Which is best for downloading content? We compare Usenet vs torrent file-sharing for privacy, speeds, cost, reliability and ease-of-use
You may not be aware, but there is a long-standing and ongoing debate about which is better for obtaining downloads: Usenet vs torrent? As is so often the case, the answer is: it depends.
The summary of our findings is below followed by the more detailed analysis.
not free as requires a paid subscription (but inexpensive)
free (but a VPN subscription is recommended to stay safe)
your ability to download an item from Usenet is not dependent on other users; Usenet is a one-way street
your ability to download an item using torrents is dependent on other users by definition (“peer to peer” technology); torrents are a two-way street
utilizes your full bandwidth as you are downloading directly from your provider’s servers
speeds more limited (but can still be very good) as you are downloading from other users
Privacy & Security
extremely difficult for snoops to monitor your Usenet activities
snoops can easily monitor your torrenting activities (unless you use a torrent VPN)
3 to 4 hour learning curve (less for web-based Usenet)
1 to 2 hour learning curve (higher if coupled with a VPN)
Usenet wins out over torrents especially if you are privacy conscious and/or if you want access to less popular items not widely shared as torrents
Torrents win out over Usenet if you want to download only recent and popular content and you use a torrent-friendly VPN
Of course, you can always use both and enjoy the best of both worlds. 🙂
Detailed Analysis of Usenet vs Torrent
In reaching the conclusion above, we examined the pros and cons of both Usenet vs torrent technologies, especially from a privacy perspective.
Usenet vs Torrent: Pros and Cons of Usenet Newsgroups
Despite being decades old Usenet has kept up with the times and remains a popular forum for sharing downloads. If you are new to Usenet, check out our Usenet newsgroup pages for more information.
- Not Free - To start obtaining downloads from Usenet, you will need a (paid) subscription from a Usenet service provider and an app, usually free, called a newsreader.
Obviously, the need to pay for Usenet service is not ideal and why many people prefer torrents which are free (but there’s more to that story too). Paying under $10 a month can get you full, uncensored access to all the newsgroups Usenet has to offer. Unlimited data volume packages are available too. Before signing up for an unlimited account without any download transfer limits, make sure you actually need it as they can be more expensive.
- Decent Availability and Longevity of Downloads – Because so many newsgroups exist and Usenet has a culture of sharing, the availability of downloads is usually good.
That said, torrents are probably better for recent and popular downloads. Also, keep in mind that files made available through Usenet usually have a maximum shelf life of 2500 days. This is done for practical reasons as Usenet providers are unable to retain an infinite amount of data and files on their servers. That said, you are likely well-served by any retention periods over 1500 days (that’s 4 years after all) and some go as high as 2300+ days (6+ years).
- Incomplete Items – Items on Usenet can be “incomplete” (meaning that pieces can be missing especially from larger items such as long videos) but this risk can be reduced by carefully selecting your Usenet provider.
- Leeching is Welcome - If you want only to leech from and lurk around Usenet newsgroups (that is, download items and read posts without ever uploading or posting any), you are free to do so without being “penalized” in any way. Usenet’s fast download speeds remain the same no matter how much uploading and sharing you engage in. This contrasts with torrents as you can be "penalized" with slower download speeds, albeit only slightly, for a lopsided download to uploading ratio (that's when you download lots of items compared to how much you seed items).
What's more, your torrent download speeds will be affected by the number of other active users. Generally speaking, the more people sharing a torrent the faster it will download. With Usenet, once the item you want is available in a newsgroup you are free to download it at your maximum speed regardless of how popular it is or how many other people also wish to obtain it.
- Awesome Downloading Speeds - Usenet can be lightning fast as it is able – in contrast to torrents - to max out your entire available bandwidth connection.
This is possible because the files you download from Usenet reside on the provider’s servers, so you are downloading them directly, not in bits and pieces from other users as with torrents.
- High Security and Privacy - Usenet is both secure and private, very private in fact.
Only your Usenet service provider can possibly know what you are downloading. This contrasts with torrents where any other user in the swarm (the people sharing the same torrent) can monitor your IP address and determine the torrent items you are downloading and sharing.
The reason it is all but impossible for third parties to monitor your Usenet activities is that your downloading activities are shielded behind strong SSL encryption (a type of connection supported by all reputable Usenet providers) which means the data travelling from the Usenet provider to your computer or device is scrambled and unreadable by anyone intercepting or monitoring that traffic. Although your ISP will be able to see that you are downloading lots of data, they will not be able to determine what you are downloading or even that it is Usenet traffic. This is similar to using torrents in combination with a VPN.
Your protection on Usenet is as bullet proof as possible when an SSL connection is combined with you using a Usenet service provider that has a “no logging” policy. If a provider keeps no activity logs, this makes it extremely tough for any specific file downloads to be tracked by any snoops to a particular individual.
- Steeper Learning Curve - It’s also true that learning how to use torrents is easier than learning how to use Usenet. But frankly speaking Usenet isn’t all that hard to get to grips with.
>> Go back up to the Comparison Usenet vs Torrent Table >>
Usenet vs Torrent File-Sharing: Torrenting Pros and Cons
Torrents rely on peer-to-peer (p2p) technology to facilitate sharing downloads. If you are new to torrents, check out our torrent file-sharing pages for more information.
- “Free” – The fact that torrents can be obtained for free is very appealing to millions of people. To start downloading torrents, you need only a free torrent app and access to a search engine. However the “price” for free torrents is poor privacy – see below.
- Item Availability and Longevity Varies – Many of the advantages expressed here for torrents apply only to popular items being shared by many torrent users.
In contrast, rare items with few people sharing the torrents (zero seeds) can mean that no matter how amazing your internet connection or torrent searching techniques, the downloading may take a very long time or may never start. Therefore, torrents work best with popular items as these torrents have the highest ratio of seeders and peers.
- Speeds and Available Vary (but can be very good) - Seeds and peers make up the swarm of a particular torrent and hence your downloading speeds will always be dependent on the number of other users (the ratio of seeders to peers just discussed above), the quality of their Internet connections and how much of the torrent payload they are sharing.
- Poor Privacy (unless combined with other techniques) - Because torrent technology depends on a swarm of users sharing data, it is relatively easy for a snoop to join a swarm and monitor the activities of its participants, including your activities.
This risk can be countered by torrenting only with private trackers (these are essentially “invitation only” non-public torrent groups) or using a VPN while torrent file-sharing. Of course, using a torrent-friendly VPN costs money and thus chips away at one of the primary perceived advantages of torrents over Usenet.
Top Tip: A VPN acts as a torrent anonymizing service by masking your true IP address and by encrypting the data sent to your computer or device. This protects your torrent activities from being sniffed by your ISP or monitored by third parties. Anyone joining a torrent swarm you are participating in will only be able to detect and trace downloads to your VPN’s IP address rather than yours.
- Easier Learning Curve - Torrents are more user-friendly than Usenet. You need only a few minutes to set up your torrent app and start accessing a seemingly limitless amount of digital content.
>> Go back up to the Comparison Torrent vs Usenet Table >>