Flywheel vs WP Engine vs StudioPress Sites: Which Is the Fastest Managed WordPress Hosting?

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Flywheel, WP Engine and StudioPress Sites are popular choices of Managed WordPress Hosting, each of which rightfully claims to be very fast. But which one is the fastest? And which one is the best, in terms of features, usability, security, customer services and affordability? I did some real tests recently and presented this review.

The Methodology

I launched three WordPress websites with almost identical settings.

Site A Site B Site C
gonglue.us cn.derekyang.us sez.us
StudioPress Sites
(SPS)*
WP Engine
(WPE)
Flywheel
(FLW)

* Note: At the time of testing on 12/10/2017 this was "Web Synthesis," which has since been rebranded as "StudioPress Sites."

  • Data center location.
    • StudioPress Sites does not offer options to select data center location.
    • WP Engine offers data centers in US, UK and Belgium. I selected US.
    • Flywheel offers Singapore, Canada, Netherlands, Germany, UK, California (US) and New York (US). I selected New York.
  • WordPress Theme. All test sites used StudioPress' renowned Genesis Framework + Sixteen Nine Pro theme.
  • Plugin. I did not add any extra plugins. However:
    • Flywheel came with pre-installed "Limit Login Attempts."
    • Site A had W3 Total Cache plugin installed, activated and configured per StudioPress Sites recommendation. Sites B and C did not install any cache plugin because both WP Engine and Flywheel handle cache on server side behind the scenes.
  • CDN. None of them used CDN.
  • Domain. They were all .us domains purchased from GoDaddy, using default name servers.
  • Content. I created a text-only test page on each demo site with almost identical content. As you can see from the screenshots provided below, in all tests the number of "requests" were the same on three demo pages; the page sizes were very similar albeit not identical.

I then tested the loading speed of the demo pages with three popular online tools, PingdomGTmetrix and WebPagetest, each from multiple locations around the world, during the same time window.

The Numbers

Web Speed Test Results (ms)*
Host Site A
(SPS)
Site B
(WPE)
Site C
(FLW)
Pingdom (PDM)
New York 120 252 184
California 441 480 534
US Average 281 366 359
Sweden 657 805 729
Australia 1,200 1,020 1,520
Ex-US AVE 929 913 1,125
GTmetrix (GTM)
Canada 600 458 600
Canada 2 700 500 600
Canada AVE 650 479 600
Texas 387 360 382
Texas 2 411 464 449
Texas 3 498 368 422
TX AVE 432 397 418
Hong Kong 1,700 1,600 1,800
India 1,300 1,700 1,400
Australia 1,500 1,600 1,500
APAC AVE 1,500 1,633 1,567
Brazil 900 1,200 1,000
UK 700 1,000 700
WebPagetest (WPT)
Australia 1,451 2,056 1,441
Hong Kong 1,708 1,569 1,500
Japan 2,018 1,363 1,905
South Korea 1,387 1,330 1,424
Singapore 1,641 1,029 1,213
APAC AVE 1,641 1,469 1,497
Canada 663 614 478
France 715 834 692
Germany 579 1,118 634
UK 585 727 579
EU AVE 626 893 635
Argentina 1,829 1,721 646
Brazil 1,112 1,256 978
LatAM AVE 1,471 1,489 812
Arizona 1,140 959 906
California 532 457 618
Colorado 603 589 610
Florida 578 497 478
Nebraska 893 1,175 1,191
New Jersey 348 405 273
New York 514 598 476
Oregon 526 557 634
CA - SJ 565 450 593
CA - SF 968 519 644
Texas 400 503 456
VA - Dulles 888 741 743
VA - Dulles 2 867 986 972
US AVE 679 649 661

* You can check all the screenshots of the tests at Dropbox.com.

Which One Is Faster?

That depends on where your target audiences are and whom you ask.

If You Are Targeting U.S. Audiences

Below are the average loading time in the U.S.

  • Pingdom has two test centers in the U.S.: New York and California.
  • GTmetrix has one, in Texas; I did three tests to get an "average" one.
  • WebPagetest has many test centers across the nation. I did 13 tests from 12 locations in 10 states.

Average Loading Time in U.S. (ms)

Site A
(SPS)
Site B
(WPE)
Site C
(FLW)
PDM 281 366 359
GTM 432 397 418
WPT 679 649 661
  • Per Pingdom, the rank was: StudioPress Sites; Flywheel; WP Engine.
  • Per GTmetrix, the rank was: WP Engine; Flywheel; StudioPress Sites.
  • Per WebPagetest, it's: WP Engine; Flywheel; StudioPress Sites.

Was StudioPress Sites faster than WP Engine, or vice versa? It's hard to say. Take WebPagetest results as an example:

  • The results were very close. The fastest loading time was just 649 milliseconds, while the "slowest" was 679 -- a respectable figure as well -- or less than 4.5% slower, which is probably within the margin of error.
  • Test results were different among states. In Arizona StudioPress Sites was the slowest, however in California it's the 2nd fastest, and, in Nebraska it ranked #1.
  • Even from the same test center, the results would always be slightly different when you ran multiple times, which is normal. I did two tests from Dulles, VA and StudioPress Sites was the slowest in the first, while, voila, the fastest in the second test.

This is true for GTmetrix as well. Margins of Pingdom's test results were larger, however those number were overall very small (translation: very fast); and, again, if I ran a second and third tests, the results would be slightly different.

Were the tests pointless, then? Not really. The takeaways for me are:

  1. All three of them are very fast in the U.S.
  2. Speed-wise, the differences between all three are minimum.

If You Have a Lot of Traffic From Europe

Below are the results for Europe:

  • Pingdom has one European test center in Sweden.
  • GTmetrix has one European test center in the UK.
  • WebPagetest has three, in France, Germany and the UK.

Average Loading Time in Europe (ms)

Site A
(SPS)
Site B
(WPE)
Site C
(FLW)
PDM 657 805 729
GTM 700 1,000 700
WPT 626 893 635
  • Per Pingdom, the rank was: StudioPress Sites; Flywheel; WP Engine.
  • Per GTmetrix, SPS and Flywheel were a tie, followed by WP Engine.
  • Per WebPagetest, it's StudioPress Sites; Flywheel; WP Engine. It's also note-worthy that in all three European countries WP Engine was slower than its competitors.

The results from Europe were remarkably consistent. In my tests StudioPress Sites performed slightly better than Flywheel but the margins were very thin. In GTmetrix test they were a tie; in Pingdom the difference was 72 milliseconds, while in WebPagetest, 9 milliseconds, well within the margin of error.

WP Engine, however, seemed consistently slower. If U.S. is your biggest market but you also have significant traffics from Europe, StudioPress Sites or Flywheel is probably a better choice.

How About Asia Pacific?

Average Loading Time in APAC (ms)

Site A
(SPS)
Site B
(WPE)
Site C
(FLW)
PDM 1,200 1,020 1,520
GTM 1,500 1,633 1,567
WPT 1,641 1,469 1,497
  • Per Pingdom, the rank was: WP Engine; StudioPress Sites; Flywheel.
  • Per GTmetrix, it's: StudioPress Sites; Flywheel; WP Engine.
  • Per WebPagetest, it's: WP Engine; Flywheel; StudioPress Sites.

Depending on whom you ask, the winner in Asia Pacific could be WP Engine, or StudioPress Sites. Most results suggest that Flywheel comfortably fell in the middle.

If APAC is of critical importance to you, it's note-worthy that Flywheel offers Singapore data center, which, in another round of tests I did, unsurprisingly loaded much faster in APAC countries than WP Engine and StudioPress Sites, who don't have Asian data centers as of this writing, or for that matter, than its own U.S. data centers.

Other Things to Consider

Features

WP Engine is famously feature-rich. I honestly don't think I will be touching most of them in foreseeable future. Flywheel doesn't provide as many features as WP Engine, but is definitely more developer-friendly than StudioPress Sites.

Most notably, both WP Engine and Flywheel are equipped with a "staging" area, which allows you to test and preview any changes before moving them into live sites. I find this handy because I tend to constantly make small changes on my websites. It's a pity that StudioPress Sites doesn't offer this feature.

Usability

Both WP Engine and Flywheel deploy server-side caching behind the scenes, meaning you don't need any cache plugin. StudioPress Sites uses the Pro version of the mighty W3 Total Cache, which does the job well but could be a little annoying to configure. StudioPress Sites provides pre-configuration file that you can download and import, but that failed during my test. When you configure anything wrong in W3 Total Cache, it could break your site, which happened during my test as well.

Security

Up to this writing, WP Engine is the only one that enables two-factor authentication. It reassures me greatly knowing that even if someone got my username and password -- say, I lost them due to extreme carelessness -- they won't be able to hack my WP Engine account unless they also have access to my phone.

Customer Services

I love Flywheel's client services team!

When I started hosting with Flywheel in May, 2016, they didn't have online chat. I contacted them a few times via email, they were nice and helpful but it usually took a day before they responded.

Now Flywheel added online chat, in addition to support via email, online ticket and phone call, I sincerely believe they have the best customer services in the industry.

  • When I switched data center a few weeks ago, my SSL certificate broke (apparently because it's attached to the original server but I don't really know the tech stuff), as well as my CDN. This resulted in warnings message in Chrome and a lot of red X's on my site. It took me about half an hour before an online representative was available, but then she quickly identified the issue and fixed for me in a few minutes. I don't remember her name but I did write her a kudos! memo before I ended the conversation; she was fast, helpful and clearly knew what she's doing. Mind you: if a similar issue arises when you're using StudioPress Sites, you probably will be looking at several days because you have to submit a ticket or write an email. When will they respond? Well, I requested to install SSL on my test site around 12/03, it's still pending by the time I completed my test and cancelled my account on 12/10.
  • I did these tests before I launched gonglue.us. To test different settings, not knowing there are better ways to do so, I created a new account, activated and paid for three monthly subscriptions ($30 x 3) on 12/09 and 12/10. Upon completing my tests, I requested on 12/10 to cancel my account and refund. A "Happiness Engineer" Rob replied to me the next day and asked me to cancel my subscriptions within my account so they could issue refunds. I was very busy on the following few days and I mistakenly thought the refund window is 30 days -- which is true for annual plans; monthly plans can only refund within 72 hours, or 3 days -- so I didn't cancel my subscriptions until on 12/22. When Rob told me that he could not refund because I was two weeks into my monthly plan, I realized my mistake but explained the whole situation to him and asked him to consider refunding my $90 dollars, at least partially. The next day I got all of them back.
  • I also like how they name their support staff: "Flywheel Happiness Engineer." I always prefer to work with happy staff.

WP Engine also has top-notch real-time support. However, based on my own experiences, they are just not so flexible and ... happy.

Affordability

At the time when these tests were performed, StudioPress Sites was named "Web Synthesis." It has since been rebranded and the product description has been significantly -- probably overly -- simplified. Now it has three plans:

  1. $24/month "Content" plan
  2. $33/month "Commerce" plan
  3. $41/month "Synthesis" plan

It falls short to clarify how much traffic each plan is designed to handle, which was included in the product description when they were "Web Synthesis." Based on the calculation I did at the time of testing, its starting plan is more expensive than Flywheel, however as traffic grows it becomes significantly more affordable than both Flywheel and WP Engine.

Both Flywheel and WP Engine offer three standard single site plans. They also offer customized plans; ZAQ.US is currently on an "enterprise" plan that's not listed anywhere on Flywheel's website.

  • Standard single site plans of Flywheel: Tiny; Personal; Professional.
  • WP Engine: Personal; Professional; Business.

Flywheel's Tiny plan is designed for 5K monthly visits. At $14/month, it's one of the most affordable plan of Managed WordPress Hosting services. It comes with free SSL, but CDN will cost an extra $10/month.

WP Engine's Business plan is designed to handle 400K visits. It's $$249/month, with free SSL and CDN.

The "Personal" plans of both Flywheel and WP Engine are both designed to handle 25K visits, while their "Professional" plans are both designed for 100K visits. This makes it easier to compare which one of the two is more affordable.

Comparison Between Flywheel and WP Engine
(Visits/prices are monthly)

Host FLW WPE FLW WPE
Plan PSN PSN PRO PRO
Visits 25K 25K 100K 100K
Price $28 $29 $69 $99
SSL Free Free Free Free
CDN +$10 +$19.95 Free Free

Looking at the standard pricing, it's pretty clear that WP Engine is more expensive than Flywheel. It actually gets even more expensive than it looks, because:

  • Flywheel consider "visits" number a soft-cap; they don't charge you an "overage" rate. Based on my own experiences, they will only contact you to upgrade if your traffic has been constantly or significantly over the limit. WP Engine consider "visits" number a hard-cap limit and will go ahead charging you additional $1 per 1,000 visits, catching many off guard.
  • WP Engine defines and calculates "visits" pretty aggressively.

My Final Verdicts

Flywheel vs WP Engine vs StudioPress Sites

FLW WPE SPS
US Speed ★★★★★ ★★★★★ ★★★★★
EU Speed* ★★★★ ★★★ ★★★★
APAC Speed** ★★ ★★ ★★
Features ★★★★ ★★★★★ ★★
Usability ★★★★ ★★★★ ★★
Security ★★★ ★★★★★ ★★★
Client Services ★★★★★ ★★★★ ★★
Affordability ★★★★ ★★ ★★★★★

*/** Note: Assuming it's running on a U.S. data center.

  • Flywheel is overall my top choice of Managed WordPress Hosting. It's very fast; it's affordable; it's easy to use; its customer service level is second to none.
  • If you're starting a blog with 5k monthly visits or less, Flywheel's "Tiny" plan should be on top of your shopping list.
  • If you're very concerned with security, or you have a flexible budget, WP Engine is one of the best in the industry. They also have more features than you probably need.
  • If you have a very tight budget; you don't need any extra features; you will configure W3 Total Cache once and for all  (lack of a "staging" area will be a pain in the ass if you want to constantly make small changes like I do); and you don't mind submitting a support ticket and waiting for a response that could be in one day or two, then StudioPress Sites will excel.

Don't worry about speed; all three are very fast. If you have a site on any of these three Managed WordPress Hosting services and it's slow, even in the U.S., chances are it's because of something else; it's probably not the host's fault. Check your WordPress theme (its coding, not how it looks); your plugins; check how many extra resources were loaded on your website, etc.

My Real Choices

Wherever you are, they should all be reasonably fast.

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Derek Yang(戴睿可)来自湘西农村,毕业于北京大学,曾在广东中山电视台、北京盛唐传扬公关公司、迪思传媒集团工作,2012 年底移居美国首都华盛顿特区。博客主要是个人经历,因访客逐渐增多,很多实用的经验已迁移至新站「美国攻略」,以帮助更多刚来美国的人。最近我在试验一个帮助农村高年级学生规划人生的「眼界计划」,欢迎转发扩散。添加微信请参见这里

1 条评论

  1. Thanks for this comparison. I’m not surprised that FlyWheel turned out to be a dud. Perhaps managed WordPress hosting is the only way to go these days. Especially with so many good options to consider. WordPress sites are powering more and more online business ventures, so the investment on costs makes sense now more than ever. But I have a little concern when it comes to FlyWheel because if you compared Cloudways and FlyWheel prices it clearly shows that flywheel are over charging with providing less resources. I would recommend to you to test out Cloudways as well. Anyways Thanks for sharing.

    Baldwin Jackson 2018-01-29 14:03:08 # 回复