For all the privacy benefits of a VPN, it can sure take its toll on your connection speed. Thankfully, many of the factors that affect your VPN speed negatively can be alleviated with a little know-how. Here are some of the things to consider.
1. Your Internet Connection
Sometimes your VPN isn’t to blame for slower connection speeds. Perhaps your ISP simply doesn’t provide fast enough speeds on your current plan. Or maybe their services are just slower in general, regardless of how much you pay.
Try this website to gauge how fast your Internet is – while being connected to your VPN and without. If you don’t see any notable differences, then it might be time to upgrade your plan or switch ISPs. Aside from that, you can use this speed test to see if things have improved once you’ve tweaked the following settings.
2. Distance to the VPN Server
It’s easy enough: the further away the VPN server is from your area, the greater the distance your data has to travel. This is one of the major causes of VPN slow-downs, and the solution is easy enough. Simply choose a VPN server country that’s closer to you. If you’ve already done that and still experience slow speeds, try the second closest thing and see if there’s any improvement.
It could also be that too many people are connected to the servers close to you, so they become overloaded. In that case, choosing a server that’s further away (but with a lower usage rate) might be the better option.
3. Stronger Encryption = Less Speed
There are a number of different encryption protocols, and some VPN providers allow you to switch between them. It’s generally recommended to use the OpenVPN protocol because it’s the most secure. In fact, most top-rated VPNs choose this protocol automatically.
But if you’re not performing any sensitive operations (like online payments, logging in to any service, etc.), then it might be worth switching to a faster protocol with a weaker encryption standard. PPTP is the fastest of these protocols, but is super easy to break into. It should only really be used for changing locations if you want to stream content not available in your area due to copyright issues, if that.
L2TP/IPSec is more secure, but it’s debatable whether it’s faster than OpenVPN. Some believe that the NSA could have weakened this protocol, as well. Try it out for the same situations as you would PPTP – a bit of light streaming and browsing.
There’s also a way to get better speeds while keeping OpenVPN encryption.
4. Switch from TCP to UDP
The TCP/UDP protocols refer to how data is transmitted over a network. Let’s say you want to receive some work files from a colleague. Naturally, you want the files to be fully intact, with no missing or corrupted information. In this case, you’d want to use the TCP protocol, which checks the integrity of the files you send and receive.
Of course, this also means that the connection speed will be slower, as that verification process takes up resources. UDP on the other hand doesn’t care about checking file integrity, so you’d be getting better speeds. For things like streaming, gaming, and the like, switching to OpenVPN UDP might increase your speed noticeably.
On the other hand, there are some situations where TCP is the faster choice, especially if you frequently experience network drop-outs. Whichever you pick, you can usually find an option to switch between the two in your VPN client’s settings.
5. Split Tunneling
Downloading and seeding torrents, streaming a TV show, running other bandwidth-heavy applications – these all put a dent in your VPN speed. Fortunately, split tunneling allows you to encrypt all network data except for the apps or services you specify. For example, you don’t want to encrypt traffic from a multiplayer game.
Inverse split tunneling is, well, the opposite. You could encrypt only traffic from your torrenting client, instant messaging app, and main browser, while letting your ISP handle the rest of the connections. Of course, in both cases you won’t fully benefit from the privacy of your VPN. Your ISP will be able to see your unencrypted traffic, so keep that in mind.
6. Your CPU Speed
Your processor is fairly involved in how fast your VPN speeds are. The CPU performs the encryption/ decryption process, so the faster it does its job, the quicker the encrypted data can be transmitted. If you have a slower unit, there’s not much to do on this end except upgrade to a faster CPU.
You can try closing applications and services that use the CPU to free up resources and possibly gain some more speed. Here’s an optimization guide for Windows 10 and one for Mac that should help you out. Even if you don’t notice much of an increase in VPN speeds, at least your computer will perform better, which is a win-win situation.
7. Your VPN Provider
Let’s say you have a fast, (perhaps even wired) Internet connection and a high-performance CPU. You’ve connected to multiple VPN servers – closer and further – with no noticeable change in speed. Your encryption protocol is down to the minimum, and you’ve switched to UDP. Split tunneling didn’t offer much of an improvement, and while your computer runs better, optimizing your OS didn’t help either.
If all else fails, then it means your VPN provider simply isn’t up to par. This is especially true if you use a “free” VPN. Not only are they dangerous for your data (to the point where you’re better off without one), but also tend to have bandwidth caps and suffer from poor optimization.
Looking for the best speeds in the industry? PureVPN, ExpressVPN and Surfshark are among the fastest VPNs, as proven by ProPrivacy’s tests. They also include the ability to switch protocols and feature split tunneling for the fastest speeds possible while still maintaining the privacy and security of your more sensitive activities.