VPN vs. Usenet – the face-off!

Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

December 12, 2013

VPN is often used to protect users’ privacy when P2P filesharing using BitTorrent. There is however another competing technology that lets users securely download files, and which we discuss in a companion article, Usenet – An introduction. As VPN and Usenet access cost roughly the same each month, the obvious question is which should you use?

Usenet vs. BitTorrent

Although they work in completely different ways, Usenet and BitTorrent perform an almost identical function – filesharing. Both technologies however have distinct pros and cons.


To fileshare using Usenet you realistically need to pay for Usenet provider, which comes in at around $10 per month. BitTorrent is in theory free, but in today’s climate of DMCA notices and aggressive copyright trolling you would be an idiot not to use a VPN service (or possibly a seedbox service) if you live in many/most parts of the world, which costs about the same as a Usenet service.

Winner: Tie (unless you live in a part of the world where copyright enforcement is not an issue)

Privacy and Security

Commercial Usenet providers invariably encrypt the connection between their servers and your computer, so that your ISP (and anyone else watching) cannot see what you are downloading. A VPN of course also encrypts your connection, one of the benefits of which is that no-one can see what you are downloading when using BitTorrent. There is a danger when using VPN of it disconnecting while still downloading, leaving you vulnerable to copyright enforcement heavies, but there are measures you can take to protect against this.

Winner: Usenet (although if you use VPN and protect yourself against disconnects it’s a tie).

File Availability

File availability on Usenet is limited by retention time, but with commercial providers offering increasingly lengthy retention times, this is less of a problem than it once was. If a file is not available then you just have to wait until it is uploaded again, or find an appropriate newsgroup, ask nicely, and hope for the best.

With BitTorrent, indexed torrents are always theoretically available, but whether you can actually download the files depends on whether someone is seeding them, which means that older and  less popular files can take a very long time to download. In general (and this is admittedly a somewhat subjective judgment), if you are looking for a rare or unusual file then you will more likely find it using BitTorrent), but on the other hand if you do find such a file on Usenet it will download at full speed.

Winner: Its swings and roundabouts, so we are going to call it a tie


Speed is an area where Usenet wins hands-down, because since you are simply downloading files from a server, you can max-out your full internet connection speed, with download rates only being restricted by your ISP subscription plan (or ISP limitations). BitTorrent speeds on the other hand are determined by all sorts of variables, including the number and ratio of seeders and leechers, and your connection speed. As a point of reference, on a good day with a popular torrent we get top speeds of around 1 MB/s on a 20 meg broadband connection.

Winner: a clear win for Usenet.

Data limits

Most Usenet plans cap the amount of data you can download per month. Unlimited plans do exist, but these tend to be very pricey. With BitTorrent there are not data limits at all, although ISPs themselves often impose ‘fair use’ and similar policies which limit how much data you can download.

Winner: a clear win for BitTorrent (but ISP limitations may make this irrelevant).

Ease of use

One of the main reasons for BitTorrent’s popularity is its ease of use – just go to an indexing website, search for a torrent, download the one you want, and let your BitTorrent client do the rest. Usenet is a much older technology and has traditionally been the realm of geeks, and filesharing using it a somewhat clunky affair. The development of PAR files and NZB indexing sites however, has pretty much overcome any limitations Usenet once had, and ease of use is generally on par with that of BitTorrent.

Winner: Tie

Overall winner: If copyright infringement is not an issue, then BitTorrent wins hands down because it is free. If copyright is an issue and you would need to protect your BitTorrent use with a VPN, and all you want to do is download files, then Usenet’s much better speeds and slightly better security (i.e. no connection drops) give it an edge, although data limits are a bit of an issue.

The VPN factor

The playing field is not entirely level however, as unlike Usenet, VPN is useful for a great deal more than just downloading files:

  • It protects your entire internet connection from prying eyes – this means that your ISP and the NSA etc. cannot see what you get up to on the net. It therefore provides a very high level of privacy for all your internet related activities
  • It allows you to ‘spoof’ your location – very useful for watching BBC iPlayer when outside the UK, or listening to Pandora Radio when outside the US
  • It secures your WiFi connection – invaluable for protecting your data when using public hotspots.


As you can see, both Usenet and BitTorrent + VPN have considerable advantages and disadvantages, so which one you choose depends on your needs, particularly as they cost roughly the same.

If your sole interest is in downloading files, then Usenet may be the perfect answer, mainly because it is much faster (although very heavy downloaders will likely run into data limit issues). BitTorrent + VPN is also an excellent way to download files however, and is a clear choice if general privacy on the internet and the other benefits offered by VPN are also considerations for you.

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