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In the market for a virtual private network? There are some details worth considering like encryption strength, the product’s security features and the annual fee. One element that shouldn’t be skipped, however, is a VPN’s connection speed. This is especially true if your VPN usage is heavily reliant on data. Streaming, gaming, videoconferencing and torrenting are excellent examples of activities requiring a strong and sturdy connection. You may be thinking that the swiftness of your internet will keep you afloat, but it’s common for VPNs to cut that speed in half, which could result in a negative online experience. A speedy VPN will ensure that your streams are quality, gameplay remains smooth, downloads stay swift and your calls are clear.

Testing a VPN’s speed is a time-sensitive, albeit imperfect, process that can include a variety of factors. Here at CNET, we’ve invented a speed testing methodology that strives to replicate the conditions a typical user is likely to experience. We put this procedure to work, researching and testing the fastest VPN services to figure out the most practical value to VPN consumers like you.

VPN service on a laptop
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With a fast VPN, your speed loss will be virtually unnoticeable.

Sarah Tew/CNET

We believe a VPN’s security is of paramount importance, but we’re also aware that many VPN users may prioritize speed over security — if, for instance, their primary use case is streaming or gaming. That’s why we’ve also started taking into account speeds through lightweight VPN protocols like WireGuard and VPN providers’ own proprietary protocols. Though WireGuard and other protocols, like ExpressVPN’s Lightway and NordVPN’s NordLynx, are by all indications highly secure, their security isn’t as battle-tested in the wild as OpenVPN. 

On the flip side, these relatively newer protocols are typically faster than OpenVPN — often by a considerable margin. We still recommend using OpenVPN for the best balance of speed and security (and for anyone with critical privacy needs), but we tested their fastest protocols in order to measure them by their full potential for speed.

Keep in mind that this is a list of the fastest VPNs among our current top five overall choices as we measured them in February and March of 2023, and should be referenced as a general guide to how you may expect these VPNs to perform for you. Your own results may vary, depending on various factors including what platform you’re using, your location and the level of service you’re receiving from your internet service provider. 

VPN speeds compared

2019 tested speed loss* 2020 tested speed loss* 2022 tested speed loss* 2023 tested speed loss* Net change from previous test
NordVPN 32% 53% 13% 10% Faster in 2023 tests
ExpressVPN 2% 51% 2% 18% Slower in 2023 tests
IPVanish N/A 65% 58% 26% Faster in 2023 tests
Proton VPN N/A 9% 17% 36% Slower in 2023 tests
Surfshark 27% 17% 19% 40% Slower in 2023 tests

*Lower number is better.

These are the fastest VPNs in 2023

Savings 59% off with 24-mo plan (+ 3 extra months)Latest tests No leaks detected, 13% speed loss in summer 2022 testsNetwork 5,600-plus servers in 84 locations across 59 countriesJurisdiction Panama

NordVPN’s speeds have been improving over the past few years. In our 2020 speed tests we calculated a 53% speed loss, and in the summer of 2022 a 13% speed loss. In our most recent testing in February and March of 2023, the speed loss dropped to just 10% on average. The fastest round of testing yielded a mere 7% speed loss through its proprietary WireGuard-based NordLynx VPN protocol from our testing location in Ohio. This steady improvement in speeds has helped NordVPN leapfrog ExpressVPN and take the reins as the fastest VPN.

ExpressVPN

Savings 49% off with 12-mo plan (+3 free months)Latest tests No leaks detected, 2% speed loss in spring 2022 testsNetwork 3,000-plus servers in 160 locations across 94 countriesJurisdiction British Virgin Islands

ExpressVPN wowed us with its incredible 2% speed loss last year — a result that placed it handily in the lead as our fastest VPN at the time. However, ExpressVPN’s stratospheric speeds came back down to Earth in our most recent tests, averaging a still respectable 18% speed loss overall. The recent drop in speeds has — for the time being — relegated ExpressVPN to second place behind NordVPN. ExpressVPN’s fastest round of tests yielded a 9% speed loss through OpenVPN. Though the provider’s proprietary Lightway protocol should theoretically be faster than OpenVPN, the fastest round of testing through Lightway was slightly slower at an 11% speed loss. Because we recommend OpenVPN for critical privacy needs (and due to its demonstrated commitment to security and transparency), ExpressVPN is perhaps an even better option than NordVPN for anyone looking for the very best combination of speeds and security.

49% off with 12-mo plan (+3 free months)

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What about Surfshark, IPVanish and Proton VPN?

Using our cutoff for “fast” — no more than 20% speed loss on the OpenVPN protocol — NordVPN and ExpressVPN are the two current kings of the hill. That said, our other overall top VPN picks — Surfshark, IPVanish and Proton VPN — all have the capacity to deliver speeds adequate for just about any online activity. However, their inconsistent speed performance during our testing dropped each one out of consideration for the fastest VPN crown.


IPVanish

  • 26% speed loss in February/March 2023 speed tests (faster than 58% in 2022)
  • Fastest speed tested: 14% speed loss (WireGuard)
  • Fastest VPN connections: New York
  • Slowest VPN connections: Singapore

When we tested IPVanish, we lost 58% of our speeds when connecting through OpenVPN from the US and 19% from Budapest. What was especially maddening was that the app didn’t always connect us to the fastest possible server when using IPVanish’s Quick Connect feature. While IPVanish’s speeds within the US were fairly consistent, speeds to other locations fluctuated dramatically. Speeds to Europe, for example, peaked as high as 317Mbps and dropped to as low as 40Mbps. We got faster and more consistent speeds when abandoning the Quick Connect feature and choosing servers manually while connecting via OpenVPN.

IPVanish’s WireGuard speeds were better, dropping our speeds by only 14.5% on average. During one round of testing IPVanish in Budapest, the ISP we were connected through was noticeably throttling our speeds, causing many of our VPN speed readings to be faster than our non-VPN readings, which ultimately resulted in a mere 3% average speed loss for that round. However, despite that anomaly, the inconsistent nature of IPVanish’s speeds along with how unreliably Quick Connect performed was what put it out of the running for the fastest VPN.


Proton VPN

  • 36% speed loss in February/March 2023 speed tests (slower than 17% in 2022)
  • Fastest speed tested: 23% speed loss (WireGuard)
  • Fastest VPN connections: New York
  • Slowest VPN connections: UK

Proton VPN was by far the most inconsistent of the bunch. The peaks and valleys we experienced in terms of speeds were staggering, regardless of protocol or testing location. Speeds would go up to 328Mbps and drop to 3Mbps in the same round of testing. Overall, Proton averaged a 36% speed loss, which is unexceptional, at best. If you’re looking for a VPN that consistently delivers fast speeds, Proton VPN is decidedly not the VPN you’re looking for.


Surfshark

  • 40% speed loss in February/March 2023 speed tests (slower than 19% in 2022)
  • Fastest speed tested: 8% speed loss (WireGuard)
  • Fastest VPN connections: Europe
  • Slowest VPN connections: Singapore

You can typically expect to lose about half of your base internet speeds through most VPNs, so we were surprised to see that we lost a whopping 76% of our base speeds connecting through OpenVPN with Surfshark. We conducted more than 250 individual OpenVPN speed tests with Surfshark over the course of several weeks in case what we were seeing was an aberration, yet speeds were poor across the board through each location we tested, each time we tested it. By comparison, Surfshark’s sister company NordVPN only cut our speeds by 9% when connecting through OpenVPN.

We reached out to Surfshark to inquire about the issue with its OpenVPN speeds and a representative from the company told us that the poor speed performance must have begun recently because speeds have been consistently good over the past few months. The representative told us that the development team is investigating the issue and hopes to have it resolved soon. We will retest Surfshark’s speeds once the issue has been resolved and update our fastest VPN list as appropriate at that time.

That said, Surfshark’s WireGuard speeds were respectable. In our two rounds of testing Surfshark’s speeds through the WireGuard protocol, we calculated a 22% speed loss on average. In one round of testing, we measured only an 8% drop in speeds — which was actually among the fastest we measured. Surfshark is fast if you use WireGuard, but its OpenVPN speeds leave much to be desired, and ultimately bumped it out of the fastest VPN race. We recommend using OpenVPN for anything privacy critical, so if you want to use OpenVPN for your heightened privacy needs but don’t want to lose more than three-quarters of your internet speeds in the process, NordVPN or ExpressVPN would be a better bet at this time — based on our tests.


How we tested VPN speeds

In the past, we tested VPN speeds strictly through the OpenVPN protocol because of its speed, security and ubiquity. But with all the top VPNs now offering speedier protocols, we’ve begun testing speeds through WireGuard and, if available, the VPN provider’s own proprietary protocol.

We conducted our latest speed tests in February and March of 2023 from testing locations in Cleveland, Ohio, and Budapest, Hungary. In addition to testing OpenVPN speeds from these locations, we tested speeds through WireGuard for Surfshark, Proton VPN and IPVanish. Additionally, we tested ExpressVPN’s speeds through its proprietary Lightway protocol and NordVPN’s speeds through its NordLynx protocol. We conducted five rounds of testing on each VPN, consisting of five separate tests each to five locations around the world. Five rounds of testing for each VPN from both testing locations using multiple VPN protocols added up to more than 2,500 individual speed tests overall.

Prior to each round of testing, we measured our non-VPN speeds five times to calculate the average speeds we were getting from our ISP. Then, we tested speeds five times each to VPN server locations in New York, the UK, Australia, Europe (France and Germany) and Singapore. This way, we’re able to get a good read on VPN speeds to popular locations across the globe. Once we completed the five rounds of testing to each location, we calculated our average VPN and non-VPN speeds to determine the percentage of speed lost overall through the VPN. 

Calculating the percentage of speed lost through the VPN allows us to present a clear representation of how you can expect these VPNs to perform for you. Your base internet speeds may be a lot faster or a lot slower than what we got through the internet connections we used during our testing, so saying that we achieved speeds of 341.5Mbps with NordVPN doesn’t paint the full picture without putting it into the proper context of how much of a speed drop that was in relation to our base speeds.

We conducted all of our tests through the Ookla speed-testing platform, because it’s user-friendly and among the most widely used speed testing sites. It’s also the tool that most VPN users are likely to use to measure their own speeds.

How to get the most speed out of your VPN

There are a few things you can try if you want to speed up your VPN connection. In theory, WireGuard and newer, proprietary VPN protocols that more and more providers are offering should offer faster speeds than OpenVPN. You can try one of these protocols to boost your speeds if gaining maximum speed is your primary objective and you’re not getting what you want out of your OpenVPN connection.

If location is not a concern, you’ll want to connect to the server that’s the closest to your physical location. This will cut down on the physical distance your data has to travel and, in turn, deliver faster speeds.

Connecting to a server that is overloaded with users can result in undesirable speeds. Many VPN apps include information regarding server load, so try to look for a server indicating a light load for optimum speeds.

Fastest VPN FAQ

Which VPN is the fastest?

NordVPN is the fastest VPN right now, based on the extensive testing we conducted in 2023. Out of the VPNs we speed tested, NordVPN’s speeds were the most consistently fast across the board. NordVPN averaged just a 10% speed loss overall, with its best result being a 7% speed loss through WireGuard. ExpressVPN came in second place with an 18% average speed loss, with its best result being a 9% speed loss through OpenVPN.

You need a VPN if you want to maintain your privacy online and hide your internet activity from your ISP, government entities and other snoops. If you want to evade online censorship or unblock geographically restricted content, you need a VPN. VPNs can also be beneficial for gaming, torrenting, finding deals online and speeding up your internet connection if your ISP is deliberately throttling your speeds. Anyone who uses the internet can benefit from a VPN in one way or another.

How can I test my VPN speeds?

All you need to do to test your own VPN speeds is to use an online speed testing tool like the one provided by Ookla. First, test your base internet speeds with the VPN disengaged and make a note of your non-VPN speeds. Then, connect to a server through your VPN app and run a new speed test and note the speed change. It’s a good idea to run multiple tests both with and without the VPN turned on to get a fuller picture of the VPN’s speed performance. Most VPNs also offer a money-back guarantee, so it’s a good idea as well to test your VPN speeds during that trial period. If you’re not getting acceptable speeds even after trying different server locations and VPN protocols, you may want to give another VPN a try before the trial period ends. 

What’s the best free VPN?

If you need to use a free VPN, we recommend using Proton VPN’s free version. It’s the only free VPN worth using, because it’s secure, comparatively fast and doesn’t impose usage or data caps. Otherwise, we don’t recommend using most free VPNs because the majority of them are essentially useless, if not downright dangerous. Free VPNs typically impose data and usage limits, employ weaker encryption and offer fewer server locations than their paid counterparts. Free VPNs also need to make money somehow, so you can expect them to be selling your data to third-party advertisers. Some have even been known to contain malware.

Originally published at 4 a.m. PT, and updated after initial publication with slight edits for clarity. 

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