When a hosting company calls itself Namecheap you can be sure it'll lead on price, and the headline on the website doesn't disappoint: "Secure and reliable high-performance hosting from just $10 (£8) per year."
Check out the small print and it's not quite that simple. Namecheap's first year prices include a discount of around 75%, and the renewal prices are much closer to the budget competition.
The baseline Value plan is £8 ($10) for year one, £31 ($39) a year afterwards. That gets you 20GB of hard drive space, unlimited bandwidth, and notably up to three websites and fifty subdomains (many budget accounts limit you to one). You also get fifty MySQL databases and one-click install of WordPress plus many other applications. There are ‘only’ 50 email accounts but that'll still be enough for most users. You get a free .name domain but anything else is extra.
The Professional plan is £16 ($20) for the first year, £63 ($79) a year afterwards. It lifts storage space to 50GB, supports up to 10 websites and 100 MySQL databases, and adds PostgreSQL support as well. Unfortunately, it only supports 100 email accounts, and if you're sharing those across all 10 websites it could get difficult.
The Unlimited plan – £24 ($30) for year one, £103 ($129) subsequently – is a better choice for managing lots of websites. You get up to 50 domains with no limits on web space, subdomains, FTP users, email accounts, MySQL or PostgreSQL databases. That's great value for anyone who needs to host lots of domains.
Other packages include Business SSD – at £16 ($20) a month – which gets you higher performance hosting on servers with fewer users, VPS Hosting from £16 ($20) a month, and dedicated hosting from £47 ($59) a month.
Namecheap's plans don't include SSL – and 1&1 even gives you that with its most basic account. But this doesn't have to be an expensive extra. Basic PositiveSSL certificates are available for £1.60 ($2) in the first year if you buy one with your hosting, or you can add one later from £7 ($8.75) a year.
All plans give you the choice of hosting in a UK or US data centre. That's an unusual plus, although the UK hosting will cost you around £10 a year extra.
Whatever you purchase is protected by a 99.9% connectivity guarantee, although that doesn't cover scheduled maintenance or server issues, and there's a brief 14-day money-back guarantee if you have problems (GoDaddy and some other hosts offer 30 days or more).
The Namecheap purchase process starts by choosing your domain name, or using one you've registered already (you can transfer it to Namecheap.com at the same time, but this isn't compulsory).
There's no option to leave your choice of domain name until later. You can set up the hosting with Namecheap's free .name domain, though, and change it to something else whenever you like.
The purchase process is simple. The only add-on we were offered was a PositiveSSL certificate for $2 (£1.60) in year one, which is such good value that we're surprised it's not more visible on the main site.
Creating a Namecheap account requires entering all your contact details: name, physical address, email address and phone number. There's a welcome extra in the form of a two-factor authentication option which requires phone verification as well as passwords. That might be too much hassle for personal sites, but is definitely worth considering for business and e-commerce accounts.
Payment options include PayPal, credit and debit cards. We selected PayPal and parted with our cash as usual.
Once the process was complete, Namecheap's site displayed clear details on what we'd just bought, and gave us links to tutorials on using our hosting account or uploading an existing site right away.
The highlight was probably the clear, detailed and very readable email which arrived moments later. While other hosts send you a receipt and a few web links, Namecheap gave us 700 words of essential information on server names, IP addresses, login information, FAQs and more. This mail is a great reference for later and a real time-saver.
Creating a website
Namecheap's shared hosting accounts are managed from a standard cPanel console. That's not as beginner-friendly as some custom frontends, but experienced users will feel at home right away, and even novices will quickly figure out the key basics.
The company doesn't have its own WYSIWYG site builder. Hosts like 1&1 enable the building of simple sites for free, and many others offer premium packages to build full business or e-commerce sites, but there's nothing like that here.
What you get instead is Softactulous, one of the best 1-click install tools around. This supports more than 100 popular open source applications, including WordPress, and organises them into neat categories (Blogs, Forums, Calendars, E-commerce and more). Each one has a brief description, a user rating, and even a demo page so you can see what your prospective e-shop, blog, wiki or whatever might look like.
These will take more effort to set up than other host's own packages, and you won't get the same level of help and assistance, but on the plus side you'll easily be able to use them elsewhere if you move hosts.
Google Apps integration is another plus, providing a quick way to set up your domain for mail, documents or a calendar.
Namecheap's cPanel also allows manual site setup via FTP or its own file manager.
Although some of this can take some thought, as with any host, Namecheap's excellent ‘welcome’ email gets you off to a very good start. This includes your server host name and IP address, Namecheap's name servers, a server cPanel URL that works even if your DNS hasn't yet resolved, default FTP and SFTP login details, and more. Top marks for helpfulness here.
Unexpected website issues are annoying at best, and can seriously damage your business in extreme cases, so it's important that your hosting company's support system delivers when you need it.
Namecheap's support begins with a searchable knowledgebase. This is neatly organised into sensible categories and covers everything from beginner-type FAQs (‘how can I renew my domain?’) to more expert-level issues (‘managing DNSSEC for domains pointed to by custom DNS’).
Most of these articles are lengthy and detailed. Unusually, Namecheap customers can add comments to the support documents and see the messages left by others. This is often used to ask questions about some issue within the article – Namecheap staff then post replies, and having these answers publicly visible clarifies the document for everyone. (Non-customers can read the articles at the link above but won't see any comments.)
Namecheap's service status page tries to keep you up-to-date with major issues, but it's presented poorly. Each item is a blog post with only the first few lines open, which leaves you clicking ‘Continue reading...’ to find out exactly what it covers. And when we checked the items weren't even in chronological order, which seems, well, stupid.
There's no phone support, but Namecheap does have live chat and a support ticket system. We tried this out with a simple question and had an accurate reply within 30 minutes. There's no way to tell what might happen in more complicated, real-world situations, but Namecheap performed better than most.
The server speed tests weren't bad, either, with Bitcatcha and other benchmarks regularly scoring our host's performance as above-average. This isn't the same everywhere – response times from London were relatively slow, even for a US data centre – but Namecheap still gave us very acceptable speeds for the price we paid.
Namecheap doesn't have as many specialist plans as some hosts, but if you're looking for general hosting – or can handle any site-building tasks yourself – it offers real value and some helpful extras.