It’s never been more important to use a VPN while downloading and streaming. After all, in a world where your activity online can be tracked by websites, ISPs, governments, and hackers alike, you’re never really anonymous unless you’re encrypting your connection. We cover the best VPNs for securing private access to the free and open Internet in today’s article.
If there’s one thing every internet user takes note of, it’s download speeds. Whether you’re grabbing a few photos, streaming an HD movie, or downloading large files, if the connection is a bit on the slow side you’ll notice right away. Nothing is as frustrating as having to wait hours for a simple download to complete. That’s why speed is everyone’s priority when shopping for a new internet service provider.
Fast ISPs aren’t always safe, however, which is why virtual private networks have become an indispensable tool. VPNs turn ordinary internet connections into secure, encrypted tunnels to the internet. You can download and stream whatever you like without having to worry about mass surveillance or snooping ISPs. Some VPNs can be a bit on the slow side, though, which is why you always want the fastest service available.
Evaluating the Best VPNs for Downloading
Getting a VPN feels like a complicated process. There are so many factors to take into consideration, including everything from encryption strength to server distribution, logging policies, and so on. Many of these can affect the speed of a VPN in both direct and indirect ways. To help make the right choice, we’ve narrowed down the criteria to the most important features, listed below. We used these to select our recommended services to help ensure you get the fastest download speeds and the best privacy policies every time.
- Speed scores – Even with encryption slowing down overall connection speeds, some VPNs manage to deliver lightning-fast downloads across the board. We looked at the top and average speed test ratings for each service and selected only the best VPNs.
- Bandwidth restrictions – There’s no point in getting a fast VPN if you have to deal with bandwidth caps. Downloading large files will eat away at these limitations in no time. All of our recommended VPNs feature unlimited bandwidth with absolutely no restrictions.
- Logging policy – If a VPN keeps detailed logs of your activity, that information could fall into the wrong hands. Top VPN providers have a strict zero-logging policy that covers everything from traffic to DNS requests and time stamps.
- Blocked file types – Some VPNs block certain types of files and traffic, most notably P2P downloads and torrents, both of which are frequently used to transfer large files. Our recommended services below have no such restrictions.
- Device compatibility – Using a VPN means installing custom software on all of your devices, including tablets and smartphones. A good VPN provider offers apps for as many platforms as possible so you can always surf and download with full privacy and anonymity.
Best VPNs for Safe Downloading and Smooth Streaming
Lag and buffering are not things you have to accept as a fact of life; with the following top-rated VPNs, you can ensure that you always have access to fast, private streams and downloads:
Run a few tests to determine the fastest VPN and ExpressVPN takes the top prize almost every time. The company doesn’t just promise fast downloads, it delivers the tools you need to test and verify those speeds at any time. The Windows, Mac, and Android versions of the ExpressVPN app have a built-in speed test that shows server latency, download speed, and overall speed index for the entire network of 3,000+ servers in 94 countries worldwide. Whether you’re looking for low-lag servers for gaming, streaming movies, or downloading large files, ExpressVPN can meet your speed needs without fail.
Where privacy is concerned, ExpressVPN also delivers the right features for the job. Traffic leaving your device is secured with 256-bit AES encryption and backed by a zero-logging policy on all traffic, DNS requests, and IP addresses. Nothing you download will be logged or recorded, and no one can see what files you’re transferring, ever. ExpressVPN’s custom app also delivers smart DNS leak protection and an automatic kill switch to ensure your real identity is never shared, even in the case of network failure or a software crash.
Read our full ExpressVPN review.
- Unblocks US Netflix, BBC iPlayer and other streaming services
- 94 countries, 3,000+ servers
- Very simple and easy to use
- Strict no-logs policy
- Live Chat Support.
- Slightly more expensive than some other options.
NordVPN is well-known for its large network of servers, numbering over 5,500 servers in 59 countries. It’s what the company does with these servers that makes it a truly impressive VPN, however. One of NordVPN’s best features is how its nodes can be tasked to specific types of transfers. There’s an entire group dedicated to processing P2P network downloads, for example. You’ll also find double encryption servers, onion routing servers, and anti-DDoS servers for your online gaming sessions. These extras are just a couple of clicks away for NordVPN users, making it one of the most full-featured VPNs around.
NordVPN has lightning-fast speeds and a large server network, and neither of those come at the cost of privacy. The company has one of the best zero-logging policies in the industry, covering everything from traffic to bandwidth, time stamp logs, and even IP addresses. Full DNS leak protection and an automatic kill switch also keep your identity locked down, even if something goes wrong.
Read our full NordVPN review.
- Works with Netflix, BBC iPlayer without breaking a sweat
- No bandwidth caps
- DNS leak protection, kill switch
- “Double” data protection
- Customer Service (24/7 Chat).
- Some servers can have average d/l speeds
- Apps can sometime be slow to connect.
When downloading files at lightning fast speeds just isn’t enough, IPVanish is ready to step in with some of the best privacy and anonymity features around. It starts with solid 256-bit AES encryption, an industry standard that would take a powerful computer hundreds of millions of years to crack. As if that weren’t enough, IPVanish also provides a zero-logging policy on traffic, kill switch and DNS leak protection features, and completely anonymous torrenting and P2P downloads. Anything you do while connected to the IPVanish network remains as private as possible.
IPVanish runs 1,300+ servers in over 60 countries with an impressive 40,000 shared IP addresses spread across the network. With those kinds of numbers, you’ll never have a problem securing a fast connection. IPVanish lets you take advantage of those speeds with unlimited bandwidth, full access to P2P and torrent traffic downloads, and an open invitation to download and stream movies through software like Kodi.
IPVanish also includes the following:
- Lightweight and convenient apps for all major operating systems and devices, including smartphones, tablets, and desktop PCs.
- Hundreds of fast servers for HD video streams through Kodi.
- Download movie torrents with full privacy and anonymity.
Read our full IPVanish review.
When online privacy is your top concern, VyprVPN is the service for you. The company owns and operates its entire network of servers, over 700 in 70 different countries. This gives them the ability to handle all hardware maintenance and software upgrades, cutting third parties out of the mix entirely. No one outside of VyprVPN could ever have access to your data, which is an extra layer of security most VPNs can’t offer. On top of this VyprVPN also delivers 256-bit AES encryption, zero traffic logs, and DNS leak protection features for its custom built software and apps.
Another unique part of the VyprVPN experience is Chameleon. The Chameleon protocol takes encrypted data and wraps the meta information in an extra layer of encryption, preventing invasive practices such as deep packet inspection. ISPs that throttle connections and governments that censor their internet often use DPI to evaluate and block VPN traffic. With Chameleon in place, however, your data will slip through undetected.
VyprVPN also includes the following features:
- Powerful privacy features for the best VPN access in China and the Middle East.
- Unlimited bandwidth and no restriction on P2P traffic or torrent downloads.
- Over 200,000 IP address with unlimited server switching.
Read our full VyprVPN review.
Why are VPNs Slow?
While it’s true that VPNs can be slower than most standard internet connections, don’t think that means they’re sluggish or frustrating to use. The base internet speed in the U.S. is 50 megabits per second. The average VPN connection speed, which includes the recommended services above, is slightly higher, weighing in between 50-60 megabits per second. It’s easy to upgrade your ISP plan to get even faster service, but it’s not quite as easy to get better speeds from a VPN. That’s why choosing the fastest virtual private network is extremely important.
VPNs earned their reputation for slower downloads largely because of the encryption process. Some types of data encryption can add as much as 10-20% to the overall size of a packet, partially through the encryption itself but also due to cryptography padding. This isn’t much of a difference for small pictures or websites, but for one, two, and four GB movie files, that really adds up. The actual numbers vary wildly, but the point is data takes up more space when it’s encrypted, meaning your device has to do more work for the same return.
Latency is another issue commonly associated with VPNs. Servers located around the globe increase the physical distance between your computer and the VPN network. The farther a packet of data has to travel, the longer you have to wait for the transfer to begin. This doesn’t pose as much of a problem when downloading files is your main activity, but if you play a lot of online games, a VPN could introduce a fair amount of lag.
How to Get Faster Downloads from a VPN
Picking a fast VPN is important, but even with the fastest services there’s still room for improvement. There are a number of things that can affect your download speed, including local hardware limitations, your connection to the internet, your local ISP, and more. It’s easy to tweak and configure most of these features for optimal download speeds. Take a look at the tips below and see how fast you can get.
Try different encryption protocols
Most VPNs rely on OpenVPN protocols to handle their traffic. This offers the best balance of speed, security, and ease of use for the vast majority of customers. If you can’t get the speeds you want, however, you can try switching to a different protocol. L2TP/IPSec and PPTP are the most commonly used alternatives. They’re not as secure as OpenVPN, but you’ll often get faster downloads. Check your VPN’s software and look for an option to change protocols.
LEARN MORE: Top VPNs with SSTP Encryption
Switch VPN servers
Physical distance plays a big role in download speed. Server population also makes a big difference, as the more people who utilize a node the slower it will perform. Both of these factors can be altered by simply changing VPN servers. The recommended VPNs above allow for unlimited server switching. All you have to do is look for a new server and click to connect. Most slow VPN issues are quickly resolved by changing servers.
Try a different device
Even with a fast connection, some devices just can’t handle some downloads. Smartphones, tablets, and other portable devices frequently suffer from sluggish video streams and poor downloads, and it all comes down to hardware. If you can’t seem to get a top speed from one device, try a laptop or desktop PC instead.
The port your internet traffic travels through can have a huge impact on your download speeds. Some ISPs artificially throttle common VPN ports, for example. Most VPN services provide workarounds that help defeat throttling techniques that rely on ports. Check your VPN software for a port option, then switch and see if that speeds things up.
Use a wired connection
Wireless internet isn’t the best way to download files. If your router is across the room or behind a wall, your download can start and stop seemingly at random. If your device supports it, try plugging it directly into the router using a network cable. Hard connections are faster and more reliable than Wi-Fi and will usually increase your speed instantly.
Free VPNs are Bad for Downloading
If you’ve ever gone hunting for a VPN, you’ve probably seen one or two no-cost options floating around the internet. Most of them promise fast download speeds and a private browsing experience, all for the low price of “free.” Whether you’re looking for a quick way to bypass geo-restricted content or need a little extra security for downloading sensitive files, however, free VPNs are rarely a smart solution. In fact, they often harm your privacy more than they help it.
Free VPN services are a business, just like paid VPNs. Because their users aren’t providing any income, free VPNs have to bring in revenue through other means. This usually involves collecting and selling user data to third parties, both with and without your knowledge. If you’ve ever switched on a built-in VPN or downloaded a free VPN browser plug-in, chances are at least a little bit of your data has made its way into one of these sales.
There’s also the issue of speed. Free VPNs rarely offer fast downloads. Their servers are crowded, poorly maintained, and simply not optimized for speed. Many block P2P networks and torrents entirely, which cuts out several great sources for fast file transfers. You’ll always have a better experience with an affordable paid VPN. Your privacy is secured, your anonymity remains intact, and your downloads will be much faster.
If you need a VPN for a short while when traveling for example, you can get our top ranked VPN free of charge. ExpressVPN includes a 30-day money-back guarantee. You will need to pay for the subscription, that’s a fact, but it allows full access for 30 days and then you cancel for a full refund. Their no-questions-asked cancellation policy lives up to its name.