123-reg offers three hosting plans: Start Up, Business, and Professional. The base plan, Start Up ($4.13 per month, or $49.56 per year with a one-year commitment) is very basic, offering 1GB of storage, unlimited montly data transfers, 100 email mailboxes at 1GB each, some email security, and not much else. If you already have an existing HTML site (one that's not too big) you can upload via FTP, the basic plan is sufficient. The plan supports Ruby, PHP, ASP.NET and Perl, but that's about it. You can't install databases, so any application that requires a SQL database is out—popular forum software phpBB and any type of content management software are both no-go. There is also no command line access.
Business (starting at $6.89 per month) is comparable to what you would see with competitors such as the Editors' Choice winners Arvixe$3.20 at Arvixe - Shared and Dreamhost$4.95 at DreamHost - Shared, with 50GB storage, 500 email mailboxes at 1GB each, database support, website statistics, almost 70 third-party applications you can install, a stock image library, and access to website templates. 123-reg offers a choice of Linux or Windows hosting, which is unusual and welcome. So if you need Windows hosting, 123-reg is an option to consider, if you don't want to deal with Microsoft's Azure cloud environment.
The Professional plan (starting at $12.49 per month) offers unlimited email, mailboxes, and databases. Since the company is based in the U.K., 123-reg offers a co.uk domain for free in the Start Up Plan, three for Business, and five in Professional. Since we were registering a .com domain, we also incurred an additional £10.99 ($18.21) domain fee.
123-reg makes selecting a package harder than it needs to be. In addition to the plan choices, you also have the option to buy a Website Builder package, which is a hosting plan specifically for hosting a regular website, or an e-commerce shop. You can also look into hosting with Drupal, Joomla, or WordPress (starting at £4.16, or $8.27, per month). This kind of hosting provides you with a managed version of these content management systems. One nice thing is that you don't need to deal with updates or basic configuration of these systems, because 123-reg handles them for you.
High-Performance Web Hosting Packages
123-Reg's dedicated cloud servers come in a variety of CPU, RAM, and storage configurations. The power will cost you, but with the high prices come beefy specs: The low-end dedicated cloud servers start at $167 (48GB of RAM, 1.2TB hard drive, and unlimited month data transfers) and scale up to $329 per month (96GB RAM, four 2TB hard drives, and unlimited monthly data transfers).
HostGator$3.33 at HostGator - Shared, the PCMag Editors' choice for dedicated Web hosting services, doesn't scale nearly as high: Users can customize their servers with up to 1TB of storage, 16GB of RAM, Linux or Windows operating systems, and 25GB of monthly data transfers. That said, Hostgator is a far more well-rounded Web host; it has a lower starting price, more flexible Web-building options, and superior technical support hours.
Signing up is easy and quick. You search for a domain name, select a plan, and enter personal information and billing details. There's a strong sales push for tools such as the Website Builder and ecommerce tools, which makes sense because the core plans don't offer much. Like One.com, 123-reg offers only a skimpy 15-day money-back guarantee, compared with the standard 30 days from most providers. Arvixe has a generous 60-day guarantee.
Setting Up a 123-reg Hosted Site
The main 123-reg control panel is a long page with clearly marked sections for management tools. The domain management tools are prominently displayed at the top, followed by email, Web hosting, servers, create your website, ecommerce, security, marketing, make money, and account management. Each section has prominent buy links for tools and features.
Despite having bought Web hosting for our site, superfuntech123.com, we didn't see any Web hosting tools on the control panel. Everything was hidden behind the Manage button, which opened up a new tab. We could go into the file manager to view and even edit the HTML and text files.
We browsed through the website templates and clicked on one that we liked. The templates are fairly basic and nothing to get too excited about. The template downloaded to my computer. At this point, we had to either open up an FTP session or use the File Manager tool from the control panel. Once the file was on the server, we were able to edit the file through the File Manager tool. It's a manual process, but it's not quite hand-rolling your own HTML. Still, tons of providers offer some kind of website creation tools, so it's really not worth the time and effort to go this manual route in 2014.
Instead, you can try 123-reg's Instant Site tool. Instant Site provides hundreds of templates to create a website that can be an online store, a photo gallery, or a blog. You can add polls, forms, and widgets to the site. InstantSite Plus (£2.99, or $4.95, per month) limits you to just 10 pages, while Instant Site Pro (£4.99, or $8.27, per month) allows 500 pages. You can also sign up for the Make Me a Website service, and 123-reg will build the site to your specifications.
In addition, the control panel offers a Website Builder, which isn't a website creation tool, exactly. It's a hosting plan with bundled website creation. The Personal plan, again, is very basic; it allows only five pages. With Website Builder (starting at £3.99 per month, or $6.61) you gain a drag-and-drop interface for creating polished websites. It lets you add social media links, PayPal buttons and shopping carts, and Google Maps.
Setting Up a WordPress Blog
The main reason we got the Business plan is to see how well 123-reg worked with WordPress, one of the most popular blog platforms on the Web. This is part of our standard testing procedure for all Web hosting services. While you can set up your own blog using Instant Site, many people want the advanced features and customizability WordPress offers.
The WordPress icon is listed under CGI Scripts in the Web Hosting control panel, which may be confusing, since people don't always think of Web applications as CGI scripts. This section doesn't display the icons for each application in alphabetical order, which makes working with them quite tedious. You click on the icon, enter the directory the blog platform should be installed in, and the platform unpacks the files in the appropriate location. As with One.com, you still need to do the rest of the setup process by going to the provided Web URL and then logging into the dashboard.
One note about CGI Scripts: This section listed about 60 different applications because we were using a Linux host. The list of available applications is significantly shorter if you are using a Windows host.
Creating Email Accounts
Email setup is a breeze. The main control panel offers an icon for Manage Email. You can see how many mailboxes you currently have and all created accounts. Antivirus protection is enabled by default, but you can buy also buy mobility (to check mail from mobile devices) as an add-on. You can create actual email addresses as well as forwarding addresses. You create email addresses one at a time, but you can delete multiple users at once. We really like how Network Solutions $2.99 at Network Solutions let you create multiple mailboxes at once, and we would like to see that feature offered by other providers. You can find POP and IMAP settings under each email account's Mailbox Settings.
Setting Up a 123-reg Online Store
You have quite a few choices for your online store on 123-reg. You can create an online store with PayPal widgets using Instant Site. You can install one of the many applications 123-reg lists under the E-commerce option on the Web hosting control panel, such as osCommerce, Open Cart, and Agora Shopping Cart. You can upload a third-party application and manually configure it, much as you would for One.com, or a cloud environment such as Amazon EC2 or Azure. You can also buy an ecommerce package, which is yet another type of hosting plan that is only for creating an online store. Much like the Website Builder plan, Eshop offers all the basics of Web hosting and adds in custom features to make it easier to set everything up.
We set up osCommerce and found the experience more or less the same as installing WordPress. After unpacking the CGI scripts, we had to step through the installation process and configure the databases. It wasn't difficult, but after working with the snazzy store creator that came with the Network Solutions hosting plan, this process seemed time-consuming, difficult, and less friendly for small businesses. EShop gives you that similar experience, provided you buy the ecommerce plan instead of a normal hosting plan.
123-reg offers the ability to block IP addresses and blacklisting, which is nifty. Along with SSL certificates, you can also buy Site Scanner, which monitors your website to determine if you have been infected with malware. Site Scanner also looks for vulnerabilities that can be exploited by attackers and monitors your domain reputation on spam blocking lists. While email has built-in antivirus, there is no anti-spam service comparable to what Arvixe offers.
If you have any problems with your hosting plan, or if you simply have a question, your only bet with 123-reg is to use the Live Chat, or else look for the FAQ guide on the site. Phone support is restricted to UK-customers only. The Live Chat is not 24 hours a day; it's available only from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. London time, Monday to Friday. This means if you need help after 2 p.m. in New York or 11 a.m. in San Francisco, you are completely out of luck. The FAQ guides are well written, but there were still plenty of questions left unanswered. So either plan ahead when you will contact tech support, or consider GoDaddy$3.99 at GoDaddy - Shared or Network Solutions for your tech support needs.
When we did catch someone, at about 9:30 a.m. Eastern, the LiveChat agent was helpful. We asked how we would handle domain transfers, and the agent was able to talk me through the relevant steps. We also asked about the difference between WordPress hosting and just installing WordPress on the Business plan. The agent explained that WordPress hosting meant we wouldn't have to deal with any updates, since 123-reg would handle it entirely. The Live Chat agents know their answers, but good luck matching up time zones to get assistance. Having a user forum would have at least helped for those weekend crises.
Too Pricey for Basics
123-reg is not the cheapest or easiest-to-use web hosting platform out there. The company has good domain management tools, which makes sense since it was originally a domain registrar. Web hosting feels like an afterthought, though, and the tools are not as easy to use or as robust as what competitors offer. We had thought Network Solutions was overwhelming, but 123-reg was harder to navigate and the various pricing options just made the process even more challenging. If you run one-purpose sites, such as a WordPress site, an online store, or a simple HTML site, 123-reg may fit your needs. But if you want flexibility, or to be able to host a blog and an online store and an image gallery, you'll wind up paying a lot for add-ons, and you'll spend a lot of time configuring it all. For a simpler-to-use, full-featured Web hosting service, the PCMag Editors' Choice winners, Arvixe and Dreamhost, are better options.
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