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There are many things a VPN must do well to be useful, and one of the most important ones is to be fast. You can likely get around many other shortcomings. But if your VPN is slower than a dial-up modem (for those of us who remember them), there will be trouble ahead. Not only will you be less likely to use your VPN, but you will probably also curse it every time you do. It’s money well wasted.
VPN speed is one of those tricky things to measure empirically. Simply put, there are no guarantees that the fastest VPN where I live will show the exact same performance where you are. Besides geographical location, factors like the time of day and what the VPN is used for can also heavily sway the results.
That said, there is good news. A VPN that's faster than others generally always will be, regardless of the above factors. So while the exact numbers may differ, if one provider performs better than another for me, the odds overwhelmingly are that it will do so for you as well.
Every speed test you'll find on this site has been run manually by yours truly. I don't use bots or any other forms of automation. I follow a simple, clear testing methodology that best represents real-world VPN usage scenarios.
The Fastest VPN Services of 2019
Below is the list of the top performing VPN providers as determined by my speed tests. All VPNs are re-tested periodically to ensure the results are up to date.
How the Speed Tests Are Done
Every VPN service I look at is tested using a Windows 10 laptop hardwired into my internet modem using a Cat6 ethernet cable. I use a fiber optic 500 Mbps down and 100 Mbps up internet connection.
Those download and upload numbers are higher than any VPN provider can match. This means speed test results are never capped by my own internet. They reveal the actual performance of each VPN server.
To give an example, if I was to use a 50 Mbps down connection, that is the absolute maximum download speed any VPN provider could give me. I would be unable to find out whether 80 Mbps downloads are possible. By running a faster internet connection, I can.
Each test consists of two actual speed tests. One is done over a VPN connection, the other without one. The former shows the performance of the VPN, the latter confirms the results were not capped by my internet connection.
Both tests are run as close to one another as possible to try to minimize any external factors that may affect them, such as a change in network conditions.
I run multiple speed test pairs at various times during the day and using different servers. Doing so accounts for possible periods of heavy network and VPN server load. The quickest result of the runs is what I use.
The first server I test is the one that is considered best for my location. Which server that is will be an optimal combination of proximity and current load. Most VPN clients have an option to select such a server for you automatically. This will typically be the fastest VPN connection you can get.
I also run tests on US, UK, Canadian, Australian, Dutch, German and French servers (assuming, of course, the VPN provider supports that country). These seven locations are typically the most popular ones among VPN users.
The speed test page for every provider I test always shows all eight results.
The tests use the OpenVPN protocol over UDP. It is the fastest protocol of the bunch (and the most secure I might add). Unless you have specific reasons not to do so, OpenVPN is what I recommend using.
The Time of Day Factor
One caveat to point out is that regardless of what VPN speed comparison results say, actual performance will differ depending on the time of day. There is, unfortunately, no way around this.
The more people connect to a VPN at the same time, the slower it will be. Though, with a good service, the slowdown should be minimal.
You can typically expect a less than optimal connection around dinner time or early in the evening than you would at 4 AM. Similarly, if any major event is happening, one that a lot of people may be streaming (a big World Cup game or the Super Bowl are great examples), you also shouldn't expect the fastest performance.
Which VPN Speeds Matter?
A VPN speed tests will yield three sets of numbers: download and upload speeds and a ping time. Depending on what you want to use your VPN for, one or more of these metrics may matter.
Download speed tells you how quickly your device receives data. If you intend on pulling large files or a lot of them, you should make a good download speed your priority. The higher it is, the better.
Using file sharing (BitTorrent or other peer-to-peer networks), file hosting services (Usenet), or streaming video (especially in high definition) are prime examples of where high download speed is critical.
The opposite of download speed, upload speed lets you know how quickly you can send data to a remote destination. It should matter to you if you often send large files or a considerable number of them. The higher this metric, the better.
Examples where a good upload speed matters include using file sharing services or backing up your pictures to the cloud.
Ping time, sometimes called latency, measures how long it takes for one packet of data to make the trip from your computer, through the VPN server, to its destination and then back again. It is specified in milliseconds. The lower this number is, the faster and better the connection.
Ping time is crucial if you’re using real time application like VOIP (voice over IP), or plan on playing online games.
Is Fastest VPN Always Best
Speed is certainly a critical factor when choosing a VPN provider. I rank it in the top three.
That said, it does not have to be the end all and be all. You can put up with slightly lower performance (as long as it doesn't make you want to pull your hair out) in favor of other features you find necessary.
Some of those features may include a good geographical distribution of servers, the number of devices you can simultaneously use, robust security and a minimal logging policy. Everyone's needs are a little different and ultimately depend on what you want to use a VPN for.
If you are still in the process of picking a provider, don't forget to read my guide on choosing a VPN. It will help you navigate and identify all the features that may be important and help you pick a service that's just right for you.