Header Ads

Breaking News

The Fastest VPNs for 2020

The Price of a VPN

Thinking of zecurity as a zero-sum game isn't helpful. It fosters a sense of helplessness in people, making them believe there's nothing they can do to protect themselves from all the nasty digital things in this world. At PCMag, we see this mindset as dated, especially when it comes to virtual private networks, or VPNs. These critical services keep your data protected within an encrypted tunnel that bad guys, ISPs, snoops, and spies can't penetrate. Yet the best of them don't have to make your life much more difficult.

That said, using a VPN will have an impact on your internet connection, because doing so adds more steps to the process of transferring your data. These extra steps generally degrade your internet speeds, simply by adding more fiber, more computers, and more physical distance to the equation. In exchange, however, using a VPN helps protect your data and personal security.

At PCMag, we think that while speed is important that other factors such as value and privacy protections are more important. As such, we tend to de-emphasize speed in our reviews, unless it is impressively good or abysmally bad. But readers are, understandably, concerned about the impact a VPN will have on their web browsing experience. And that's why we test.

Editors' Note: IPVanish, Encrypt.me, and Ookla are owned by j2 Global, the parent company of PCMag's publisher, Ziff Davis.

The Best VPN Deals This Week*

  • NordVPN — 70 percent off three-year plan — $125.64 (List Price $430.2; Save $304.56)
  • Norton Secure — 50 percent off one-year plan on 5 devices — $39.99 (List Price $79.99; Save $40.)
  • PureVPN — 74 percent off two-year plan — $69.12 (List Price $262.8; Save $193.68)
  • TorGuard — 50 percent off all plans, plus get a free Fire TV Stick and mini VPN router— $29.99 for semi-annual plan (List Price $59.99; Save $30.)
  • IPVanish — 67 percent off one-year plan, plus get a free 250GB of SugarSync cloud storage — $47.99 (List Price $143.88; Save $95.89)
  • TunnelBear — 58 percent off two-year plan — $99.99 (List Price $239.76; Save $139.77)
*Deals are selected by our partner, TechBargains

What's the Fastest VPN, and Why Did it Change?

Each year, I run a massive slate of speed tests. I test all of 39-odd VPN services in a few days, and that sets up the overall winner of fastest VPN for the year. When I ran the most recent round of tests, the results showed a clear overall winner: HideIPVPN. While this service has very high latency in our testing, the impact it has in this year's batch of tests on upload and download speeds is significantly lower than the other services.

Of course, we at PCMag do not rest on our laurels. We continue to update those reviews and test entirely new products throughout the year. Something unusual happened this year, however: a new product outperformed my previous fastest VPN. After reviewing Encrypt.me and comparing its speed test results to the rest we had collected, I concluded that HideIPVPN had to be demoted to second fastest.

The new results are in the chart below.


'But Max,' I hear you cry. 'Encrypt.me only has the best score in one category!' Yes, that's very true. HideIPVPN still has the best download score I've seen this year. Moreover, the scores of HideIPVPN and Encrypt.me are very, very close. Except in one category: Latency. The latency of Encrypt.me is far, far lower in my tests than HideIPVPN. Not the lowest overall, but lower than the next fastest VPN.

Putting it all together, I found that Encrypt.me bests the previous title-holder in two out of three categories and outperforms all but that title-holder in two out of three categories. It has to be the new leader.

Note, too, that some VPN services not on this list may have results that are better than those seen here. AnchorFree Hotspot Shield, for example, earned a download score of 69.3 percent. However, we opted not to include it because its performance was below the median in the other two categories. We include a full explanation of how we arrived at this list below. We encourage you to read the reviews for a particular VPN service for a more complete picture of its speed test performance.

How We Gather Our Data

You can read a lot more about how we test VPNs and, importantly, how our testing has changed over the years at the link below. The gist of it is that we have a much faster connection for testing, and have adjusted our methodology in a way we feel better represents all the data we gather.

Related Story See How We Test VPNs

When we review VPNs, we use the Ookla speed test tool. (Note that Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, which also owns PCMag.) It's a simple but powerful tool, one that uses three important metrics: latency, download speeds, and upload speeds. Those are the three areas we look at when comparing VPN speed performance.

Latency is a measurement of time between when your computer sends a request and when it receives a response. It's also called ping time. Lots of things can affect latency; the distance your request physically travels through fiber has a big impact, for example. Latency is measured in milliseconds, however, so even a large increase may not be noticeable to the average user. Latency is important when playing video games over a VPN, as lower latency means a more responsive experience with less lag.

Download and upload speeds measure how much data is moved over your internet connection. These are both measured in Megabits per second (Mbps). It just shows how much data moves through a network in a given amount of time. The more, the better. Simple.

When we test VPNs, we try to get a sense for the impact a service has on internet performance by finding the percentage change between using the VPN and not using the VPN for several speed measurements. We run ten tests without the VPN active, and find the median of the results. This is our baseline. We then do the same thing, but with the VPN active. We then find a percent change between the speed test results with and without the VPN. The bigger the change from the baseline performance, the more impact the VPN has on your internet speeds.

We have tested each of these services in as repeatable a manner as possible, but there are limitations inherent in our testing. The biggest issue is that our testing is carried out from the PCMag labs in New York City. If we performed the same tests on a similar network in a different part of the country, we'd almost certainly get different results. Networks are also fickle things and even small changes can greatly affect the results of a speed test, so while we have controlled for as many variables as we can it's hardly a "sterile" network environment.

We think of these tests as more of a snapshot of performance that establishes a replicable metric for measuring each service. The goal is for comparison between services, not individual evaluations of speed. Your mileage with these services will almost certainly vary somewhat from ours.

How We Interpret Our Data

Because our testing generates three data points for each VPN service, we must interpret that data in a way that makes sense to us. We cannot simply take the top ten results for each category and call it a day (although I will break down those results below). Nor can we simply pick one metric and use it alone to determine the fastest VPN.

Instead, we use an approach the melds the three results together, but prioritizes download speeds. We assume that most people reading are major consumers of online content. Reading the news, streaming movies, using BitTorrent, or listening to music on the web all require that your device pull down data more or less continuously. When we say the "fastest" VPNs, therefore, we mean, first and foremost, those that have the least impact on download speeds.

To arrive at our list of the ten fastest VPNs, we first compiled lists of all the VPN services that had results better than the median for each category: download speed, upload speed, and latency. We then removed the services that only appeared in one of the three lists, and then removed the services that didn't have a top score in both download and upload speeds. We then eliminated services from the list from the bottom up, until only ten remained.

Perhaps you disagree with the framework we use to interpret our test results. With that in mind, we break down the results for each of the three categories below.

Best Latency in a VPN

Once tallied up, we found that our latency results have a median of 87.5 percent. Of the 39 VPN services we tested, 19 have latency scores better than the median. They are, in descending order: NordVPN, IPVanish, Hide.me VPN, Webroot VPN, Encrypt.me, Private Internet Access VPN, ExpressVPN, Norton Secure VPN, McAfee Safe Connect VPN, Windscribe VPN, VPN Area, Kaspersky Secure Connection VPN, CyberGhost VPN, TorGuard VPN, Avira Phantom VPN, IVPN, Golden Frog VyprVPN, Hide My Ass VPN, and Avast SecureLine VPN.

Best VPN Latency Results

Note that these results fall into neat bands. That's because we see very little variation in latency results. NordVPN, IPVanish, Hide.me, and Private Internet Access increased latency by 0.0 percent, meaning there was no change. We saw the largest increase in latency from AnchorFree Hotspot Shield, which increased it by a surprising 5,300 percent in our testing.

Best VPN Download Speeds

Our results show a median percent change in download speed of 87.23 percent. Of the 39 VPN services we tested, 19 had a score better than the median. They are, in descending order: HideIPVPN, Encrypt.me, Anchor Free Hotspot Shield VPN, TunnelBear VPN, Hide.me VPN, Kaspersky Secure Connection VPN, CyberGhost VPN, Trust.zone VPN, Private Internet Access VPN, IPVanish VPN, TorGuard VPN, NordVPN, BufferedVPN, Norton Secure VPN, Surfshark, ExpressVPN, Webroot VPN, IVPN, and PureVPN.

Best VPN Download Chart

In this test, we measure how much using a VPN decreases download speeds over a gigabit connection. We're confident that, given the speeds available to our connection, the greatest limiting factor in the results is the VPN service. But because our baseline connection is so fast, even the best service we tested had a sizeable impact. We assume that most readers won't be using a connection like ours, and would likely see a smaller percent change in their results. However, we believe our tests found the fastest possible speeds for a VPN connection in our geographic area.

Here's a hypothetical scenario: In one round of testing, we had a download baseline of about 926Mbps which was reduced to about 160Mbps when the VPN is running. In our model, that works out to be about an 80 percent reduction in speed. It is possible that with a connection half as fast as ours—say, 500Mbps—that the VPN could reduce speeds to the same figure of 160Mbps. This would yield a smaller percent change, but still have the same bandwidth for the VPN connection.

This is all to illustrate that our test results are intended to be used for comparison between each other, not as an absolute rating of speed. It's fair to say that a VPN that has a lower score in our tests performed better than other VPNs in the same test. It's not fair to say that a service we found to reduce our download speeds by 99 percent will reduce your download speeds by 99 percent.

Best VPN Upload Speeds

Our speed tests found a median percentage change of 82.5 percent for upload speeds. Of the 39 VPNs tested, 19 had a percent change better than that median. They are, in descending order: Encrypt.me, HideIPVPN, Trust.zone VPN, CyberGhost VPN, TunnelBear VPN, Hide.me VPN, Hide My Ass VPN, IVPN, TorGuard VPN, Private Internet Access VPN, ExpressVPN, Norton Secure VPN, NordVPN, Buffered VPN, IPVanish VPN, myStegano Online Shield VPN, TigerVPN, Avira Phantom VPN, and Hostwinds VPN.

Best VPN Upload Results

Again, we're confident in the outcome of these tests and believe it to be a useful for comparison, but it is not intended to reflect what every consumer will experience.

Cheating and Data Compression

Because we report how we test VPNs and because we do so using one of the most popular speed test tools available, there's some obvious concern that a disreputable company might attempt to game the results. Perhaps by detecting when an Ookla test is running and returning bogus results.

I have spoken with developers at Ookla about these concerns, which they share. They've told me that the company works to prevent this kind of cheating, taking active measures to fool would-be cheaters. We defer to the experts at Ookla to prevent companies from gaming its test.

Because we make our methodologies public, it is also possible that VPN companies could tweak their networks to obtain better results. For example, a VPN company could endeavor to rent server space as close to our offices as possible, hoping that the shorter distances will yield better speed test results. There's little we could do to prevent a company from doing this. That said, speed testing is only a small part of our reviews, and even an outstanding speed test result wouldn't do much to raise the score of an otherwise mediocre product.

Beyond Windows

When we evaluate a VPN's speed performance for this roundup, we use the speeds recorded with the VPN installed on a Windows machine. We do this because most of our readers use Windows. Bear in mind, however, that performance on one platform does not equate performance on another.

For information on how a specific VPN service performs on a specific platform, we invite you to read our review for that service. Each review includes the relevant speed test data and comparison, and those results are figured into the score for those products. We test VPNs on Android, iOS, Linux, and macOS.

Speed Up Your VPN

There are a few ways you can offset the speed-reducing effects of using a VPN. First, choosing a service with many servers may make it more likely to find one that isn't crowded with other people all trying to use the same bandwidth.

Having many servers to choose from in different locations also means you're more likely to find one that's physically close to you, shortening the distance your data must travel. This means lower latency, and perhaps better overall performance.

NordVPN, for example, has well over 5,200 servers across the globe. If you live in the US, you're more likely to find an uncrowded server close by. The ubiquity of its servers also means you're likely to find a server nearby no matter where you travel. Private Internet Access, Cyberghost, TorGuard, and ExpressVPN are notable for being the only other VPNs we've yet reviewed that have more than 3,000 servers.

Also important is the protocol the VPN service uses. Connecting to a VPN service using the OpenVPN protocol generally yields a faster, more reliable experience. Furthermore, OpenVPN is, as the name implies, open-source. That means it has been examined for flaws and exploits by thousands of volunteers. If you're concerned about speed and security, selecting a service that supports OpenVPN and makes it available by default is important. WireGuard is another VPN protocol known for high speeds, although it is still in early development and hasn't been widely deployed.

Split tunneling is the generic term for when a VPN lets you define which apps send data through the VPN tunnel and which travel outside the tunnel. This lets you separate more sensitive activities, like web browsing or online banking, from more mundane but higher-bandwidth activities, like streaming music or playing video games. It's especially useful because Netflix blocks VPN use, as do other services. You can simply route these apps outside the VPN in order to avoid this problem. It's a comparably rare feature, but ExpressVPN, Hide.me, Ivacy VPN, and PureVPN do support split tunneling.

Some VPNs will also let you define the specific context in which the VPN functions. TunnelBear VPN, in particular, lets you mark a network as trusted and will only activate when you're not connected to one of these trusted networks. This will protect you from bad guys, but it will leave you open to tracking and surveillance by governments and your ISP when you're on trusted networks. Maybe just leave the VPN on as often as you can.

Note that some VPN companies offer free versions that limit the number of servers available. We'd expect those servers available to free users to be crowded and therefore offer slower speeds overall. ProtonVPN, for example, limits the number of servers available to free users but notably does not limit the amount of data a free subscriber can use.

Is the Fastest VPN Always the Best?

As stated earlier, speed shouldn't be your only consideration when you're shopping for a VPN. For one thing, your internet experience will almost certainly be faster without a VPN. For another, speeds depend so much on which server you use, where you are, what your network environment is like, and so on. You might find that the service that's lightning fast today is dog slow tomorrow.

Our VPN reviews instead stress value and trust. The number of devices that can be used with an account is, in our opinion, more important. We also prefer VPN services with lots of servers and a good geographic distribution of those servers. VPNs that are easy to set up and use for first timers and include a well-made local client also go a long way toward getting PCMag's endorsement. And, of course, price is a major issue. The average monthly price of a VPN right now is around $10. If a VPN is charging more, it had better be offering something compelling.

But speed will always matter to some extent. Just remember that there are many other factors to consider when selecting a VPN service.

  • Encrypt.me VPN

    Pros: Unlimited simultaneous connections. Excellent speed test scores. Flexible pricing. Unique self-deployed option. Free trial.

    Cons: Poorly designed client. Temporarily logs IP information. Confusing subscription plans. Low diversity of server locations. Complicated support for BitTorrent. Few servers.

    Bottom Line: Encrypt.me offers VPN protection with flexible pricing and excellent speed test results. But it logs more information than we'd like, even if only temporarily, and its client is confusing.

    Read Review
  • HideIPVPN

    Pros: Excellent speed test scores. Simple interface. Allows P2P, BitTorrent activity on specific servers. Supports legacy and niche protocols.

    Cons: Tiny number of servers in just 11 countries. Offers fewer licenses than the competition. Confusing pricing structure.

    Bottom Line: HideIPVPN is among the fastest VPNs, but it has a tiny number of servers and offers fewer licenses than the competition.

    Read Review
  • TunnelBear VPN

    Pros: Affordable. Excellent privacy policies. Annual independent audits. Friendly, approachable design. Browser extensions, including stand-alone ad blocker. Good speed test results. Bears.

    Cons: Lack of geographic diversity in server locations.

    Bottom Line: If you're tired of edgy security products, let the strong-but-cute bears of TunnelBear VPN defend your web traffic. Easy to use and easily affordable, it's an Editors' Choice winner.

    Read Review
  • Hide.me VPN

    Pros: Advanced features. Ten simultaneous connections. Good server distribution. Strong speed test scores. BitTorrent friendly. Supports anonymous payments.

    Cons: Expensive. Unusual location selection behavior. No specialized servers.

    Bottom Line: VPN service Hide.me offers surprisingly advanced features in a simple client, but at a high price.

    Read Review
  • CyberGhost VPN

    Pros: Offers seven licenses with a subscription. Good server distribution. Strong privacy policy. Excellent and unique features.

    Cons: Expensive.

    Bottom Line: CyberGhost offers an excellent VPN product with strong, unique features not found elsewhere, along with a generous number of simultaneous connections. It's expensive, however.

    Read Review
  • Trust.Zone VPN

    Pros: Affordable. Accepts anonymous payment. Adequate speed test scores.

    Cons: No clients for Android, iOS, Linux, or macOS. Only three simultaneous connections. Few servers. Lackluster client experience. No specialized servers.

    Bottom Line: While very affordable, Trust.Zone VPN offers a small server collection, few simultaneous connections, and does not have client software available for platforms beyond Windows. For us, that's a non-starter.

    Read Review
  • Private Internet Access VPN

    Pros: Well designed app. Allows ten simultaneous connections. Above average number of available servers. Advanced security settings. Ad blocking. Supports P2P file sharing and BitTorrent. Multiplatform support. Strong stance on customer privacy.

    Cons: No free version. No specialized servers.

    Bottom Line: Private Internet Access offers a robust VPN service with an excellent new app interface and up to 10 simultaneous connections. It's a strong choice for large families or people with many devices in need of VPN protection.

    Read Review
  • IPVanish VPN

    Pros: 10 simultaneous connections. Good geographic diversity of servers. Allows BitTorrenting. Automatic IP address cycling.

    Cons: Unwelcoming interface. Limited global server presence.

    Bottom Line: VPN service IPVanish secures your web traffic from prying eyes. It packs powerful features veteran VPN users will appreciate, and presents a good value overall, although its interface may intimidate the less experienced.

    Read Review
  • TorGuard VPN

    Pros: Affordable. Numerous servers spread across the globe. Lets you easily add simultaneous connections. Many add-ons. Good speed test scores.

    Cons: Clunky client. No free subscription.

    Bottom Line: TorGuard VPN is the best bet for BitTorrent seeders and leechers looking to secure their web traffic. It's packed with features sure to appeal to security wonks, though its client is clunky.

    Read Review
  • NordVPN

    Pros: More than 5,200 servers in diverse locations worldwide. Unique, specialized servers. Six simultaneous connections. P2P allowed. Browser apps. Blocks ads, other web threats. Strong customer privacy stance.

    Cons: Has had issues with server security. Expensive. Cannot purchase additional simultaneous connections.

    Bottom Line: NordVPN wraps a slick client around a strong collection of features for securing your online activities and an enormous network of servers. It's a top pick for VPNs.

    Read Review

Source link

No comments