PC Hardware Review: The Level 10 case design continues to get boiled down to more mortal levels, but is something being lost in the process?
There are few things that have made the shadowy denizens of the Atomic labs sit back and go “Wow...” like the original Level 10 case from Thermaltake. As the brainchild of an apparent drunken dare between the case maker and car maker BMW, it was epic on just about every conceivable scale. Sure, it may not have looked at ALL like a case, but it did things we didn’t even think possible for case design. Every part was thermally secluded, it was rugged as all heck, Monolith-like in its size, and, also, expensive. Like, more money than God, expensive.
But Thermaltake’s managed to leverage the design down into every more approachable models, and the GTS is the most approachable yet. However, something occurs to us – is there a point to having a Level 10 when it’s just a matter of having some ugly curves on the exterior?
More like a level 9...
If you’re not familiar with the original Level 10, it’s probably worth having a look at (you can see it on our site). It’s anything but conventional, but it deals elegantly with the challenge to thermally isolate each component, and create a striking case. It’s elegant in its brutalist approach to computing. The next iteration, the GT was more approachable, but still an amazing piece of design. The GTA, though... well, it’s cheapest Level 10 yet, at only $130 at retail (and you can likely find cheaper via StaticICE if you search). But it’s not really reason to celebrate.
The only thing that really makes it into this case is the aesthetic, and external access to the hot-swappable drive bays. Don’t get us wrong – it’s great to get something like this at this price point, and the case is entirely serviceable if what you want is hotswapping – it’s just... it feels like a dilution of the Level 10 brand. I think Thermaltake would have been better served by coming up with a new design – and name – entirely.
On with the show
The majority of the Level 10 GTS is about as stock standard as you can imagine at first glance. It’s a wide mid-tower design, with moulded mesh on the top fascia and mounts for a radiator or two fans. The right-hand panel has a large, embossed section to make room for excess cable in the interior, and the left-hand panel has another mesh panel for airflow, or another 200mm fan, or a pair of 120mm models. However, the front fascia and lower frontal portion of the side-panel reveal the Level 10 DNA; here you’ve got a striated set of plastic ribs over a mesh fan intake, leading to the side, where there’s four push-button-released HDD caddies. These four curved caddies mirror the same design on all previous Level 10 builds.
These caddies can be locked tight, restraining the push-button mechanism; your pr0n is safe.
The rear of the case is interesting, too, because of the unique decision to mount the screws (bless!) for securing expansion cards externally. This might sound insecure – and it is, a bit – but there’s a metal plate that inhibits easy access to the screws. Still, the screw that secures this second plate is also external, so it’s just a mere road bump between you and some arse at a LAN who thinks it’d be funny to unseat your video card.
Panel on, panel off
One of the things that set other Level 10 builds aside is the whole idea of creating different thermal zones for hardware. The GTS is simply too low end for that kind of fancy design. Instead, you get a pretty standard interior, albeit with lovely rubber grommets in the cable runs, lots of room behind the mobo plate, and even an internal USB3 connector. It’s a little cramped, though – only video cards less than 315mm need apply for residency.
With few exceptions everything’s above board. The drive caddies work as intended, there’s mesh to keep too much dust from infesting your case, and it’s all nice and black. But not only do you end up feeling that this isn’t quite a Level 10 of any kind, but it appears that Thermaltake’s QC could use some work. The optical bays are secured by a tool-less clip, but one of ours seemed to have been used as an impromptu skate some time in its past – the underside, and one of the securing posts – was worn down entirely, and rather dirty. Basically, it had been stepped on, and then installed anyway.
For the price, you’re getting a lot of great features, so we mustn’t be too harsh on Thermaltake; and it’s certainly a striking case. However, if – like many – you think the original Level 10 was ugly, this is going to be disappointing to look at all day. And if you loved the excellent thermal design of previous Level 10s again, with only two fans, you might feel a bit let down. But if you’re in that small part of the ever increasingly tiny Venn diagram that is this case’s sweetspot – bully for you.