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Hostwinds review

An affordable well-featured web host

Hostwinds
(Image: © Hostwinds)

Our Verdict

Hostwinds isn't perfect – is it really so difficult to display full pricing details? – but the company scores where it matters with great products, solid performance and quality support.

For

  • Huge range of products
  • Good value
  • Above-average performance
  • Support website is stuffed with helpful articles

Against

  • Finding full pricing details can be tricky
  • No managed WordPress hosting
  • Support site might intimidate beginners
  • Two-day refund period for subscriptions under 12 months

Not decided which type of web hosting you need? Hostwinds does its best to help by offering you almost every possible option: shared, business, cloud, reseller, VPS, dedicated, budget Linux, premium Linux, Windows and more.

The Basic shared hosting plan starts at $3.29 a month on an annual subscription ($8.99 on renewal) and comes with a surprising number of features. These include unlimited bandwidth, disk space, email accounts, databases and subdomains. There's also cPanel access, Weebly site builder, Softaculous one-click installs, nightly backups and a free dedicated IP address. Phew.

(Hostwinds' email attachment limit is higher than most at 50MB, too – and while email isn't always the best way to share large files, it's good to have the option available.)

The only limit we could see is that Basic accounts are limited to one domain each, but that's the same for just about every starter hosting account, and it won't be an issue for the majority of customers.

With such a powerful starter plan, the rest of the shared hosting range can't do much more than add support for hosting more sites. The Advanced package handles up to 4 domains for $4.23 a month paid annually ($10 on renewal), while the Ultimate plan supports hosting unlimited domains for $5.17 ($12.99 when you renew) and places you on a server with fewer accounts, hopefully improving performance.

Hostwinds doesn't offer managed WordPress hosting, unfortunately. Softaculous makes it easy to install and begin using WordPress on any hosting package, but specialist WordPress plans from providers like Ionos and Bluehost give you more (speed optimizations, easy multi-site management, staging, development tools).

If you need more resources, Hostwinds' flexible VPS range gives you everything from 1 vCPU and 1GB starter products to power-packed 16 vCPU 96GB RAM 9TB bandwidth setups. You're able to choose from multiple Linux distros or opt for Windows hosting, there are managed and unmanaged options, and prices start from a lowly $4.49 a month.

Dedicated server support is a little more basic, with only two base server types, but they're reasonably configurable. Once again, prices are fair, starting at only $67.50 for the initial term, $90 on renewal.

Hostwinds used to offer a generous 60-day money-back guarantee, a big improvement on the industry-standard 30-days, but unfortunately that's now been replaced by a complicated refund policy.

The new rules reduce Hostwinds' refund period to 30 days for products purchased with a one year or longer subscription, and just 48 hours for products with one, three or six-month billing.

Refunds are now prorated, too. That is, if you use 20 of your 30 days before you ask for a refund, Hostwinds deducts their value from its payment.

That's really not so generous, but Hostwinds has at least kept its wide support of payment methods, with options including cards, PayPal, Skrill and Bitcoin.

Hostwinds

You can view your hosting plan and make changes from Hostwinds' account page (Image credit: Hostwinds)

Account setup

The Hostwinds website does a poor job of explaining its plans. There's little in the way of technical detail on what you get, and users are left to guess on the pricing of some products.

Head off to the Shared Hosting page, for instance, and you'll find the Basic plan is $3.29 a month, discounted from $8.99. You're not told how long you must sign up to get this deal, though, and you can't even view your options in a shopping cart until you've created a Hostwinds account.

That's really not good enough, and Hostwinds should be more transparent with its pricing. If the company doesn't want to clutter its product page with a bulky comparison table, fine – add it to another page, and give users a link. It's not difficult.

If you do decide to create an account (which means handing over your name, email, physical address and phone number) you'll generally find the headline price is for an annual plan.

Most products have decent savings to be had if you sign up for longer periods, and you're not penalized too heavily if you opt for monthly billing.

For example, basic shared hosting is $3.29 a month over a year, falling to $2.35 over three years, and is a still reasonable $4.23 billed monthly.

Options include a daily cloud backup plan for an above-average $3 a month. Hostwinds added this to our cart without us asking, too, but it was easy to spot, and we removed it with a click.

Hostwinds

You're not kept waiting for your activation email following payment (Image credit: Hostwinds)

Signup form completed, we paid up, the website confirmed our order and explained that an activation email would arrive shortly.

'Shortly' was right, too. Some hosts keep us waiting for hours, but a Hostwinds email with our account details arrived even before our PayPal receipt. That's fast.

Client area

Hostwinds' Welcome email includes a link to cPanel and its website management tools, but doesn't mention its client area, unusually. This is a key area for managing your account, though, so we decided to check it out anyway.

The company uses the WHMCS platform for its web dashboard, much like many other providers, and experienced users will immediately recognize the general interface style.

The dashboard has plenty of options, many of which you're unlikely to need, but it's still fairly easy to use. A 'Domain' panel gives you basic setup information (temporary domain, nameservers). A 'Stats' panel displays disk and bandwidth usage for the current period. Then there are also quick shortcuts to common website management functions (email accounts, file manager, database handling) or you can log into cPanel and explore all the options for yourself.

A convenient sidebar includes some useful account management options, including 'Request Cancellation.' Hopefully you won't need it, at least for a while, but we're happy to see the function clearly visible (many hosts make it very difficult to find).

Hostwinds

Hostwinds offers easy WordPress installation via Softaculous (Image credit: Hostwinds)

WordPress

Hostwinds shared hosting accounts all include Softaculous, a popular platform which makes it easy to install WordPress and 400+ other big-name web applications.

The company doesn't highlight this in its welcome email or client area, but even hosting newbies will find it quickly enough: launch cPanel, scroll down, and a large WordPress icon makes it clear what to do next.

Clicking Install gives access to all the key configuration options: site name, description, admin username and password, auto-update settings and more.

If you run into trouble later, there are plenty of WordPress-related articles in Hostwinds' knowledgebase. More on that later.

Hostwinds

The shared hosting plans include the well-known Weebly Site Builder (Image credit: Hostwinds)

Weebly Site Builder

Hostwinds' shared hosting plans include the Weebly site builder, a template-based web designer with a stack of drag-and-drop widgets and UI elements.

Weebly is an excellent website builder, and having it available here allows you to get a feel for whether its sites can work for you.

There's a problem, though. What you're getting here is Weebly's very limited free plan, which includes Weebly branding on the footer and restricts your website to just 500MB.

You can upgrade to more capable plans from within Hostwinds, but from what we can see, you'll pay much the same price as if you went to Weebly direct. (And remember, this is an extra cost – you'll still be paying your regular Hostwinds fees.)

The service could still be useful in a few situations. If your plan supports multiple domains, for instance, the Site Builder might help less technical family members create their own small personal sites. But there's not a lot of value here for most users, and typically you'll get better results by installing WordPress.

Hostwinds

All of your files, databases and domains are clearly visible in cPanel (Image credit: Hostwinds)

cPanel

Hostwinds' standard shared hosting packages come with an installation of cPanel, the industry-standard platform for setting up and managing your website.

It's a fairly minimalist cPanel setup, with no surprise bonus features, but no pointless extras, either. HostGator's cPanel includes a Special Offers panel crammed with attempts to sell you more stuff, for instance, but Hostwinds' has barely any of that. For the most part, you only get the functions you need.

Top of this list is Softaculous, an easy-to-use system which can help you automatically install WordPress, MediaWiki, PrestaShop and hundreds of other top apps.

The File Manager enables browsing your web space, creating folders, uploading and editing files, and generally organizing the site to suit your needs.

Other features include comprehensive tools for setting up and managing email accounts, working with MySQL and databases, adding subdomains, and, once your site is finally up and running, producing comprehensive reports on your website visitors.

Hostwinds

Hostwinds offers a knowledgebase, phone support and live chat in case you run into difficulties (Image credit: Hostwinds)

Support

Hostwinds' support begins at its Guides site, a knowledgebase with articles and tutorials for every aspect of the service.

The site doesn't make many concessions to beginners. There's no upfront list of the most commonly-read articles, plus the section most likely to help hosting newbies comes at the bottom of a list of four – and even when you click that link, the first categories you'll see have geek-oriented titles like 'Developer Guides', 'Apache .htaccess', 'DNS' and 'WHM (Web Host Manager).'

Fortunately, Hostwinds has an excellent search feature, and entering a keyword or two usually brings up all the articles you need.

When we ran a search for WordPress, for instance, Hostwinds' returned more than 120 matches, with many useful articles on the first page (a general WordPress introduction, installing WordPress using Softaculous, installing manually, installing a plugin, enabling HTTPS, enhancing security, and more).

It was much the same story with other searches. From common keywords ('subdomain', 'DNS') to more specific phrases ('import WordPress', 'file permission error'), Hostwinds unfailingly presented us with relevant and related content.

Articles are generally high quality, too. For instance, 'HTTP Error 403 - Forbidden' doesn't just tell you to check and fix your website link: it explains the most likely causes of the problem, points out that an error 403 is presented differently by some browsers ('the website declined to show this webpage'), and offers some genuinely useful suggestions (copy then delete .htaccess, check file permissions, deactivate any recently installed WordPress plugins). Although these are complicated topics, the article is written in a very accessible way, encouraging even the greenest of web hosting newbies to dig deeper.

Even the best knowledgebase can't handle all your likely queries, but Hostwinds' also has support available 24/7 via ticket and live chat.

We opened a chat window, and within a couple of minutes a support agent was providing a detailed and helpful response to our test question.

Opening a ticket sometimes makes more sense, perhaps if your issue is more complex and requires lengthy explanation. Response times will vary depending on the situation, but in our experience they're excellent, with helpful and detailed replies typically arriving in under an hour.

Uptime.com

We test web host performance using Uptime.com (Image credit: Uptime.com)

Performance

Assessing website performance is a challenge because there are so many server, network and other factors involved, but we tried a couple of tests to get a feel for Hostwinds' abilities.

We began by installing a simple static website on a Hostwinds shared hosting account, then used Uptime.com to monitor the site over a week, checking its availability and logging response times.

The results were excellent, with an average response time of 126ms and a range of 140-813ms.

This isn't going to make a huge difference to your site – most hosts have an average response time of 150-250ms – but it's still good news, especially considering we were benchmarking Hostwinds' most basic shared hosting plan.

There's another major benefit in Hostwinds' consistency. While many hosts have worst-case delays of several seconds, and regular spikes in response time, Hostwinds' slowest response time (813ms) was very much a one-off, and for the most part its results were very stable.

Uptime.com tests complete, we turned to Bitcatcha's Server Speed Test for a second opinion.

The site measured the access time of our server from 10 locations around the world – North America, Europe, Singapore, Sydney, Bangalore – and again, Hostwinds was impressive, with Bitcatcha awarding its highest A+ performance rating.

The results you'll see might vary – if your site makes heavy use of CPU time or databases, for instance, it might be much slower – but a speedy network is a good place to start, and Hostwinds seems to be faster and more reliable than most.

Final verdict

Hostwinds may not always have the lowest headline prices, but its feature-packed plans are great value for what you get, performance is well above average, and the comprehensive web knowledgebase and speedy live chat support are always on hand if you run into problems.