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Surfshark vs. IPVanish: Which cheap VPN is best?

Two lightweight, fast VPN services go head to head.

Virtual private networks Surfshark and IPVanish have enough in common to make them natural competitors, but their differences are worth noting when making a decision of which VPN is right for you -- especially if you're looking for the best cheap VPN option for working from home during coronavirus quarantines and lockdowns

Both Surfshark and IPVanish are lightweight applications with great user interfaces. Both also reach admirable speeds and are competitively priced against the better known brands in the field, like ExpressVPN, NordVPN and Norton Secure VPN

Only one of these VPN providers, however, is headquartered outside of the US and has special services configured for torrenting. Here's how the two services stack up when it comes to features, speed, security and cost. 

Read more: The best VPN services for 2020

Surfshark

It won't be long until big-name VPNs realize what kind of threat Surfshark really is: It's faster than a VPN of its size should be, has stronger security than you'd expect, offers a suite of impressive features and has cutthroat prices to go with its unlimited simultaneous connection allowance. During our 2020 testing, Surfshark has given even our most highly recommended VPNs a run for their money on speed, security and cost. 

You want to watch Netflix from any country? Surfshark's watertight DNS features make that possible. You want to torrent quickly and privately? Surfshark routes you to its own P2P-configured servers out of the US. You want to block fingerprinting trackers, use a private search engine and camouflage your traffic so it looks completely normal with the assurance of a kill switch? Surfshark's CleanWeb ad-blocker, Blindsearch search engine and on-board obfuscation covers you. 

Read more: How we evaluate and review VPNs

With just 1,000 servers in 60 countries, we lost only 27% of average internet speeds during our Surfshark speed tests (Surfshark has since increased its servers to 1,700 in 63 countries). The service immediately blew past NordVPN's and Norton Secure VPN's tested speeds (which averaged 32% speed loss and 57% speed loss, respectively), and into competition with the likes of other speed-intensive VPNs such as ExpressVPN and IPVanish. 

Surfshark is currently living up to its name with an aggressive pricing scheme. Right now, it's offering an 83% discount, bringing costs down to $2 a month for a two-year plan ($48 in total). IPVanish gives you the same deal without asking for a two-year commitment, though Surfshark's infinite simultaneous connection offer could balance that out if you want to share your account with family members. 

Read more: Surfshark VPN review: A feature-rich service with blazing speeds and a security focus

IPVanish

A big win for IPVanish is its fun, configurable interface, which makes it an ideal client for beginners who are interested in learning what a VPN does under the hood. My only complaint is that IPVanish's desktop clients have been known to get in a loading loop. This occurs in both the Windows and Mac version of the app, and IPVanish's site advises a reinstall. Otherwise, this has become one of my favorite user experiences with a VPN client. 

IPVanish's multiplatform flexibility and 40,000-plus IP addresses are also ideal for people focused on finding a Netflix-friendly VPN. It's compatible with iOS, Android, MacOS, Windows, Linux, routers, Amazon Fire devices, and any Android-based media device. In comparison, Surfshark is available for Linux, Windows, Android, MacOS, iOS, Android TV and Amazon Fire TV.

Read more: All the VPN terms you need to know

Compared to high-profile VPN speed players like ExpressVPN, it's tempting to paint IPVanish's speeds as sluggish, since it cut our internet speeds by about 65% when I tested it. But IPVanish regularly gives bigger brands a run for their money in the thrice-daily tests conducted by ProPrivacy. And IPVanish is reaching those speeds with just 1,300 servers in 60 locations, at least 200 fewer servers than Norton Secure VPN's 1,500 across 29 countries. 

While I appreciate that IPVanish comes with a standard kill switch feature, I always retain some caution when a VPN is headquartered in the US, and reserve my higher recommendations for those outside of international intelligence-sharing rings such as Five Eyes. I'm also not as confident in IPVanish's leak security as I am with other VPNs after reviewers at CNET's sister publication ZDNet detected a partial DNS leak during testing. I'm also still hoping to see an independent third-party audit of its operations. 

At $2.85 a month or $40 a year (two months free), IPVanish is more expensive than Surfshark, though the latter requires you to sign up for a two-year plan to get the best deal. It also recently changed its policy to offer a full 30-day money back guarantee. The company does get kudos for its increase from five to 10 simultaneous connections, but that bump seems moot given Surfshark's unlimited-connection offer. 

Read more: IPVanish review: This speedy VPN has a great user interface

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