Choosing a VPN can be difficult. In the last few years, hundreds of different VPN providers have sprung up offering similar-sounding services.
Deciding between them can be difficult for the computer novice. Since you trust your VPN with your internet traffic, it’s essential that you chose a reputable and responsible provider.
We evaluated 5 of the top VPN providers in several categories to find the best fit for every need.
To make it on our top 5 list, these VPNs offer high speed, tight security, and are trustworthy. Any of the VPNs on this list would be a good choice. But, by taking an in-depth look at their service, we found that each provider will have different strengths and weaknesses depending on what your specific needs are.
Here are the most important factors we looked at to make our recommendations:
- Synthetic download & page load speed test
- Real-world speed
- Video streaming availability and reliability
- Company history and privacy policies
- Number of servers and location availability
- Cost and payment options
- Ease of use
- Security and privacy
|ExpressVPN||Best for Speed Freaks|
|NordVPN||Good mix of price, speed, and service|
|Private Internet Access||Best for Power Users|
|CyberGhost||Best for Video Streaming|
|IPVanish||Best for Large families|
ExpressVPN is the best VPN provider available. Their service is top-notch and easy to use. This comes at the price of being the most expensive one on our list.
When it comes to speed, ExpressVPN offers some of the best results we saw. Download speeds and page load tests showed little impact from using the service. What was most remarkable was that in some cases, our ping times went down while using ExpressVPN.
This means that some services may even perform faster while connecting to the VPN. We were able to watch YouTube and BBC iPlayer without issue, but Netflix didn’t load consistently for every server we tested.
ExpressVPN has been in service since 2009 and is based out of the British Virgin Islands with the most robust data privacy laws. They have a large number of servers available and cover South America and Asia better than most other providers. If you are a global traveler, this can result in better speed for you.
ExpressVPN is one of the most expensive options with a month to month cost of $12.95 and an average monthly cost of $8.32 if purchased for a year. They accept PayPal, credit cards, Bitcoin, and various smaller payment services from other countries. Also, they have one of the lowest simultaneous limits of only three devices simultaneously.
Installation and use of ExpressVPN was a one-click affair with the entire process automated. This didn’t come at the cost of advanced features, as their client contains all the advanced security and server configuration options that you need. They use industry-standard security, and there were no information leaks from the client.
NordVPN is the best middle of the road VPN provider. They represent a good value and a balanced mix of features, speed, and cost.
The synthetic download speed tests were a little slower than we found with other providers, but page load times were some of the best we saw. In day to day use, we did not notice any issues with speed. YouTube and BBC iPlayer worked great over NordVPN. Netflix loaded fine, but at times had poor video quality. This was primarily due to Netflix choosing the wrong city to stream from, but you may need to try a few times to get an HD video stream.
NordVPN was founded in 2012 and is based out of Panama, which puts them out of many government’s reaches. They also have the largest number of servers available at over five thousand. Their global coverage is average at 62 countries. Their monthly subscription is $12, and it comes down to $7 a month if purchased for a year. It is possible to find 2-year deals which can bring this down to $4 a month. They accept PayPal, credit cards, Bitcoin, and various smaller payment services from other countries. They also have services dedicated to using in China.
Installing and using NordVPN was simple. They use industry-standard encryption, but you could not change the VPN protocol from Open-VPN. We did not find any issues with information leaks, except when generating a diagnostic report.
Private Internet Access is the lowest cost provider on our list. They offer good service, but they did need to cut a few corners to get there.
Our testing showed that that Private Internet Access did not compromise on speed. Download tests were in line with most other major providers, and the page load tests showed an almost negligible impact on web browsing. Their automatic server selection did sometimes connect us to a more distant server, so it is recommended to select a location manually. Netflix loaded and streamed without issue during our testing. BBC iPlayer did not load though.
Private Internet Access is based in the United States and has been in operation since 2010. They have over 3000 servers but only from 33 different countries. If you travel outside of Europe or North America, you may run into issues finding your country. Their month to month cost is only $6.95, and if you buy a year, the price comes down to $3.33 a month.
Their best deal is their two years which is only $2.91 a month; that price cannot be matched by any other top tier provider. They accept credit cards, PayPal, and most cryptocurrencies. They also take major brand gift cards; it’s possible to buy a Starbucks gift card and use that to pay for their service.
The connection client for Private Internet Access can be described as spartan. It lacks some of the user-friendly features offered by other providers, but it is fully featured and has fine-grained control over advanced features. They use a slightly lower encryption standard by default, but this isn’t a significant issue and can be changed easily. We found no major problems with information leakage during our testing.
CyberGhost takes a slightly different approach to their service than most other providers. Instead of having undifferentiated servers that claim to do everything, their client has different personas that specialize in things like web browsing, streaming videos, or Downloading. This is good because it allows you to let the client take care of your connection, but you might not be able to watch videos and BitTorrent at the same time.
Speed results were great while using CyberGhost. Browsing and the downloading test showed no major slowdowns; in some cases, websites even loaded faster. CyberGhost does not allow BitTorrent on their servers located in the USA; you will need to connect to another country to use it. While using their video streaming profile, we were able to watch Netflix and BBC iPlayer, but using other servers, they did not load.
CyberGhost was founded in 2011 in Romania. They have approximately 3000 different servers and have average distribution in different countries. Their month to month runs a little high at $13, but the yearly plan is only $5.25 per month; which makes them merely average price. They accept credit cards, PayPal, and Bitcoin.
Installing and using CyberGhost was very user-friendly. Their clients have different profiles that you activate depending on what you plan to do. They use industry-standard encryption. Connecting to the service does use their service name so that it may be easily blocked by some ISPs.
IPVanish is a fair option to consider for a professional looking for a VPN.
IPVanish was founded in 2013 and is based out of the United States. They are an offshoot of a major internet services company, so they own all their servers, and network interconnects. Download speeds were fine, but the page load test did show that websites took a little longer to load on IPVanish than on other providers. Streaming tests showed Netflix was hit-or-miss and we were unable to get BBC iPlayer to load.
IPVanish has over 1000 servers located in 60 different countries. This is again, merely average compared to most providers. If you travel to Asia or Africa, there may not be many options for a server to connect to. Their month to month cost is $10 and goes to $6.49 a month if purchased for a year. They only accept credit cards and PayPal; there is no option to pay with Bitcoin. They have the most generous service limit of 10 simultaneous connected devices, though.
IPVanish was easy to install and use. The desktop client was well laid out and had the most options needed for customization. They use industry-standard security and no major issues with information leaking.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a VPN?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It’s a generic term for a service that allows one type of network traffic to travel across a different network without it being read or altered. It’s effectively a tunnel that will enable your internet traffic to go directly from your computer to the exit server without it being looked at by your internet service provider.
For most consumers, this is a service that you use provided by a company that maintains the exit servers and offers a client for your computer or mobile device to connect with.
Why do I need a VPN?
There are many different reasons why a VPN is vital to have. Your internet service provider or country may block you from accessing certain websites or using some services. Websites and ad agencies track your browsing history and use it to target advertisements or change prices.
If you are using public WiFi, such as at a coffee shop or hotel, a malicious hacker may intercept and steal your information. A reliable VPN can help protect you against all these threats.
What about free VPNs?
Free or no-cost VPNs should be avoided. The adage that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” applies here. It costs money to run the servers that a VPN needs. They may be tracking you and selling this information to make a profit.
Worse yet, they may be run by criminals who could be actively trying to steal your private data or misuse your internet connection.
Is my Internet slower when using a VPN?
Yes. All VPN connections will add an extra step when connecting to something on the internet, and the encryption adds a little overhead that will reduce the maximum you can send at one time. Good quality VPN providers will minimize these slowdowns. In most cases, the slowdown will not be noticeable, though.
Why do certain websites not work or only work sometimes when using a VPN? (Netflix, iPlayer, etc.)
Some websites don’t want you connecting from another country. Since a VPN makes it impossible for them to tell what country you are connecting from, they may try to actively block connections from a VPN.
VPN providers will continuously be trying to disguise their service, so the website doesn’t know it’s from a VPN. This creates a cat-and-mouse game which can result in a website sometimes working, and sometimes not.
What is a VPN router, or can I protect my whole house?
Certain WiFi routers allow you to create a VPN connection from the router to the server directly. This will protect every device in your house simultaneously. This will also allow you to protect devices such as game consoles or video streaming boxes.
Beware that this can be difficult to configure for novices. Furthermore, consumer routers may not have powerful enough CPUs and can limit your maximum speed.