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Best VPN for Windows

There's no need to compromise on VPN choices if you're a Microsoft fan, whether you're using Windows 10 or Windows 11.

If you're a Microsoft user and you're on the hunt for a VPN, you're in luck. Windows' dominance as an operating system and its comparatively customizable operating environment mean that leading virtual private network providers almost always ensure their services are useful for anyone running Microsoft. While MacOS users need to consider several Apple-specific things, finding a reliable Windows VPN is much more straightforward. That means if you use a Windows device, chances are you won't have to compromise on VPN quality.

All our top picks for the best VPNs to use in 2021 are compatible with all currently maintained Windows versions, and CNET has tested them for use in the latest available OS. They also all have a stand-alone VPN client that will work without a hitch on your desktop. (They're likely to work on Windows 11 as well, which you can now download in beta. And if you still haven't upgraded to Windows 10, you can do that for free.) I've specifically tackled some core factors in testing, including security strength, speed measurement and value

Check out our picks for the best VPN for Windows, ranked for their current performance on all categories. Once you choose the right VPN service for you, make sure you read our guide on how to set up a VPN on Windows 10

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ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN tells us its network is powered by TrustedServer technology, which the VPN provider built to ensure that there are never any logs of users' online activities. In the privacy world, ExpressVPN has a strong track record, having experienced a server seizure by authorities which proved its zero-log policy true at the time. I also like the quality of the VPN's setup guides and the detailed information in its FAQ. 

While its speeds consistently compete with heavy-hitting competitors, CNET's 2020 speed tests saw ExpressVPN produce a 52% overall loss of normal internet speeds, representing a significant slowdown compared with its 2019 score of 2% speed loss. 

Like the rest of the top five VPN services, ExpressVPN offers a useful kill-switch security feature that prevents network data from leaking outside of its secure VPN tunnel in the event the VPN connection fails. Unlike the others, though, ExpressVPN gained points for supporting Bitcoin as a payment method -- something not all of my favorites offer, but which adds an additional layer of privacy during checkout.

The VPN service provider has been in business since 2009, and ExpressVPN has a substantial network of fast VPN servers spread across 94 countries. Its best plan is priced at less than $7 a month for an annual package, which includes three months free. 

Read moreExpressVPN review: A VPN speed leader with a secure reputation

Read our ExpressVPN review.

 

Surfshark

While Surfshark's network is smaller than some, the VPN service makes it up on features and connection speed. Let's start off with the biggest win it offers: unlimited device support. If you want to run your entire home or office on Surfshark's VPN, you don't have to worry about how many devices you have on or connected. It also offers antimalware, ad-blocking and tracker-blocking as part of its software.

And it's fast. With more than 3,200 servers in 65 countries, I lost less than 17% of average internet speed during our most recent speed tests. That's faster than the 27% speed loss I saw in previous tests, and pushes it ahead of ExpressVPN to be the current front-runner in the speed comparisons.

Surfshark received generally high marks when its Chrome and Firefox extensions were audited for privacy by German security firm Cure 53 (PDF link of full report) -- though that audit was commissioned by Surfshark.

The company has a solid range of app support, running on Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, Fire TV and routers. Additional devices such as game consoles can be configured for Surfshark via DNS settings. I particularly like the feature that allows you to whitelist certain apps and websites to automatically bypass the VPN. For some business uses, this can be critically important. 

Surfshark also offers three special modes designed for those who want to get around restrictions and more carefully hide their online footsteps. Camouflage Mode masks your VPN activity so your ISP doesn't know you're using a VPN. Multihop jumps your internet connection through multiple countries to hide your trail. Finally, NoBorders Mode "allows [you] to successfully use Surfshark in restrictive regions." Just be careful. Doing any of these three things could be illegal in your country and could result in severe penalties. During testing, I didn't see a single IP address or DNS leak, and had no trouble accessing Netflix. 

Unlike many of the other VPN providers, Surfshark doesn't offer a one-year plan. Its best offer is $2.49 a month, for its two-year plan (you pay about $60 up front). A six-month plan is $6.49 a month (about $39 up front), and month-by-month plans are $12.95 a month. Definitely take advantage of its generous 30-day trial to decide if you like this VPN service (and if you choose the two-year plan, maybe set a reminder in 23 months to see if you can talk it into a continued discount rate).

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

Read our Surfshark VPN review.

 

NordVPN

NordVPN is one of the most recognized brands in the VPN field. It offers a generous simultaneous connection count, with six simultaneous connections through its network, where nearly all other providers offer five or fewer. NordVPN also offers a dedicated IP option, for those looking for a different level of VPN connection. NordVPN offers a kill-switch feature, and the ability to VPN into Tor. I detected no privacy leaks during my tests.

In our most recent speed tests, NordVPN's performance was on par with many of its competitors, reducing speeds by 53% on average (which is slower than the 32% loss measured in previous speed tests). I found NordVPN's speeds were reliably fast. There were never any sudden dips or service interruptions, and where I expected the VPN to underperform, it proved itself up to the task.

The company's two-year VPN subscription plan costs $3.67 a month ($99 billed at once). That price is lower than most contenders, but creeps up for the one-year plan ($4.92 a month or $59 total) and the monthly plan ($11.95 a month). But it does have a full 30-day refund policy. 

While NordVPN has lived on this list for a long time, CNET moved it to the penalty box in October 2019 to re-evaluate our recommendation after a report emerged that one of its rented servers was accessed without authorization in 2018. Nord's actions following the discovery included -- eventually -- multiple security audits, a bug bounty program and heavier investments in server security. 

While I'd have preferred it if Nord had self-disclosed the issue much earlier, the fact that the breach was limited in nature and involved no user-identifying information served to further verify that NordVPN keeps no logs of user activity. As a result, Nord remains on this list as a recommended vendor. 

Read moreNordVPN review: Still the best value for security and speed

Read our NordVPN review.

 

For more, check out our picks for the best cheap VPN and the fastest VPN. And here's why we recommend avoiding a free VPN and using a paid VPN whenever possible.

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