Every once in a while, chassis manufacturers will put out something big, bold and quirky in an effort to divert attention to the brand and every subsequent product that will follow.
These halo products come in all shapes and sizes, but few have tantalised the taste buds quite like Thermaltake's Level 10. When it arrived in March 2009, the gorgeous modular enclosure - designed in collaboration with BMW DesignworksUSA - turned heads like no other chassis could. It had us talking and went some way to transforming Thermaltake's image from a manufacturer of budget gaming enclosures, to a company that sticks its neck out with innovative designs.
But there was a snag in the Level 10 tale; the hype was huge and the chassis failed to live up to its £500 asking price. Sure, it looked incredible, but in practise it proved to be overly large and offered average cooling performance.
So where does Thermaltake go from here? We had been hoping to see an extravagant Level 11 that would right some of those aforementioned wrongs, but the manufacturer has opted to take the alternative route. Seemingly satisfied with the buzz created by the original, Thermaltake has taken the Level 10 name and applied it to a wide range of mainstream products - including chassis and gaming peripherals - that lack the wow-factor of the original.
Take, for example, the new Level 10 GTS Snow Edition chassis. It sounds like the old Level 10 on steroids, but in reality this £90 offspring is a cheaper alternative that has little in common with original - save for the fact that it houses PC components, has a couple of side-loading hard-disk bays and keeps the words 'Level 10' in the name.
But that's not necessarily a bad thing. If lavish and somewhat wasteful concepts aren't your cup of tea, you'll appreciate the fact that the Level 10 GTS Snow Edition is a lot like other chassis on the market today. It's a mid-tower steel frame adorned with plastic moulding, it measures a relatively-compact 462mm x 233mm x 510mm in size, it offers a number of high-end features at a reasonable price, and in keeping with the current trend it comes in a choice of black or white.
The white 'Snow Edition' colour scheme is eye-catching, but Thermaltake's matte finish doesn't look or feel as luxurious as Corsair's pricier Graphite 600T. Aesthetically, the Level 10 GTS is very much an acquired taste - there's not a lot of symmetry and Thermaltake has been maladroit in adding features. The right side of the chassis has a large bump to create extra room for interior cable management, while the left side is a particularly eclectic mix; it's adorned with four protruding hot-swappable storage bays, a vented mount for an optional 200mm, 180mm or 140mm fan, and a flip-out headset holder.
Each element is well-positioned and functional, but the collection disrupts the visual flow of the chassis and the plastic elements don't feel particularly sturdy. The headset hanger, for example, uses a plastic hinge that doesn't fill you with confidence. The side fan mount, however, offers good room for cooling expansion and comes equipped with an internal mesh filter, and there's further scope for airflow enhancements up top where Thermaltake has provided the option to add two 120mm fans or a single 200mm fan.
The front I/O panel, neatly aligned alongside the four 5.25in optical bays, offers two USB 3.0 ports (with an internal on-board connector), two USB 2.0 ports and the customary headset and microphone jacks. The power and reset buttons are tidily recessed next to a convenient front-facing 3.5in bay, but what makes the Level 10 GTS stand out are the four hot-swappable bays that pull out to the side.
All four bays are lockable using the bundled key, and when open, pressing the numbered buttons at the front of the chassis allows each bay to be pulled out with ease. The system works well, with all four bays supporting your choice of 2.5in or 3.5in disk, and a single SATA power extender cable is pre-installed to make cabling a whole lot neater.
It's a strange-looking beast, and arguably doesn't come across as £90 worth of chassis, but the feature list is well-rounded. Mesh filters line the side and top fan mounts, a pull-out filter covers almost the full length of the chassis' underside, and there's a filter tucked behind the front panel, too. Though, you may want to check to ensure the latter is seated correctly - ours came away during transport and had to be clipped back into place to prevent it from fouling the front intake.
The Level 10 GTS appears to have most bases covered for a high-end build, but the stumbling block here probably isn't going to be the price or the feature set - you're either going to like the chassis' visual appeal, or you're not. If you find yourself warming to the exterior design, read on to find out what it's like to work with.