Choosing the bestservice to boost your online privacy and security is a big decision. You have to consider the VPN's reliability, security strength and cost. While these things are important, you don't want to overlook speed. Whether you're gaming or , you need a fast VPN that can handle massive amounts of data. That's why we hands-on tested all the major VPN players to find the fastest ones.
Before we dig into what our test results revealed, there are a few things to keep in mind: First, it's not easy to speed-test a virtual private network in a way that translates to practicable consumer advice. For one, the speed of a VPN can shift from day to day. Not only that, but the use of any VPN, no matter how fast, will somewhat hamper your browsing speeds. There's also the impact of underlying internet speeds in the US, which will vary widely depending on your VPN provider and the state you live in -- the fastest VPN in one area might not be the fastest VPN in another. Finally, if you eliminate all potential variables -- from network interference to individual machine quirks -- to create a lab-like test setting, you're essentially testing a VPN service's product in a digital environment that bears little resemblance to the operating environment most of us live and work in.
For these reasons and more, I prefer to generate a VPN testing environment that resembles what you, the typical VPN user, will probably experience. That's also why I'm more interested in measuring the amount of speed lost with a VPN (which, for most VPN clients, is usually half or more) across both slow- and high-speed connection types. I want to know how well they can handle not just browsing, but also heavy traffic loads of gaming, streaming and torrenting. I also want to know how they're going to perform with simultaneous connections across multiple devices --or -- on a .
Due to the ever-rotating roster of front-runners in the VPN race, you can expect this list to change periodically as it gets updated with our most recent test results, so keep checking back. Among the VPNs we've tested so far, here are the ones that were the fastest VPN at the time of publication.
Editors' note, Feb. 9, 2022: The VPN industry has undergone significant change in the past few months, within corporate ownership. In December, , a company that already owns several other VPNs and has . In February, , though they'll continue to operate autonomously. We're in the process of re-evaluating all of our top picks in light of these changes. We will update our reviews and, if necessary, our rankings to account for this new competitive landscape.
- 16.9% speed loss (faster than 27% loss in previous test)
- Fastest VPN connections: US
- Slowest connections: Australia
As a relative newcomer in the VPN world, Surfshark ended 2019 with just 27% speed loss in my review, positioning it far ahead of all of its competitors -- except for the seemingly uncatchable speed leader ExpressVPN, which dominated my 2019 testing with less than 2% speed loss. But at the close of 2020, Surfshark was surging ahead of the pack with 17% speed loss, as ExpressVPN speeds fell to 52% speed loss in my most recent tests.
The remarkable thing about Surfshark's speed is that its average speeds aren't fighting to overcome major speed losses in any particular test region. This thing showed up on race day and stole the gold for the fastest speed, seemingly without breaking a sweat. During testing, my base non-VPN speeds averaged 194 megabits per second, while Surfshark's overall average was 161Mbps. After taking the averages of five testing locations, I found not one of the averages from those locations fell below 100Mbps. That's an across-the-board win against its competitors in every test column.
While the competitors below seemed to struggle with US speeds, Surfshark clocked a 204Mbps average on US connections. Because the VPN service provider allows you to choose which VPN server to connect to (with a handy visual icon to signal overall crowdedness of each VPN server location), one way I could have juked the stats here is by hand-picking servers across the US with the least VPN traffic load. And I would have loved to report New York speeds specifically, for example. But that wouldn't have been fair; NordVPN still frustratingly lacks that feature, so I used Surfshark's automatic server selection option (as I did with the other test subjects). NordVPN couldn't get close to Surfshark's American speeds during testing, though, averaging just 89Mbps on US connections by comparison.
Surfshark again outperformed its peers during UK and European tests, averaging 165Mbps and 171Mbps in each, respectively. While future tests might include other regions in Europe, I currently go for a mix of German and French connections. Usually, no matter the VPN, Frankfurt speeds weigh down the average, while connections in Orange and Paris bring a major numbers boost. That was still the case with Surfshark's speeds, but even Surfshark's German numbers were higher than the average speeds of its competitors.
Australia is normally where we see numbers take a dive -- the continent's distance from my test site in Kentucky means major latency. Latency was still high, but this fast VPN service seemed unfazed, clocking a 126Mbps average download speed. For comparison, that's close to the 122Mbps average I measured for ExpressVPN's European connections.
Singapore is where speeds always get competitive. The speed-testing site that I and most other reviewers use, Ookla, ranked Singapore's internet speeds the fastest in the world in 2018 with an average national speed of 181Mbps. How did Surfshark do there? An easy, breezy 142Mbps on average.
Was it a fluke? Was my VPN connection just having a great day? Was Surfshark's overall server traffic particularly light that day? All of those things are possible. That's why I aim to keep retesting this newly crowned speed queen, and why I always recommend you opt for VPNs that offer money-back guarantees and allow you to test their services in your own normal use for 30 days. But these are speeds I haven't seen from any VPN I've tested so far.
Surfshark is a beast. If you're shopping for pure high speed right now, this super fast VPN is the service provider you're looking for.
- Market-leading speeds
- Doorbuster pricing
- Multihop VPN
- 51.8% speed lost (slower than previous 2% loss in previous test)
- Fastest VPN connections: Western Europe
- Slowest connections: US
It killed me to see ExpressVPN's pace fall from the jaw-dropping speeds I clocked for it last year. This VPN not only got an Editors' Choice Award but it's my own personal favorite VPN. Its history and durable encryption, combined with its then-untouchable speeds, non-Five Eyes jurisdiction and streamlined user interface made this VPN worth the higher-than-average subscription cost.
Last year, ExpressVPN gave me a less than 2% speed loss overall. This year, I clocked a 52% speed loss. Though that's a major dip, it's still a better-than-average score compared with other VPNs. To be clear, ExpressVPN is still a speed demon that consistently ranks in the top 10 of sites with massive automated VPN speed-test processes. Just because Surfshark beat it to the finish line this time doesn't mean ExpressVPN is at all sluggish. It still flies, and most people will have no problems gaming, streaming or even torrenting heavily.
During testing, my non-VPN speeds averaged 193Mbps, and ExpressVPN's overall global average speed was 93Mbps. Peak speeds were reached on European connections, averaging about 122Mbps between Frankfurt, Berlin and Paris.
Australian speeds outperformed the UK with averages of 101Mbps and 86Mbps, respectively. Between the two, however, the UK caught the better individual high score, topping out at 157Mbps in a single test compared with Australia's highest single-round score of 136Mbps. Singapore's scores also edged out the UK's by just three points at 89Mbps. US scores were where ExpressVPN's averages got dragged down: US speeds averaged just 66Mbps, despite reaching up to 134Mbps on a single test round.
Because of ExpressVPN's history of smoking its opponents on speed tests, my first instinct was to check for a testing issue on my side. So I walked back through my testing process, double-checked my setup and retested to make sure I wasn't accidentally dipping ExpressVPN's numbers.
When my results appeared consistent, I checked in with a couple of sites that offer automated speed testing I trust and compared notes: Sure enough, as of late October, both Top10VPN and ProPrivacy speed tests show that ExpressVPN has struggled with consistency and slipped down the rankings in the past couple of months.
I contacted ExpressVPN to find out what's happening with the recent dips in its speeds. The company looked into it, and said several of its in-house tests were seeing speeds between 200Mbps and 275Mbps using OpenVPN protocol. Those results were far above my own.
"We think one possible explanation is that there was network saturation between your ISP and our data center during the time period that you tested, which again should not be a typical result," an ExpressVPN spokesperson said.
The company also pointed to its new protocol, currently in development.
"We are transitioning our legacy OpenVPN infrastructure to Lightway, a VPN protocol that we developed in-house to deliver WireGuard-like speed but far superior security," the spokesperson said. "It's in beta right now as we're still applying tweaks so we can provide the Lightway benefits to our customers at scale, but once it goes into full release within the next couple of months, we are confident it will deliver speeds on par with or better than the fastest Wireguard setups from other providers."
Is ExpressVPN still my favorite? Absolutely. And while the call isn't mine alone, I'd argue it takes more than a single speed dip to contradict an Editors' Choice Award. All the same, if Surfshark ever gets its servers seized by a government and is found logless in public, ExpressVPN is going to have a problem on its hands.
- Competitive speeds
- Solid security suite
- Company is based in privacy-friendly jurisdiction
- 53% speed lost (slower than previous 32% loss in previous tests)
- Fastest VPN connections: Singapore
- Slowest connections: US
Right out of the gate, it should be said that NordVPN has been steadily improving its speeds since I tested it for the first time last year. While my latest tests show the VPN provider falling 2 percentage points behind ExpressVPN, other speed-testing sites have seen it routinely surge ahead. Since its embarrassing third-party server breach last year (which appeared to cause minimal damage), NordVPN has gotten aggressive. Along with a suite of fleetwide privacy improvements to its servers, it's revved up its engine.
Granted, some of that may have to do with a new security protocol NordVPN rolled out, called NordLynx. It's built on the still-developing protocol WireGuard, which some argue is less secure than OpenVPN (an option available in all the VPNs listed here, and one I use in testing), but which ultimately creates a faster VPN tunnel. The improvements earned it recommendations from both Ookla and AV-Test.
Even with the accolades of others, NordVPN's overall global average speed was 91Mbps during my testing, in a dataset with average non-VPN speeds of 194Mbps, for a speed loss of roughly 53%. While it's normal for a VPN to cut your internet speed by half or more, the notable context here is that across the averages of my five test zones, I never saw NordVPN fall below 85Mbps. It's still one of the most consistent, stable VPNs I've worked with.
Singapore led the VPN speed test averages at 98Mbps, while UK speeds beat European speeds by a hair's breadth. At 99.93Mbps, UK VPN connection speed squeaked ahead of French and German ones, which averaged 91.90Mbps. NordVPN also had another photo finish during testing, with Australia beating US scores, 88Mbps to 86Mbps. None of these are scores that you can look down your nose at.
- Reliable, competitive speeds
- RAM-disk servers
- Feature-rich software
Fastest VPN speeds compared
||2020 tested speed loss*||2019 tested speed loss*||Net change|
|Surfshark||17%||27%||Faster in 2020 test|
|ExpressVPN||51%||2%||Slower in 2020 test|
|NordVPN||53%||32%||Slower in 2020 test|
*Lower number is better
How I tested the fastest VPN services
To determine the fastest VPN service, I ran manual speed tests using OpenVPN protocol -- generally considered the most widely used and secure open-source protocol. To be clear, some of the brands have their own proprietary protocols that may offer a faster speed, but I wanted to keep this an apples-to-apples comparison.
First, I test my internet speed without a VPN. Then, I connect my machines to the virtual private network and pick five servers in diverse locations across the world. I test those five servers, five times each, at intervals over two to three days via the widely used Ookla Speedtest. Then I calculate the average download speed of each to find out what percentage of my normal internet speeds are lost with the use of each VPN. (Find out more about .)
Boosting your speed
No matter which VPN you're using, there are configurations that can help you max out your speeds. These suggestions aren't aimed at improving overall privacy, however, and some may come with privacy reductions depending on which VPN you're using. But if you're interested, here are three ways to boost your VPN speed:
- Check your protocol: If a VPN works by sending your internet traffic through encrypted tunnels, the VPN's protocol is the method it uses to dig that tunnel. VPNs use different types of security protocols for different reasons, and most VPNs allow you to switch between protocol options at will. Generally, the more secure a protocol is, the slower your VPN speeds. We usually recommend choosing the OpenVPN protocol because it's secure without being cumbersome, but you can amp your speeds by switching your VPN app to the IKEv2/IPsec protocol.
- Choose nearby servers: The closer you're physically located to a server, the faster your information is going to travel. Select a server located as close as possible to you to get rapid-fire data return. If you're using a VPN that visually displays how crowded an individual server is, like , be sure you're selecting a server that's handling a low amount of traffic.
- Split-tunneling: Split-tunneling is a feature offered by most leading VPNs that allows you to decide which of your apps' internet traffic is being sent through your VPN. Reducing the amount of device data you're sending through your VPN may improve speeds. All the VPNs listed in this article offer split-tunneling directly through their apps except for NordVPN, which only offers split-tunneling through its mobile apps and via desktop for Chrome and Firefox.
Fastest VPN FAQs
Which VPN is the fastest?
Thanks to its blazing speed and impressive performance, Surfshark is CNET's current top pick for the fastest VPN. ExpressVPN is a close second among our fastest VPN picks and received a CNET Editors' Choice Award for best overall VPN. NordVPN, the third best option, is a die-hard heavy-hitter. It costs more than Surfshark but less than Express, has an enormous network that's constantly getting faster and more secure, and is easily the most reliable service I've tested.
Do I need a VPN?
People who access the internet from a computer, tablet or smartphone will benefit from VPN usage. A VPN service will almost always boost your privacy by encrypting your online activity. Communications that happen between the VPN server and your device are encrypted, so an internet service provider or someone on your Wi-Fi network spying on you won't know which websites you access. They also won't be able to see private information like passwords, usernames and bank or shopping details. Anyone who wants to protect their privacy and security online should use a VPN.
What's the best free VPN?
None of them. Seriously. While there are plenty of excellent free security and privacy apps online, VPNs sadly aren't among them. Safe VPNs cost companies a lot of money to operate and keep secure, and a free VPN service is almost always a malware-laden data snoop. But there's good news: The burgeoning VPN market is hypercompetitive right now, so prices for even the best VPNs regularly drop to less than $5 a month. In fact, the least expensive VPN we've seen so far ranks in our top three VPNs overall for security and speed. Check out our quick list of budget-savvy VPNs to find one in your price range.