Comparing Torrents and Usenet
What are torrents?
You may have heard people talking about downloading files on the internet using something called torrents. Torrenting has become the easiest and most efficient way to download nearly anything on the internet, so it’s quite popular. Almost anything can be downloaded using torrent software including movies, TV shows, books, software, games, and even music.
How do torrents work?
You’ll need a torrent client to use torrents correctly, and there are many available for free on the internet. uTorrent, BitTorrent, and Vuze are three popular choices, but there are several others depending on your operating system of choice. Torrent clients read the torrent files you download from the internet and make sense of the data they contain.
When you download a torrent from a website, you’re not downloading the actual file you want from that website. You’re downloading a torrent file, which is only a few kilobytes in size. This torrent file acts like an index that tells your torrent program (uTorrent, BitTorrent) where to download that file on other people’s computers who are also sharing that specific torrent file.
It’s kind of like distributing copies of a digital key that tells the downloader where to find the correct files on the network. Torrenting is also faster than traditional downloads because it allows multiple download channels to be running simultaneously, each downloading an individual piece of the file from various users on the network.
Those who share their torrent files for others on the network to download are called seeders. A torrent file with lots of seeds means it is a healthy file with lots of sources that will allow you to download your content from multiple people to achieve a high download speed. Torrent files with only one or two seeders are tougher to download because they’re more dependent on fewer sources, so these torrents’ download speed can be severely limited.
Torrent age can also affect how healthy a torrent is for downloading. The older a torrent, the more likely it is to have fewer seeders available from which to download the content. Some older torrents may have no seeds, which is the digital equivalent of finding a key to a safe but not knowing where the safe is located.
Another issue with torrents is that you can see the IP address of the file host in most clients. This flaw in the torrent protocol has led to some copyright organizations setting up honeypots by uploading an illegal file and then recording all the IPs that download the torrent to access the files. For this reason, you should use a VPN service when you decide to download torrent files. VPN helps you to hide your IP while downloading.
- Tons of content available on several websites for free
- Easy to use once your torrent client is set up
- Download from multiple sources for better speeds
- Can be scheduled and automated with programs
- Most torrent clients have scheduling built-in
- Your IP address is exposed when torrenting
- Requires a VPN to be safe
- Torrent age and seeders can affect download availability & speeds
- You have to share content you download, which can be a legal gray area
What is Usenet?
Usenet is an internet protocol that has been around since the foundation of the internet back in the ’70s. It was the pre-cursor to message boards and was housed across several de-centralized servers, making it easy to pass messages back and forth. However, in recent years, its use has shifted more to downloading content rather than sharing messages.
Usenet is less regulated than torrents and does not have the same negative media attention that torrenting has, so it’s easier to find content quickly and easier on the Usenet network than it is for peer-to-peer torrenting. It’s also worth noting that content often appears on Usenet before it’s available on many torrent sites.
How does Usenet work?
The files you download from Usenet are called binaries. These files are downloaded from Usenet’s decentralized servers, which are called newsgroups. There are tons of these newsgroups that are usually organized by categories under the alt binaries tag. You can find content related to just about any topic under the sun, including games, movies, tv shows, books, music, and software.
To browse the binary files available on Usenet, you’ll need a Usenet browser and to sign up for an account from a service provider. This fact is where torrents and Usenet start to diverge in how they operate. Whereas torrenting is free and relies on a peer-to-peer network of file hosters, Usenet services index the files on Usenet and charge a fee to anyone, who wants to access this content.
The price you’ll pay depends on which Usenet provider you select, but some of the more popular providers include Astraweb, Easynews, and Giganews. These services will usually sell you a chunk of bandwidth that you can then use to download content from Usenet using its servers. Once you have your provider lined out, you’ll need some additional software to make the most of Usenet.
To manage the files, you download on Usenet; you’ll want a program called SABnzbd. This program is a newsgroup handler that will use NZB files to let you download from Usenet and put the contents all back together into the actual file you wanted. To set it up, you’ll need to enter your the username and password provided by your Usenet service provider. It’s as configurable as any torrent downloader, but with more options available for granular control of the files you download.
SABnzbd downloads the hundreds of binaries that make up the file you want to download and then puts them back together on your computer. Think of it like that matter deconstructor machine from Willy Wonka, because that’s a bit how it works. Once the entire download is finished, SABnzbd goes to work moving the file where you specified in its new ready-to-use format.
NZB files function much like torrents do, in that they’re a small digital key pointing to the actual content of the file. You’ll need access to an NZB indexer like Binsearch to find these files. Once you add one to SABnzbd, you’ll see why Usenet is preferred over torrents. You should see blazing-fast download speeds that utilize most of your available internet connection. In fact, most people have to limit the amount of bandwidth SABnzbd can use to download to avoid killing their connection.
Once you have SABnzbd set up, you might look into content and media managers like Radarr and CouchPotato to find NZB files more easily than the sites that are listed above.
While Usenet takes some technical know-how and a bit more time to get set up compared to torrents, it’s much easier to automate and search for content. Once companion programs like SABnzbd and Radarr are set up to run on your computer, you can automate the process of downloading new files as they become available by setting up special search conditions for the content you want.
- Blazing fast download speeds
- Age of content doesn’t matter
- Often gets content before torrents
- Can be fully automated and scheduled with additional programs
- Not as easily tracked as torrenting
- Requires a paid subscription plus a Usenet reader
- Setting up a Usenet reader for the first time can be daunting
- Several different programs required to function well
So which service should you use to download your favorite files? That depends on your personal preference. If you don’t like having to manage a bunch of different programs or paying for access to content, then torrenting is probably your best option. However, you should keep in mind that your IP address is easily exposed while torrenting and using a VPN is recommended if you’ll be downloading sensitive content.
However, if the idea of an automated library of media content that auto-downloads and categorizes itself without you around sounding appealing to you, then you might consider learning how to set up a Usenet provider with programs like SABnzbd and Radarr to make the most of your downloading ventures. You’ll have to pay a bit for access to the alt binaries newsgroups to download files, but your download speeds will be blazing fast, and you’ll get your content before most torrent users.
Whichever option you decide on will probably have the content you’re looking for, but if you can’t find something on torrents, consider looking at Usenet and vice versa. It’s perfectly all right to use both methods in your hunt for the content you want to download.