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A2 Hosting review

Value hosting with a pile of speed-boosting tricks

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(Image: © A2 Hosting)

Our Verdict

A2 Hosting's high-end shared hosting plans deliver way more speed-boosting technologies than we'd expect for the price you're paying. Well worth a look, especially for experienced users.

For

  • Many speed-boosting features
  • Highly configurable server plans
  • US, Europe, Asia data centers
  • Phone, ticket and live chat support

Against

  • Prices jump up after the introductory deal

A2 Hosting is an experienced provider with products for just about every web hosting need: shared plans, managed WordPress, VPS, cloud, dedicated, reseller and more.

The company has a strong focus on performance, with website talk of ‘blazing fast web browsing’ and ‘20x times faster’ ‘Turbo Servers’, but it also has plenty of other features on offer.

Shared hosting starts with the Lite plan. We're always slightly sceptical of any service called 'Lite', but this one is much better specified than you might think: unlimited storage, unlimited bandwidth, free SSL, 25 email accounts, 5 databases, basic Cloudflare integration, cPanel, a choice of four data centers (Michigan, Arizona, Amsterdam, Singapore), a template-based website builder, free website migration and 1-click install of WordPress and hundreds of other apps via Softaculous.

Prices look great at an initial $3.70 billed monthly, dropping to $3.33 on the annual plan and $2.96 over two years. That's due to the very steep discounting, though, and on renewal these costs leap to $9.99 billed monthly, $8.99 over one year, $7.99 over two.

A2's Swift plan hosts unlimited websites and removes all other limits from $4.81 billed monthly, $12.99 on renewal. It also doubles your allocated cores and physical memory; potentially a major speed boost for heavy-duty sites. Backups are included, too (they're often a chargeable extra elsewhere).

The top-of-the-range Turbo plan is $7.03 a month over two years, initially, rising to a chunky $18.99 on renewal. What you're getting is premium hosting on optimized servers (Turbo Cache, APC/OPcache, Memcached) with fewer users. The plan doubles your CPU cores, physical and virtual memory again, and it adds support for HTTP/2, SPDY, ESI and Cloudflare's Railgun, along with a custom WordPress LiteSpeed cache setup.

We're unsure whether all this will give you ‘20x faster’ speeds overall, but it should make a very major difference, and it's far more power than you get with many shared hosting plans.

The company claims to offer ‘ultra-reliable’ hosting, with a 99.9% uptime ‘commitment’. That's not quite the same as a guarantee or SLA, and you don't get credits if uptime is lower, but having a figure is a start. A2 seems to be confident you'll be happy, but if you are not fully satisfied the company offers a 'Hassle-Free Money Back Guarantee'.

A2 Hosting's shared range is cheaper than most, and there are some unusual pluses in its choice of data centers and the performance-boosting extras in the Turbo plan.

If you don't need A2 Hosting's extras, though, you might be able to save money elsewhere. 

For example, HostGator's budget Hatchling plan delivers fractionally more than A2's Lite (no limits on email accounts or databases). The headline price is only $0.21 lower than A2, and you must sign up for 3 years to get that deal, but the HostGator plan is $1.05 cheaper on renewal. Savings increase as you move up the HostGator range.

WordPress

(Image credit: A2 Hosting)

WordPress hosting

A2 Hosting's shared hosting plans make it reasonably easy to build or import a WordPress site. The company offers a free site migration service, experienced users can do it themselves via database tools and the File Manager, and the bundled Softaculous platform enables installing WordPress within minutes.

A2 also offers a range of managed WordPress plans with some welcome extras. 

Site Staging support enables users to create and work on a copy of their site, allowing them to edit themes, try plugins or make other major changes without any risk to their production site.

A bundled Jetpack Personal license supports easy automated backups of your WordPress site, and throws in a host of other tools: an unlimited image CDN, brute force protection, spam filtering, website stats and hundreds of free WordPress templates.

There's a further bonus for WordPress geeks in WP-CLI, an expert-level tool which enables managing WordPress from the command line. 

Once you look past the steep initial discounting, pricing is only average. The single site, 10GB storage plan starts at $9.78 a month on the three-year plan, rising to $24.46 on renewal. 

IONOS managed WordPress Pro ONE plan also has only 10GB storage and supports a single site, but it's based on a capable cloud platform, with staging, daily backups and smart web hosting. It's priced at $15 billed monthly (no need to pay for years of hosting up front.)

Bluehost's Managed WordPress plans support hosting unlimited websites and throw in Jetpack Site Analytics and assorted other business-friendly features. They're priced from a reasonable $19.95 a month for the first three years, rising to $29.95 on renewal.

Servers

(Image credit: A2 Hosting)

Servers

If your web project needs more power than regular shared hosting, A2's wide range of VPS and dedicated products might appeal.

These server plans score for their extreme configurability.

For example, A2's VPS range comes in Unmanaged (you handle everything yourself), Managed (more power and support) and Core (managed with root access, the best of both worlds) flavors.

Choose an option and you're able to build your own plan by selecting your preferred amount of disk space (20GB-250GB), CPU cores (1-12), RAM (512MB to 32GB) and bandwidth (2TB-9TB).

Oh, and you're also able to choose an operating system (Linux distro only, no Windows) and data center (US, Europe, Asia), as well as optionally adding a cPanel license and a caching setup (LiteSpeed.)

A2's prices are good value considering the features you get.

A very basic unmanaged Entry VPS setup - 20GB storage, 1 core, 512MB RAM, 2TB bandwidth - costs $5 a month over the first two years, renewing at $10. There are cheaper plans around, but they usually start with 1TB bandwidth, making this a fair deal overall.

The more powerful managed Power+ VPS gives you 4 vCPUs, 4GB RAM, 75GB storage, 2TB bandwidth and cPanel for $25 a month over two years, renewing at $49.99.

For comparison, Hostwinds' closest managed VPS plan - 2 vCPUs, 6GB RAM, 100GB storage, 2TB bandwidth - is a similar $23.97 for the first month (no long-term contracts required), renewing at $50.99. A2's 4 vCPUs have a lot of appeal, but so does Hostwinds' simple monthly billing-- there's not a lot in it.

It's a similar story on the dedicated server front. The baseline products aren't the cheapest around at $99.59 a month, renewing at $119.99, but they're well specified and highly configurable, and a must-see for demanding users.

Account setup

A2 Hosting's plans have loads of features, and understandably the website does its best to boast about every single one. Each package is laid out side by side under the ‘Compare’ tab, making it easy for you to see which features are included for the different tiers.

Once you've made your choice, the website asks for the domain you'd like to use. You're able to register something new, transfer a domain to A2, or use an existing domain and update your nameservers. There's also a convenient option to use an A2 Hosting subdomain (yourname.a2hosted.com), which allows you to postpone any domain decisions until later.

A configuration page enables choosing your data server location (US, Europe, Asia). 

Optional extras include offsite backups from $1.99 a month for 5GB, and Barracuda's Spam Firewall from $3 a month for a single domain (you're able to cover unlimited domains for $10.)

Auto install

(Image credit: A2 Hosting)

An 'auto-install' option enables choosing an application to be automatically installed in your account (WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, PrestaShop, WooCommerce and more than 30 others are available.) This isn't strictly necessary - your account already comes with Softaculous, allowing you to install these and hundreds of other apps - but it does make life a little easier.Creating a site

The next page asked for our contact and payment details. A2 supports payment via cards, PayPal, Skrill or bank transfers. We chose a one-off PayPal amount (you won't be signed up for a subscription unless you ask for that) and processed it as normal. 

Site Builder

(Image credit: A2 Hosting)

Creating a site

A2 Hosting's web client dashboard is powered by WHMCS, the standard portal system used by many other web hosts.

WHMCS isn't pretty or particularly intuitive, but there's not much to learn. You'll find your hosting plan in the Services area; there are sections for Domains, Tickets and Invoices; a 'Connection Details' panel gives you all the technical data you need (nameservers, incoming and outgoing mail server names, control panel links, usernames and passwords, and more), and a mass of cPanel site management tools are only a click away.

cPanel

(Image credit: cPanel)

A2's cPanel setup includes Softaculous, a well-designed platform which enables the easy installation of WordPress, MediaWiki and hundreds of other web apps.

A File Manager allows you to upload a static website (or anything else) to your website, and work with any files that are already there.

A2's free drag-and-drop Sitebuilder is very simple, with a handful of templates, and only enables creating single-page sites. But it has a decent number of widgets - galleries, slideshows, maps, standard and custom forms, YouTube and audio content, basic social integration, more - and is easy enough to use. (Check out the plans for the full commercial version here.)

There are no real surprises here, but it's still a capable set of tools, with everything you're likely to need when setting up and managing your site.

Performance

(Image credit: Uptime.com)

Performance

A2 Hosting claims its products offer great performance, but website promises don't always mean very much. We purchased A2's Lite plan, put a simple static website online, and used Uptime.com to monitor our website availability at five-minute intervals over 7 days.

The site had a single outage covering one check, or around 5 minutes, giving us an uptime of 99.94%. Most hosts have 100% uptime over short testing periods, but as this was a single fail, we're not going to count it as a significant issue.

Response times were above average at 320ms. The fastest hosts manage 150-200ms, most are under 300ms, so this is a little slower than average. Most response times were within a 240-300ms range, though-- the average was higher only because there were some significantly higher peaks of over 600ms, and one reaching 1.9ms. That's not a great excuse, but it suggests there are no fundamental problems with the server or network, and the real issues are more intermittent (websites competing for server bandwidth at peak times, say.)

Overall, A2 Hosting's Lite plan performed fractionally below average, but not enough that you're likely to notice, and it should run most sites without difficulty.

(Keep in mind that we were testing A2's cheapest account, too, with its default settings, so this is the very slowest it's likely to be. Optimizing the CDN, updating our account to get more resources or A2's 'Turbo Features' could deliver very different results.)

Final verdict

A2 Hosting's shared plans aren't quite the cheapest we've seen, but you do get a lot for your money, and experienced users will appreciate the company's many performance-optimizing features and tweaks.