Unfortunately, such a thing as a fast/medium/slow list doesn't exist, and just isn't possible. Let me explain why in detail.
Firstly, with regard to the fast/slow list: any hosting company of any size will have more than one server. They may have one server that is fast, and another that is slow. Let's say they move a few too many of the sites putting a heavy load on the slow server onto the fast server. All of a sudden, the fast server has become the slow server and the slow server has become the fast server.
A slower problem exists here too. A common industry practice, especially among the newer hosts, is to put new customers on a new server, which to start with is fairly empty and unused. New accounts typically don't present any load for 6 months (website has to be developed, email addresses created and getting used, people finding out about them etc). Thus they can tend to overload the server with new and unused accounts, which after 6-18 months become heavily used accounts putting too much load on a server, to the point where it goes into melt down. An easy-to-make newbie-host mistake. (This is wrongly known as "overselling" of capacity. Overselling is something everyone does to an extent, but this is when they've done too much of it) The good news is that it is nowadays much harder to chronically overload a real server, but many hosts use VPSes and they can suffer from other problems particularly if I/O resources are not fairly shared between customers (one disk-heavy VPS can make the server slow for all VPSes).
On a more general note, let's talk about how you might check a host out.
Historically, hosts are very hard to assess because their long term robustness, reliability and general trustworthiness revolves around thing you can't see. Nearly all sysadmin work is behind the scenes, and almost impossibly even for a long-term professional sysadmin/hoster to be able to see from outside their network. As a few examples:
- You can't see backups, or the lack thereof. Quite a few hosts do a monthly, weekly and daily backup - one of each; bad luck if you get hacked.
- A lot don't put any disk redundancy into their servers. If the system disk blows a gasket, be prepared for an 8-24 hour wait while they rebuild with a version of your site that may be days or weeks old.
- Another example is the fairly recent "symlink hack". I hate to say it, but many hosts haven't done anything to defend against this despite it allowing one penetrated site to hack every other site on the server (if you're a sysadmin, go here for scripts and some techniques, cPanel hasn't helped much with this one I'm afraid).
There are many things to look for in assessing a webhost, and a fast/slow list wouldn't be one of them. Perhaps some of these (very quick, off the cuff) ideas may help:
- Look for at least a few year's experience; don't go for a brand new host. As in any industry, experience just can't be skipped.
- Do they have a FAQ or other documentation that might suggest they know what they're doing?
- Do they do backups? Have any disk redundancy? What do they do to protect you from hacking?
- Is there more than one person that works there? It's hard for one person to run a webhost and the strain can take them to the point, especially if they care, where they breakdown and disappear suddenly, leaving you high and dry, sometimes without any notice.
- Does the website look like a cheap knock-off template? Unfortunately, and obviously, this is a quick clue that you shouldn't ignore.
- Have they done anything to protect you from the symlink hacking attack? Do PHP scripts run as a shared user (as opposed to running under your own private user)? If the answer to either question is yes, there are serious security implications for you and you should probably look for hosting elsewhere.
- Do they charge enough to run a serious long term business? $1 a month for hosting won't even pay for a single support phone call during the year, let alone staff wages, the costs associated with good quality server hardware and data connections. A host that doesn't charge enough to support it's core business won't last; sure, there's economy of scale, but at the end of the day you just do get what you pay for so very often.
- Do they have physical address information and phone number on the website? Lack of these is usually an indicator of a new or very young business that may not be the best choice. Although even the big hosts were once startups, and surprisingly, some big hosts were once started by 13 year olds!
Support is often something that is measured, however I'll say two things about why that doesn't work as an effective measure. Firstly, support response is often faster to prospective clients as it's understood to be part of the sales process. Just because they're fast when you first ask the easy-to-answer initial questions doesn't mean they'll stay that way. Second, and very importantly, support is also about running stable and quick servers and being technically competent. If the servers run stably and well you may find you don't need to talk to your host very much at all - many of our customers don't talk to us at all from year to year. There are quite a few baby hosts that grabbed a quick cPanel VPS and went into business, and they have no real technical knowledge. Thus, over time, when you're already heavily committed to them, they're unable to solve the technical problems that can really slow your business down, plus they may be slower to solve serious problems due to the design of their systems or the lack of expertise on staff.
There are so many good hosts out there. Don't avoid the smaller hosts - you'll find that many of these can give much better service than the huge hosts who often struggle to educate their equally huge support workforce (and don't blame them, that's an extremely hard thing to do right when you're big).
And finally one small point - always, always keep current backups. This goes for small cPanel sites and large enterprise sites - and take a periodic offsite backup. There are heaps of options in this area, and if you are a small customer sites such as siteautobackup.com are a great place to go. (Others include dropbox, and Amazon S3, but look around and you'll find a lot)
I hope this has been helpful; I'm writing as a long-term host and sharing some genuine thoughts. Curious to hear what others think?