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Thermaltake Urban T81 Full-Tower Chassis Review

Thermaltake Urban T81 Full-Tower Chassis Review

Years of new design and features into a chassis has culminated in the Urban T81, the best "standard" chassis we have ever seen from Thermaltake.

@chad_sebring
Published Tue, Jul 8 2014 9:02 AM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:32 PM CDT
Rating: 97%Manufacturer: Thermaltake

Introduction, Specifications and Pricing

Thermaltake has always been a bit adventurous when it comes to thinking outside of the box when designing products. They were the first to bring AIOs mainstream, long before the Asetek and CoolIT lifetime we all recognize today. Thermaltake was, and still is, very adventurous in their CPU air cooler designs, and when it comes to their cases, it is really tough to compete with Thermaltake. Over the years, Thermaltake has been known for over the top case designs like the Sword M, on through the Level 10, and Level 10GT. In the last year or two, Thermaltake has become a major player in the standard case market with all of the new features and modularity that their cases are now offering.

The Urban series as a whole has done very well for Thermaltake, and ushered in a bit of sleek elegance that Thermaltake was not really well known for over their many years of case designs, and based on all of the samples we see, we think this is currently a huge trend in cases. Most cases that are super sleek and elegant don't typically offer the best compatibility, and many offer very little in the form of modularity in comparison to what Thermaltake is now bringing forth in this full-tower design.

While we are knowingly building some excitement and anticipation for what you are about to see, we feel that the Thermaltake Urban T81 is worth every bit of this attention. It is really rare that we get this excited so soon into a review. If our excitement alone does not tell you that Thermaltake is onto something really good in this latest sample, then by the time we are done covering what they have brought to the table, you will have to agree that while Thermaltake may have been ahead of their time in many aspects, time, effort, customer needs, and a great product have all lined up at once this time. The Urban T81 is very worthy of your time to have a look at.

With the Urban T81 we are given a SECC steel frame that is painted inside and out with an application of textured black paint. Of course, they use ABS plastic to cast sections like the feet, the front bezel and its door, and the top of the case, but here we get a mixture of textured surfaces to contrast shiny piano black sections in this design. This is a large full-tower chassis that measures almost twenty-four inches tall, is nearly as deep at twenty-three inches, and is slightly wider than nine inches. One major thing to consider in a chassis such as this is the weight, and this Urban T81 weighs in at over thirty pounds dry.

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VIEW GALLERY - 38 IMAGES

Lastly, we want to cover the window in the left side panel, but that also offers the chance to get into the two-door left side. In this design, where the side would typically have one solid panel, that is not the case here. This T81 offers a large panel to the left, on hinges that house the window, and this section can lift off the hinges to be completely removed. Additionally, over the bay section near the front of the chassis, there is yet another panel that opens toward the front of the chassis.

In this chassis, Thermaltake packs in two 200mm fans in the front of the case to blow air in, while a 140mm is used in the back, and a 200mm is used as exhaust at the top, leaving this chassis with a slightly positive pressure design out of the box.

Just behind the front fans there are two 5.25" bays with eight 3.5" drive trays in three racks below it. While there are also brackets for adapting a 5.25" drive to a 3.5" drive, the real kicker here is that all of the drive bays can be completely removed, including the 5.25" bays. This leaves a ton of room for water cooling options, and at the bottom of the chart it describes all of the fan and radiator placement options in this design.

A few bits will tie up loose ends on what the chart has provided. This design offers eight expansion slots, and the screws have been moved outside to increase room inside. This is done because it can house Micro-ATX and ATX motherboards, but it is also fully ready for an E-ATX motherboard as well. There is plenty of connectivity in the front I/O panel, and just about any PSU will work, as long as there are no plans for an extra fan there. Of course, the case is LCS ready, but the diameter of tubing is shown in reference to the holes in the back of the chassis for external cooling solutions. The last bits to be aware of are the 180mm CPU height restriction, which really isn't any sort of a restriction, and you can fit up to 400mm of video card in this chassis if the bays are removed in the front.

As we typically do, we checked for availability by hitting all of the local haunts and retailers to find the products in the wild, and we found the Thermaltake Urban T81 just about everywhere we looked. As far as pricing is concerned, you will have to dig a bit deeper than average to obtain this chassis at a good price. If we were to buy directly from Thermaltake, it is listed for $189.99. Of course, most retailers on the interwebs price the chassis much closer to the $175 U.S. dollar mark, which at a glance, is slightly more expensive that the typical $100 to $150 full-towers we are used to. However, we really do think that the price is very on point for what this Urban T81 offers, as you will come to find out as we discuss the features of the Urban T81 more fully.

PRICING: You can find the THERMALTAKE URBAN T81 for sale below. The prices listed are valid at the time of writing, but can change at any time. Click the link to see the very latest pricing for the best deal.

United States: The THERMALTAKE URBAN T81 retails for $172.24 at Amazon.

Canada: The THERMALTAKE URBAN T81 retails for CDN$218.88 at Amazon Canada.

Packaging

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A plain cardboard box is nice to see, as it shows your money is invested into the chassis, and not some fancy box you are going to throw away. On this front panel we simply get black printing applied to show off the product naming, and a rendering of the chassis.

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The right side offers us the same, very descriptive, specifications chart to show someone in a retail setting the true capabilities of this design.

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After another spin of the packaging, we find the front and back panels to be identical, even down to the web address at the bottom.

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The last panel offers a features list of sorts in twelve languages. This is where they cover the front I/O connectivity, the trio of 200mm fans they have installed, the modular drive bay design, and the fact this chassis is completely water cooling capable.

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The chassis is actually facing the wrong way in this image, but under the thick Styrofoam end caps used to protect the chassis from drops and bangs as it is shipped, we also see it comes in a cloth bag. In fact, this is the same cover used on the Level 10GT, as the naming printed on it clearly shows. Not only does it protect the chassis from scratches during transit to your door, but it also makes a nice cover when going to a LAN, or a buddy's house.

Thermaltake Urban T81 Full-Tower Chassis

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The front of the Urban T81 may look slightly offset to the left, but that is due to the angular edge used at the right. The door that covers the front of the case wraps around the left edge, and offers a brushed aluminium texture from the top, down to the Thermaltake logo at the bottom.

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Opening the door, we reveal the two 5.25" drive bay covers that can be removed without having to pull the bezel. Below that we see a slotted section of ventilation, and at the bottom is a pop-out dust filter for easy cleaning.

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The top of the chassis has an insert to match the brushed aluminum aesthetic we saw on the front to contain the front I/O. The rest of the top is covered with a tall plastic frame, and the mesh we see here now can also be easily popped out for access, and cleaning.

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The front I/O offers a ten port fan controller, reset button, HDD LED, and Power button with built-in LED at the left. As we move to the right, we see 3.5mm audio jacks, four USB 2.0 ports, and a pair of USB 3.0 ports. Above them is an arrow, and pushing this will release the clip holding the mesh panel in.

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The left side of the chassis offers a three-quarter door at the left with a clear window, and a great view inside. The other quarter panel at the front covers all of the drive bays, and we see a lock keeping them shut. We can also see that the side of the bezel is where the air flows through to cool the interior.

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Opening the doors is a two-step process. First, you need the keys from the back of the chassis to unlock the panels as the painted on instructions show.

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After unlocking them, you will need to locate the switch under the chassis that the "push" painted at the bottom of the panel implies. This raises a spring loaded lever that raises pins out of key ways to let them swing out freely.

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The back of the chassis has tons going on as well. The top can be fully removed for fan swaps, just above where the keys are hanging, and the water cooling grommets are. There is the exhaust fan next to the I/O as we expect, then eight expansions slots accessed from here, and a bottom mounted PSU. There is also a couple of cord tending clips for extra security.

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The right side of the chassis is a large expanse of steel with a bump in it that is 3mm deep. While this will allow for some extra wiring, it isn't as deep as most others' who offer this feature.

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Under the chassis there are large ABS feet with long rubber strips applied to keep it solidly footed on any surface. Inside of the feet there is one long dust filter that covers the PSU, and the optional fan location. We also see the door release button again, just behind the top front foot.

Inside the Urban T81

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We took the larger panel and lifted it off the pin-style hinges at the back to make life easier. The front door could be removed, but requires unscrewing hinges and whatnot. We also see the wiring is bundled well, and there is just a hint of that hardware box in the lowest drive tray.

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This pair of 5.25" bays is setup with tool-free mechanisms in place, but they also allow for screws to be used on both sides. The cool part about these bays is that by removing six thumbscrews on each bay, they can be completely removed the case.

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Moving down a bit, we find eight drive trays in three racks. Two of the racks will allow three drives each, while the last one holds just two. Each tray is drilled for 3.5" and 2.5" mounting, and there is also a little tray mounted at the left that allows for two more drives, and we will show that a bit later.

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This is one way to improve airflow. Everything about the front bays is removable, right down to the plate that the HDD racks are locked into. Also, since the cages can be screw mounted, they can be arranged any way you desire. If access is an issue for water cooling, the bar closest that has the door latches in it can also be temporarily removed.

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Pulling the top off the chassis gives you a much better sense of what sort of room is offered in here. Not only will a multitude of fans go in here, but you can even hide 30mm thick radiators in here too.

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With seven places to run the wiring to the motherboard, and a huge access hole, this motherboard tray is ready to make life simple during the build process. There are no tie-points in the traditional sense, but there are round holes in strategic places, along with the clip system that does very well for maintaining wires.

Inside the Urban T81 Continued

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The floor of the chassis is very open for air flow with the large squares cut out of the steel. At the back, the PSU is raised and has a removable support on this side to make installation a breeze, and keep the fan grill off the floor of the case. To the right there is room for a 120mm or 140mm fan, but the length of the PSU will determine if this location is usable.

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Viewing the back of the chassis from the inside this time, we do see the 140mm, 3-pin powered, all black fan. As for the slots, the covers are removable and replaceable, but to give about an inch more interior space, all of the thumbscrews are external.

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At the back of the chassis we find 20mm of room for wiring in the majority of the area directly behind the motherboard. Thermaltake does a bit of pre-wiring to show how the clips will work, and to the very left, behind all of the bays, there is much more room for wiring and whatnot.

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Just under the motherboard access hole on the tray, Thermaltake offers this PCB that is used to power up to ten fans, and allow control via the two speed switch on the front I/O panel.

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All of the wiring from the front I/O is either black by design, or has been sleeved to help it to disappear into the background. There is the native USB 3.0, a pair of USB 2.0, and the HD Audio connections off to the left. At the right we see a ribbon style cable to cover the connections for the buttons, and LEDs.

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Removing the front of the chassis shows us the pair of 200mm fans supplied in this design. We also see that the wiring is in no way connected, which makes life more enjoyable with this chassis, but it is tough to open since the bezel rests on the table at the bottom.

Accessories and Documentation

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We were given five adjustable ties straps to help with the wire management, hence the round holes. We also get a handful of metric screws for SSD and ODD installation, HDD screws in plenty, and another handful of 6-32 screws for the motherboard. At the bottom are two sets of fan screws in varying lengths for the top and front of the chassis. We also get a socket and a few standoffs, PSU screws, and a set of regular fan mounting screws.

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What we have here is also included in the box. There is an 8-pin EPS extension cable provided since this chassis is so tall. This is also able to be broken down to a single 4-in for lower power draw motherboards. We also get a motherboard speaker to hear beep codes, and a pair of brackets to convert a 5.25" bay for use with a 3.5" device.

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This bracket is the one from just behind the HDD racks. This uses tabs on the left side of the chassis to hook into the spring loaded rail for the doors. At the right of the chassis, it is held in with simply a thumbscrew. What makes this really cool is that even with the SSD we chose to mount here, you can still put a 3.5" drive over the top and store two drives on this rack at once, limiting the need for all those cages.

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Under the Styrofoam there is a bag containing the paperwork we have here. This is the manual that takes you from the checklist, on through to each and every step of the installation process. While we found the images to be very self explanatory, the text provided will answer any questions that may arise. Next to it is the warranty guide detailing what is covered in the warranty term of one year.

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We realize that many users need the visual of what is going on to fully understand what the charts were trying to point out. This page says it all when it comes to cooling and fan options inside of this chassis.

Build and Finished Product

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With the ATX motherboard installed, you can feel just how large this chassis really is. While we did rotate the rear fan to clean up some wiring, that was really all we had to do; everything else went in smoothly, and the wiring is simple to figure out and run cleanly.

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As for drives, since we already had all of the bays out of the chassis, we used that tray to mount our boot drive. Another bonus to this tray is that it can install where we currently have it, but it will also install just above this location too, allowing you to choose to reduce airflow where it is less needed, since this plate does disturb flow pretty well.

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Not too much to discuss around back. The dust shield snapped right in, the card is easily secured out back, and the cover plate screws can be installed from inside for better security. As for the PSU, it is solid and secure, and we noticed no vibrations from it.

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With just the basic setup in here, our wiring needs were somewhat limited, but it is easy to see we still have plenty of room to run SATA and Molex leads for drives, or fan power. Also, depending on the cooling setup, there are still six ports free on the fan power hub.

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Aside from the view of every component installed into the motherboard compartment of the chassis in their entirety, once we close things up to get ready for testing, we really dig the fact that not much changes from the start; we only see what we truly want: sleek styling, and a great view of the gear.

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Without being able to see the blur of the fans currently spinning in the window, it is tough to tell if this chassis is even on. With the LED lighting being at the top, and the complete lack of noise heard from a foot away, this chassis is a pleasure.

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As for that lighting, at the top of the chassis you have the LED signifying the fan controller is in the high setting, and if it were in low, the lower LED will illuminate. We did miss the flicker of the HDD activity, but it matches all the rest like the power LED at the front does.

Final Thoughts

There are only two tiny factors that we could even find "odd" about the Urban T81 chassis. The first is doing away with tie points for the most part, and only offering some small holes here and there for straps, and the tab system. While we could tend wiring easily enough, we in no way attempted to maximize its potential. With all of those components needed to power a loop or two, we would like a way to keep all of that clean as well. The second thing is less of an oddity, but is something to keep in mind. While the back panel covered our wiring without issue, the panel is so large that it flexes quite a bit, and ours required us to lay the chassis down, and use our hands and forearms to level the panel to get it installed. Outside of that, we honestly have not one complaint about what the Urban T81 offers in its basic feature set, or the way the modular systems work, nor did we see any issues getting anything within reason installed into this chassis.

We only scratched the surface of what this chassis is capable of doing, and with our images and system, it looks like a much smaller system is installed. However, once you take into consideration that you can hang very thick radiators at the top, with fans above the chassis, and still not run into the motherboard, you will realize the true magnitude of the Urban T81. There is also plenty of room for 30mm radiators, and push/pull fan setups. As for the potential up front, that all depends on your specific needs. You could leave the ODD bays in, and a rack for the HDDs, or you can completely gut the front of the chassis as we did, and allow for maximum room and air flow.

Speaking of which, while the chassis is empty up front, we have no complaints about the air flow; in fact, things were nice and chilly in our testing. However, when we began adding the bays back in, we saw the temperatures increase as we added more of them. The low speed fans supplied are fair, but once impeded upon, they lose effectiveness pretty fast.

Thermaltake has shown us that they really have their ear on the market with a chassis such as this. The Thermaltake Urban T81 is a flagship design, and it definitely shows that Thermaltake is out there to offer a chassis that will thrive, since it does almost anything you ask of it so well. While we have seen others that can do similar things with water cooling, we have not yet seen it in a chassis quite like this. While it is large and in charge, the Urban T81 provides a great opportunity for beginners to invest into something elegant and quiet. It will also allow users to take PC cooling to levels as far as their experience and nerve will allow over time, drastically expanding the initial investment.

For enthusiasts, you know what you need in a chassis design to install an existing loop. But, for those who have a plan for a loop or two, and need plenty of options and modularity in a structurally sound design to make it happen, then the Urban T81 might just be the perfect fit for you. The fact that it looks so good, doesn't disturb you with ear splitting noise levels, and that it can and will house a ton of gear, all spices up the deal when it comes to that near $175 price point.

PRICING: You can find the THERMALTAKE URBAN T81 for sale below. The prices listed are valid at the time of writing, but can change at any time. Click the link to see the very latest pricing for the best deal.

United States: The THERMALTAKE URBAN T81 retails for $172.24 at Amazon.

Canada: The THERMALTAKE URBAN T81 retails for CDN$218.88 at Amazon Canada.

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After a year of gaming, Chad caught the OC bug. With overclocking comes the need for better cooling, and Chad has had many air and water setups. With a few years of abusing computer parts, he decided to take his chances and try to get a review job. As an avid overclocker, Chad is always looking for the next leg up in RAM, cooling, as well as peripherals.

We openly invite the companies who provide us with review samples / who are mentioned or discussed to express their opinion. If any company representative wishes to respond, we will publish the response here. Please contact us if you wish to respond.

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