When most people look for a VPN, their main concern is privacy. Hide your identity, protect your data, and do it with the most secure VPN around, end of story. An important consideration that often gets overlooked in the quest for anonymity is speed. The nature of encrypting and rerouting traffic can make a VPN slower than your average local service provider. Streaming movies suddenly take forever to load, and you can forget about online gaming and file sharing.
Extra privacy doesn’t have to come at the expense of speed. A number of high quality, reliable VPN services understand the importance of a solid internet connection and have taken extra steps to ensure downloads remain fast without giving up anonymity or privacy.
Evaluating VPN Providers
When looking for the fastest VPN providers, download and upload speeds were naturally at the top of our list. Some services boast fast downloads but don’t have the data to back it up, third party or otherwise. We chose VPNs that have been thoroughly tested and verified and who are upfront with their speed policies, traffic restrictions, and connection information.
It’s important to note that speeds will vary greatly depending on your location as well as the location of the server you’re connected to. To remedy this, a good VPN will offer unlimited and uncapped bandwidth, allow multiple devices to connect at once, and let you switch servers to find a faster connection without penalty, all without sacrificing the same data protection features offered by other providers.
- Up and Down Speed Test – This is where raw numbers carry a lot of weight. We looked at reported download and upload speeds for each VPN provider along with average pings and latency. The figures vary depending on location and who was running the test, but several services stood head and shoulders above the rest.
- Server availability – Although it can be useful to route your traffic through a server located on the other side of the globe, the added distance can create noticeable lag. Some providers offer more server location options than others, giving you more choices when it comes to finding a fast, closer connection.
- Simultaneous Connections – Almost all VPN providers limit the number of devices that can connect to the service at one time. This can quickly cause problems if you have downloads running on a PC while trying to surf on your tablet or play games on a console.
- Traffic limitations – Some VPNs block certain types of traffic, including P2P file sharing and BitTorrent. If you want to stream movies or download torrent files, you need to make sure the VPN will allow it, otherwise those blazing fast speeds will go to waste.
- Bandwidth limitations – Apart from connection limitations and file type restrictions, a few VPNs insist on throttling bandwidth after a certain transfer amount has been met. We made sure the VPNs below don’t put a cap on the amount or speed of the data you use.
- Logging policy – Privacy is still top priority in choosing a VPN. Each VPN below follows a strict zero-logging policy and encrypts all traffic that passes through its servers, keeping your information safe and anonymous.
The aptly named ExpressVPN takes its network speed seriously. The service doesn’t just promise fast downloads, it builds the tools you need to test server lag right into the software. While running the Windows, Mac, and Android versions of the ExpressVPN app, simply access “speed test” from the menu to run a quick check on the current server’s latency, download speed, and overall speed index. Your connection will vary depending on your location and which server you’re trying to access, but with 145 VPN server locations in 94 countries, you won’t be spoiled for choice.
The only potential downside to ExpressVPN is the device limitation. The default is three devices connected to the network at one time, meaning you can have a PC, phone, and gaming console sipping data, but that’s it. You can purchase additional device licenses to get around this limitation, or you can install the ExpressVPN app for routers and manually set up your home Internet to connect as many devices as you need.
Putting security to one side for a moment, ExpressVPN is a great way to watch geo-restricted content like Netflix, Hulu or BBC iPlayer. If you’re surfing from China with this goal in mind, ExpressVPN is one of the only VPNs that works in that market.
Rounding out ExpressVPN’s offers are unlimited speed, unlimited bandwidth, and no restrictions on what types of files you stream or download. The service also hits all the right marks as far as privacy and anonymity are concerned, making it a solid choice for a fast VPN that doesn’t skimp on security.
Expert Tip: ExpressVPN is so confident you will like the product you can sign up with a 30 day money-back guarantee here. This means you can cancel for any reason up to 30 days and receive a refund, effectively giving you the service free of charge, ideal if you just need it for a short period. There is also a deal running which gives you an extra 3 months free here, with the annual plan. The money-back guarantee still applies if you decide against keeping it.
IPVanish offers a massive variety of servers to connect to, over 750 in 60 different countries. Speeds can vary greatly depending on your location and the server’s origin, often more so than some of the other providers on the list, but IPVanish’s US-based servers show consistently high speeds that may be the fastest on the market. Further sweetening the deal, IPVanish doesn’t monitor or throttle bandwidth, allows unlimited server switches, and doesn’t restrict P2P or torrent access (though these downloads may be noticeably slower).
IPVanish allows up to five simultaneous connections to a VPN, giving you plenty of room to connect and stream without worry. If you need more than that, however, you’ll need to set up a router using the IPVanish network details. The process can be a bit technical, but the company offers several guides to walk you through the process.
Reader deal: Addictive Tips readers get a massive 57% on the IPVanish annual plan!
NordVPN has a stellar reputation for making privacy and anonymity a top priority. The service is no slouch when it comes to speed, either, with over 799 VPN servers spread across 57 countries, representing every continent except Antarctica. That list continues to grow over time, as well, ensuring easy access to nearby servers for optimum speed no matter where you’re located. You can also connect up to six devices to one account, the highest base number in the services we tested.
One of NordVPN’s standout speed features is servers customized for specific types of online access. Ultra Fast TV servers, for example, are made for video streaming and can deliver consistently high speeds around the world. There are also VPNs designed for P2P and torrent use, all of which are included in NordVPN’s unlimited bandwidth promise.
On the security side of things, NordVPN has a strong zero-logging policy, uses a DoubleVPN for an extra layer of encryption security, and has a kill switch to stop software from connecting to the internet if your VPN service drops.
Best deal: NordVPN ran a very popular end of year deal which a huge 72% discount on the 2 year plan. The deal is running again although there is no mention of when it expires. It’s a little hidden on the website but you can find it here.
VyprVPN bills itself as the network made for speed and is a popular choice with gamers. The company owns all of its servers, writes code optimized for fast connections, and uses hardware specifically designed to handle high speed traffic, even under a full load. You won’t encounter any bandwidth or speed cap restrictions, either, and VyperVPN allows unlimited server switching so you can find the connection that’s fastest for you. With 700 server locations in 70 countries, you’ve got plenty of options at your disposal.
The security features for VyprVPN are also top notch. Multiple encryption protocols ensure data stays scrambled, and zero-knowledge, zero-logging policies provide the maximum amount of privacy possible, all without sacrificing speed. VyprVPN also offers incredible geo-location options to bypass censorships and region-locked content. If you are looking for a VPN to use when torrenting look elsewhere, VyprVPN doesn’t allow torrenting on its network but is a good choice for everyone else.
Try it free: VyprVPN has a 3 day free trial here, this link also gives you 50% off your first month’s access if you continue after the trial period.
Why Do VPNs Tend to Be Slow?
Most speed issues with VPNs can be traced back to three basic causes: low-quality service, high encryption overhead, and geographic location. The service issue is easy to circumvent if you choose a well-known VPN like the ones listed above. These providers don’t skimp on good hardware and keep fast connections a high priority for all users.
Geographic location is probably the most important factor in slow VPN connection speeds. There are many advantages to connecting to a server in another country, including bypassing region locked content and gaining an extra measure of data privacy. But the physical distance can create a stuttering connection simply because packets have to travel a longer distance. To work around this, VPN providers offer dozens of servers in dozens of countries and give customers the ability to pick and switch which ones they connect to on their own.
Encryption is a benefit with some drawbacks. The process of taking data and encrypting it requires adding extra data to make it difficult to decipher. This eats up available bandwidth, making every packet larger and more difficult to download. Weaker encryption makes for faster speeds, but it also reduces your security by a notch or two.
How to Speed Up Your VPN
If you’ve chosen a reliable, fast VPN provider but are still having trouble with slow speeds, don’t worry, there’s hope! More often than not sluggish internet is a result of too much traffic passing through a single server. It may be the middle of the night where you’re sitting, but if your server is in a different time zone, it could be rush hour. If waiting for the congestion to dissipate doesn’t correct the problem, try the speed tips below.
Change servers – The physical distance between you and the server you’re connected to has a profound impact on VPN speed. If you don’t need to connect to a certain country’s servers, try switching to a closer location to see if the connection issue resolves.
Switch devices – Some internet connected devices just aren’t built for speed. If the internet feels sluggish on your phone, try connecting from a laptop, desktop PC, or tablet to see if the problem persists.
Use a wired connection – Wi-Fi can be unreliable when it comes to speed, especially if you live in an area where lots of other wireless networks are in close proximity. Simply switching to a hard network cable connection can fix a number of speed issues.
Disable local security software – Firewalls and antivirus software can cause serious lag issues with internet connections as they scan incoming packets of data. Disable them temporarily to see if that clears up the speed issue.
Change ports or protocols – VPN software connects using a specific port number and protocol. Some local networks restrict the speed of these ports which will cripple your connection no matter how fast the service provider delivers. Check your VPN software’s options to switch ports for an instant boost in speed.
Reboot – When all else fails, close your VPN software and restart your device.
Your ISP is Still the Limit
No matter how fast your VPN service and no matter how thoroughly optimized your hardware and software, internet service providers are still the ultimate determining factor in how fast your connection is. Most high tier VPNs clock in with download speeds around 50-60 megabits per second. The average internet speed offered by service providers in the US is 50 megabits per second, with most low level and mobile plans barely reaching half of that. There’s plenty of room for overlap, but be sure to perform speed tests of your own to make sure the limiting factor isn’t your ISP, not the VPN provider.
Speed without the VPN
Some VPN users follow the slightly controversial advice of disabling their VPN connection when engaging in bandwidth heavy but data-light tasks. Online gaming is a prime example of this, as very little private information is being sent across the internet, just vague location details associated with your service provider’s IP.
Because a local ISP will usually have better speeds than a remote VPN, temporarily disabling the connection software while gaming online is a valid method of squeezing out a little extra speed. Just don’t forget to re-enable it when you’re done.
Beware of Fake Speed Boosters
There are a number of browser extensions and third party apps that claim faster VPN connections on any device. Some come with promises of free VPN service, while others tout a mysterious ability to speed up your connection no matter which VPN provider you use. The rule for virtual private networks is that if it’s free, you don’t want it. This holds true for third party apps as well. Unless the software was made by your VPN service, it won’t speed up your connection and is simply not worth downloading.