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Astraweb review

A veteran service with excellent retention levels

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(Image: © Astraweb)

Our Verdict

Polished, fast Usenet provision with an uncomplicated selection of packages and features.

For

  • Affordable prices
  • 4,000 days retention
  • 50 Connections

Against

  • Question marks over customer service

Looking for a simple Usenet service to act as an introduction to downloading binaries? Need an affordable one-off block of Usenet access for some intensive downloading without long-term commitment? Astraweb handles both requirements and others, thanks to a streamlined approach to features and pricing.

Registered back in 1997, Astraweb is one of the most important names in Usenet access. Acting as a service provider for individuals and ISPs alike, Astraweb is based in Iceland.

A key selling point for Usenet providers is retention. Astraweb drove retention increases by Usenet services in 2008 when it announced the retention of files for up to 270 days, upping this to 1800 days by 2013.

As storage prices have decreased, retention has increased across the Usenet market. 

Features

Astraweb offers a basic-yet-effective set of features for Usenet access via a desktop newsreader. Unlimited speed, 50 simultaneous connections, impressive retention, and SSL are all available for an affordable monthly.

US and EU servers are available, with a general server address that should route you to the most suitable Usenet server for your location. Specific server addresses can be entered into your newsreader, however.

Support

You can find answers to common problems by searching Astraweb's knowledgebase (Image credit: Astraweb)

Astraweb provides a useful support page, with common issues listed with workable solutions. The search feature doesn't offer the ability to raise a new support ticket if the solution isn't found, but an email form is provided, supporting the upload of screenshots and log files. Direct contact options are also provided, via email, telephone, and a US postal address (opposed to the Icelandic address recorded elsewhere on www.astraweb.com).

Retention

When you shop for a Usenet provider, retention is a key element of the decision. This is the amount of time that the provider retains binaries (media files) and text in the newsgroups. Usenet has been around since the 1980s, with decades' worth of discussions and uploads of all kinds - images, videos, audio, and more.

It's impractical for Usenet services to provide access to the complete archive (much of the text archive can be found on Google Groups) but most offer access to files from several years ago.

With over 4,000 days of retention, Astraweb lets you browse and download files dating back over 10 years. This isn't the largest retention available, but it is above average and a sizable chunk of information. Astraweb does not state a completion figure, however. 

Security and privacy

Browsing Usenet archives for media without an encrypted connection is potentially risky. Fortunately, like other providers, Astraweb provides 256-bit SSL/TLS encryption to provide a layer of privacy.

To sign up, you need to provide your name, email address, and a password. For credit card payments, Astraweb requires the usual name, card number, and postal or Zip code. Want more anonymity? Theoretically, you could sign up with a fake name, temporary email address, and Bitcoin or Bitcoin Cash, via the Bitpay service.

Like any trustworthy provider of online services, Astraweb has issued a detailed Privacy Policy. This lists the customer information collected, noting that "Astraweb does not monitor which newsgroups you post to or download from or what you put in articles that you post."

When subpoenaed, Astraweb "only release any personal data, or any data saved on our servers with a valid… order." Of course, users also have responsibility to use Astraweb sensibly, without abusing the service or other users.

Performance

Testing Astraweb with a 1.3GB AVI file (908 days old) and 360MB FLAC file (89 days) saw the service download at an average 2250Kbps, peaking at just over 2500Kbps for both. A VPN server in London was used to bypass ISP traffic shaping.

Both tests were performed over a 39Mbps domestic connection. 

Despite the busier local traffic, Astraweb should have been able to provide faster download speeds.

Pricing

Astraweb offers monthly plans as well as block accounts (Image credit: Astraweb)

Pricing

Three main pricing packages are available with Astraweb. These all offer unlimited speed, 50 simultaneous connections, SSL, and over 3750 days retention. 

The month-by-month option is $15 (£11.50, equivalent to € 12.68).

Meanwhile, you can pay for three months at a time for $39 (£29.89, €32.97), working out at a more affordable $13 (£9.96 /€10.99) per month.

Finally, the 12-month bundle is $48 (£36.79 or €40.58), just $8 (£6.13 /€6.76) a month when you break it down.

In addition to this simple pricing set up, Astraweb also offers block accounts for one-off purchases. These have unlimited speed and 50 connections, but you pay for a block based on your preferred download limit.

A 25GB limit will set you back $10 (£7.66 or €8.45), while 180GB is $25 (£19.16 or €21.13). The 1000GB block is $50 (£38.32 or £42.27). Each of Astraweb's bundles represent good value for money.

Credit Card payments are accepted. Unusually for a Usenet provider, you can't pay using PayPal. If you prefer the option of anonymity, however, there is Bitpay (a service that handles payments by Bitcoin or Bitcoin Cash cryptocurrencies).

Astraweb does not offer a trial, nor is there a "money back" offer if you're dissatisfied.

Final verdict

Offering a good degree of retention, Astraweb provides a fast Usenet service with an unfussy attitude to subscriptions. This alone is refreshing - too much time can be wasted looking for a Usenet bundle that suits your requirements and budget. 

With a fast search and good download speeds, Astraweb will deliver the binaries you're looking for as fast as your internet provider can handle the data.

Admittedly, Astraweb doesn't offer the cheapest plans, but its service is robust, the website impressive, and the member's area provides all the information you need. Privacy is good, with the anonymous signup potential of Bitcoin support, and Astraweb's privacy policy is clear.

The lack of a trial option or even a trendy 30-day money back is striking, but Astraweb delivers everything you need to start browsing and downloading from Usenet in the shortest possible time.