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What is Usenet and why is it better than Torrents?

Considering that there are several articles on htpcBeginner that refer to or use Usenet, it time we briefly explain what is Usenet and do a mini Usenet vs Torrents comparison. There are tons of articles on the internet that provide a much detailed explanation of what is Usenet and how it can be used for various purposes including downloading files. Apps like CouchPotato and Sick Beard work best with Usenet. With the recent actions against many of the torrent indexes, the use of Usenet for downloading has been increasing. As you would see in this article Usenet not only offers privacy but also convenience as it integrates seamlessly with many apps making your media center completely automated. Read on to find out what is Usenet and bittorent compares to Usenet.

What is Usenet anyway?

Usenet is a network of people who exchange articles/files tagged with with common labels called “newsgroups” (examples: alt.movies, alt.tvshows, alt.movies.hd, etc.). Usenet has been around for several decades (even before internet was born). What is Usenet used for? Well, Usenet or Usenet groups are used for several purposes by communities and support groups including sharing news/files and information. Posting alt.binaries (files) for download by others is just one aspect of Usenet, which is related to downloading content.

What is Usenet : Comparison to Torrents

Usenet Vs Torrents

For the purposes of downloading files, Torrents have been the most common route. But with recent crackdown several illegal file sharing bittorrent websites, there is a general movement to alternative technologies. While Usenet has been around for several years, its popularity has been growing in the recent times. Unlike torrents, most Usenet services are not free. Free Usenet newsgroups have several limitations. But the small fee you pay for a good Usenet service gives you several advantages over torrents:

  • Privacy – What you download remains anonymous. If you include a SSL connection then your downloads are completely private. Most Usenet providers do not log what content you are accessing.
  • Anonymity – If you are using SSL nobody can tell what you are download. Actually, nobody will even know that the high traffic on your internet is due to Usenet. Typically ISPs can detect torrents and send you notices or throttle your speed but not with Usenet. The only other person who will know your IP and that you are using Usenet is your Usenet provider.
  • No Sharing Required – Unlike torrents, Usenet is one-way: there is no requirement to share the files you are downloading.
  • High Speed Downloads – Unlike torrents, Usenet does not depend on the number of seeds or peers for speed. With many Usenet providers, your download speed is only limited by your ISP’s bandwidth.

Usenet Access

Now that we (kind of) explained what is Usenet, let us see how to use it. In order to access and download content from Usenet servers, one needs three things: Usenet Service, Usenet Index (.NZB files), and a Newsgrabber software. [Read: How to choose the best Usenet provider for you?]

1. Usenet Service

Usenet servers (aka Usenet Newsgroup Server) relay content, while offering great speed, conveniences, and privacy. Almost all Usenet providers provide access to the same files and but one needs an account to gain access to the content. Usenet newsgroup providers typically charge for the bandwidth used. You may be able to find several free trials but free accounts are extremely rare. An exception to this is a free Usenet account from XSusenet. However, keep in mind that this free account has several limitations such as number of connections, bandwidth, no SSL, etc. For best experience do not hesitate to invest in a good paid Usenet service. htpcBeginner recommends Astraweb or Newshosting: both currently offer over 1600 days of retention, secure SSL connections, and unlimited bandwidth unlike some of the other Usenet providers.

Provider Rating Features Monthly Yearly
>3000 days, unlimited, SSL, VPN $9.99 $99.99 ($8.33 / month)
editors pick
>3000 days, unlimited, SSL, EU Servers €7,50 (Special!!!)  
>3000 days, unlimited, SSL, VPN $7.50  
>2800 days, unlimited, SSL $8.00 $96.00 ($8.00 / month)
For more plans that may fit your needs please read our Usenet plan selection guide.

2. Usenet Index

A Usenet index is like a torrent indexing site, which contains a listing of several articles (.nzb files) that point to files that can be downloaded. Binsearch.info, NZBsRUs.com, and nzb.su are some examples. These sites allow you to search for NZB files, which you may add to your newsgrabber softwares download queue. The good thing is that rarely will you have to visit these indexing sites to manually search for NZB files. If you setup CouchPotato and Sick Beard as described in our other articles, these apps will automatically connect, search, download the right NZB files, and pass them on to your newsgrabber. Some indexing sites such as NZBsRUs.com do require you to create a paid account for unlimited downloads. Alternatively, if you run your own server, you could setup your own NZB indexing site with Newznab. [Read: 5 Best Usenet Search providers for Sick Beard and CouchPotato]

3. Newsgrabber Software

Once you find an NZB file of interest, you will have to pass it on to your newsgrabber, which connects to your Usenet server and grabs the file. A newsgrabber is like a bittorrent software, except it downloads .nzb instead of .torrent files. The most common free newsgrabber is SABnzbd+. We have already discussed how to install SABnzbd on Windows and Ubuntu as well as how to configure SABnzbd to work with CouchPotato and Sick Beard. Unzbin is also a similar newsgrabber software.

Closing Thoughts

Usenet vs Torrents Comparison

Is Usenet legal? Remember, that if you are downloading copyrighted content, there is no method that is 100% foolproof. You always leave a trail either in the form of payment records or a log of files you download. Your activity, if logged, are typically stored only until the retention period. While a Usenet’s SSL connection encrypts what files you actually download your payment record is still on file (unless you use a service like Bitcoin to pay). It is becoming more clear to everybody that most people use Usenet to download copyrighted material. In the recent times, like torrent indexes, Usenet indexes are also being targeted with lawsuits (example: NZBmatrix, Newzbin, etc.). While it is easy to crackdown these indexes it is extremely hard to track down individuals and specific IPs, or get rid of the Usenet files that are present in several servers around the world. Another issues to keep in mind is that, like torrents, content downloaded from Usenet may have malwares and viruses.

So we have seen what is Usenet. Hopefully this gives you a good overview of what is Usenet and a short Usenet vs Torrents comparison.

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About the author


Anand is a self-learned computer enthusiast, a part-time blogger, and a Food Scientist by career. He has been blogging since 2010 on Linux, Ubuntu, Home/Media/File Servers, Smart Home Automation, and related HOW-TOs on htpcbeginner.com and smarthomebeginner.com.