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Catalyst2 review

Do you really need 'unlimited' hosting? Maybe not...

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(Image: © Catalyst2)

Our Verdict

Catalyst2 imposes tight limits on bandwidth and storage with some plans, but there's still enough for many sites, and the low starter prices, reliable performance and excellent support mean it's worth a look.

For

  • Low starter prices
  • Consistent performance
  • Quality support
  • Windows hosting options

Against

  • Very limited resources on some plans
  • No introductory discounts
  • Above average VPS prices

Catalyst2 is an experienced UK-based web hosting provider with a vast range of products, plans and options.

Shared hosting starts at just £1 ($1.25) a month, paid annually. That gets you just about as limited a product as we've seen - 500MB disk space, 5GB bandwidth a month and a single email address - but it could still be enough to run a simple personal site, or maybe install and learn WordPress. 

This is the regular price, too, not some special introductory deal where the cost triples on renewal. Catalyst2's pricing is refreshingly straightforward, with no marketing trickery: if the website says, 'monthly price', it means 'the price you'll pay per month', not 'the average you'll pay per month if you pay for years up-front, and we're not even going to tell you how many.'

Upgrading lifts those resource allocations a little. The £4.17 ($5.21) a month (paid annually) Power plan includes 2GB disk space, 40GB bandwidth and 50 email addresses, and enables hosting two domains. The £10.83 ($13.54) PowerXtra plan supports hosting ten domains in 8GB storage space, with a 160GB bandwidth allocation and 150 email addresses.

Catalyst2's Premium Hosting is a supercharged extension of its shared products, available for Windows and Linux. 

Premium accounts are installed on a server with fewer sites, and get you dedicated CPU cores and RAM, separate mail servers, LiteSpeed caching, capable spam filters and virus scanning, and more. They're interesting products and easy to use, but prices start at a relatively high £30 ($37.50) a month or £25 ($31.25) on the annual plan. And the baseline plan still has significant limits, including 5GB disk space, 300GB bandwidth and 10 email accounts.

All plans (even the budget starter option) get free SSL, 24/7 support via ticket, and freephone telephone support during office hours in the UK.

If you're looking to create a busy site, perhaps multiple sites, catalyst2's tight resource limits could be an issue. Especially when something like HostGator's Baby plan features unmetered storage, bandwidth, domains, email and more, and it's priced from $3.95 a month for the first three years.

Keep in mind that 'unmetered' storage and bandwidth doesn't mean 'infinite' though; there will be a limit, the provider just isn't telling you what it is.

Catalyst2 is at least being completely transparent, telling you what you're going to get. 

Pricing looks better when you compare like with like, too. HostGator's Baby plan is $3.95 a month over the first three years, but rises to $8.95 over a year, renewing at $11.95. Catalyst2's Power plan is less than half that renewal price. Sure, it's far more limited - 2GB disk space, 40GB bandwidth, 50 email addresses, hosts two domains - but if it gives you all you're likely to need, does that really matter?

WordPress

(Image credit: Catalyst2)

WordPress hosting

If you're looking for simple WordPress hosting, catalyst2's shared hosting is a reasonable place to start. Even the most basic plan gets you the Fantastico autoinstaller, a capable tool which can install WordPress with minimal hassle. (There's a list of Fantastico's other supported apps on the website.)

Catalyst2 also offers a specialist WordPress hosting range with various speed optimizations (PHP 7, nginx caching and SSDs), backups, automated WordPress updates, an SSL certificate, spam filtering, and (if necessary) a free migration of your existing site.

The starter plan - one domain, 10GB storage and support for around 25,000 visitors a month - costs £29 ($36.25) a month, or £25 ($31.25) over a year.

The next option, the Business plan, gets you 20GB storage, support for ten domains and 100,000 visits a month for a chunky £79 ($98.75) a month, or £67 ($83.75) over a year.

While these prices aren't bad, as with the shared hosting, catalyst2 has tough competition from many providers.

If price is your top priority, IONOS starter WordPress Pro plan gets you daily backups and smart WordPress and plugin updates for a bargain $15 a month.

And if you're after features, WP Engine's Startup plan gives you custom speed optimizations, a bundled CDN, a powerful staging setup, SSL, backups, malware detection and cleanup, 35+ premium StudioPress themes and more. Resources are also very limited - 10GB storage, 50GB bandwidth, 25,0000 visits a month - but it's just $35 billed monthly, $29.17 on the annual plan.

Servers

(Image credit: Catalyst2)

Servers

Catalyst's managed VPS plans improve on shared hosting by giving you allocated resources, more bandwidth, offline backups, multiple site migrations (even the baseline plan comes with five) and a 99.9% uptime Service Level Agreement.

The baseline plan provides 1vCPU, 1GB RAM, 20GB storage and 300GB bandwidth for £49 ($61.25) a month, or £44.92 ($56.15) over a year.

Upgrading to the 4 vCPU, 6GB RAM, 100GB storage and 2TB bandwidth lifts the cost to £199 ($248.75) billed monthly, £182.42 ($228) over a year.

Expensive? Looks that way to us. It's managed hosting and includes a control panel, but there are far better deals around. Hostwinds' basic unmanaged VPS range starts at $5 a month, for instance, and its 4 vCore, 8GB RAM, 150GB storage and cPanel plan costs just $83 billed monthly (or just $33.84 with the introductory discount, if you sign up for three years.)

Catalyst's fully managed dedicated server range starts at just £99 ($123.75), a very fair figure considering its features: 100% uptime network guarantee, full firewalling, 7-day rolling offsite backups, instant failover to another server on the company's VMware cloud, and proactive monitoring of your server and website.

We can't tell you what your £99 ($123.75) will get as the website doesn't include any fixed price plans. There are some examples of server configurations, though, and you can request a quote from the company if you'd like to find out more.

Signing Up

(Image credit: Catalyst2 )

Signing up

Catalyst2 doesn't try to confuse you with marketing trickery, making it unusually easy to find the best plan for you.

Detailed comparison tables highlight what's included in every plan, for instance. As there aren't any introductory discounts, you don't have to try and figure out renewal prices. And you don't have to sign up for years to get the promised deal: most plans are available in monthly or annual forms only.

We chose a simple shared hosting plan, and opted for the Linux variety (all but the basic £1 a month plan are available in Windows and Linux forms.)

The rest of the signup process is much the same as you'll see with most hosts. Register a new domain, or choose whatever domain you'll use with this account; enter all the usual contact details (name, email address, physical address, phone number); choose a payment method (card or PayPal) and part with your cash in the usual way.

We placed our order, and catalyst2 leaped into action, sending us a 'your account is now activated' email so quickly that it arrived before our PayPal receipt. No waiting around here; pay up and you can get to work right away.

cPanel

(Image credit: cPanel)

Creating a website

Catalyst2's account dashboard is powered by WHMCS, a popular platform used by many other web hosts. That's good news if you recognize it from a previous host, as you'll immediately know your way around. And even if you're a newbie, it's not difficult to get started.

Choosing the Service panel displayed our hosting account, for instance, and clicking it gave us shortcuts to help with common tasks: creating email accounts, managing domains and more.

The industry-standard cPanel is just a click away, where Softaculous gives you automated installation of WordPress, PrestaShop, Magento, MediaWiki and hundreds of other apps.

There are no surprise site-building extras, no drag-and-drop website builders or anything similar. That's a pity, but also not a huge loss; many of the website builders bundled with other shared hosting packages are very limited, often supporting just a few pages, and require a paid upgrade to remove their restrictions.

CPanel's File Manager, FTP, SSH and other tools are on hand, enabling experienced users to upload an existing site or create a new one from scratch.

Support

(Image credit: Catalyst2 )

Support

The catalyst2 support site opens with a basic web knowledgebase. When we say 'basic', we mean it: there are only 66 articles in total, spread across six categories (cPanel, DNS, Email, Linux command line, Products and services, Server management.) And even this limited content isn't always focused on what you need to know.

If you're unsure how to point your domain at catalyst2's web space, for instance, you might expect searching the knowledgebase for 'domain' to deliver a helpful article, more or less at the top of the page. But instead the matches start with topics like managing subdomains, addon domains or aliases, domain registrations, transfers and more.

Searching for information on common setup tasks also returned few results ('import WordPress' gave us nothing very useful, and 'migrate WordPress' found nothing at all.)

If you've got any serious questions, then, you'll probably turn to the support team. We had response times of under two minutes on live chat, and email support was speedy, too. When we fired off a simple question asking about a temporary URL for our website (something to use before we updated our DNS), a helpful reply arrived only 16 minutes later. That's excellent performance, especially for budget shared hosting.

Even better, the cPanel Overview page suggests that if you're finding the console overwhelming, the company is happy to talk you through how to use it. Just call or raise a ticket and they'll 'arrange a session at a time that suits you.'

Performance

(Image credit: Uptime.com)

Performance

Understanding website speed is difficult, as there are so many variables involved - your server and visitor locations, network speeds, the CPU and RAM requirements of your site, and how it's used - but our simple monitoring test gives a baseline idea of how a host performs.

After signing up for a simple shared hosting account, we published a very simple static website. 

Next, we used Uptime.com to monitor our site availability and response time from locations around the globe, at five-minute intervals, for a week (that's more than 2,000 steps.)

The results showed 100% uptime over our test period, and in reality a full 21 days. (We compare host results over 7 days in order to be consistent, but sites are sometimes up for longer, and catalyst2's was online for three weeks.) That's what we would hope to see with a short-term test, but not every host manages it.

Response times were very reasonable, too, at an average of 249ms and a range of 217-405ms.

The fastest hosts manage around 150-200ms, but most are somewhere in the 200-300ms range, placing catalyst2 right in the middle of the pack.

As you can see from the response time graph, our results were generally very consistent, too, with only three significant peaks over the entire week. Otherwise, times kept very close to 250ms, suggesting our site wasn't fighting with others for bandwidth and other resources; catalyst2 had provided more than enough to go around.

That's good news, especially when you consider these are results for the £1/ $1.25 a month shared hosting package. The plan may be short on resources, but it performs very well.

Final verdict

Catalyst2's plans mostly have very limited bandwidth and storage, and that could be a problem for many. But if there's enough for you, the company has a lot to offer: very cheap starter products, transparent pricing, no real penalty for month billing, consistent and reliable performance and quality support.