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Best VPN for Windows

You don't have to compromise when looking for the best virtual private network.

A solid VPN, or virtual private network, is an important layer of protection for Windows 10 and Windows 11. To find the fastest and most secure options for each platform, we tested a range of VPN services across both Windows and MacOS platforms. And if you're searching for the best VPN for a Windows device, we have good news: Windows' dominance as a desktop OS and its comparatively customizable operating environment give you access to a wide range of compatible VPN services. Nearly every major VPN provider offers an app on both desktop and mobile environments for Microsoft. While MacOS users need to factor in Apple-specific requirements, finding the best VPN for Windows -- and getting the widest range of protocol options to work with your device -- is much easier. 

All the recommendations on our main list of the best VPN providers are compatible with all currently maintained Windows versions, and CNET has tested them for use in the latest available operating system. (That means they'll work seamlessly on Windows 11, which is available for download now on your laptop or desktop.) All of them also offer a stand-alone VPN client that will work without a hitch on your desktop. Our CNET team has specifically tackled some core factors in our testing, including security strength, browsing and streaming speeds, ease of remote access and value for the money

Here you'll find our top picks for the best VPN for Windows, ranked for their performance across all categories. Once you choose the right VPN service for you, be sure to read our guide on how to set up a VPN on Windows 10

ExpressVPN

Despite battling major upheavals through the end of 2021, ExpressVPN clenched our Editor's Choice Award for best VPN in 2022. One of the two largest providers globally, the VPN titan has been in business since 2009 and once again aggressively raised the industry bar for service transparency this year. 

In the past year, ExpressVPN increased its independent third-party audit count, published details about its TrustedServer deployment process, joined the i2Coalition to call for improved VPN industry ethics, and released an open source Lightway encryption protocol.

After a set-back in 2020, ExpressVPN is again currently in first place as the fastest VPN we've tested. While most VPNs will cause you to lose half or more of your normal internet speeds, ExpressVPN caused us to lose just 2% of speeds in our 2022 speed tests. It also unblocks Netflix and other streaming services more reliably than most other VPNs, and seamlessly surpasses geo-blocking for access to international gaming servers and torrenting sites. 

All of our top-rated VPN's have wide compatibility across platforms and operating systems, but ExpressVPN's collection of setup guides, detailed FAQs and troubleshooting articles give it a clear advantage for users. So does its 24/7 customer support, and its no-questions-asked, 30-day money back guarantee.

While you can get a better month-to-dollar bargain with ExpressVPN's two-year subscription, we don't recommend anyone purchase any two-year VPN subscriptions at this time due to overall market volatility. ExpressVPN's best plan offers five simultaneous connections for $100 a year (which includes three extra months, for a limited-time deal totalling 15 months of service). You can also opt for a $13 per-month plan, or pay $60 for six months. Read our ExpressVPN review.

Read our ExpressVPN review.

 

ExpressVPN
  • Competitive speeds
  • Solid security suite
  • Company is based in privacy-friendly jurisdiction
49% off with 12-mo plan (+3 free months)
Surfshark
  • Number of servers: 3,200-plus
  • Number of VPN server locations: 65
  • Jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
  • $4 a month (69% discount) for the yearly plan

While Surfshark's network is smaller than some, the VPN service makes it up on features and connection speed. Surfshark and NordVPN announced a merger in February, but each VPN runs its own separate network. Let's start off with the biggest win Surfshark 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, we lost less than 17% of average internet speed during our most recent speed tests. That's faster than the 27% speed loss we 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. We 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, we didn't see a single IP address or DNS leak, and had no trouble accessing Netflix. 

Like an increasing number of other VPNs, Surfshark offers several different introductory pricing packages that are cheaper the longer your contract, but that get more expensive after the first term of your subscription plan. One of your options is to lock in 26 months of service for about $60 -- which Surfshark frames as "24 months +2 Free" for $2.30 a month. It's a decent intro deal, but the plan then recurs at $60 annually. For the standard yearly subscription plan, you'll pay about $48 initially for the first year of service, then $60 per year for any additional years of service. 

Surfshark's regular monthly plan offers no discounts and is available for $13 a month. If you're not satisfied with the service, Surfshark offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Read our Surfshark VPN review.

 

Surfshark VPN
  • Market-leading speeds
  • Doorbuster pricing
  • Multihop VPN
$2.30/mo + 2 months free (2 year plan)
NordVPN
  • Among the fastest VPNs, with only 13% speed loss
  • Number of servers: 5,200-plus servers in 62 countries
  • Apps: Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android, iOS, Android TV, Fire TV
  • Country/jurisdiction: Panama
  • $3.99 a month for a two-year plan

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, and the ability to VPN into Tor. More than half of Nord's 5,000-plus server fleet is optimized for peer-to-peer sharing, though Nord has blocked torrenting in 14 countries.

In our latest test rounds we noticed a few hiccups in Nord's killswitch when using its iOS app, which could be a concern for torrenters. However, Nord has a sideloaded iOS available on its website that it recommends to users. In our most recent speed tests, NordVPN's performance recovered from middling speed scores of 2021 and zoomed back into the ranks of the fastest VPNs we've tested, causing us to lose just 13% of base internet speeds. 

NordVPN doesn't accept PayPal payments, but you can purchase a subscription with any major credit or debit card, AmazonPay, Google Pay or ACH transfer. If you'd rather pay anonymously, you can pay with a variety of cryptocurrencies including bitcoin, ethereum, tether and dogecoin. NordVPN has also partnered with a handful of retail stores like Staples, Best Buy and Walmart -- where you can even purchase your VPN with cash.

Read moreNordVPN Review 2022: Feature-Rich and Speedy, but Privacy and Transparency Issues Need Attention

Read our NordVPN review.

 

NordVPN
  • Reliable, competitive speeds
  • RAM-disk servers
  • Feature-rich software
62% off with 24-mo plan

Windows VPN FAQs

What's the best VPN for Windows?

ExpressVPN is CNET's current top pick for the best Windows VPN. The industry veteran has an impressive network of servers worldwide and provides a solid balance of speed, security and unblocking power. 

Can you get a free VPN for Windows?

We don't recommend free VPNs for a couple of reasons. First, free VPNs need to make money somehow -- which most of the time involves selling your data to third parties. Some have even been found to be infected with malware. Besides being risky to use, free VPNs also generally lack the features and performance you'd want from your VPN service. You'll typically have to contend with slow speeds, data caps, weak security, limited server locations and erratic unblocking capabilities with free VPNs. The best way to try a VPN for free is to take advantage of free trials and money-back guarantees offered by premium VPN providers. If you're on a budget, you can also check out CNET's list of the best cheap VPN services.

What's the most secure VPN for Windows?

ExpressVPN, Surfshark and NordVPN all offer excellent security for Windows users. Each one offers the same AES 256-bit encryption, operates a RAM-only server infrastructure and has been independently audited. Along with crucial security features like a kill switch and DNS leak protection, each of the three VPNs offers additional features that can help enhance your online security and privacy. Surfshark's CleanWeb feature will help you automatically block malware and phishing attempts. NordVPN offers Tor over VPN, double VPN and dark web monitoring features. In addition to ensuring data is never stored on its servers, ExpressVPN says its TrustedServer technology helps improve security and minimizes vulnerabilities and misconfiguration by loading the most up-to-date software every time a server starts up.

Can you get in trouble for using a VPN?

You typically won't have to worry about getting into any sort of legal trouble for using a VPN in most parts of the world. However, you could potentially get in legal trouble for using a VPN if you're in a country like China, Iran or any other country where VPNs are banned or outlawed. If you're traveling, check the local laws regarding VPN use in the country you're traveling to. Even if the country you're in or traveling to does have restrictions on VPNs, you can hide your VPN use by connecting to an obfuscated server. Doing so disguises your VPN traffic as regular HTTPS traffic.

What does my ISP see when I'm connected to my VPN?

When you connect to a VPN, your ISP will be able to see that you're connected to a VPN, but it won't be able to see what websites you visit or your browsing history. Your ISP will see timestamps of when you connected to the VPN, the IP address of the VPN server you're connected to and the amount of data you're transmitting. But since the actual traffic is encrypted, your ISP will only be able to see that traffic as a random string of gibberish. If you don't want your ISP to know you're using a VPN, you'll need to connect to an obfuscated server, if offered by your VPN provider. 

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.