Best VPN Service 2024: VPNs Tested by Our Experts

Best VPN Service 2024: VPNs Tested by Our Experts

Internet speed

VPNs somewhat lower your internet speed because you’re routing your traffic through an encrypted server before communicating with apps, websites and other internet services. The fastest VPNs feature an average download speed loss of 20% or less. Generally, even folks with slower connections — like satellite internet — won’t notice a marginal 20% dip. For bandwidth-intensive applications like gaming, 4K video streaming or uploading large files, you’ll want a virtual private network with minimal speed loss. Casual users with faster internet speeds should be fine with more than 20% speed loss, but we look for VPNs that keep speed loss below 50%.

Privacy

VPNs bolster your privacy by masking your IP address, which, like your physical address, indicates identifying information about your geographical location. At a minimum, we recommend a VPN with 256-bit encryption, a strict no-logging policy and DNS leak protection. Because logging is tough to verify — you can and should be skeptical of your VPN provider’s zero-log claims — look for regular third-party audits. Additionally, transparency reports offer peace of mind. We also suggest sticking with a VPN that includes a kill switch. More privacy-concerned users like investigative journalists or political activists will appreciate advanced features such as obfuscation (which makes it harder for ISPs to determine that you’re using a VPN), Tor over VPN (for additional encryption using the Tor network) and a double VPN (which relies on a second VPN server connection to enhance encryption). Folks with critical privacy needs should consider a VPN provider with jurisdiction outside of the Five, Nine or 14 Eyes intelligence-sharing communities for even stronger peace of mind. 

Server network

When considering VPN server networks, look at the overall number of servers as well as the individual country locations. For instance, one virtual private network company may have twice the total number of servers as a competitor, but half the different country locations, meaning you’ve got fewer international choices. At the high end, the most comprehensive VPNs for travel offer 90-plus individual countries, but anywhere over 60 countries works for many folks. 

Outside of country locations, some VPNs allow file sharing across all servers, whereas others feature dedicated P2P (peer-to-peer) options. For purposes like torrenting, check whether your desired provider permits file sharing on all servers or select ones.

Device support

Think about your devices and what you’d like to run a VPN on. Most VPN companies offer apps for Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android/Android TV, iOS/iPadOS and web browsers. Apple TV apps are increasingly common, with ExpressVPN, NordVPN and IPVanish featuring TVOS applications. A graphical user interface (GUI) application may be easier for Linux users than a command line interface (CLI) option. Surfshark, Proton and PIA boast Linux GUI apps. You can typically install a VPN on your router for whole-home coverage and use it on devices that don’t support native VPN apps, like Xbox consoles, although this will typically void the warranty on the router.

While most VPN companies let you install an app on as many gadgets as you wish, you’re sometimes limited to simultaneous devices. NordVPN is restrictive at six, ExpressVPN follows with eight and Proton gives you 10. Surfshark, PIA and IPVanish are unlimited. Even with a provider like Nord, Express or Proton, you can still install a VPN on as many devices as you wish, but you’ll only be able to have a handful of active sessions at once. Most folks should be fine even with six simultaneous connections, but families or hardcore power users may feel constrained.

Streaming capabilities

While VPNs can be great for privacy, they’re also helpful for unblocking region-restricted entertainment content. You can use a VPN to watch streaming services like Max or Hulu from your home country when traveling abroad. On the flip side, VPNs unlock access to foreign Netflix, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime Video libraries. 

Cost

You can sign up for a monthly, bi-annual, annual or multi-year VPN subscription. Although multi-year deals typically net you the most savings, we usually recommend sticking with an annual plan for the best savings with the lowest risk. The virtual private network you sign up for may initially be fast, private and great for geo-unblocking, but may become slower, suffer a data breach or stop allowing access to foreign Netflix libraries over the course of a year. 

On the high end, VPNs such as Express set you back $100 per year, with value-packed providers like Surfshark and PIA offering year-long prices from $40 to $60. However, some companies include price hikes: NordVPN normally charges $60 annually for your first year, then your plan renews at $100 per 12 months. Similarly, Surfshark goes for $48 a year upfront, then renews at $60 annually. Make a budget, then find a VPN provider that fits the bill while being mindful of price hikes. Notably, you often can renew while avoiding raised renewal rates by taking advantage of seasonal discounts like Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals.

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