Review: Astraweb

October 15th, 2006 by Potato

About a year ago, Rogers cut its newsgroup offerings from the high speed internet service, first using the retarded excuse that it was a den of child porn (perhaps trying to shame people into not complaining?). They quickly retracted that explanation from their website, and instead said that usenet is an outdated, arcane corner of the internet, and that by cutting it they could bring us more high quality services such as free Yahoo 360 blogs (which would have been free even if we weren’t Rogers members).

Anyhow, putting the acrimony in the past, us Rogers users were stuck trying to find an alternate newsgroup provider. I looked around for a while and found that most services were expensive. Some offered unlimited downloads at speeds that could max out the cable connection, but rivalled my cable as a monthly expense. Others offered limited downloads, or limited speed (or both) for less. After looking around for a while, I settled on Astraweb. They seemed to have the best value for money at the time, and most suited my needs: I could buy a block of data transfer, and use it until it ran out, no matter how many months that would take me. Their reputation for reliability and retention was fairly middle-of-the-road on the reviews I read, which was good enough for me.

It’s been over 10 months now, and I’m just coming to the end of my first block of data: I bought 90 GB of transfer for $25 (US), which works out to an average of 8.2 GB/month (I’m on track to finish it at around the 11 month mark), at a cost of about $2.30 (US)/month. That’s pretty damned decent if you’ve tried looking at some of the monthly billed “light” plans that have roughly the same transfer: I think the up-front billing saves them some administrative costs.

I’m also now in a good position to comment on the service. In case you couldn’t tell by my tone above, I think it’s been great value-for-money, and when I use up my last few bytes in the next few weeks, I’ll be buying another 90 GB package (they also have a 280 GB package for $100 US, and I was briefly tempted to jump on that and not have to worry about a usenet server for years… until I did the math and saw that buying 4 90 GB packages is beter. That mathematical oddity is due to the fact that the 90 GB package is usually a 65 GB one, but there’s been a “special” on for the last year or so).

However, saying it’s great value-for-money isn’t quite the same as saying it’s fanstastic. The uptime is very good, there was only one big outage I was aware of, and it only lasted for a day or so. The transfer speeds are adequate, but if you’re impatient or a big user then they will probably not work out for you: I average about 50 kB/s, and let most of my downloads do their thing overnight. At peak times the transfer can dip below 20 kB/s, but that could also be a problem on Rogers’ end. Either way, that’s good enough to get a CD-sized chunk of data before morning, and a DVD-sized chunk of data in about a day or two. In addition to the steady-state speed, there’s also a noticeable delay when opening a connection that’s been idle (loggin in?). They advertise their retention as being 25 days, and it appears to be at least that good. There are some issues with missing parts, a bit worse than I remember on Rogers’ Giganews service. It’s never been so bad that a par2 file or two couldn’t patch it up though.

All-in-all, a good service that should be adequate for most people’s needs, but there are some limitations there for really serious users.

Update: I feel kind of dumb for not thinking about it before, but you have the ability to run more than one thread with some nntp software. I just opened two connections to Astraweb, and they’re both running smoothly at 60 kB/s at the moment, so using more connections may be a way to get better speeds out of Astraweb.

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