Whatever your reason for buying a VPN (virtual private network), one thing you’ve probably heard by now is that running a VPN will seriously slow down your computer.
When you use a VPN, your data is protected in an encrypted tunnel and sent to a server—in many cases one that may be in a far-off corner of the globe, which can slow down your internet connection considerably. If you’re just catching up on emails or reading your favorite news sites, this probably won’t make much of a difference, but if you’re streaming shows or uploading heavy image files, it can really downgrade your online experience.
This is why speed is one of the main comparison factors for VPN customers, and why many of the faster VPNs put their speed front and center as a major selling point.
The Top10.com Time Trial
Ok, it’s not exactly the time trials before the Tour de France, but we decided to sign up for trial memberships for some of the top VPNs on the market, and see how fast they run.
How’d we do it? We worked with 2 main websites—speedtest.net and Fast.com—and ran tests with the VPN off and with it on—and set to various servers, including in the US and Europe.
In every case we found that the overall speed rating changed—including for the better in at least one case.
Making Sense of It: How Do You Measure VPN Speed?
Speed for VPNs is based on a number of criteria. Here are just a few:
- Ping or Latency: Ping time is measured in milliseconds and it refers to the minimum time it takes your connection to get to another computer when you send out a request. The Latency of your connection refers to the time it takes for this request to go from your computer to the other one and back. The lower the ping time, the more responsive your connection, with less than 50 milliseconds considered a really good ping time, while around 75-100 milliseconds is considered a fast connection. While this won’t affect all applications, it can make a difference for gaming and/or video chats.
- Download speed: This metric refers to how quickly your connection can receive data from the server. Download speed is measured in megabits per second, and since most online activity consists of downloading, your download speed should be faster than your upload speed.
- Upload speed: Upload is the flipside of download speed—it measures how quickly you can send data from your computer to others, like when you send pictures in an email. It is measured in megabits per second.
So what’s a good download or upload speed? That really depends on the user. For most people, a connection of 25mpbs download and 3mbps upload should be more than enough. On the other hand, if you do a lot of gaming, video chats, and streaming, you’ll want better speed. Luckily, it’s common for wireless connections to post speeds of well over 100 mbps download and over 50mbps upload.
Keep in mind also that the speed can change depending on a number of conditions. For instance, are there multiple people using the connection at the same time? Is there bad weather or an area-wide slowdown in service? Such issues can definitely affect the speed.
How Did We Analyze the Scores?
On the one hand, you want to look at speed tests with at least a half a grain of salt or so. You need to keep in mind that if there was a slow down it may be related to heavy traffic at the time of the day that you were using the system, or to other issues with your connection that aren’t related to the speed of your VPN.
Because there are so many variables, we kept things simple—we tested the VPNs on speedtest.net and Fast.com, and ranked them in order of who had the highest posted speeds.
We ranked the VPNs based on their download and upload speed, and did not use the ping speed as a ranking measure. As you can see in the results, a quick download and upload speed didn’t always correspond to a great ping rate. This is perhaps most glaring with Panda, which had the second highest download and upload speeds, and a ping rate that was also higher than most of the competition.
Norton, the antivirus gurus, have also entered the VPN game with a product that performed better than anybody else on our list when it comes to speed.
It actually showed an increase in download speed from 42.29 megabits per second with the VPN off, to 82.77 Mbps when it was set to a server in the US. That said, the upload speed dropped from 73.21 Mbps to a barely-there .61 Mbps.
Norton VPN, set to a server in the US:
We were also pleasantly surprised when we ran Panda VPN through the trial at speedtest.net. While with the VPN shut off the download speed was 58.23 megabits per second, when we set the VPN to a server in the US our download speed jumped to 80.80 Mbps. That said, the upload speed dropped from 90.48 Mbps to 9.05 Mbps. Also, Panda had one of the slowest Ping speeds of anyone we tested.
Panda VPN, by way of US server:
3. Private VPN
When it comes to the rest of the VPNs we tested, the results were mixed, but there were some other big names that posted high octane results.
For instance Private VPN, which when set to a server in Germany posted the following results, wasn’t that far behind our fastest VPNs.
As you can see, both the download and upload speeds are high - 67.06 Mbps download and 63.89 Mbps upload respectively, though at 122 ms the ping rate could be better.
Private VPN, set to Germany:
Avast was very close behind, when set to a server in Germany:
As you can see, the ping result is pretty high, which could be a problem if you’re doing multiplayer gaming. At the same time, the download and upload speed were both what would be considered high for streaming.
5. Hotspot VPN
Though Hotspot wasn’t at the top of our leaderboard, it did have a download speed of 49.20 Mbps when set to a server in the US. This is a solid speed, but it may actually be slower than usual for Hotspot, which was voted the fastest VPN service by PC world. Put it simply, clocking in at 49.20 is nothing to sneeze at, but we have a feeling Hotspot can do better than that—and often.
SurfShark VPN touts its “ultra-fast speed,” and while that might be an exaggeration for our test, it still repeatedly posted speeds of over 45 Mbps when set to servers in Europe, though it dropped to around 20 to 25 Mbps when set to US servers though. This might be a bit deceptive though, as the test was performed from a European country a few time zones from the east coast. Regardless, even at its slowest, it should still be able to provide you with the speed you need for streaming.
With Express, the speed claims are right there in the name. The company boasts an average speed of 77.14 Mbps, which is definitely impressive. That said, in our test we received speeds of around 30 Mbps when set to a Euroepan server. This puts the company pretty low in our test, but it may have been a bit of an exception for Express. These speed results could also come out higher if you ran it through a server stateside, or just one that’s closer to your physical location.
CyberGhost uses a network of more than 3,500 servers in 50+ countries, which has helped it earn a reputation for fast speeds. In our test it did perform rather well—28.19 Mbps download and 44.63 Mbps upload speeds, though a good bit slower than the companies at the top of our list. That said, this could have been the result of a number of factors, and by playing around with the servers, it’s likely you could get better results.
With a jaw-dropping 5,300+ servers in more than 60 countries, NordVPN has built up a reputation for speed. That said, in our test it scored quite low—only 2.26 Mbps download when set to a server in New York, and 22.31 Mbps when set to a server in Germany. That said, it was also a day when our connection was working slower than usual, so maybe this isn’t the final word for NordVPN. This could also have something to do with the weather or high traffic at the server location. Due to the reputation NordVPN has developed for high speed, we presume they could do better in a rematch.
Helpful Tips to Run the VPN Faster
While our speed test results can provide you with some guidance, they’re by no means set in stone. Speeds for a specific VPN can vary significantly, even on the same day, depending on a number of factors.
Here are some tips for how you can improve your VPN speed.
- Change your server location
First off, many VPNs will allow you to select not only a country, but also a specific server within that country. The VPN may give you the option to go with the fastest one, or you can manually select one that appears to be fastest. If the server is performing faster, this should have a positive effect on your speed.
Also, it’s a good idea to select a VPN that’s closer to your actual location. For instance, if you’re in Paris and you want to hide your location, you’ll find that your connection speed will most likely be faster if you move to a VPN based out of Germany or Switzerland than say, one based in Australia or the United States. The closer the server, the shorter the distance that your data has to travel during your connection. This can also improve your Ping speed, as the data doesn’t have to travel as far.
- Use a wired connection instead of WiFi
If you’re using a WiFi connection, try switching to a wired connection with a cable. This is less of an option if you’re working outside of the house—in a cafe for instance, but if you’re at home and have access to a cable, it should help improve your speed.
That firewall might be slowing you down
Now, we don’t want to suggest that you let your guard down, but you may find that firewalls and other security protocols can slow you down. If you can do without them while using your VPN, this can speed things up.
- If all else fails, reset your router
Finally, and this may sound old school—but unplug the router and plug it back in. It worked when your Nintendo or Atari was on the fritz, and pulling a reset can help with your VPN speed as well.
What Are Your Speed Needs?
The speed that works for one user may not be enough for you, depending on how you use your system. If you’re a hardcore gamer, you’ll probably want to have a faster connection, just to keep things running smoothly. According to high speed internet.com, if you’re using XBox One you’ll need a minimum download speed of 3 Mbps and a minimum upload speed of 0.5 Mbps, as well as a ping rate of 150 ms. The site gives similar numbers for Nintendo Switch and Playstation 4, while for online gaming on a PC or Mac, the site says you’ll need a minimum download speed for 3-6 Mbps and upload speed of 0.75-1 Mbps.
Your ping speed will have a bigger impact on gaming, especially if it’s slower than that of the person you’re playing against. While it's unlikely that your connection speed will be below 3 Mbps, you should still keep an eye on this metric, as it's a big aspect of what separates one provider from another.
If you’re streaming shows, your connection speed can make a difference. According to Netflix, a speed of 0.5 Mbps is the required broadband connection speed to use their service, and if you want to watch Netflix in Ultra HD quality, you’ll need 25 Mbps. Besides the screen definition, you will also want a faster connection if you’re downloading torrents.
95.72% increase in download, 99.16% drop in upload
A VPN can mask your activity online and allow you to access content that’s blocked in your location, making the [online] world your oyster. It can also protect your privacy and keep you safe online, as well as far from the prying eyes of the authorities. It can take your speed down a notch or 2 though, and if this is a central consideration when shopping for a VPN, take a look at our speed test results when making your purchase. You can also sign up for some free trials,with a number of the top VPN companies, and see for yourself which perform best, before deciding to sign up for long term commitment.