The 3 fastest VPNs we've tested in 2020: NordVPN, ExpressVPN and Surfshark compared
You're working from home. You're binging Netflix, you're listening to music, you're gaming -- and if you're here, you're probably looking for a virtual private network that can handle the manic data flood through your coaxial cable without slowing you down. No problem. We've tested some top performers and have you covered.
Keep in mind, though, it's tough to speed test VPNs in a way that translates to practicable consumer advice. First, the use of any VPN, no matter how fast, will somewhat reduce your browsing speeds. Second, a VPN's speed can change from day to day, prompting some review sites to create automated monitoring processes. Then there's the impact of underlying internet speeds in the US, which vary widely by state and provider. Finally, if you eliminate all potential variables -- from network interference to individual machine quirks -- to create a lab-like test setting, you're essentially testing a product in a digital environment that bears zero resemblance to the operating environment most of us live and work in.
Read more: The best VPN service of 2020
For these reasons and others, I'm more interested in creating a VPN testing environment that resembles what you, the regular user, are likely to experience. And that's also why I'm more interested in measuring the amount of speed lost with a VPN (which, for most VPNs, is typically half or more) across both high speed and slower connection types. I want to know these products are going to perform when you're running multiple devices -- Mac or Windows -- on a residential internet connection that may or may not be shared by others, with an eye toward how well they can handle not just browsing, but the heavy traffic loads of gaming, streaming and torrenting.
My speed tests for the fastest VPN service are currently conducted manually using OpenVPN protocol -- generally considered the most secure and most widely used type of open-source protocol. To be clear, some of the brands have their own proprietary protocols that may well offer a faster speed, but I wanted to keep this an apples-to-apples comparison. First, I test my internet speed without a VPN. Then, I connect my machines to the VPN, and pick five servers in diverse locations across the world. I test those five servers, five times each, at intervals over two to three days via the widely used Ookla Speedtest. Then I average the download speeds of each to find out what percentage of my normal internet speeds are lost with the use of each VPN. (Find out more about how we evaluate and review VPNs here.)
Because of the ever-changing roster of frontrunners in the VPN race, you can expect this list to change as it gets updated with our most recent test results for the fastest VPN experience. Among the VPNs we've tested so far, here are the ones that were the fastest VPN at the time of publication.
*Lower number is better
Boosting your speed
No matter which VPN you're using, there are configurations that can help you max out your speeds. These suggestions aren't aimed at improving overall privacy, however, and some may come with privacy reductions depending on which VPN you're using. But if you're interested, here are three ways to boost your VPN speed: