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A VPN’s primary purpose is to ensure privacy and security online, but no one wants to compromise speed. High speed is always a top priority for those shopping for a VPN service, and many providers have laid claim to the title of the world’s fastest VPN.
All VPNs slow down your internet to some degree, some much more than others. It’s a sacrifice you make for a more private and secure internet connection or for streaming your favorite shows from any location. We’ll show you the fastest VPNs along with a few tricks to maximize your speed that won’t cost you anything.
We’ll go into detail about how we test VPN speeds and the merits of individual providers. However, if you are just looking for a list of recommended VPNs for fast downloading or streaming, we have summarized our top picks here:
These are the fastest VPNs based on our speed tests:
- NordVPN The Fastest VPN we’ve tested. By a lot. Huge speed improvements thanks to a new protocol dubbed NordLynx. It unblocks a wide range of streaming services, uses strong security, and works in China. Includes a 30-day money-back guarantee.
- StrongVPN Fast connection speeds combined with strong security and easy-to-use apps.
- PrivateVPN Smaller server network, but good security and adept at unblocking streaming sites.
- Private Internet Access A fast VPN that emphasizes privacy and security above all else.
- Hotspot Shield One of the easiest to use VPNs available, HSS has made big strides in both performance and privacy.
- TunnelBear An easy-to-use VPN with fast connection speeds and a limited free tier.
- ExpressVPN Scored well above average in speed tests and very reliable, even from China. Unblocks a wide range of streaming services and keeps you safe. Includes a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Fastest VPNs 2020
Below we’ve listed our top six fastest VPNs tested in the last year, out of a total of nearly two dozen premium providers. Speed tests we run factor largely into this list, but other non-quantifiable parameters based on our personal experience are also taken into consideration. These include how well they stream HD video and games online.
Note that the speeds disclosed are necessarily indicative of the performance you’ll experience on your device and are only intended to provide some context of what to expect.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
NordVPN is the fastest VPN by a wide margin, pegging an average download speed of 115 Mbps across all times and locations tested. Its rise to the top of our list is largely due to the launch of NordLynx, a custom VPN protocol built on Wireguard that delivers data more efficiently without impacting security or privacy. NordLynx nearly doubled NordVPN’s throughput in our latest tests.
NordVPN performs well in other areas, too. It unblocks a wide range of streaming services including Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, HBO Max, and Amazon Prime Video. This provider’s security consists of uncrackable military-grade encryption, an app-specific internet kill switch, and airtight leak protection.
Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, and Fire TV.
- Fastest VPN
- Unblocks most streaming services from abroad
- Works in China, UAE
- Strong security
- No kill switch on Android
- Streaming servers aren’t labeled
FASTEST VPN:A well-rounded VPN that outperforms the competition by a wide margin in our speed tests. Comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full NordVPN review.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
StrongVPN actually surprised us when conducting our speed tests and scored above average overall: 71 Mbps. Just as it was starting to show its age, an app redesign and fast servers have brought it back into the limelight. It’s not the best for unblocking streaming content, but it will keep you safe and your online activity private.
Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android.
- Easy to use apps
- Above-average speed
- Works in China
- Global server location network
- No logs
- Lacks manual setup support
- Relatively few server locations
FAST AND EASY:StrongVPN is super simple to use and faster than the average VPN. Comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full review of StrongVPN.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
PrivateVPN punches above its weight class and earns its place among the best high speed VPN providers around with an average global download speed of 71 Mbps, just a hair slower than StrongVPN. Despite its newcomer status, PrivateVPN handles everything from 4K UHD video streams to large file downloads with ease. It’s also competitive when it comes to online security, design, and ability to unblock worldwide content from abroad like Netflix and Hulu.
Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, and Amazon Fire TV. Up to six device connections at a time.
- Very fast
- Unblocks streaming sites like Netflix from abroad
- Good security and no logs
- Easy to use
- Smaller server network than others
UNBLOCK AND STREAM:PrivateVPN lets you watch high-quality video from abroad and comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full review of PrivateVPN.
4. Private Internet Access
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
Private Internet Access impressed us with high connection speeds across the board, averaging 68 Mbps across all times and locations. This secure, no-logs service is great for improving your online privacy without sacrificing speed. On the downside, it’s not as useful for unblocking worldwide content, and it has relatively few server locations compared to ExpressVPN. Live chat support is available on the website.
Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, and Linux.
- Impressive security features and privacy protections
- Keep no logs, DNS leak protection and internet kill switch are activated
- Up to 5 device connections at the same time
- Unable to unblock some popular streaming sites
- Doesn’t work reliably in China
SECURE AND FAST:Private Internet Access is a veteran VPN provider that offers secure streaming and high-speed connections. Includes a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full PIA review.
5. Hotspot Shield
Money-back guarantee: 45 DAYS
Hotspot Shield is not a VPN we would have recommended five years ago, but it’s since been acquired by new parent company Pango and has made vast improvements to both privacy and performance. It uses a proprietary protocol called Catapult Hydra, which it claims offers better speeds and comparable security to OpenVPN and IKEv2. According to our latest tests, Hotspot Shield’s average download speed was 63 Mbps.
HSS works in China, unblocks most streaming services, has plenty of physical location options, and uses strong encryption.
Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Fire TV, and Linux.
- Fast speeds
- Big server network
- Unblocks most streaming sites
- Works in China
- Kill switch only on Windows app
- Some IPv6 and WebRTC leaks
- On the pricier side
NEW AND IMPROVED:Hotspot Shield offers a competitive service that anyone can set up and use in just a few minutes. Comes with a hefty 45-day money-back guarantee.
Money-back guarantee: 7 DAYS
TunnelBear has risen in the ranks of the fastest VPNs with an average download speed of 61 Mbps. It’s the only VPN on this list with a free version, though it’s capped at 500 MB per month. This is a novice-friendly VPN with easy-to-use apps for PC, Mac, iOS, and Android, plus a handy Chrome extension.
- Good speeds
- Limited free version
- Works in China
- Strong privacy and security
- Doesn’t reliably unblock Netflix and other streaming services
- Money-back guarantee is shorter than others
FAST BEAR:Fast and easy to use, TunnelBear comes with a 7-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full TunnelBear review.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
ExpressVPN rounds out the list of fastest VPNs with an average download speed of 58 Mbps across all times and locations tested. ExpressVPN operates a global network of fast VPN servers in 94 countries and also scores highly for security and customer support. ExpressVPN unblocks a wealth of region-locked content from major platforms like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Amazon Prime Video, and BBC iPlayer. It works in censorship-heavy countries like China and the UAE.
Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Amazon Fire TV, and certain wifi routers.
- Fast international connections
- Great security – military-grade encryption
- Optimized servers
- Unblocks Netflix and many other streaming sources
- Split-tunneling made easy
- 24/7 live chat support
- A little more expensive than rivals
FAST AND SAFE:If you want a fast VPN that just works with everything out of the box, try ExpressVPN and get a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full ExpressVPN review.
VPN speed test results 2020
We measure the download speeds of VPNs on a gigabit ethernet connection in North America. We connect the VPN to three different locations—United States, United Kingdom, and Hong Kong—at three different times per day, and at least four hours apart. The Windows versions of each VPN’s apps are configured to use the OpenVPN over UDP protocol. We averaged the download speed from these nine tests to come up with the following results:
Each VPN’s speed is an average of nine tests: three times of day spread at least four hours apart, and across three different locations: North America (nearest), Europe, and Asia. Exact locations depend on each VPN’s available servers. We also measure the speed at each time without a VPN connection as a control.
All tests are performed using the provider’s Windows app from the USA on a 1 Gbps connection. Speeds are measured using the Speedtest.net desktop app. Outliers are thrown out and retested if they are more than three standard deviations away from the mean result. We only report download speed, not upload speeds or latency.
We do not test latency, as this is more an indicator of our proximity to the server than the VPN’s available bandwidth. We also do not test upload speed.
We always advise readers to take VPN speed tests with a big grain of salt. Too many variables are at play. And we’ve also stated as clearly as possible, there is no such thing as the “fastest VPN,” no matter how many companies make such a claim.
VPN speed is one of the most difficult factors to accurately quantify because we can’t test every server in every location every hour. We always run speed tests as empirically as possible when we review a VPN provider, but the fact of the matter is that the fastest VPN for where you live is not necessarily the fastest VPN for where I live. The fastest VPN for streaming video might not be the speediest for online gaming. Even the fastest VPN service at noon probably isn’t the quickest at midnight.
Fastest VPN FAQs
🚀Are there any fast free VPNs?
We recommend against using any so-called free VPN. Free VPN services tend to be significantly slower than their premium counterparts. Their servers are usually congested and the apps often impose bandwidth limits or data caps. Server selection is more limited as well. Besides speed, free VPNs often use shady practices to make money, such as collecting your browsing data to sell to third parties and injecting ads into browsers. Some even carry malware payloads to infect your device.
👾How do I get the fastest server for gaming?
If you’re an online gamer who uses a VPN to access another region’s servers (or because you got IP banned), the most important factor in choosing a VPN is latency, also called ping. The ping time between the game servers and your computer or console is mostly what determines how much lag you’ll experience. If you want to stay competitive, figure out where the game’s regional servers are hosted and choose the VPN’s closest server. Download rate is also important, but gaming requires less bandwidth than you might think. The first priority should always be reducing latency.
🌐How do I run ping tests for gaming through a VPN?
If you want to know how much lag to expect when gaming through a particular VPN server, you can run a simple ping test. To do this, you will need to know the domain or IP address of the game server that you’ll be playing on. This might require some digging—most games do not publicize their server IP addresses. Many online games display your ping in real time, so this might not be necessary.
Once you’ve found an IP address or domain for the server region you want to connect to, just open up Command Prompt (Windows) or Terminal (Mac) and enter the following command:
Then connect to your VPN and run the same command again. Note the difference in time.
This example uses a League of Legends server in North America. You’ll need to replace it with the server IP or domain for the game and region you want to play.
The results will show the roundtrip time in milliseconds that it takes for the ping to reach the server and return to your computer. For most competitive online games, you’ll want a ping time of less than 100ms as a good rule of thumb.
See also: Best VPNs for gaming
⚡Should I avoid “speed boosters”?
Some Android apps, iOS apps, and desktop browser extensions claim they can speed up your VPN connection times. These are almost undoubtedly scams.
There is simply no way for a third-party app to increase the internet speed of your VPN connection beyond what we’ve outlined above, especially not for free. More likely, these apps are used to mine your data or serve ads.
The closest you might get to a real speed booster is to subscribe to an optimized gaming network, which ensures that your internet traffic is taking the shortest and least-congested route available to give you a better ping time. But these are paid subscription services, not free apps, and even then their effectiveness is questionable.
⏳Does a VPN help with buffering?
A VPN can help prevent video streams from buffering in a few specific cases, but generally a VPN will not help with buffering. Buffering means either your internet connection is too slow or your device isn’t powerful enough to decrypt and decompress video as quickly as it’s played back. A VPN can only be as fast as your base internet connection, and it requires even more system resources for encryption and decryption, so it typically won’t help.
The exception is if your internet service provider or local network administrator is throttling bandwidth from the video source. Comcast, for example, has throttled mobile video and Netflix streams in the past. A VPN can hide the contents and source of your internet traffic so that your ISP cannot discriminate based on what type of data is being streamed or where it comes from.
Torrenting speed, VPN, and NAT firewalls
Many VPNs come with NAT firewalls built into their service. A NAT firewall is what allows multiple users connected to the same VPN server to share a single public IP address. This adds a significant layer of anonymity and security because internet traffic going to and from the VPN server can’t be traced back to a single user. They also prevent unsolicited requests from reaching individual users.
Most VPN’s NAT firewalls allow torrenting to some extent and many users will not notice a difference when connected. In fact, a VPN can allow you to bypass a NAT firewall on your local network that might be more strict, improving torrenting speeds.
When it comes to privacy, security, and anonymity, NAT firewalls have a positive impact. In some cases, however, they can impede torrenting.
BitTorrent relies on users being able to freely connect to each other to share files. NAT firewalls often reject BitTorrent requests from fellow torrenters uploading or downloading the same file.
That means you might not be able to seed (read: upload) files through BitTorrent, because peers who want to download the file must make unsolicited requests that get blocked by the NAT firewall. Conversely, you might not be able to connect to as many peers when downloading a file, slowing download speeds considerably.
If you’re struggling to connect to peers in a torrent swarm, some VPNs allow users to disable their NAT firewall in the settings. Others allow port forwarding, wherein the VPN provider designates a specific port to be used for P2P traffic. Users can configure their BitTorrent clients to use this port. You might have to check your provider’s website or ask customer support what port number should be used for P2P filesharing.
Disabling the NAT firewall or setting up port forwarding means compromising on security, so do so with caution and only if necessary. On top of that, because you’re using a special port, your internet traffic is more easily distinguished from other users, making you easier to track.
See also: Best VPNs for torrenting
Peak versus average speed
In the 2017 State of the Internet report from Akamai, the average peak connection speed across both North and South America is 44.6 Mbps, but the global average internet connection speed–not peak–is a mere 7.2 Mbps. That’s just one-sixth of the peak average. So what does this mean for VPN providers?
We all share the internet, and we can’t all get the maximum speed advertised by our Internet Service Providers every second of every day. Network congestion plays a huge role in your download speed both on and off the VPN, but it’s twice as likely to take a toll when connected to a VPN.
When you download a file from a server without a VPN, there’s a chance you will encounter network congestion, most likely on your nearby ISP network or at the download server itself. When you use a VPN service, you add a third potential bottleneck to the route. Whether because of server load or congestion on the network surrounding the server, there’s a higher chance that your speed will be affected while connected to a VPN.
When choosing a VPN server, take these factors into consideration. VPNs are subject to the same peak-versus-average conundrum as everyone else. If possible, choose a VPN server in a time zone that’s in off-peak hours. Some VPN apps have built in speed tests or show the current server load in real time, which can give you an indication of whether you’ll be able to max out your allotted download speed.
Security versus speed
Adding security to a VPN connection inevitably results in a loss of speed. Using a stronger encryption algorithm, for example, means it takes longer to encrypt data travelling through the VPN and longer to decrypt it once it arrives at its destination. Similarly, more secure VPN protocols tend to be slower than less secure ones. PPTP, despite being the oldest protocol, it still offers significantly faster connections than OpenVPN or L2TP/IPSec. However, it also has known security vulnerabilities.
You don’t necessarily need the strongest available security all the time when using a VPN, but there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed in order to increase speed. We recommend against using PPTP and advise readers to opt for a protocol that uses SSL (OpenVPN) or IPSec encryption (L2TP, IKEv2).
Most VPN providers don’t give you the option, anyway, but don’t disable encryption altogether. Additionally, 128-bit AES is the minimum strength encryption necessary for a VPN to do its job and keep your data safe. It’s effectively un-crackable and is slightly faster than 256-bit AES, which is also common. A handful of VPNs use Blowfish encryption, which tends to be slower than its AES counterpart. We recommend at least 448-bit Blowfish encryption if you go that route.
How much of a speed boost you’ll get out of tweaking encryption and VPN protocols depends on your hardware. More powerful devices will be able to encrypt and decrypt data more quickly.
UDP versus TCP
When using the OpenVPN protocol, many VPN apps will give you the option of using either the TCP or UDP protocol. TCP is the protocol that you normally use to browse the web and download files. UDP is more common for streaming applications such as video, music, and gaming. The difference is in how computers and servers send network packets, the unit of data used to exchange information over the internet.
A common misconception is that UDP is always faster than TCP. While this is often the case, it’s more of a guideline than a rule.
TCP uses error protection and guaranteed delivery to ensure that every data packet is identical to the original and sent in the correct order. If there is an error, the flow of internet traffic is stopped until the previous packets are sent successfully. This is important if you’re downloading a file or loading a web page.
UDP doesn’t have these protections. Collisions, errors, and missing packets are all common, and sometimes packets arrive out of order. The emphasis is on speed, not being perfect. It is preferable to miss a packet than delay all of the other packets following it.
So, if you use your VPN primarily for online gaming, streaming video, or listening to music, then switch to UDP. Otherwise, stick to TCP.
Stability trumps speed
In our humble opinion, the primary performance factor when choosing a VPN service shouldn’t be speed. It should be stable. More often than not, it’s volatility that brings down test scores rather than a slower overall download rate.
Every VPN will occasionally have a bad day or just a few bad hours where service is slow on a particular server or set of servers. Some VPNs have more high traffic periods or downtime than others. These are the ones to be avoided. Unfortunately, the test period for our reviews rarely lasts more than two weeks, so it’s difficult to predict what VPNs will encounter more issues in the long term at the time of writing.
That being said, the boxplot below (from some older tests) can give some indication of how volatile a VPN’s performance is. A larger blue box means more volatility, even if the mean (red dot) and median (thick black line) download times are low, a lot of volatility will probably cause more frustration than a slightly slower connection.
Unless you’re on a fast (100+Mbps) internet connection, the chances of maxing out the bandwidth available is pretty slim. Almost all VPNs these days advertise unlimited bandwidth.
Speed shouldn’t be your only consideration when choosing a VPN. Depending on what you plan to use it for, you may want a VPN that’s best for torrenting or unblocking Netflix or gaming. Those aren’t necessarily the fastest, and they don’t need to be. They just have to be fast enough.
VPNs secure your traffic and route it through an intermediary server so it can’t be traced. But if privacy is not of chief concern to you, then there are other alternative proxy methods that offer faster speed. A SOCKS proxy, for example, does pretty much the same thing as a VPN without the encryption. Without having to encrypt and decrypt traffic, SOCKS proxy users can get faster connections and still mask their IP address.
Then there are smart DNS proxies. These proxies only re-route your DNS requests to make it appear as though you are in a different physical location, rather than all of a device’s traffic. This means you still get the full benefit of a direct internet connection, but not the privacy or security of a VPN.
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