Founded back in 2003, A2 Hosting now provides products for just about all your web hosting needs. The company has a particular focus on performance, with website talk of ‘blazing fast web browsing’ and ‘20x times faster servers’ referring to the ‘Turbo Server’, but there are plenty of other features on offer.
Shared hosting starts with the Lite plan at £3.07 a month initially, doubling on renewal. This particular package is geared towards users with just one site. It includes 1 website, 5 databases, unlimited storage, transfer, cPanel, Softculous, one-click install of WordPress and hundreds of other apps.
Unusual extras include a free SSL certificate via Let's Encrypt. There's basic CloudFlare integration for faster page loading, along with free security modules to check your site for malware or out-of-date software, and you're able to choose from a multitude of server locations.
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A2's Swift plan gives you unlimited everything for $3.92 a month initially, doubling on renewal. It also doubles your allocated cores, physical and virtual memory; potentially a major speed boost for heavy-duty sites. Backups are included, too (they're often a chargeable extra elsewhere).
The Turbo plan is relatively expensive at $9.31 a month initially, doubling 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 and ESI.
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 most 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 offer a 30-day money back guarantee or even a prorated refund if you’ve never used the service.
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 beside 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 an unusual option to use an A2 Hosting subdomain, which allows you to postpone any domain decisions until later.
A configuration page enables choosing your data server location (US, Europe, Asia). You can add extras, including a dedicated IP – which will set you back $3.81 – and you can also signup for priority support for an additional $19.07.
You are automatically signed up for the 36-month package but this can be easily changed to 1/12/24 months via the dropdown menu. The Lite plan is $7.63 a month over two years, $8.90 a month over one year, and only $10.17 for a one-month term. There's not even a sneaky ‘setup free’ to bump up the total. Most hosts don't do monthly billing at all, and those that do are usually much more expensive.
The next page asked for our contact payment details. A2 supports payment via cards, Skrill, bank transfers, a recurring PayPal subscription or a one-off amount. We chose a one-off PayPal amount and processed it as normal.
Creating a site
A2 Hosting's welcome email is better than most, with login information, links to helpful articles, support pages and more. There's also a reminder about the company's free migration service, which may be able to transfer your site to A2 at no cost.
The customer portal was more ordinary. This makes it easy to view and access your hosting package. Tap the Login button and you're taken to A2 Hosting's cPanel console. If you've used cPanel recently you won't have any problems finding your way around. Hosting newbies will have more of a learning curve, but it's not difficult to get started. Clicking the File Manager icon displays an Explorer-type window for working with your files, the Email Accounts button enables creating new emails, and so on.
A2 Hosting's uses their own website builder, aptly name ‘Site Builder’. This offers more functionality than cPanel's Site Publisher which is extremely basic – it’s just a handful of templates, and only capable of producing the simplest of single-page sites. But it's easy-to-use, and you could get something online in a few minutes.
The major site creation option is Softaculous, one of the best frameworks around for finding and installing apps like WordPress, PrestaShop, Piwik, Drupal, OpenCart and more. Many other hosts offer Softaculous, but A2 goes further with its own custom software.
‘A2 Optimised for WordPress’, for instance, configures your WordPress site for security and speed. Areas addressed include page caching, database caching, image compression, page compression with gzip, adding a reCAPTCHA to the comment and login forms, and more. It's a welcome addition to the package, and something that isn't offered by other hosts.
Our A2 Hosting tests began with the company's web support. First impressions were good, with the customer portal making your support ticket history, server status page and other key areas accessible from a single menu.
We headed off to the knowledgebase, where a host of different helpful sections caught our eye. Under ‘Helpful Resources’ there was a very handy ‘Getting Started’ guide along with articles on how to get started with cPanel – very useful for newer users.
Running real-world searches gave us more results. Using ‘import WordPress’ provided a couple of detailed and relevant results, whereas using single keywords like PHP, MySQL and more also produced some useful content. There's not as much as the best of the competition, and the results aren't always ordered sensibly, but keep looking and you'll generally find something helpful.
If the website can't help, A2 offers support phone numbers in different countries, separate ticket systems for sales, billing or tech support, and live chat, too. That seems like a major advantage to us, especially in a world where budget hosts sometimes restrict you to chat or telephone only.
We turned our attention to Live Chat. It took a while to get connected to an agent – we seemed to be 5th in line for a long time. Overall, we waited over 25 minutes before we were able to speak to an agent. This is a longer connection time than seen with most other providers. However, they were more than capable of handling our requests and we ended the chat relatively satisfied.
Finally, we ran a few basic server performance tests. Our site was hosted in the US and local access times were excellent, but connections from elsewhere were average. Keep in mind we're only testing access times, though. A2 Hosting's performance features will almost certainly improve page load and rendering times, but the exact effect will vary depending on the site – the only way to find out for sure is to try it for yourself.
A2 Hosting isn't for bargain hunters, but you do get a lot for your money, and experienced users will appreciate the company's many performance-optimizing features and tweaks.
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