Hostwinds review

An affordable well-featured web host, but with some flaws

TODO alt text

Our Verdict

This host has a distinctly unimpressive website, but great products and a 60-day money-back guarantee make Hostwinds likely to be worth the risk.

For

  • Huge range of products
  • Good value
  • Above-average performance
  • 60-day money-back guarantee

Against

  • Unfriendly website
  • Few guides for beginners

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

The Basic plan for $4.50 (£3.45) a month comes with a surprising number of features. These include unlimited bandwidth, disk space, email accounts, databases and subdomains. There's also cPanel access, the Trendy Tools site builder, Softaculous one-click installs, nightly backups and a free dedicated IP address. Basic accounts are limited to one domain each.

You can save even more by paying upfront for an annual subscription. This works out at $3.50 (£2.70) per month, and there are further discounts for longer subscriptions.

With such a powerful starter plan, there's nowhere for the rest of the shared hosting range to go. The high-end $10.99 (£8.40) a month Ultimate Business plan adds support for unlimited domains, and places you on a server with fewer accounts, but otherwise it's the same.

Although 'web application hosting' is listed on the website, there's no managed WordPress or e-commerce plan, just a link to the standard hosting accounts. The company doesn't advertise a website builder either, but there is one included.

If you need more resources, VPS subscriptions start at $4.99 (£3.82) a month for an unmanaged Linux server with 1 CPU, 1GB of RAM and 30GB of disk space. Dedicated server plans start from $106 (£81) a month. Although there aren't many server types, they're all reasonably customizable.

All products are covered by a 60-day money-back guarantee. That's a big improvement on the industry-standard 30-days, although there are a few hosts that go even further (InMotion Hosting gives you 90-days, for example).

Hostwinds

Account setup

The Hostwinds website doesn't give you much low-level detail on its plans. The comparison table on the main page only provides information experienced users would guess anyway. The control panel comes with a web-based file manager, AWStats and Webalizer.

During account setup you can enter a new or existing domain name. Next, Hostwinds offered us an Advanced Website Monitoring add-on. This automatically raises a support ticket if your website goes offline or stops loading, and it means your site is likely to recover more quickly from common issues.

Hostwinds

Hostwinds supports payment by credit card or PayPal. The payment gateway accepted our MasterCard without any issues.

Hostwinds completed the process by sending an invoice by email. There was no waiting period – we were able to start work right away.

Creating a site

The welcome email didn't have as many support and 'getting started' links as others we've seen, but it still included plenty of useful low-level details for the more experienced: a direct cPanel link, server name and IP, nameservers, FTP details, POP3 and SMTP servers, and more.

The customer portal is clean and straightforward. There are no banner ads, no marketing at all, just a tabbed interface which gives you easy access to all your features: Services, Domains, Billing, Support, Tickets and more.

The portal has no direct site management tools, but there is a Login button which takes you to a regular cPanel installation. If you've used cPanel before you'll find your way around immediately. If you're a beginner it'll take longer, but you can learn things bit by bit. The File Manager and FTP Accounts are two of the icons at the very top of the page, for instance – you can use both of these to upload a site you've already made. 

Hostwinds

We also checked the software versions used by Hostwinds: cPanel was the most recent version (currently 74.0.8) as was MySQL. PHP comes preinstalled on all servers via cPanel. PHP MyAdmin is used to manage your databases. All Hostwinds plans include unlimited mySQL databases.

Although it's barely mentioned on the site, Hostwinds includes the Trendy Tools site builder. This has multiple templates organized into categories like Business, Photography and Band. You're able to customize text and images, add new content of your own, or even set up simple web stores. Trendy Tools is not the most advanced offering, but it is easy to use and doesn't have any annoying page limits.

The other site building highlight here is Softaculous, one of the best frameworks for finding, easily installing and managing hundreds of applications: WordPress, Joomla, PrestaShop, Drupal and more. You could set up WordPress in a couple of minutes, for instance, just by filling in a form.

The whole process of getting started on your site can be a bit confusing for newer users. If you are looking for a more straightforward and user-friendly web hosting provider, it might be an idea to check out Yahoo Web Hosting. This is straightforward and simple to use with plenty of help and support for those who find themselves on unsure ground.

Hostwinds

Performance

No single review is able to reliably tell you how a host will perform over time. What we try to do instead is look more closely at the website, the services, and the kind of support you get. If a host is cutting corners, it's more likely problems will occur later.

The company has a service status page which is meant to show live information regarding shared servers. Sadly, it doesn't do this – there are only headings with no information displayed underneath at all.

We wondered if this was some temporary problem, until we followed another link to view '38 resolved network issues', and found the last one recorded was in 2015. Either Hostwinds has had a perfect record since then, or the website update system is broken and no-one's noticed.

When we last looked at Hostwinds, we uncovered a security issue with cPanel, which displayed your password in clear text if you tried to change it. This has since been fixed: cPanel will now only change your password if you enter the old one first.

The firm's web knowledgebase contains a small number of helpful articles. You can also use the search feature to locate helpful guides such as 'How to install WordPress'. 

The last time we looked at Hostwinds, we lamented the fact that it wasn't possible to install different versions of PHP on multiple domains if using a shared hosting plan. After raising a support ticket, a company representative explained that this wasn't possible as it would affect other customers using the same server.

This time round, when queried, the support team responded to our ticket in 22 minutes with a link to a helpful guide in the provider's knowledgebase demonstrating how to use 'MultiPHP', which allows you to select different PHP versions via a drop-down menu. This be achieved in cPanel.

We completed our tests by running Bitcatcha and other benchmarks on our server. This seemed to be located on the western side of the US, so connections from the UK took fractionally longer. You're unlikely to notice any issues, though, and the performance to the US and the rest of our test locations was good, meaning speeds were above-average overall.

Final verdict

This web host's feature-packed plans seem great value, but the feeble support and website are a concern. The 60-day money-back guarantee might make it worth taking a chance on Hostwinds anyway, but be sure to test the service in-depth.

This is particularly important if you don't have a dedicated server, as you may need a different software version to those that are pre-installed. Nevertheless, Hostwinds is suitable for most applications and offers excellent value for money, so you have little to lose by trying it out.