67% off + 3- month VPN coupon with every 2-year plan bought
No leaks detected, 11% speed loss in 2024 tests
6,000-plus servers in over 60 countries
Minimal speed loss
Strong focus on privacy and transparency
RAM-only servers, Double VPN and Onion VPN options
Great for streaming service geo-unblocking
Lots of payment options including cryptocurrency and in-store purchases
Smaller server network than the competition (but there’s a planned Q1 2024 expansion)
Only six simultaneous connections
Inconsistent pricing structure
Not as transparent as other VPN rivals
A virtual private network tunnels your web traffic through an encrypted server, granting you an extra layer of privacy from internet service providers, government agencies or your school’s network administration. The extra protection comes with a tradeoff: using a VPN slows down your internet speed.
NordVPN boasts reliable and competitive speeds, according to CNET’s hands-on VPN testing, resulting in the least internet speed degradation of any provider we’ve analyzed.
It’s not just fast. NordVPN brings a lot more to the table: It’s secure, competitively priced and loaded with user-friendly apps. That well-rounded performance makes Nord a solid VPN for everyone from privacy-concerned users to entertainment enthusiasts. In our 2024 hands-on assessment of NordVPN, we ran over 250 internet speed tests, streamed hours of videos and tested its apps on a smorgasbord of devices. We also analyzed its price and compared NordVPN’s value to competitors.
While NordVPN tops every VPN we’ve tested in the speed category, it scored lower than some of its competitors on transparency (it has undergone fewer independent audits) and accessibility (there are cheaper options with more simultaneous connections). Overall, NordVPN is one of the top 3 best VPNs recommended by our expert reviewers. See here for more info on how we test VPNs.
Speed: Blazing fast
- Speed loss: 11.1% average
- Number of servers: 6,000-plus
- Number of countries: 60
All VPNs slow down your internet upload and download speeds to some degree, but anything under 20% impresses us.
In our January 2024 tests, CNET Labs clocked a best-in-class average speed loss of 11.1% when using NordVPN, earning it the accolade of CNET’s fastest VPN. For comparison, other top VPNs we’ve tested include Surfshark which saw a 17% average speed loss, and ExpressVPN, with a 24.8% average speed loss.
With NordVPN, you have two sets of rules, called VPN protocols, which you can use to establish a connection. Using Nord’s proprietary protocol, called NordLynx, CNET clocked an average internet speed loss of just 3.19% on Windows and 12.56% on MacOS. Nord recommends that most people stick with NordLynx, and that's my preferred VPN protocol when using NordVPN. NordLynx utilizes double NAT to create a secure connection without storing potentially identifying information like IP addresses. If you’re a NordVPN user, its NordLynx protocol should maintain the fastest possible internet speeds without compromising on privacy and security.
Using OpenVPN on Macs, our speed loss was an outstanding 10.08%, and it averaged 18.57% with Windows. Whether you choose NordLynx or OpenVPN, Nord ensures blazing-fast speeds that are great for bandwidth-intensive applications like 4K video streaming, Zoom calls or uploading YouTube videos.
NordVPN has a decent roster of global servers and a planned expansion
NordVPN sports over 6,000 servers -- more overall than competitors including ExpressVPN (3,000-plus) and Surfshark (3,200-plus servers). Express and Surfshark both offer 100 or more country locations, so despite its larger server count, Nord’s global reach (currently over 60 countries) is actually lower. ProtonVPN and PIA also deliver additional international locations with 69 and 91 available countries respectively. In a conversation with the NordVPN team, they told me about its aggressive server expansion to 100 countries, slated for a rollout in the first quarter of 2024, which competes nicely with rivals ExpressVPN, Surfshark and PIA.
Nevertheless, NordVPN works for many folks. If countries you frequently need to connect to are in its server list, you should be fine. Regular globetrotters or those living and visiting spots where Nord doesn’t offer connectivity can check out our guide to the best VPNs for travel, which provide generous server networks.
Key takeaway: NordVPN is hands-down the fastest VPN we benchmarked, with minimal speed loss regardless of which VPN protocol you select. Its extensive server network should work for many folks, although its total country count lags behind some competitors -- at least until an expansion slated for Q1 2024.
Cost: Sweet introductory pricing, but industry-standard price hikes
- $13 monthly, $60 annually (then $99 per year) or $96 for two years (then $99 annually)
- Money-back guarantee: 30 days
- Payment options: Credit card/debit card, PayPal, AmazonPay, Google Pay, cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin, Ethereum, etc.) and retail stores
- Apps available: Windows, MacOS, Linux (command line), Android/Android TV, iOS/iPadOS, TVOS, Amazon Fire TV, Kindle Fire, Meta Quest and browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Edge)
At $13, NordVPN’s monthly price aligns with most of its competitors. Its $60 annual plan starts cheaper than many other VPN providers, including its neck-and-neck rival, ExpressVPN. That attractively-priced $60 plan is just the introductory cost; Nord renews after your first 12 months at $100 for the next year, which is in line with ExpressVPN’s annual pricing.
Although its two-year tier (which sets you back $96 total) offers the cheapest annual cost, we don’t recommend signing up for more than a year at a time because of how quickly things change in the VPN space. Your initially fast VPN that’s great for unblocking Netflix might be slower, suffer a data breach or get acquired by a disreputable company over a year.
Price hikes are the industry standard, with many VPN companies renewing at higher rates after your introductory period. While I understand price hikes, they’re disappointing for users who then need to babysit their subscriptions. To be fair, Nord includes fine print on its checkout page informing you about renewal prices and promises to email you before your new subscription starts.
Despite its higher upfront cost, I prefer ExpressVPN’s price transparency -- you renew at the same rate as you signed up at. Private Internet Access follows suit with its $40 per year pricing. The value-packed Surfshark sets you back $48 for your first year, then $60 annually, while offering servers in more countries than Nord and a less restrictive unlimited device policy. Ultimately, NordVPN’s starting costs are great, but increases for subsequent subscriptions aren’t ideal. Eventually, it’s less value-packed because of the bottom line -- you do get a lot of features, but many of those are overkill for the average person.
If you’re unsatisfied with your service, Nord offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. You’ve got plenty of payment options, as well. Aside from the usual suspects (credit or debit cards, PayPal, AmazonPay and Google Pay), Nord includes cryptocurrency and retail purchases. Paying with crypto delivers pseudo-anonymity, making it more difficult to trace that transaction back to you, a nice bonus for privacy-focused consumers. The ability to buy a NordVPN subscription online or boxed subscription codes in-store at brick-and-mortar retailers such as Best Buy or Walmart makes it one of the most accessible VPNs on the market.
NordVPN runs on almost any device you can think of, including Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android/Android TV, iOS/iPadOS, Apple TV and browsers. I appreciate that its apps remain uncomplicated without sacrificing usability. You can fire up Nord and connect to an optimal server using its Quick Connect feature. Alternatively, you can select any of its over 6,000 servers spread across more than 60 countries. Other competitors, including ExpressVPN and Surfshark, boast even more intuitive apps. Nord’s apps aren’t difficult, but I found ExpressVPN’s apps even easier with their minimalist design.
I loved the Apple TV app, which lets you watch foreign content libraries on Netflix, Disney Plus and other streaming services. Currently, only a few other VPN providers, including ExpressVPN and IPVanish, have TVOS apps.
I liked Nord’s feature-packed apps. You can select from different VPN protocols, such as OpenVPN and NordLynx (a WireGuard-based proprietary protocol). There are plenty of advanced options, like split tunneling, which lets you use a VPN with some applications but not others. For example, I used split tunneling to stream an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Disney Plus in my Chrome browser while excluding my Steam games client from using my VPN. This let me install Halo: The Master Chief Collection without throttling my download speed in Steam, but stay entertained while waiting to play. Unfortunately, Nord’s Apple client lacks split tunneling, although MacOS doesn’t play nicely with that feature anyway.
You can install NordVPN on as many devices as you like, but you’re limited to six simultaneous connections. Essentially, you can only have a VPN actively running on six gadgets at once. Many of our favorite VPNs, like PIA, Surfshark and IPVanish, provide unlimited connections. ProtonVPN gives you 10 and ExpressVPN eight, so NordVPN is among the most restrictive. Granted, most folks won’t need to use a VPN on six devices at the same time, and if you do, a VPN on your router offers whole-home coverage. Case in point: Even while testing Nord on a bevy of devices for this review, I never ran into a situation where I needed more than six simultaneous connections. Nevertheless, families seeking to share a VPN account and power users would appreciate a bump to eight or 10 from a middling six.
I’d also have preferred a graphical user interface Linux app instead of Nord’s current command line interface option, although that’s admittedly a niche request and didn’t factor into my overall assessment.
NordVPN is good for unblocking geographically protected content
Streaming with NordVPN is generally solid. During my testing, I didn’t experience any buffering or stuttering, even when watching 4K videos. NordVPN runs on a slew of streaming devices including Android TV, Fire TV and Apple TV, although you can also use Windows, MacOS, Linux and Chrome OS.
NordVPN unblocked US and UK Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney Plus libraries on most devices. I encountered a few issues watching Prime Video on Windows and MacOS because Amazon detected a VPN running -- however, Android/Android TV, Fire TV and Apple TV worked swimmingly. The Apple TV app was a bit uneven; CNET reviewers had no issues streaming Netflix on US and Canadian servers, but Japanese and UK streaming didn’t work. Thankfully, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu were solid. Because of how recent Apple TV VPN support is, we’ve had issues with other VPN apps, so we expect and hope the streaming experience improves with virtual private networks on TVOS. While Nord is no slouch, ExpressVPN performs slightly better with streaming service unblocking in my experience.
Meshnet and dedicated IPs are nice to have
NordVPN’s feature-rich apps include some useful options for power users. Meshnet lets you create your own personal VPN server in a more intuitive manner than going the do-it-yourself route (speaking from experience). You can establish your own local area network with devices located anywhere. For example, Meshnet allows you to host remote LAN parties or access files on a home server while abroad.
While Meshnet is free, Nord offers dedicated IP addresses as paid upgrades. When connecting to a VPN server, your traffic gets re-routed through a different IP address, so this works much the same way -- except only you have access to this IP address. The benefits of a dedicated IP address include avoiding blocklists (which occasionally happen with public VPN servers) that may result in CAPTCHAs or restricted access to certain streaming services and websites.
Customer service is good… once you get to a person
Although NordVPN is pretty intuitive, you might have billing questions or need help troubleshooting. Thankfully, Nord has comprehensive help guides, including frequently asked questions and setup tutorials for installing a VPN on various devices. NordVPN doesn’t offer over-the-phone customer support, but you can contact Nord via email or 24/7 live chat.
I spent a bit of time jumping through hoops with the live chat tool before reaching an actual representative. Initially, I asked whether there was an Apple TV client (there is) and got a canned response that there wasn’t one. From there, I politely typed “Hi, can I talk to a real person?” at which point the chatbot directed me to the correct support representative. The process for getting in touch with an actual human requires selecting the correct department, then connecting to a NordVPN server and running a DNS leak test, screenshotting the results and uploading those. I suppose the bot-first interaction and screenshot proof of existing Nord subscription weeds out spammers, but the initial incorrect information I received wasn’t helpful.
Once I got in touch with a human, the customer support representative was knowledgeable and helpful. They satisfactorily directed me to the information I needed, provided a coupon code (one of my questions was about paying with cryptocurrency) and even asked how I was doing. Pro tip: If you live chat with Nord, start with “Can I talk to a real person?” to expedite the process of reaching a human.
Key takeaway: Nord offers polished apps, stellar streaming service unblocking and unique, useful features. Its introductory pricing on the annual and two-year plans makes Nord a terrific deal, although future price hikes diminish its value.
Privacy and transparency: Nord gets a lot right while continuing to make improvements
- Jurisdiction: Panama (Not in the Five Eyes or Fourteen Eyes)
- Encryption: AES-256-GCM
- RAM-only server infrastructure
- No DNS leaks detected
- Independently audited
- VPN protocols available: NordLynx, OpenVPN
NordVPN is headquartered in Panama, which lies outside of the Five Eyes and Fourteen Eyes intelligence-sharing communities. Although the average person seeking to watch foreign Netflix libraries or hide torrenting activity from their ISP might not need to care about that, folks with serious privacy concerns -- like investigative journalists or political activists -- will appreciate Nord’s jurisdiction.
Like most VPN providers, Nord touts a strict no-logs policy, meaning that it doesn’t store potentially identifying information about you, such as your IP address or online browsing activity. Although zero logging is tough to prove -- you can and should be skeptical -- Nord continues shoring up its transparency. A 2023 audit by Deloitte, its fourth independent audit overall, found no evidence of logging by NordVPN. Notably, Nord contracted Deloitte for audits in 2022 and 2023, a trend I hope continues. More transparency fosters additional peace of mind.
Unlike some of its rivals, including PIA and Proton, Nord currently doesn’t have robust transparency reports. Differing from zero-log audits, transparency reports provide insight into legal requests a VPN provider receives from law enforcement or government agencies, and accordingly reveal how a VPN company handled those situations. In a February 2024 blog post, Nord announced a move away from a warrant canary method to publishing its transparency reports. I like this approach a lot, but at the moment, its report remains barebones. As Nord fleshes this out, it’s poised to only become a stronger VPN contender, especially for folks with essential privacy concerns.
Other VPN providers showcase more annual audits -- ExpressVPN, for instance, underwent an impressive 12 independent audits in 2022, as opposed to Nord’s single annual audit. When we asked NordVPN representatives about the seemingly smaller scope of its annual audits, Nord commented: “Outside partners have audited NordVPN servers, infrastructure, and NordVPN desktop applications for Windows, Linux, and macOS as well as the mobile applications for Android and iOS. … From our experience, less audits with bigger scope better cover parts that interconnect different features and services. These parts otherwise might get overlooked.”
I understand Nord’s perspective. More comprehensive audits analyzing servers, apps and infrastructure can offer insight into the ecosystem as a whole. I agree with Nord’s comment about the interconnectedness of features, although such a massive audit in a short timespan -- Nord’s Deloitte audit lasted a week -- is just a snapshot of the 365-day calendar year. The VPN industry is moving toward more all-encompassing audits, which I like; Surfshark and PIA also partnered with Deloitte for annual audits, for example. As a compromise, I’d like to see these become more frequent than once a year.
You’ll find a robust slate of privacy and security amenities, including a kill switch (which cuts off your internet connection if your VPN disconnects), double-hop, obfuscated servers and Onion over VPN (Tor). Nord’s kill switch worked brilliantly. My IP address remained hidden even when my Wi-Fi went out and while switching VPN servers. I also didn’t detect any DNS leaks.
NordVPN provides beefed up privacy with advanced features
Onion Over VPN and Double VPN are neat inclusions for privacy-focused users -- think investigative journalists or political activists. (If you just want to access foreign Netflix libraries or torrents, you probably don’t need either feature). Onion Over VPN uses Tor for bolstered privacy by encrypting your traffic even more than a standard VPN connection, making it more difficult to trace back traffic to its source (your IP address). A Double VPN similarly shores up your privacy by tunneling your web traffic through a second VPN server instead of the standard one. Both options offer additional privacy versus a typical out-of-the-box VPN connection, with the core difference being the underlying technology used to bolster encryption: A Double VPN uses a second VPN server, whereas Tor Over VPN relies on the Onion network.
One section reads:
“We sometimes may process your personal data under the legal basis of our or third parties’ legitimate interest. Such cases include: i) to properly administer business communication with you; ii) to detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, abuse, security, or technical issues with our Services and Websites; iii) to protect against harm to the rights, property, and safety of Nord, our users, or third parties; iv) to improve or maintain our Services and provide new products and features; v) to receive knowledge of how our Websites and applications are being used (crash reports, app store reviews, information about the channel from which our app was downloaded, etc.).”
As Nord said via email, “For [our] privacy focused customers -- not only is the collection of personal information very limited, it is also not linked with any of their Internet activities while connected to VPN. We simply do not monitor or have such information.”
“We share your personal data with other Nord group companies to carry out our daily business operations and to enable us to maintain and provide our Services to you. We may also share the contact information of Nord business customers (i.e., our customers which use our products as a tool for their business) with Nord group companies for marketing of their B2B products purposes (business users have a right to object to such transfer at any time).”
Nord told us via email, “This provision is necessary because as in (probably) all global companies, there are multiple legal entities within the group built for different purposes, e.g. payment processing, development, act as sales points and similar and data has to be shared between them.”
“We may share your personal data in those cases where we sell or negotiate to sell our business or go through a corporate merger, acquisition, consolidation, asset sale, reorganization, or similar event. In these situations, Nord will continue to ensure the confidentiality of your personal data.”
When asked for further clarification, Nord said, “This is a standard clause, used by the legal team to cover some theoretical possibilities in edge cases.”
NordVPN is fast, private and feature-packed
NordVPN is a popular choice, because it strikes a nice balance between remaining user-friendly and full-featured, all without sacrificing speed on most platforms. Our CNET Labs tests clocked a class-leading 11.1% average internet download speed loss. The service’s focus on privacy means you’ll get niche but useful features like a Double VPN and Tor over VPN for enhanced encryption. In addition, regular no-logs audits foster transparency.
Ultimately, NordVPN remains an excellent VPN for power users seeking fast internet speeds and cutting-edge features, catering to everyone both casual VPN newcomers and folks with serious privacy concerns alike.