Usenet vs Torrents – Strengths & Weaknesses Compared

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usenet reviewsWith increasingly scary letters being sent to people accused of downloading copyrighted works via torrents, many are considering switching their filesharing habits to Usenet. Is this a wise choice though? What are the pros and cons of each? What factors should be considered first?

It goes without saying that MakeUseOf does not condone downloading copyrighted material in any way – but we know a lot of readers are going to do it anyway; and if you are going to, then I’d really like you be safe and informed about your decision (is it just me, or is this starting to sound like the talk?)

Cost

No discussion would be complete without mentioning cost. For the most part, torrents are free – completely. You can learn about torrents and the legality of them in the MUO Torrent guide. Though I would personally recommend spending up to $10/month on a good quality torrent-friendly VPN, that is a discussion for another day.

Usenet is not free. Unlike torrents, which are files downloaded from fellow Internet users (peer based) and therefore no centralised server is needed to actually host the files, Usenet relies upon physical servers somewhere. A Usenet “service provider” is therefore needed, and those cost money. How much exactly depends upon:

  • Bandwidth limits – everything from 5GB/month to unlimited downloads.
  • Retention, which means how long a file is kept until it is deleted from the servers. Obviously, a longer retention is better because there’ll be a larger selection of files to choose from. This can range from a month, which is virtually useless, to 5 years.
  • Extras and features – such as secure, encrypted connections; a free VPN you can use; a good quality own-brand client, and a free indexing service.

You may also want to use a binary indexing service like NewzBin. They have a team of real humans who find and verify files available to download, and provide you with a one-click download link that your Usenet client can use to locate those files (a bit like a magnet link for torrents, just a pointer to the real thing). The service also costs money, and I should note that the first incarnation of the site was shut down by the MPA.

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Speed

Usenet is much faster than torrents, since you’re downloading directly from a server that’s optimized for it, rather than a collection of random peers all over the world. It does depend upon your provider and service plan though of course – unlimited download plans will often be throttled or capped at a certain speed, while a fixed bandwidth download plan will usually let you have that at full speed. Speeds up to 10 times faster than a well-seeded torrent are not unusual.

Selection

Usenet isn’t what it used to be, and as the filesharing trend toward torrents shifted, so did the uploaders and the selection available. In particular, anything obscure or even trying to find something specific is handled far better in torrents – Usenet just doesn’t have that much to download anymore.

Software

Serious users of Usenet for filesharing means you really do need a good client. Essential features to look for should include at the very least:

  • Automatic combination of separate file parts.
  • Seamless RAR file extraction and PAR regeneration.
  • Search.
  • Previews or inline .nfo file display, used to tell the download about the contents of the set.

Though your provider may give you some basic Usenet client software, there are some very popular commercial clients also worth considering, but again these come at a premium price. Panic’s Unison for OSX is $29, for example, but widely regarded as the best OSX client out there (pictured below).

Finding a client is quite a personal choice though that depends on your usage. If you’re going to use an indexing service that provides NZB links for example, then any client that can autocombine parts should be sufficient. If not, your client should have an extensive search and directory facility.

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What Is PAR?

PAR – or “parity” files are additional data files that can be used to regenerate corrupted or missing parts of the original set – any single par file can used to regenerate any single corrupted rar section, basically. They work by using parity bits, so instead of literally being a copy of the missing file, they’re a calculated set of bits thats says what should be there.

It’s like a simple mathemetical problem of two variables, A and B, the sum of which is 10, so if we know either A, B and the sum, we can calculate the missing one – the same being true of data.

Safety

Many Usenet providers will encrypt transmissions with 256-bit SSL, but combine with a VPN for the ultimate in security. Giganews Platninum plan ($24.99 a month) comes complete with VyprVPN for instance – which you can use for all traffic, and not just Usenet. I believe I’m right in saying no one has ever been caught directly by downloading something illegal via Usenet, but do correct me if you can point to something that says otherwise.

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Having said that, torrents can also be made relatively secure, again through the use of a premium VPN and PeerBlock software.

Summary

Usenet may be incredibly fast compared to torrents, but my own experience shows the selection of files available just isn’t there, and it just isn’t worth the cost. Just browse over to the latest TV releases at Newzbin if you don’t believe me. If you do still want to have a go at Usenet, then take the time to read through our free complete guide to Usenet first.

My advice if you can’t decide: get onto the waiting list for a private torrent site – these are far less monitored than public sites. Use a premium VPN service such as BTGuard to completely hide your downloading identity. With ISPs in the US about to start policing their users, I’ll be posting a full tutorial on how to do this soon, so stay tuned.

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