There’s no denying that modern technology is all about speed and quick response times, regardless of device. Phones, computers, tablets, and even TVs have to offer near instantaneous input feedback, otherwise users get frustrated and annoyed.
This is also true when it comes to downloading files or streaming media, since nothing is more annoying than having to wait a long time for a movie to load on Netflix. Thankfully, modern Internet connections in most countries are fast enough to remove these concerns. Not only that, but platforms like Netflix are also designed to provide a smooth experience even if your connection is not top-notch, usually by lowering the bitrate of the stream.
On the other hand, privacy concerns have pushed many people to add a VPN on top of their connection, which takes its toll in terms of speed and latency. Given the fact that all traffic must be rerouted through at least a second server, download and upload speeds usually suffer from this process the most, along of course with the latency.
What you need to remember however, is that this performance hit is entirely dependent on the quality of the servers used by your VPN service. In theory, the speed penalty should be almost unnoticeable, at least if the servers are high-quality. In reality, you usually get around half your regular speeds while the VPN is active.
Naturally, half the speed can be either annoying or downright unusable, depending on your connection. If you are working with a gigabit connection, getting 500Mb/s instead is far from ideal, but it won’t stop you from enjoying your usual routines. They just take longer than usual. If your connection is already pretty poor on the other hand, halving it can actually make it impossible to watch 4K streams, especially if you are also sharing the connection with other people.
Thankfully, not all VPNs eat up that much of your bandwidth. In fact, some of them are quite capable of keeping your connection running at almost 100% efficiency, which means that you won’t even notice their effects while downloading files or watching movies.
What makes a VPN fast?
A fast VPN is entirely reliant on the quality of the servers it’s running on, which means that the company behind the service must invest in their infrastructure. Hence, most of the high-quality VPN providers on this list are actually running their own servers instead of renting them, which means that they have complete control over the specs of their hardware.
With that in mind, there are several factors that contribute to the speed of a VPN connection:
- Geographical distance between you and the chosen server
- The number of available servers for every location/country
- The quality of the servers (hardware specs, connection specs)
- The protocols used by the VPN app
- Various security measures on top of the connection
As far as geographical distance goes, it should go without saying that rerouting your traffic through a server on the opposite side of the world is going to have an impact on your latency. However, while you will inevitably suffer higher pings, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your download speeds should be affected as well. Higher pings usually have no effect on transfer speeds – it just takes longer to connect to the download server.
The number of available servers is also important, for two reasons:
- A large network of servers is usually the mark of a quality VPN provider that has been around for long enough to be able to afford an extensive infrastructure.
- More servers = fewer users per server, which usually means lower server loads. Even if the servers are high-quality, having to serve too many users at once can introduce unwanted latency, which is why most services solve this issue by introducing more instances.
The protocols used by the VPN can also have a major impact on performance, given the fact that not all protocols are designed with speed in mind. As such, OpenVPN is perhaps the fastest of them when used with UDP, while IKEv2/IPsec is the slowest, given the fact that it is designed for maximum privacy. However, a good VPN should let you choose between speed and security, not force you into one choice or the other.
Lastly, speed is also affected by various other security measures, most of which are optional in most VPNs. Hence, Multi-Hop or Double VPN options are always going to have a tremendous impact on your speeds, but you also get unrivaled security in return, as well as the ability to circumvent even the strictest firewalls out there.
How to choose a fast VPN
Choosing your VPN for speed alone is never a good idea, because that’s not the primary purpose of a VPN. Hence, you should also keep a few other factors in mind while perusing the online market, especially if you are interested in using your VPN for other purposes besides downloading files.
Here are some of the things you should look out for when picking your VPN solution:
- Other quality-of-life features, such as a kill switch, split-tunneling capabilities, multiple protocol support
- Ability to unblock restricted content on platforms like Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon Prime
- Company history and jurisdiction (for example if the company is headquartered in a 14 Eyes Alliance country)
- Good pings for online gaming
- Ability to bypass firewalls in heavily-censored countries like China
- Number of simultaneous connections allowed per subscription
- Whether there are any bandwidth caps and limitations
- Subscription price
As you can see, there’s definitely more at stake than just pure download speeds, especially if you have multiple uses in mind for your VPN. In essence, great speeds don’t help too much if the VPN in question caps your connection to a few gigabytes every month, or if the service is unable to unblock Netflix and you can’t stream the content you are interested in.
Furthermore, it’s also a good idea to avoid companies that have a shady past, or if their privacy policies include vague terms when it comes to what kind of data the VPN collects about you during usage.
Lastly, most people do not have an unlimited budget, so it’s also a good idea to check the monthly subscription prices. Most VPNs offer substantial discounts for yearly subscriptions, so you can definitely save a lot of money by paying a larger sum upfront than by being charged on a month-by-month basis.
Watch out for false advertising claims
Before jumping into our recommendations, it appears that there is some confusion when it comes to what a VPN can do for you in terms of speed. Some VPN providers take advantage of this confusion and make some pretty wild claims on their websites, which is why we thought it wise to clarify a few things.
First and foremost, a VPN cannot make your connection faster. A VPN works on top of your existing Internet connection, and it cannot provide you with better download speeds than what you already have.
However, there are some caveats, which is what allows certain VPN providers to make these claims. In essence, some ISPs will throttle your P2P speeds for various reasons. This throttling can be avoided by using a VPN sometimes, which is why in some cases you will see greater speeds when downloading torrents. However, if your connection is 100 Mb/s, there’s no way to exceed that with a VPN.
5 Fastest VPNs in 2020
With all that out of the way, it’s time to reveal our picks for the fastest VPNs on the market at the moment. We tested all of them using Netflix’s fast.com, and we made this top using the average speeds we got with each app. Keep in mind that your experience may vary depending on your ISP and connection stability.
Before that, you can also check out this table in order to compare all the VPNs on our list against in each other.
|Hotspot Shield||Mullvad VPN||Private Internet Access||CyberGhost VPN||ExpressVPN|
|Download Speeds||220 Mbps – 980 Mbps||120 Mbps – 420 Mbps||42 Mbps – 440 Mbps||16 Mbps – 310 Mbps||
78 Mbps – 270 Mbps
|Part of the 14 Eyes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Split-tunneling||Just for websites||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Hotspot Shield is a fairly well-known VPN that has been around for many years at this point, which means that people have gotten the chance to see how the service handles data collection and privacy. However, keep in mind that the VPN was bought by Pango in 2019, so things have changed a bit, company-wise. Not only that, but they have also been accused of a couple of wrongdoings in the past.
However, nothing beats their servers in terms of raw speed in our tests. Hence, we managed to get as much as 980Mb/s in some cases, while the lowest result hovered around 220Mb/s. These speeds are nothing short of incredible, especially since they certify the fact that there’s little-to-no overhead when using the VPN, which means that your speeds are almost unaffected.
The good news continues when it comes to latency as well, given the fact that even the farthest servers from our location managed to remain very responsive, even if the distances involved went up into five-digit territory. This means that you can even play online games with Hotspot Shield running in the background, without losing your competitive edge in the process.
The bad part is that the service is based in the United States, which is part of the 14 Eyes Alliance. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that the company will share your data with other agencies, it’s also not a good sign, especially when you consider Hotspot Shield’s past in this regard.
Feature-wise, the VPN comes with the customary kill switch option, which automatically disables your connection whenever the VPN server experiences issues. There’s also a split-tunneling feature, but it’s not quite as capable as one would hope. Instead, it only works for websites, which means that you can allow some of them to bypass the VPN. You cannot do the same for entire apps however, which is definitely a bit of a drawback if split-tunneling is important to you.
In terms of servers, Hotspot Shield offers over 3200 of them, spread in 98 locations and more than 80 countries. This should make it incredibly easy to find a location that works best for your needs, and it’s also good news if you are trying to use location spoofing in order to unlock regional streaming services.
Speaking of which, Hotspot Shield can successfully unblock Netflix, Hulu, and a variety of other similar platforms. Not only that, but the impressive download speeds should allow you to crank up the quality settings up to 4K, without suffering any kind of connection issues in the process.
Lastly, you can also get a subscription for a relatively low price, at least if you opt for a year or more. The best part is that you can also change your mind if you do not find the service satisfactory, given the fact that you are entitled to a 45-day money-back guarantee. Read our review.
+ Incredible download speeds across the board
+ Plenty of servers and locations to choose from
+ Great pings, even across different continents
+ Unblocks Netflix and most other streaming platforms
– Split-tunneling limited to websites only
– The service has a pretty spotty past in terms of privacy and data collection
On the other hand, the lack of users translates into highly responsive servers, and thus some very impressive download speeds. In our tests, Mullvad managed to pull 420Mb/s at its peak, and never dropped below 120Mb/s, regardless of the chosen server. This means that you do not have to cherry pick your location in order to get decent speeds, which is not something you can do with other VPNs.
Average pings were also very good, even when connected to servers more than 10,000 km away. Thus, if you need to connect to an Australian server from Europe, you don’t need to struggle with huge delays, which is exactly the behavior we were hoping for.
As far as the app itself is concerned, Mullvad is a pretty sleek-looking program, even if it’s not quite as feature-rich as other solutions available on the market. Thus, while it does have a handy kill switch to keep you out of trouble, there is no split-tunneling to speak of, which is quite a disappointment.
While we’re on the subject of disappointments, it’s also worth noting that Mullvad does not play nice with Netflix. Thus, we did not manage to unblock the service no matter which servers we tried, and the same can be said about other platforms, including BBC iPlayer. This is by far Mullvad’s greatest drawback, given the fact that many people are very interested in this type of functionality.
In terms of servers, Mullvad does not have the biggest network out there, but it’s definitely not woeful either. Sporting almost 600 servers in 58 locations and 36 countries, there are plenty of options at your disposal. In addition, Mullvad is completely in favor of P2P traffic, which means that there are no restrictions when it comes to downloading torrents.
One of the most distinctive features associated with Mullvad is the complete anonymity you get while creating an account and purchasing a subscription. In fact, you do not have to give out any information about yourself in the process, given the fact that even the account name is auto-generated for you.
In addition, while the monthly price is fixed no matter how many months you buy, you have the option of sending actual cash to the developers in exchange for subscription time. No other VPN service does this, and it’s a testament to how far Mullvad is willing to go in order to keep your personal information hidden. Read our review.
+ Great pings for every server
+ Torrenting is allowed and even encouraged
+ The company strives to keep you anonymous at all cost
+ Sleek app with plenty of options
+ Decent protocol support
– No split-tunneling of any kind
– Not the widest network of servers
– Does not unblock Netflix
Private Internet Access is one of the most popular VPN solutions on the market at the moment, with millions of subscribers and a very good track record in terms of security and privacy. Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the service is also very reliable when it comes to speed and latency, especially since the company has invested a lot in servers and infrastructure.
As such, we’ve managed to score speeds as high as 440Mb/s, which is right up there with Mullvad, our previous entry. Unlike Mullvad, however, Private Internet Access goes as low as 42Mb/s on certain servers. This is not a bad result by any means, especially since this is only the case for slightly more unusual locations around the globe.
On the other hand, very few VPNs come close to PIA in terms of features and functionality, given the fact that the app includes all sorts of settings and tweaks that can help you get a more personalized experience. Hence, besides the included kill switch, you also get full split-tunneling support. This means that you can manually white-list apps on your system and allow them to bypass the VPN connection entirely.
Even if you do not make use of split-tunneling, Private Internet Access offers great pings for almost every server and location. Hence, even if there are certain cases where the latency is higher than it would be without a VPN, the difference is not big enough to cause major issues, especially if you are not trying to play competitive online games.
To make things even better, you also get to unblock a variety of streaming services with no headaches, including Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. Given the fact that you get great speeds as well, the streaming quality is top-notch, and you easily watch 4K content without having to worry about endless buffering issues or dropped frames.
As mentioned before, Private Internet Access is one of the power players on the VPN market, which means that they have one of the widest networks of servers out there. Hence, there are over 3300 servers spread across the world, in 50 locations and 30 countries. Granted, 30 countries seems rather low for a service of this magnitude, but then again the quality of the servers is what matters the most.
Lastly, Private Internet Access is also one of the cheapest VPN solutions you can buy, especially when you consider the bonuses you get in return. Furthermore, the money-back policy has been revised in February 2020, going from 7 to 30 days. This should allow you to properly test their services before making a purchase, even though you still have to pay upfront. Read our review.
+ Many servers across all over the world
+ A plethora of extra features, including split-tunneling support
+ Various protocols to choose from
+ Successfully unlocks streaming services, including Netflix
+ Cheap monthly subscription prices
– Company is based in the U.S.A., which is part of the 14 Eyes Alliance
There’s barely any need for an introduction when it comes to CyberGhost, given the fact that it’s one of the most recognizable VPN brands out there at the moment. In addition, their products can also be found on a variety of platforms and devices, which offers them a great reach in terms of clientele.
The huge customer base also allowed CyberGhost to invest a lot of money into its servers, which is why the VPN scores good points in our tests. As such, the highest speeds we got on fast.com reached 310Mb/s, which is nothing short of impressive. Granted, the lowest results dropped to around 16Mb/s, which is not exactly serviceable in some cases, depending on what you want to use your connection for.
On the other hand, CyberGhost’s server network is by far the biggest in the industry, sporting over 7100 servers in 112 locations and 89 countries. Thanks to this, there’s no shortage of options when it comes to choosing a location that works best for you. Not only that, but almost every continent is covered, which is not something you can get from a smaller VPN.
If you are interested in the other features that are available within the CyberGhost app, you should be pleased to know that you get split-tunneling right out of the box, which is extremely useful in many scenarios. Obviously, a kill switch is also part of the deal, but it’s worth mentioning that you cannot manually disable this option. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes us wonder why the toggle switch is even included if it has no practical use anyway.
In case you want to watch geo-restricted content on streaming platforms, you are in luck. CyberGhost is very capable in this regard, which means that it can easily unblock Hulu, Netflix, and a plethora of other services. Not only that, but the app comes with a dedicated list of servers designed for unblocking various streaming services, which makes this whole process a lot easier, even for beginners.
Furthermore, torrenting is also allowed, with no bandwidth limits or caps to worry about. CyberGhost is also based in Romania, a country that is not part of the 14 Eyes Alliance, which means that your info is safe from prying eyes. In fact, the service claims a zero-logs policy anyway, so there’s theoretically no data to hand over to the authorities anyway.
With all that in mind, you’d think that the subscription prices would be through the roof, given all extra features you get. Thankfully, that is not the case at all, especially if you opt for a longer subscription period, which are usually heavily discounted all the time. Not only that, but there’s also a 45-day money-back guarantee for every purchase, so you have plenty of time to test the service and decide if you want to keep your subscription or not. Read our review.
+ Sports the biggest network of servers on the market
+ Dedicated list of servers for streaming and torrenting
+ Great download and upload speeds in most locations
+ Many useful features, including split-tunneling
– Some locations can be slower in terms of download speed and latency
ExpressVPN is perhaps the most well-regarded VPN service on the market, and it is also our choice as well when it comes to the best all-rounder. However, that doesn’t mean it offers the best of the best in quite every regard, since a well-rounded service needs to make some compromises in order to remain competitive in terms of pricing.
As such, our tests show that ExpressVPN can reach speeds of up to 270Mb/s, while the lows hover around 78Mb/s. The important thing to note here is that this is a very balanced result, unlike some services that work great in certain locations, but fail miserably if you choose a more secluded server. In addition, ExpressVPN also excels when it comes to pings, which is sometimes a lot more important than raw download speeds.
Server-wise, ExpressVPN impresses once more, boasting over 3000 servers in 160 locations and 94 countries. All continents are covered, and the large number of available countries means that you can easily find the best option for your connection wherever you may be. As a side note, ExpressVPN is also one of the few VPNs out there that works in China and manage to bypass the Great Firewall, which is a very impressive feat nowadays.
Speaking of features, you get everything you could ever want from a VPN once you download the app. This includes a kill switch, full split-tunneling support, multiple protocols to choose from, as well as all sorts of obfuscation options that help you remain anonymous while browsing the Internet.
In case you are trying to access geo-restricted content on streaming websites, ExpressVPN has you covered as well. Hence, there’s hardly any platform that cannot be unblocked, including Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, as well as many others. While there is no dedicated list of servers for streaming services, that just means you can use whichever one you want and it will still work as intended.
Given the fact that the company running ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands, the 14 Eyes Alliance has no say over the VPN’s activity, which means that your data is safe. In addition, the traffic is encrypted anyway, so it would be pretty difficult for anyone to unravel your data even if they got hold of it somehow.
Lastly, ExpressVPN is not exactly budget-friendly, especially if you want to pay for it on a monthly basis instead of going for a yearly subscription. Thankfully, at least you get 30 days to think about it and test the app as you see fit, thanks to the 30-day money-back guarantee. Read our review.
+ High-quality servers in many countries across the globe
+ Balanced speeds, regardless of the chosen location
+ Unblocks Netflix and many other streaming platforms
+ Torrent-friendly, no bandwidth caps of any kind
+ Sleek app with all sorts of useful features, including split-tunneling
– More expensive than the competition
Even if they did not make the cut, it’s difficult to exclude some VPNs just because their speeds were just a couple of Mb/s slower than the competition. Hence, the following VPNs should also be fairly good choices if you want decent speeds, especially since they are definitely some big names in the industry.
Surfshark managed to score as high as 310Mb/s in certain locations, which is better than some of the VPNs that made it on our list. Unfortunately, the speeds also dropped all the way to 3.6Mb/s in some cases, which means that the range is way too unpredictable.
Other than that, Surfshark is a very strong VPN, offering all sorts of advanced features and settings, not to mention the handy CleanWeb component that acts as an integrated ad-blocker for your connection. You also get split-tunneling and a kill switch, so you are not losing much in this regard either.
But perhaps the greatest bonus you get with Surfshark is the fact that you can have as many simultaneous connections as you want with any subscription. Hence, you can connect all of your devices at once, without suffering any kind of throttling, which is not something you can get from any other VPN on this list. Read our review.
+ Unlimited number of simultaneous connections
+ Decent speeds on certain servers
+ A built-in ad-blocker for your entire connection
+ Multi-Hop feature for increased privacy
– Some servers are quite slow
Although it’s one of the most recognizable brands on the Internet, NordVPN did not impress in terms of speed, at least when compared to the other items on our list. However, we did get a sturdy 230Mb/s on some servers, even if the lowest results dropped all the way to 3.7Mb/s.
The latter is downright unusable in most cases, especially if you want to stream movies, or even watch HD content on YouTube. However, the rest of the app offers a very attractive package, and you also get access to over 5600 servers in almost 60 countries, which is very impressive. Read our review.
+ Huge network of servers all over the world
+ Successfully unblocks all kinds of streaming platforms, including Netflix
+ Includes an anti-malware component
– No split-tunneling features
– Some of the servers are pretty slow, depending on location
As you can see, you do not have to worry about losing too much of your bandwidth while having a VPN active in the background. Most modern solutions are good enough to offer you impressive speeds, and the pings are not very high either.
In the end, it’s definitely up to you when it comes to making a decision, because there are many other factors that contribute to your personal experience. As such, it’s important to weigh all the pros and cons, as well as keep the pricing in mind before making a decision, especially since you may not need quite as many advanced features if your goal is just to download files at great speeds while remaining anonymous.