It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say most of you use OpenVPN when running a VPN connection. Pretty much all providers offer it, and for good reason – it’s one of the best VPN protocols. We actually have a whole guide discussing why it even might be the best VPN protocol.
But for all its great perks, we can’t ignore the elephant in the room – OpenVPN speeds. Unfortunately, this is a very resource-intensive protocol (anywhere between 70,000 and 600,000 lines of code), so it really takes its toll on your online speeds.
Is there anything you can do to make them smoother? Actually, yes. We’ll show you eight things you can try that might improve the OpenVPN speeds you get. We tested them out personally and got positive results.
But before we start …
How Much Does OpenVPN Lower Your Speeds?
Just how “bad” are things?
Well, it varies from user to user. Some of you might see a big slowdown (over 100 Mbps), while others will barely notice it (only a few Mbps).
But let’s run a test on our end with Ookla’s Speedtest to see some actual numbers. For reference, the writer who ran the test is in Romania, and these are their original ISP speeds:
We then used a Romanian VPN server from ExpressVPN running the OpenVPN protocol. Here are the results we got:
The upload speeds and ping didn’t suffer too much, but the download speeds took a pretty big hit. Our online experience didn’t get worse, of course, but that goes to show OpenVPN can take its toll on your Internet speeds.
How to Improve OpenVPN Speeds (8 Tips)
If the slowdown you’re experiencing is too annoying to ignore, there are some ways to optimize your speeds:
1. Switch to UDP
If you ever checked the VPN client’s protocol settings, you probably saw two versions of OpenVPN – OpenVPN TCP and OpenVPN UDP.
If you don’t know what those terms are, they’re network protocols that send and receive data packets. In a nutshell, they contribute to activities like you viewing a web page on your browser, gaming online, or chatting with your friends on Facebook.
Now, some VPN services use TCP by default, while others use UDP. If your client uses TCP, you might get slower speeds.
Because TCP is connection-focused and emphasizes stability. While that’s cool, it also means the protocol is resource-intensive. Here’s why:
- TCP negotiates and establishes connections.
- The protocol uses sequencing to number packets.
- An acknowledgment has to be sent for each received packet. If it’s not, TCP re-sends the packet.
- TCP has error detection and correction methods in place.
Overall, all of that makes TCP headers very heavy.
UDP packets, on the other hand, are much more lightweight because UDP is connectionless, doesn’t bother numbering packets, has no error correction in place, and doesn’t resend lost or corrupted packets.
So using OpenVPN over UDP should result in smoother, faster speeds. That was the case for us, at least:
We used the same ExpressVPN server as before. As a quick refresher, these were the speeds we got using OpenVPN over TCP on that server:
The upload speeds and the ping didn’t change too much, but we got a very noticeable boost in download speeds.
2. Use a Server That’s Close to You
If the distance between you and the VPN server is too big, you’ll sometimes experience noticeable slowdowns.
Because it takes much longer for data packets to travel between the VPN client and the VPN server. That also contributes to dropped connections because some packets might go missing in transit.
OpenVPN already slows down your speeds quite a lot. Use a server on a different continent, and the slowdown will be even bigger.
Let’s see how big, though. We’ll use OpenVPN over UDP, the same Romanian server from ExpressVPN (the tester is based in Romania), and an US server from the same provider.
Here are the speeds we got with the Romanian server:
And here are the results we got using a VPN server in the US:
A pretty noticeable difference – much higher ping, and lower download and upload speeds.
So try sticking to a server in your own country, or at least nearby countries or the same continent.
That’s true, so remember to only use UDP to get smoother OpenVPN speeds. With TCP, we only got 11-12 Mbps download speeds and 4-5 Mbps upload speeds.
Also, try the other tips in this guide too. Alternatively, if the VPN has a Smart DNS, use it instead. It won’t affect your Internet speeds at all because it has no encryption. Perfect for binging content.
3. Use Split Tunneling
Split tunneling is a cool little feature that lets you “split” your VPN traffic. Basically, you can configure the VPN to only route traffic from specific apps – like a web browser or a torrent client. It will completely ignore the traffic you don’t select, leaving it unencrypted.
That might sound bad at first, but consider this – the less traffic the VPN has to encrypt and decrypt, the faster the speeds.
We ran a test to confirm that too. In this case, we used the Romanian server from ExpressVPN, the UDP protocol, and we configured split-tunneling to only allow the Firefox browser to use the VPN.
To compare the results, let’s take a look at our OpenVPN speeds over UDP with a Romanian server. No split tunneling was used, and we had Firefox running alongside background web apps like Skype, Steam, and qBitTorrent.
And here are the results we got with split tunneling:
Overall, slightly better download and upload speeds, and absolutely no ping. We definitely noticed the pages loaded instantly. Without split tunneling, they took up to one or two seconds to fully load.
If you’d like to learn more about split tunneling, we have an in-depth guide explaining what it is and how it works.
4. Use Wired Connections, Not WiFi
WiFi might be convenient, but the strength of its signal has a huge influence on your online speeds. If it’s too low, you’ll experience a lot of buffering, dropped connections, and – obviously – slow OpenVPN speeds.
And anything can interfere with the signal. Go in a different room, and the walls will weaken it. Sometimes even placing stuff around your router (so that it’s obstructed from view) can lower the WiFi signal.
Over a wired connection, you don’t deal with those problems since you have a direct link to the router. The signal doesn’t play such an important role anymore.
We tested this tip, and it checks out. We used a computer with a wired connection to the router, a laptop connected through WiFi, Romanian servers from ExpressVPN (same country as the tester), and OpenVPN over TCP (to see just how low our speeds could get).
These were the speeds we got using a wired connection:
Now, here are the speeds we had over WiFi while in the same room as the computer and the router:
Not a huge difference for ping and download speeds, but our upload speeds took a noticeable hit.
Next, we tested the speeds in the room where we had the weakest WiFi signal. These were the results:
Quite the downgrade. The ping didn’t suffer too much, but our download and upload speeds tanked.
So yeah, try using the VPN over a wired connection if you can. Or at least try to be in the same room as the router. Alternatively, place the router in the middle of your home so that you get equal-strength signal everywhere in the house.
And, obviously, stick to UDP when possible.
5. Restart Your Modem/Router
Over time, your router or modem can suffer memory leaks. Those are essentially pointless memory allocations. They only slow down your Internet speeds, which obviously influences your OpenVPN speeds.
There’s no easy way to detect memory leaks as far as we know. You normally have to deal with command lines and other techy stuff. It’s much easier to just assume you’re dealing with a memory leak, and restart your modem or router.
Because that’s usually the fix for any memory leak – just reboot the device or software.
We did that on our end, but didn’t notice any improvements. That doesn’t mean this tip doesn’t work, but that our router didn’t have any memory leaks.
6. Check the Firewall/Antivirus
Your operating system’s firewall and your antivirus software can interfere with VPN connections. It doesn’t happen 100% of the time, but when it does, your OpenVPN speeds will take a hit.
We’ll start by saying that you should never disable your antivirus when running a VPN. VPNs can’t protect you from malware, so you need to use them together with antivirus solutions.
Instead, add the VPN client as an exception in the antimalware program. Also, schedule antivirus scans when you don’t use the VPN. They can be serious memory hogs, slowing down your speeds.
As for the firewall, we recommend adding the VPN as an exception for inbound and outbound traffic. You can disable the firewall too since some VPNs even offer their own firewalls (like NordVPN’s CyberSec feature). But you should only do that if adding the VPN as an exception doesn’t improve your OpenVPN speeds.
We tested this tip, but didn’t notice any serious differences – just a few Mbps. We always add the VPN as an exception in the antivirus program and firewall, though, and we recommend you do that too.
7. Turn Off Background Apps
Too many background apps can eat up your bandwidth and CPU power. And the VPN needs that to run smoothly – particularly the CPU power which is vital to the OpenVPN encryption/decryption process.
So try running the VPN connection with no unnecessary apps in the background. Also consider using Firefox instead of Chromium browsers (like Chrome and Opera). It doesn’t end up consuming so much memory when you have multiple tabs opened.
We ran a test with and without background apps, but we didn’t notice any differences worth mentioning. At most there were 4-5 Mbps differences in download and upload speeds, but no change in ping times.
Keep in mind we ran the test on a computer with 16 GB of RAM (DDR4 2133 MHz). So background apps using up all the memory isn’t really an issue. If you have less RAM or a more outdated device, turning off background apps could improve your OpenVPN speeds noticeably.
8. Try Obfuscation
If none of the previous tips worked, this is your last resort. There is a chance your ISP is throttling your VPN connection.
Why would they do that? Who knows. Maybe they think you’re using VPNs to download torrents or to do illegal things (a common myth). So they throttle the connection to discourage you from using the VPN.
Wait, does my ISP know I’m using a VPN?
Yes, they actually see your connection to the VPN server. They likely know it’s a VPN server because your traffic is encrypted, and you’re connected to an IP address without a DNS resolution (no website name linked to it).
They can also use DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) to spot OpenVPN traffic since it has a recognizable signature.
If that really is happening, VPN obfuscation should help. It’s a feature that hides OpenVPN traffic, making it look like regular Internet traffic. So it should bypass DPI and other forms of detection, thereby preventing your ISP from throttling it.
We tried testing this with the Shadowsocks protocol from Surfshark, but didn’t see any differences. We never really had problems with ISPs throttling our VPN traffic, though. But we have heard about people managing to improve their OpenVPN speeds with obfuscation.
All in all, if you think your ISP is interfering with your VPN speeds, give this a shot.
Still Getting Bad Speeds? Try Different Protocols
In the end, OpenVPN is still a resource-intensive protocol, and there’s nothing you can do to change that. If you weren’t able to improve your OpenVPN speeds after trying all those tips, it’s time to try a different protocol.
Our research shows that WireGuard, IKEv2, and L2TP/IPSec are decent alternatives in terms of speed. We’re not going to mention PPTP since it’s not secure at all (the NSA can likely crack it). Plus, many providers don’t support it anymore.
The newest protocol on the block, WireGuard is no longer just in its experimental phase. It underwent an audit and formal verification. And many VPN providers have even made it available to their users.
WireGuard also boasts state-of-the-art security alongside smooth, stable speeds. The fact that it’s lightweight (around 4,000 lines of code) definitely contributes to that. Its encryption also has a much lower impact, which helps.
That all sounds nice, but let’s run a test to see how well it does. This time, we used Romanian servers from NordVPN, which is the same country our tester is based in. Also, we used OpenVPN over UDP to make things fair, and NordVPN’s NordLynx protocol, which is basically WireGuard but with a tweak to make it better for privacy.
Alright, so here are our OpenVPN speeds:
And the speeds we got with NordLynx:
The ping wasn’t different, and the upload speeds took a hit, but our download speeds rose significantly.
All in all, WireGuard is a decent alternative. The protocol seems secure enough too, though it’s still undergoing heavy development. So maybe don’t start using it for PayPal payments yet.
The protocol offers decent speeds and stability – especially thanks to its MOBIKE feature that lets VPN connections resist network changes. Most people recommend only using it on mobile devices, but it works well on computers and laptops too.
Let’s see how big the difference in speeds actually is. For this test, we used Romanian servers from Surfshark (the same country as the tester), and OpenVPN over UDP.
These were our OpenVPN speeds:
And our IKEv2 speeds:
Lightning-fast speeds compared to OpenVPN over UDP. The results are actually very close to our original ISP speeds (581 Mbps download and 213 Mbps upload).
IKEv2 generally offers decent security. Still, we recommend using OpenVPN for sensitive online activities (like logging into your bank account) because security researchers found a way to break RSA-based signature authentication in IKEv2.
Granted, you need to use a weak password for IKEv2 to be compromised. We still say using OpenVPN for important activities is safer, though.
The successor to PPTP, L2TP/IPSec often provides decent speeds even though it needs more CPU power because it encapsulates data twice.
We used ExpressVPN to compare L2TP/IPSec speeds with OpenVPN speeds. We only used Romanian servers (the tester’s country), and we used OpenVPN over UDP.
Here are the results we got with OpenVPN:
And the results with L2TP/IPSec:
Pretty obvious improvement for download speeds.
Just remember L2TP/IPSec isn’t as secure as OpenVPN – or IKEv2 or WireGuard, for that matter (we explained here why). If you really insist on using it, stick to streaming content only. Don’t use the protocol when logging into your email or making online payments.
REMINDER: Original Slow Speeds = Slow VPN Speeds
We get asked this pretty often, and we’re sad to say that no, you won’t get better speeds with a VPN if your original ISP speeds are already low.
VPNs just aren’t designed to work like that. They can’t really increase your Internet speeds since your connection to the VPN server goes through your ISP’s network. So it’s completely reliant on it.
You can try all the tips we mentioned here if you want. But, unfortunately, slow speeds by default will likely result in even slower VPN speeds. Your best bet is to get a faster subscription or switch to an ISP with faster speeds.
Which VPNs Offer the Best OpenVPN Speeds?
Can one VPN offer you better OpenVPN speeds than another service?
It’s possible. Not all VPN providers optimize their servers for speed. Also, not all of them spend enough money to rent or set up high-speed servers with unlimited bandwidth.
If you use a VPN whose provider doesn’t have enough funds for that, you’ll likely get slow OpenVPN speeds no matter what you do.
Good to know, but how does that help me pick a VPN?
Good question. You normally have to check the top providers on the market, and test their connections individually to see which service offers the fastest experience. Sounds time-consuming (and it is), but there really isn’t a better alternative.
Lucky for you, we already did that. We tested the OpenVPN connections from the top five VPN providers. Here are the results:
- PIA (Read Review) – 18.62 ping, 127.80 Mbps download speeds, 125.60 Mbps upload speeds
- Surfshark (Read Review) – 19.25 ping, 98.51 Mbps download speeds, 102.93 Mbps upload speeds
- NordVPN (Read Review) – 22 ping, 92.59 Mbps download speeds, 94.30 Mbps upload speeds
- CyberGhost (Read Review) – 19.5, 112 Mbps download speeds, 41.74 Mbps upload speeds
- ExpressVPN (Read Review) – 29 ping, 41.49 Mbps download speeds, 142.74 Mbps upload speed
We only tested OpenVPN over TCP. It’s slower than UDP, so we got to see which provider could offer the best speeds under all that stress. Our tester’s location was in Romania, so we only used Romanian servers.
Also, we tested each VPN four times per day. And we did it during weekdays and on the weekend.
We did that to make sure we get consistent speeds. If we didn’t, we could have gotten fast speeds at lunch or in the morning, and slow speeds after 5-6 PM and on the weekend (when people are at home and more likely to use VPNs).
We then calculated all the speeds (ping, download, and upload) to get an average for each VPN.
Overall, we found that:
- PIA had the best and most consistent OpenVPN speeds.
- Surfshark came a close second.
- NordVPN had smooth speeds, but they never really broke 100 Mbps for us.
- CyberGhost is a good pick if you need high download speeds, and slower upload speeds aren’t an issue.
- ExpressVPN is the exact opposite of CyberGhost – slow download speeds, but very decent upload speeds (so great for seeding torrents). We also noticed the download speeds were a bit slower on the weekend.
Oh, and a quick disclaimer: These are our recommendations based on our personal research. We don’t guarantee you will 100% get faster speeds with PIA instead of ExpressVPN. For some of you, ExpressVPN or CyberGhost might be faster, for example.
So feel free to test all the services we mentioned if you’re having doubts. They all have decent money-back guarantees (30-45 days), and CyberGhost even has a free one-day trial.
If you want to see an in-depth comparison of all those services, check out our guide.
What’s Your Experience with OpenVPN Speeds?
Do you normally get smooth speeds, or do you have to put up with lag and slower downloads? If you do get lower speeds, what else do you do to improve them?
Go ahead and tell us in the comments or on social media. If your tips work well, we’ll include them in the article and credit you.