California-based Arvixe has been hosting personal and business websites since 2003, and is now owned by Endurance International Group, the company behind tech names like Domain.com, Bluehost, iPage, SiteBuilder.com and more.
Arvixe has a huge number of products, and the website tries to cover them all. That includes personal hosting, business hosting, reseller, VPS, blog hosting, ecommerce, CMS, forums, and just about anything else you might want.
The baseline shared hosting plan, PersonalClass, seems to offer excellent value. $4 (£5) a month gets you unlimited disk space, bandwidth, databases, FTP accounts and email addresses. There's cPanel access, a free SiteBuilder and Softaculous one-click installations. Daily backups come as standard, and the free domain isn't just for year one – Arvixe will pay its renewals for as long as you stay with the company.
The only significant limit we could see is that the plan only supports six domains, but that's hardly unusual. Many starter accounts only allow one.
One concern we had was a ‘priority support’ add-on for $20 (£25) a month. Most hosts claim to offer great support as standard, so the idea that you might find it worth paying $240 (£300) a year to get better help isn't exactly reassuring.
So, what do you get for this substantial extra outlay? Clicking the website icon to find out displayed a blank page, unhelpfully. The purchase page told us that priority support gets your tickets answered by more knowledgeable staff, which again makes us wonder who else is dealing with regular queries.
At any rate, we would find out more about Arvixe’s support in our own tests, which we’ll detail later in this review. But if you run into problems yourself, Arvixe's generous 45-day money-back guarantee gives you more time than usual to find and deal with them.
The Arvixe website provides much more detail than many hosts on the low-level specs of its plans. You don't have to wonder whether the company limits the number of subdomains or FTP accounts you can create, for instance, because the details are right there on the list (they're both unlimited).
Tapping the Buy button told us that the headline $4 (£5) a month price only applied if we purchased a two-year plan. That's no great surprise – other hosts often try to push you on to a three-year plan – and shorter terms are reasonable. A one-year plan costs $5 (£6.25) a month, or you can pay a monthly $7 (£8.75) with no ‘setup fee’ or other penalty.
The same page has several other forms for entering all the usual signup information: your target domain name (new, or one you own already), along with your contact and payment details (credit cards and PayPal are supported).
Add-ons include $100 (£125) Bing and Google AdWords credits for free (US and Canadian customers only), $25 (£31) for a one-year AlphaSSL certificate, and the $20 (£25) a month for priority support we mentioned above.
We submitted our order, the website told us it was processing, and within a few seconds... it returned us to a blank order form. We had chosen PayPal, so were expecting Arvixe to open a new browser tab at the PayPal site, but no – nothing.
Had our order been lost? It looked that way, and it's easy to imagine how some customers might try to submit it again. Fortunately, we waited, checked our email and an acknowledgement message arrived.
This wasn't the only oddity. Our Arvixe welcome email gave us a link to the ‘client area’, explaining that we could log in using the password we'd just created. We did, successfully, and saw that our order was ‘pending’. Then, a few minutes later, another email arrived saying we wouldn't be able to access the client area – the one we were exploring at the time – until we'd verified our email.
Useless email verification? This didn't seem like a company we should trust with our security. To test whether this was due to the fact that we'd logged in too quickly, perhaps, we logged out and tried logging in again, still without verifying our email. It worked, plus we could see and change all our personal information. The email verification step seemed to be broken, or at least the rest of the website wasn't always checking for it.
Being able to access the website didn't get us very far while our order was pending, but we waited to see what would happen. 24 hours later the system appeared to realise something was wrong and we received an automated email saying the company couldn't take payment because, well, it didn't have our details. It gave us a link to log in and pay the invoice manually, we did so, and the account was set up right away.
Creating a site
The Arvixe welcome email included logon details for our control panel, a better place to start than the usual marketing-packed customer portal. We clicked the link, entered our details and were happy to see an up-to-date version of cPanel using the appealing Paper Lantern theme. (If you're not a cPanel user, that's a lighter and less cluttered look than the older style.)
Site construction options start with the excellent Softaculous. If you're not sure what sort of functionality you need, this might help you find a suitable application: forum software, blogging, e-commerce, whatever. These are well organised, you're able to read descriptions, look at screenshots, view demos, read user reviews and more.
If you already know what you want to install, there's a good chance you'll find it here. WordPress, Joomla, Magento, MyBB, PrestaShop and many more are all available, and you can have the basics set up in a click or two.
Arvixe has a free SiteBuilder, too. This is relatively easy to use, has almost 200 templates and no apparent limits on pages or anything else. But it's distinctly short on documentation and doesn't always work as you'd expect. It's a plus point for Arvixe in general, but we wouldn't trust it with anything more than a relatively simple personal site.
If you've built your site already then the cPanel console provides everything you need to get it uploaded and set up: FTP, File Manager, SSH and more.
There's no way a relatively brief review can tell you how a web host will behave over months and years, but we try to get a feel for how the company performs in different situations, especially when it comes to support.
Arvixe offers no support link directly from cPanel, so we opened our customer portal instead. This is far less cluttered than most of the competition, and there's a Support Centre link available if you need help.
The support link takes you to the regular site, outside your authenticated session. That's a little clumsy as it means you're now facing a login prompt again, and you have to click Back to carry on in the customer portal.
We spotted some issues with the support pages immediately. A list of categories includes an apparent duplicate (PHP appears twice), the total number of articles seems low, and some of the more advanced areas have surprisingly few articles (MySQL has five, the PHP categories have six in total).
This weakness was obvious when we tried some searches. Entering ‘import WordPres’ returned three articles, none of them related to migrating a WordPress site. A general search for WordPress gave us a single article describing how to fix a problem with WordPress 3.1, released in 2011. A search for MySQL displayed just four articles, one of them covering an ancient issue, the other three relating to the Plesk control panel – nothing to help shared Linux users.
Other articles carry the same dusty, faded and forgotten feel. Running a search for Outlook gave us instructions for setting up Outlook 2003-2010 and Mac 2011, but nothing later. Many other articles are dated 2009 to 2011.
Arvixe offers live chat support which seems to be implemented using the same system (and people, possibly) as other Endurance companies. As we were testing, Arvixe was just about to change its money-back guarantee from 60 to 45 days, so that seemed to be a good test subject.
We started a chat, an agent appeared within a couple of minutes and we told them we'd seen 60 days flagged in one place on the site, 45 days in another; which was right? They went away, presumably to look it up, and returned with the current 60-day figure only. They told us nothing about the imminent terms of service change, even though it was just days away.
We decided to send a ticket. This was the first time the site recognised that we'd never verified our email address and complained about it. This time we paid attention, clicked the verification link and entered details on the question we'd like to ask... only to be redirected to live chat, again. Despite Arvixe saying it has support tickets, and having links for them, they appear to be just a frontend for the chat system.
We asked another simple product-related query about Arvixe Builder, the drag-and-drop site creator: did it have any restrictions, and were there any links to tutorials or documentation? That's so basic we would expect anyone with the faintest product knowledge to give us an answer immediately.
Our agent gave us an identical line to the beginning of the last chat, though: "I will review your question and get back to you". Well, okay. What happened after that was so bizarre we're going to quote it in full.
Our starting question went as follows…
TechRadar Pro (TRP): Does Arvixe Builder have any limitations, for example a maximum number of pages, and are there any tutorials or help pages around to show me how it all works?
A_ R: Welcome to Arvixe live chat, My name is A_. I will review your question and get back to you.
TRP: Hi A_, thanks!
A_ R: I apologize. There is an ongoing issue on the Arvixe Builder.
TRP: OK. What's that?
A_ R: Our admins are working on this issue.
TRP: Right. What about my question, though?
A_ R: You can upload the files through the FTP.
A_ R: The Arvixe Builder issue will be resolved very soon.
TRP: OK. What is the issue, or does no one really know yet?
A_ R: Meanwhile we suggest our customers to make use of FTP.
A_ R: We are aware of this issue and it is being worked on.
A_ R: It will be resolved very soon as it is affecting all of our customers.
TRP: OK, thanks for your help.
So our original and inline questions went unanswered, and instead they gave us a solution to another problem, without explaining what the problem was. It was more like having a conversation with a bot than a real person, and maybe explains why Arvixe thinks you might want to spend $20 (£25) a month on support, after all.
As usual, we completed our trials with some performance tests. Our Arvixe server seemed to be located in Texas, and as expected, US connection times were fast from everywhere. Connections from the UK lagged a little, but not enough to be a problem, and overall performance seemed average.
This may not be the end of the story as we sometimes noticed very lengthy login times to our cPanel. Did that mean the server was under load, or was there some other issue? We're unsure, but it was yet another reason to be concerned about the Arvixe service.
Arvixe gives you plenty of features for very little cash, but it's so poor at even the most basic tasks – taking payment, email verification, simple product support – that it's impossible to recommend.