Many Internet users are familiar with VPN software tools designed to secure their browsing and unlock Netflix. But few have heard about hardware VPN.
There are clear differences about how VPN works in both cases, which we are about to explain in this article. Evidently, there are ups and downs to both VPN-based hardware and software solutions.
But first, let us see what exactly are hardware VPN and software VPN solutions before drawing the line to find out which suits your needs better. We also took the liberty of making a VPN recommendation at the end of this page.
Check out the list of topics below to see what we have planned for today (click to jump):
- What is hardware VPN?
- What is software VPN?
- What are the advantages of software VPN?
- What should you choose between hardware VPN and software VPN?
- Our software VPN recommendation
- In conclusion
What is hardware VPN?
Also known as a VPN router, a hardware VPN is a piece of physical equipment that allows you to take advantage of virtual private network features.
For instance, it can encrypt and decrypt your Internet connections, as well as take all the authentication steps required for encryption.
A hardware VPN is a standalone, which means that it does not have any dependencies. It operates on a dedicated processor and usually comes with its own firewall, which is more powerful than any software firewall you have installed on your computer system.
What is software VPN?
Software VPN solutions are tools that you can download and install on your personal devices to create secure tunnels for transferring your data packets.
In addition to a client, a software VPN solution has its own server. Therefore, it is in charge of handling the entire connection between your client and its server.
Native VPN clients and VPN manual configuration files are forms of software VPN. For example, Windows has integrated support for VPN connections. But you can also turn to third-party VPN providers for enhanced functionality and customer support.
What are the advantages of hardware VPN?
Compared to software VPN, there are multiple benefits that you can get by purchasing a hardware VPN. Here are some of them:
Ensure VPN protection to all nearby devices
When you set up a VPN router, it means that all devices that connect via Wi-Fi or Ethernet can take advantage of VPN features.
For example, if there are eight family members, you do not need to buy eight separate VPN subscription plans. Instead, they can all connect to the hardware VPN to enjoy secure browsing, bypass network restrictions, and watch Netflix shows.
And all that users have to do is connect to the VPN router the same way they would connect to a regular Internet connection: by joining a wireless network or by using an Ethernet cable.
Any Internet-enabled device can connect
It is strongly tied to the previous point we discussed. Not only does a hardware VPN ensure secure browsing for all connected users, but it also does this for all devices which do not have native VPN support.
Normally, when you get a software VPN solution, you have to make sure that it is compatible with the devices you wish to guard. Otherwise, you will not be able to install the VPN anywhere you want.
But a piece of hardware VPN takes care of this problem. As long as the device has Internet connectivity, it can connect to the VPN router.
It is a solution that works with Smart TVs, gaming consoles, laptops, tablets, desktops, smartphones, and other devices. And the operating system does not matter either, whether your Internet-compliant device runs Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, or anything else.
But, when it comes to a software VPN solution, you have to make sure that the service is compatible with all your household devices, including any new ones that you might purchase in the future.
Set up the VPN only once
Your hardware VPN comes bundled with all the necessary security features. As such, you have to go through setup only once: unpacking and configuring the VPN router in your home or office.
If you resorted to a software VPN solution instead, you would have to download, install and configure the VPN on each device.
As you can see, it is more convenient to set up the VPN only one time by turning to hardware VPN equipment. Besides, it is more difficult for someone else to make changes to the VPN settings.
Therefore, you will be able to secure your Wi-Fi connection without risking network vulnerabilities caused by improper VPN configurations. And it is not possible to turn off the VPN connection without accessing or unplugging the router.
Better reliability on the long term
Even if you are not around to access the hardware VPN using administrator permissions, other family members from your household do not risk getting disconnected from the VPN, which often happens with software VPN.
In the worst-case scenario, there is a power outage and your hardware VPN is taken offline. But it keeps the VPN configuration intact and restores it automatically after the power is back on.
Some hardware VPNs are faster
To counteract the slow connection speed caused by VPN encryption, some VPN routers support hardware-based acceleration. They use AES-NI technology to increase the data encryption and decryption speed.
The only downside of VPN accelerators is that they are expensive. A good example for this is Sabai’s VPN Accelerator, which connects to your router and acts like a mini processor for VPN traffic.
Another type of hardware VPN acceleration occurs at the software level and it is called Afterburner. It is designed to boost the overall performance of your wireless network.
Equipped with better speed and security features
You have to understand that there is no contest between hardware VPN and software VPN when it comes to speed and security features. A hardware VPN wins by a landslide.
It is simply because the router was specially made to handle VPN traffic. That means that it is equipped with a powerful CPU and RAM, superior encryption, or hardware-based acceleration features like the Afterburner.
Some pieces of hardware VPN also come with a native firewall, access control, NAT interface and IP binding, as well as antivirus, anti-spyware and cyber-threat prevention technology.
No concerns over VPN jurisdiction and logging policy
If you are concerned about protecting your online privacy and anonymity when resorting to software VPN services, it is paramount to check the company jurisdiction and logging policy.
The location is important because the VPN company must follow the laws of its country. If the country has mandatory data retention laws, then the VPN company must save and share whatever data it acquired about your VPN traffic.
But you do not have to worry about these two aspects when you get a hardware VPN for your home. Otherwise, it would mean collecting logs about your own VPN traffic. You run the VPN server and you control everything so that you do not have to trust anyone else with your online privacy.
What are the advantages of software VPN?
Generally speaking, software VPN solutions are more versatile than hardware VPN equipment. Simply put, you can control VPN settings with minimal effort. Here are some of the advantages of using software VPN.
Cheaper than hardware VPN
A piece of hardware VPN equipment can cost a lot of money, depending on how advanced it is and how many features it has. And, if you opt for hardware-based VPN acceleration, you can end up paying thousands of dollars.
On the other hand, a software VPN solution is significantly cheaper and affordable for any pocket. A monthly subscription plan costs you between $4 and 15$, depending on the VPN provider.
Furthermore, if you wish to pay for multiple months in advance, like opting for a yearly, 2-year or 3-year plan, you can save a lot of money by getting big discounts.
Supports multiple simultaneous connections
There are few software VPN providers left that allow only one simultaneous connection at the same time. Most of them give you the possibility to share your account with your friends and family so that more of you can take advantage of secure browsing at once.
Although hardware VPN lets nearby devices connect to the device, the network bandwidth must be shared among all users. It can be tricky if you have limited bandwidth. And it also decreases the VPN connection speed of each user.
But a software VPN service overcomes this issue. If the users are not connected in the same LAN, then each user benefits from the best possible Internet speed provided by their home network.
Easier VPN remote access for employees
A wide range of corporations turn to virtual private network services to allow the remote access of their employees. It is one of the many reasons for using VPN.
Assuming that you are at home and need to access a file from your office’s intranet, you can use a VPN. The technology fools the office into thinking that you are attempting to access the file while sitting at your workstation.
However, remote access is more challenging when turning to hardware VPN. It certainly requires the expertise of an IT professional, especially since you can stumble upon various connectivity and security errors that require your immediate attention. Otherwise, you risk compromising the security of the entire corporation.
But this job is simplified with a software VPN solution. You just have to employ the services of a VPN provider that assigns dedicated IP addresses. Because they are static, you can add the dedicated IP addresses to a whitelist so that only authorized employees can connect remotely.
And, if you encounter any errors, you can always get in touch with your commercial VPN provider, which should offer 24/7, unconditional support.
Share VPN connections with all nearby devices
If you want to share your software VPN solution with other devices but without exceeding the number of maximum simultaneous connections, you can install the VPN at the router level.
You could say this is how you can build your own VPN router from scratch. And all you need is a standard router that supports open-source firmware, an open-source firmware like DD-WRT, Tomato and OpenWRT, along with an OpenVPN configuration from your VPN provider.
The new VPN router may not have all the security features of special hardware VPN equipment. But this workaround is definitely cheaper since you can use your existing router.
Easily control VPN security features
When talking about hardware VPN, we mentioned that it surpasses software solutions because it has better security features.
But that does not mean you should overlook the security-related settings of software VPN. In fact, you can access them easier through a graphical interface and easily make adjustments or turn specific options on and off.
For instance, you can enable split tunneling to isolate VPN traffic by application so that you can still use local resources while connected to the VPN service.
It is also possible to enable obfuscation mode so that you can hide the fact that you are using VPN. It is a special feature for people who must bypass network restrictions, like the ones who live in countries with government censorship.
Switch through VPN servers with minimal effort
Exploring multiple VPN servers is certainly more convenient when using a software VPN service. All you have to do is open a menu and click the country you wish to connect to.
Compared to this, managing VPN servers on hardware VPN takes more time. It means accessing the router’s configuration panel every time you want to pick another VPN profile with a different protocol and server.
Disconnecting from the VPN is just as simple when turning to software VPN solutions. It is only necessary to bring up the main application window. Alternatively, you can right-click a system tray icon to open a menu and click a button to disconnect right away. But, when it comes to hardware VPN, you have to go through an entire procedure.
What should you choose between hardware VPN and software VPN?
The purpose of both hardware VPN and software VPN is the same: to secure your Internet connection, hide your IP address, spoof your location, bypass school restrictions, access blocked sites, evade government censorship, and unlock streaming services like Netflix.
But there are clear differences between the two methods for ensuring VPN connectivity. What is better for you depends on your requirements.
For instance, if you want to run a business, hire IT professionals and use a dedicated IP address, then you can afford buying a sophisticated piece of hardware VPN equipment.
However, if you are more interested in using a VPN at home, then your best bet is opting for a software VPN service.
It is a budget-friendly solution that fits all pockets, thanks to various payment plans designed to accommodate your needs. And, without a doubt, a VPN software tool is easier to set up, configure and manage. No kind of expertise is necessary.
Our software VPN recommendation
If you have decided that a VPN software service is a way to go, then you should prepare yourself for extensive research because there are hundreds of VPN providers out there claiming to be the best in the business.
Unfortunately, there are also a lot of VPN scams as well. For example, it might sound tempting to download and install a free VPN service, but it will do little to protect your online privacy.
Many free VPN providers collect and sell your data to marketing agencies, even if they promise not to. Besides, a free VPN service has little to offer. There are few VPN servers to choose from, the level of security is weak, and there are other inconveniences, too.
Instead of doing that, you should go with a premium VPN software tool that successfully protects your online privacy. Choosing a good VPN can be challenging, however, because there are many pros and cons that you must take into account. And there are also many myths surrounding VPN which are simply untrue.
If you are not willing to put so much effort into finding a trustworthy VPN, then you can trust our recommendations. Since we started this project on FindYourVPN, we have deeply researched more than 50 virtual private network services, in order to test, review and rank them.
Plus, we have identified the best VPN services overall. According to the results, ExpressVPN is at the top of the food chain, surpassing all other virtual private network tools from our list.
The native application of ExpressVPN can be installed on multiple devices, such as Windows, Android, macOS, Linux, and iOS. Therefore, you do not have to concern yourself about device compatibility, even after buying unplanned gadgets in the future.
The company is based in the British Virgin Islands, which has a safe jurisdiction, untouched by the influence of the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes or 14 Eyes mass surveillance agencies. There is 24/7 live chat support.
Subsequently, ExpressVPN has never been at the center of any controversies as far as logging goes. And you can take advantage of over 3,000 VPN servers from 160 server locations and 94 countries.
Up to five simultaneous connections are supported. Plus, the tool features OpenVPN manual configuration mode and can be installed at the router level to allow you to share your VPN connection with all household devices.
With the help of ExpressVPN, you can unlock the US library of Netflix as well as other streaming services like BBC iPlayer, Hulu, and Spotify. It has Smart DNS technology built into its MediaStreamer module, which allows you to access media content without encrypting your connection. This way, it is faster.
IPv6 and DNS leak protection modules are included, along with exclusive DNS servers designed to keep your DNS requests safe from your ISP. Meanwhile, Chinese residents can connect to obfuscated servers to conceal the fact that they are using VPN.
If we managed to convince you that ExpressVPN is the best in the business as far as software VPN solutions are concerned, you can get started by getting a subscription plan here.
To sum up, each type of VPN comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. But, if you understand the differences between hardware VPN and software VPN, you can make the right decision. Simply put, hardware VPN is better for corporations while software VPN is better for personal usage. Of course, that is not set in stone since it is entirely up to you.
What do you prefer between the two? And which is your favorite piece of hardware or software when it comes to virtual private network solutions? We can not wait to hear your opinion, so please do not hesitate to leave us a comment in the section below.