Hardware SPI on ESP8266 is a huge copy/paste hack that ignores all the pin assignments, and sets up all the SPI registers and blocks for every single byte sent. As a result you might feel better, but realistically it's actually going to be less efficient than just using software.
Software really should work - I guess a while back there were issues with the internal pinMode calls not working sometimes (due to pinStateIsManual not being reset) that might have tripped you up, but that's been fixed for ages.
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