Nowadays, there are many VPNs available, and each of them claims excellent service. Privacy and security are the two most important elements you need to check when choosing a VPN, but VPN speed is also crucial.
VPNs generally slow down your Internet connection as they route your data through a secure server located in a different region and encrypt your traffic.
The best VPN service providers, however, affect your connection speed very little, enabling you to still enjoy consistent, fast connections.
This article explains what VPN speed is, what are the factors that influence performance while connected to VPN, shows how to test your VPN speed, and recommends several VPN services that are great in terms of VPN speed.
How to test your VPN speed – Is your VPN Flash?
“Me? Strange… How can I be in two places at the same time?”
“You are soooo funny, Vlad! It’s your friend, Flash!“
A half an hour later Vlad and Flash (you know Flash, right?) were sitting in the cinema room. They had just started to watch a movie when the well-known loading sign showed up.
“Vlad? What is going on? Is your Internet connection slow?“
“The Internet is really quick, but I’m using a VPN to get access to the extended Netflix library. I think my VPN is not fast enough. Any idea of what to do?“
“You are asking the right person! Who can give you a better piece of advice than the fastest superhero on Earth (me 😊)? Let me explain how to properly test your VPN speed and how to get the most of your VPN.”
What is VPN speed?
A VPN works as an intermediate between your device (the VPN client) and the Internet. Thus, when browsing the Internet with a VPN, the data travels back and forth from a VPN server that is your interface to the World Wide Web.
Using a VPN has plenty of advantages. However, due to the fact that your Internet traffic is encrypted and passes the VPN server, the speed of your Internet connection is (most of the time) influenced negatively.
The VPN speed represents the speed of your Internet connection while connected to the VPN. There are several aspects that need to be considered when measuring the VPN speed (all explained below): latency (ping time), download speed, and upload speed.
Why do I need to test my VPN connection for speed?
The VPN speed is relevant as it influences all your Internet activities while using the devices connected to the VPN.
All your Internet traffic is redirected through a VPN server (unless you are using a VPN split tunneling solution). Thus, every page you load, every download you initiate, every streaming you watch passes that third-party server. And, most of the time, it slows it down.
For streaming, the speed is particularly important as you may need a certain level of performance to watch your favorite shows in good conditions.
Thus, it depends on how much the VPN slows down your Internet connection. You should know how fast your VPN connection is in order to know what to expect.
What do I need to test for VPN speed?
Several metrics need to be considered when testing VPN speeds:
Latency is also known as lag and a lower latency means better speed. This is the time taken for a device to send a ping (data packet) to a server and receive a response.
The download speed is the speed with which data is sent from the Internet to a device and it is the most important consideration. Your connection will be better the higher the download speed.
The upload speed is the speed with which data is sent from a device to the Internet. Upload speeds normally don’t present any problems unless you are using the VPN for torrenting.
Thus, when you measure your VPN speed you need to pay attention to all these metrics. However, the one that you are most interested in is the download speed. It is the one that affects your Internet-related activities: browsing, downloading, streaming, gaming.
How fast is your VPN? How to perform a VPN speed test
Are you already using a VPN? Give it a speed test. Also, don’t forget to test your VPN for leaks (DNS leak, WebRTC leak, IP leak).
There are several tools and applications that you may use to perform speed tests while using a VPN.
Speed test websites
The simplest way to examine the speed of your Internet connection is to load a speed test website:
- Fast.com, developed by Netflix.
- SpeedTest.net by Ookla.
And, here is how you may proceed:
- Make sure you are not connected to a VPN. Most of the time it is useful to get your regular Internet connection as a reference when measuring the VPN speed. If your regular Internet connection is slow you should not expect to get higher performance while connected to VPN.
- Load any speed test website.
- Proceed with the test (get the ping, download, and upload speed).
- Connect to the desired VPN location. The further away you are from where the VPN server is located, the slower the connection will get (at least theoretically).
- Repeat the speed test.
- Compare the speed test results. You may get up to 90% from your no VPN connection.
If you want to test your iOS VPN or Android VPN, you may install a testing app from SpeedTest.net.
Use PingPlotter [Advanced]
A more advanced speed test tool is PingPlotter.
The approach involves installing an application that traces the way your data travels from your device to the VPN server. The fastest and the shortest the route the higher your VPN speed, as the data travels faster.
Here is how to use PingPlotter to evaluate your VPN speed:
- Download and install PingPlotter (it’s free).
- Enter the IP address or the name of the VPN server (you may get them from the Client Area of your VPN provider; if not available, connect to the VPN, load an IP locator website, and get the IP address).
- Evaluate the results:
- If all “hops” are green (less than 200ms between hops) then you are all good. Your connection to the VPN server is solid.
- If some “hops” are yellow it is a sign that the connection to the VPN server is not very good. You may need to change the VPN server or the location in order to get higher performance.
- If several “hops” are red then the VPN connection is clearly underperforming. If you have a choice you should switch to other server options.
Most of the time, regular speed tests (on websites or from applications) are enough to get an overall feeling of how good is your VPN. However, using PingPlotter may be necessary if you want to debug your VPN connection or when you need to get the best possible connection.
Factors that affect the VPN speed
There are a number of factors that affect upload and download speeds while you are connected to a VPN server.
Although some of these like available locations, routing, server load, server speed, are dependent on the VPN provider, your connection choices and home network also have an impact on speed. These factors include router speed, protocol, server choice, available bandwidth.
These factors are listed below in the approximate order of importance:
- Normal connection speed: Irrespective of how fast a VPN service is, the biggest thing limiting it is the speed with which you connect to the VPN server. If you use a 10mbps home connection, you will never be able to get 50mbps speeds. You may take a speed test to see how fast is your regular Internet connection.
- Location of server: Servers that are close to your physical location will almost always be faster than ones that are further away. If you use a 100mbps internet connection, you should be able to get 95mbps or better on a VPN server that is close by, while you may only get between 5 and 10mbps on a server that is located in another country or continent. However, a VPN may increase the speed of your Internet for long-distance connections. Keep in mind that the special VPN servers like Tor over VPN ones can also affect your speed.
- Crowding and bandwidth of servers: The number of users using a VPN server at the same time affects the speed of the server directly. If for example a 1000mbps server is being used by 100 people at the same time, each user will achieve an average of no more than 10mbps. Expensive VPN services are normally faster, as they have more server bandwidth per user.
- Strength of encryption: To encrypt a data stream means adding extra data and this results in using up some of the available bandwidth. So stronger encryption = slower speed.
- Protocols: Encryption strength is affected directly by the VPN protocol used, but it can also affect speed on its own. The TCP (OpenVPN) protocol is almost always slower than UDP (OpenVPN), as we proved here, because it forces the server to resend lost packets and verify all data packets’ receipts. The protocol also specifies which encryption algorithm is used, and this has a big impact on latency and speed.
- Routing: Speed is affected by how data is routed to the VPN server and how the VPN provider routes a connection between multiple servers at the same location. Major established VPN service providers use routing algorithms that are extremely efficient, while less experienced VPN services may do this very inefficiently.
- Network configuration: Although most users prefer the freedom of connecting to their router with WiFi, using a LAN cable will result in VPN speeds that are much faster. Using a cable connection can make a difference of up to 100%.
Tips to make your VPN faster
There are methods to speed up your VPN connection. As the performance of the connection depends on a lot of factors, you may improve your experience by tuning up the VPN settings and options.
Here are several tips:
- Choose servers that are not crowded.
- Choose servers that are as close as possible to your location.
- Use the OpenVPN UDP protocol, or WireGuard, where available.
- Use the PPTP protocol if maximum security is not required – the PPTP is very fast but not secure. However, PPTP is not available on macOS nor on the latest versions of iOS. But, you may set up PPTP on Windows.
- Connect to your router with a LAN cable rather than WiFi.
- Use a lower encryption strength (128-bit encryption vs. 256-bit).
- Improve your Internet connection – the faster your regular Internet connection, the faster the VPN connection.
The fastest VPNs – Flash’s collection
As mentioned above, the VPN speed depends on many factors and it is hard to evaluate the overall performance of a VPN service. However, based on reputation and some objective parameters (number of servers, available protocols, available app options) Flash recommends some VPNs that are (usually) fast.
NordVPN is one of the most popular VPN providers and for a good reason. It offers a great service, lots of locations, easy to use VPN software, and a fair price. The NordVPN speed is exceptional. You may use it for streaming with confidence.
In order to get the best performance while using NordVPN apps you may:
- Use the Quick Connect button. It chooses the optimum server for you taking into account your location.
- Use the Quick Connect button for a certain country. It chooses the server that is fastest (one that is not very busy at that moment) from the chosen country.
- Choose the OpenVPN UDP or NordLynx (WireGuard) protocol, probably the best one for getting a fast VPN connection.
The name of ExpressVPN talks itself about the features of this VPN service. The VPN speed while using ExpressVPN is top-notch and the ExpressVPN apps help you optimize your VPN connection:
- You may select the OpenVPN UDP protocol.
- You may use the Smart Location feature to get connected to the fastest VPN server for you.
The CyberGhost applications are awesome. There are several ways to get the most from your VPN connection with CyberGhost VPN, in terms of speed:
- Select the Best location option and let the CyberGhost choose the fastest server.
- Choose a server optimized for specific activities: For downloading, or For streaming. You may, for example, use the BBC-optimized UK servers for watching iPlayer on your iPhone or iPad.
VPN speed FAQ
Does a VPN slow down Internet speed?
Yes, it does. Due to the functioning principle of VPN, data is encrypted and passes the VPN server. All these operations require time and the result is that the Internet connection is slowed down.
How much speed do you lose with a VPN?
It depends on the server location. If you are connected to a VPN server that is relatively close to your location you may get about 90% of your regular Internet connection.
Can VPN increase your Internet speed?
If your regular Internet connection is restricted by your company, school, government, or ISP, connecting to a VPN might increase your download and upload speed.
Does higher encryption results in lower VPN speed?
The encryption of data that travels back and forth from the VPN server slows down the connection. The higher the encryption, the more processing is involved, and it affects the performance negatively.
Additionally, if you connect to a VPN chain (or double VPN), the multi encryption and the fact that data passes several servers slow down the Internet connection even more.
Although privacy and security are normally primary considerations when choosing a VPN, fast speed is also crucial. It would not be good to splurge on a high-speed internet package only to find that the VPN pulls it down dramatically.
Testing the VPN speed is easy and you should do it during the free VPN trial or in the moneyback guarantee time interval. If you find the VPN performance unsuitable for your needs you may ask for a refund.
While using VPNs, follow the tips listed above to ensure you get the best possible speed available.
Finally, I am sure that you will need more tips on how to use a VPN on your devices. Subscribe to our newsletter (below) and we will send you regular and funny updates. You will make a Transylvanian baby-bat happy. 😃