Dreamhost Review: Web Hosting
|Sign up for Dreamhost|
|For intermediate to advanced users; fast data transfer and free domain privacy but very limited support|
Dreamhost is unique among the web host services we've reviewed. It's a uniqueness that may be refreshing to some advanced users, but frustrating for beginners or those that like a lot of bells and whistles. We can safely advise anyone who needs a lot of technical support, a fast online site-builder, or an easily-configured PayPal system to consider another option. If, however, you're an intermediate-to-advanced user who likes a clean, no-nonsense control panel, needs a few essential features like Wordpress, likes the idea of green hosting, and prefers a web host with attitude, read on.
At $8.95 a month for a year, Dreamhost is significantly more expensive than our top hosts, but that $8.95 buys you free domain privacy (something that can cost $10 per year or more with other web hosts). There are no set-up fees, but you can pay $9.95 a month for phone support (though it's a call-back system and you're limited to just three calls per month) and unlimited live chat.
You have 97 days to evaluate Dreamhost and receive your money back (minus $9.95 for the cost of the domain), an unusually long satisfaction guarantee period. However, after that period there is no pro-rated refund.
Dreamhost is one of an increasing number of self-described green hosts, meaning they neutralize their carbon footprint by purchasing renewable energy, running more efficient servers, and a variety of other measures that they're happy to tell you about.
Dreamhost has one of the few truly integrated add-on installation and management environments, which gives the whole experience a very cohesive feeling. Whereas installing a blog or photo gallery on other web hosts shuttles you off to a different user experience for the installation, Dreamhost handles it all inside the same interface. This makes it easy to see what applications you've installed, and remove them if necessary.
We tried Dreamhost's one option for online site building, the complex and robust Drupal. While the themes are beautiful, the learning curve is steep. It's much more configurable than other site builders, but most users will not be up and running with it quickly. If, on the other hand, you plan on building a content-rich site, particularly one administered by a number of users, this is a good option.
Dreamhost offers users unlimited MySQL databases and email addresses. The service supports coding in PHP, Perl, Python and Ruby on Rails, and allows users Shell Access (SSH) by request. All shared hosting accounts use Linux servers, so Dreamhost is not an option for users who want shared Windows hosting. You can host unlimited domains with a Dreamhost account.
Dreamhost's interface is fairly simple and easy to navigate. That said, a lack of support makes even the smallest confusion more of a problem. We found their online help documentation reasonably good, but we wish there was a way to talk to a support technician on the phone or a chat interface without having to pay to upgrade the support. Dreamhost also offers a more limited selection of sitebuilding tools, which means even beginners will have to be ready to use more complex solutions like Drupal instead of the relatively simple sitebuilders other hosts offer.
Dreamhost's scores in testing were fairly average, not quite what we expected from a host that focuses so heavily on the quality of its hosting. Uptime was pretty good, and server response times were just a little worse than average, while its download speeds were among the best. See the chart below for details. For uptime, higher percentages are better. For all others, lower numbers indicate better performance.
As mentioned earlier, telephone support is not standard. Support issues are logged in an email-based trouble ticket system or resolved via chat. A ticket submitted at 1:42 was answered at 1:51. The chat-based support was also helpful. You can find answers to many questions in their support wiki and their forums, but Dreamhost is primarily meant for users who know their way around the basics of website maintenance. Most beginners should look elsewhere for comprehensive free support.
Dreamhost has built a loyal following among experienced web designers, but in this price range we'd like to see better reliability and more standard features, as well as strong, free support.
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Here is NextAdvisor's review of DreamHost: http://www.nextadvisor.com/web_hosting/dreamhost_web_hosting_review.php