Dreamhost Review

Workhorse hosting with no frills

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4

Dreamhost

What We Like

  • All plans offer unlimited storage and bandwidth

  • Offers full access to the Linux shell

  • Custom-developed admin panel isn’t overcrowded

What We Don't Like

  • Admin panel doesn’t offer many tools 

  • Only offers five one-click application installers

  • Management based on domains can be confusing

Dreamhost offers a good balance of features and unlimited storage and bandwidth for a reasonable price.

4

Dreamhost

Dreamhost provides a good selection of features for users ranging from beginner to advanced. While there are no features that really make Dreamhost stand out in any way, neither are there any major shortcomings. Its price is the same—not great, but not terrible. You can consider Dreamhost as a “workhorse” web hosting provider, which can perform when called upon, but otherwise just stays out of your way and keeps chugging along. Read on to see our full review of Dreamhost and how it stacks up in our books.

Levels of Service: As simple as it gets

There are only two levels of Shared service with Dreamhost, but both include unlimited SSD storage and bandwidth, provide free domains and SSL certificates, and install WordPress when you start. They both even share the same advanced features, which we’ll discuss in more detail later.

Dreamhost
Courtesy of Dreamhost

These are the two shared hosting plans you can get from Dreamhost:

Shared Starter: This plan limits you to one website, provides 50 GB of storage, and doesn't include email. It does come with unlimited bandwidth though, a free SSL certificate, and costs $4/mo with no long term commitment.

Shared Unlimited: This plan allows you to create an unlimited number of websites, each with its own domain, and provides unlimited storage. It also lifts limitations on things like databases and subdomains. This plan costs $10.95/mo with no long term commitment.

In addition to these shared hosting plans, Dreamhost also offers managed WordPress hosting and virtual private server (VPS) hosting if your site outgrows the limitations of shared hosting.

Platform: Linux

The Shared hosting services for Dreamhost run on Ubuntu Linux. This, combined with the Apache web server, MySQL databases, and support for the PHP programming language, provides one of the most “standard” operating environments available.

All shared hosting plans have access to the full Linux shell as well. This should please advanced users who may be used to paying for the privilege with other providers. When logged into your account via shell, you have access to a variety of standard (i.e. non-adminstrator) commands.

Storage: Unlimited

Dreamhost doesn’t meter storage for Shared hosting accounts. The only caveat is that, according to their terms of use, any storage you do utilize should be directly related to the website you’re hosting there. Since you're sharing resources with other users, there are physical limitations that may be enforced if you impact other clients on your shared server.

Bandwidth: Also Unlimited

Likewise, Dreamhost doesn’t charge for bandwidth; all Shared plans receive unlimited traffic. Like storage, this only becomes an issue if your site or sites use so much traffic that the other clients on your shared server are adversely impacted.

Registration Process: Straightforward and utilitarian

The registration process for Dreamhost is also straightforward and utilitarian, but we mean that in a good way. It consists of just three screens: one to choose a service, one to choose a domain, and a final screen to provide your contact information, select options, and make payment.

Dreamhost
 Courtesy of Dreamhost

Some of the options you can choose at registration are automatic WordPress installation, a free theme that provides drag-and-drop site editing, the DreamShield monitoring service that looks for outdated software or malicious code, or a service to migrate your current WordPress site to Dreamhost.

Control Panel/Domain & Site Management: Very domain-centric

Dreamhost uses their own custom control panel for the backend that combines the functionality of more familiar options like WHM and cPanel. The management of your actual websites through this custom panel is very domain-centric, which meant that when you want to look for a list of your “sites,” you’ll actually visit the Domains > Manage Domains item in the admin panel.

Within the Manage Domains section, you can configure the hosting parameters of the site, such as HTTPS security, DNS records, and PHP language version. Access to the web-based file manager is also here, with a unique link for each domain allowing you to go directly to the files for the selected website.

Dreamhost
 Courtesy of Dreamhost

You can also use the Manage Domains screen to add, remove, or restore your sites. The remainder of entries on the Domains menu includes tools for registering new domains, transferring existing domains, and acquiring SSL certificates.

Control Panel/Advanced Options: Many Useful Tools

Under the inconspicuous More menu in the Dreamhost admin panel, you’ll find a variety of useful tools, including the following:

  • MySQL Databases: This screen lets you set up your databases and their users. It also provides access to phpMyAdmin, a web-based admin interface for those very same databases, where you can manage their tables.
  • Subversion: Dreamhost provides a tool to set up Subversion version control repositories.
  • Cron Jobs: Cron jobs are tasks that run at specified times/intervals. You can configure them for your account on this screen.
  • Jabber IM: Jabber is an open-source chat protocol, and Dreamhost allows you to set up users for any active domain you have. These users will then be able to chat with one another using a Jabber-supporting client.
  • Htaccess/WebDAV: This screen lets you configure the .htaccess file for your domains, which you can use to control or prohibit access to your site at the server level. It also allows you to turn on Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV), which allows specified users to remotely access files in certain directories.
  • Site Statistics: You can set up particular users to be able to access specific reports for each of your domains.

We typically prefer to see hosts provide familiar and robust options like cPanel and Plesk, but Dreamhost's custom interface definitely gets the job done with most of the options you're likely to need.

Control Panel/Administration: Good Controls for What You’ll Need

The Mail, Users, and Billing & Account menus contain the majority of tools you’ll need to administer your hosting account. As you’d expect, Mail allows you to set up mailboxes and point your domain’s e-mail addresses to Dreamhost’s servers (i.e. set the MX record). You can also access the webmail interface and set up advanced e-mail features like discussion lists, spam settings, and autoresponders.

Users is where you will set up accounts for your collaborators. As a bonus, you can also set up actual Unix user groups, rather than having to do everything one user at a time. Billing & Account lets you set up your payments, maintain your contact info, back up your entire account, and even set security features like two-factor authentication.

Key Features: Full shell access

The advantage of having access to a full Unix shell can’t be understated. Suppose you have a site that gets infected with malware. You’ll likely not have access to the CMS’s admin panel in order to try to recover. But with shell access, you can log into your Dreamhost account and: 1) download the database, in the hopes it hasn’t been corrupted by the malware, 2) try to find, remove, and replace the infected file, providing a quick fix, and/or 3) delete all the site files and restore from a backup or source control.

Aside from these maintenance-related uses, there are also some other advantages. For example, while Dreamhost provides you a web-based UI to set up Subversion, the shell also supports Git, which has all but taken over the source control game. There are other tools you can utilize as well, like the Unix tar and gz commands, which can be used to easily take the aforementioned backups.

Support: Particularly strong

One particularly strong element of Dreamhost is its support. Firstly, they have an extensive knowledge base (KB) containing answers to most questions you’ll have about your hosting service. Chances are someone has needed that answer before, and as a result, Dreamhost has logged the question/issue and its answer, saving you time in waiting for support representatives. The search function for the KB is also fast, bringing up options as you type, and the accuracy is good.

Dreamhost
 Courtesy of Dreamhost

In addition, Dreamhost’s chat-based support representatives are very responsive, usually answering requests in a matter of a few minutes. They are also quite knowledgeable and can resolve issues, or at least get an understanding of the reason behind them, within a couple minutes.

If you prefer to talk to a real person, Dreamhost also offers a phone callback system.

Server Uptime Guarantee: 100% guarantee backed by terms of service

No web host can manage a 100% uptime, and Dreamhost has been measured at about 99.98% by independent tests. However, Dreamhost still provides a 100% uptime guarantee in their terms of service. If you are able to confirm that your site was actually down due to an issue with Dreamhost servers, they'll credit you for one day of service per hour of outage.

In addition to your website, Dreamhost extends their guarantee to your databases, FTP and SSH access, and even webmail. The only catch is the guarantee doesn't kick in for previously announced scheduled immanence or any issues that you cause yourself.

Price: Good bang for your buck

If you’re a technology-savvy user, Dreamhost provides a good bang for the buck, given its unlimited storage and bandwidth. The flexibility available via shell access also provides a great deal of value.

While the custom admin panel puts many tools at your disposal, other similarly-priced services offer the same thing, and in many cases, you’ll need to know where to find them and/or how to use them.

One thing we really appreciate about Dreamhost is that they put all of their prices up front, and you don't have to dig deep into the checkout process to find out how much you'll pay based on your contract term. They make it easy to find out, for example, that their Shared Starter plan costs $4.95 per month with no commitment, or $2.95 per month if you pay for a year in advance.

Competition: Dreamhost vs. Hostgator

Dreamhost is a middle of the pack hosting provider. For example, in terms of storage and bandwidth, competitor HostGator offers unlimited storage and bandwidth with their cheapest plan.

If you pay for three years in advance, you can get unlimited storage and bandwidth at Hostgator for just $2.75/month. With Dreamhost, you'll pay a minimum of $5.95 for their Shared Unlimited plan to access that same level of resources.

The same basic cost versus value proposition applies to Dreamhost’s admin panel as well. It’s straightforward to use, provided you know where to look for things, but in many ways spartan. The one-click applications, numbering just five, are a great example. Compare this with Hostgator's cPanel access with Softaculous, which has dozens of one-click application installers available, and Hostgator comes out on top.

For newer site builders, the multitude of options within Hostgator's cPanel can become confusing. From this perspective, the extra cost you're paying at Dreamhost gets you a slightly easier experience if you've never dealt with cPanel before.

If you are used to cPanel, and you don't want to learn a new system, then Hostgator is the obvious choice. 

Final Verdict

Unparalleled uptime guarantee.

Dreamhost is in the middle of the pack in a lot of areas, with average pricing, a lack of resources at the lower end, and a custom control panel that may turn some users off. Their fantastic uptime guarantee, no-nonsense signup process, and intuitive system for new users makes this a good choice if you're new to building websites, and somewhat less so if you're looking for the old, familiar cPanel experience.

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