, because components are all exposed and relatively easy to access. Compartment covers for the motherboard, PSU, and optical drive compartments swivel out on hinges, while the hard-drive containers can be swapped in and out when the system is running.

Provided you can still afford PC components after purchasing the Level 10, you'll find space inside for six 3.5" hard drives, three 5.25" drives, one power supply, one ATX motherboard with up to eight expansion slots, one CPU cooler up to 6.3" in height, and pretty much any graphics card on the market right now. Front-panel connectors include external Serial ATA, four USB 2.0, and audio in and out. Thermaltake also provides cooling in the form of one 140-mm fan at the front of the mobo compartment, one 120-mm fan at the back, and two 60-mm fans assigned to the removable 3.5" bays. The official spec sheet says each of the four fans produces less than 20 dB of noise, which should be pretty close to inaudible. We'll put those ratings to the test soon enough.

First, though, let's have a closer look at the behemoth and try to build a working system with it.