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Unfortunately, using even the very best VPN providers can result in reduced internet performance. It’s an issue that typically shows up as a sluggish or sometimes even downright unusable connection.
How to Make a VPN Faster
In some cases of slowdown, the underlying internet connection is to blame. In others, it may be the VPN itself. Either way, if you are struggling with a poor connection, there is hope. Here are nine ways to speed up your VPN and squeeze every last bit of performance out of it.
Switch VPN Servers
One of the most common causes of a slow VPN connection is the VPN server. There are several reasons why this could be the case, the first one being geographical distance.
It boils down to this: the further the server from you, the greater the distance your data needs to travel, the slower the connection.
Most providers allow you to choose from a list of servers all over the world. As a first step, if you haven’t done so already, try one that is closest to you and then check for speed improvement. It could be as simple as that.
If you’re already using the closest server, it’s possible the problem lies in the network path between you and that server. In this case, try other available servers (in order of closest to furthest away) to see if you can find one which works better.
Sometimes a server you’re connected to might also be experiencing high demand and become overloaded. Moving to one that’s currently underutilized (even though it may be further away), can fix any speed issues.
You may need to switch servers more than once to find the one that gives you the best performance.
Try a Different Protocol
A VPN connection is an encrypted tunnel between your device and the VPN server. It keeps prying eyes from seeing the content of your traffic. To create this secure tunnel, VPN providers use different combinations of protocol and encryption standards.
Not every combination is created equally, however. Some prioritize security and sacrifice performance, while others do the opposite.
Generally speaking, most commercial VPNs use the OpenVPN protocol. It’s open-source and provides a good balance of speed and security. But, in some cases, you may be able to find a different option that works better.
One popular alternative is known as L2TP/IPSec. Given the right set of conditions, using it has a good chance of improving connection performance. Another protocol worth considering is PPTP. But, while PPTP is quite fast indeed, it is also the most insecure.
Then there is the up-and-coming WireGuard protocol. Initially developed for Linux, it aims to be as secure and significantly faster than both OpenVPN and IPSec – and does it ever deliver.
Though WireGuard is not yet widely adopted, NordVPN (who calls their implementation NordLynx) and a select few other VPN providers have started to use it.
To give you an idea of how much faster it can be, here are two recent UK server NordVPN speed test runs, the first using OpenVPN and the second NordLynx.
WireGuard nearly doubled both the download and upload performance. I saw similar results with just about every other country I tested too.
If the WireGuard protocol is an option, it is hands down your best bet for increased speeds.
Change Protocol Settings
Besides changing your VPN protocol entirely, you can also change settings within each. Doing so can also yield a noticeable speed increase.
Some public networks (and even some private connections) restrict VPN traffic to reduce potential abuse. Those networks may also suffer from instability caused by certain client settings. Both things can wreak havoc on a VPN connection. To get around these potential issues, and improve performance, it’s sometimes necessary to change your VPN software’s default configuration.
One setting to try changing is the preference for UDP over TCP. Both are protocols used for sending bits of data over the internet. By default, most VPN connections use UDP, which is typically the faster of the two options. In some cases, though, switching to TCP can result in a quicker connection, especially if the underlying network is unstable.
Another setting to try adjusting is the port you’re using for your VPN. Switch it to 443. This port is what SSL (encrypted) web traffic uses. Networks rarely block or throttle it since doing so would restrict normal web usage.
Switch VPN Software
Most of the time, the client software which your VPN provider makes available to you is pre-configured to give the best performance with their service. In some cases, though, existing software or settings on your device may interfere with that software’s standard one-size-fits-all configuration.
There are definitely times when trying a different VPN software package can improve results and give faster internet speeds. However, before going down this path, do note that it may require some more advanced technical know-how.
Since most VPN services use OpenVPN as their standard connection protocol, a good place to start is grabbing the vanilla OpenVPN client. Here is where you can find it, listed by operating system:
Consult with your VPN provider for instructions on configuring the software, as there likely are specific settings for each VPN service. Most providers make a step-by-step guide available on their support websites, and that’s the best place to start.
Enable Split Tunneling
In some cases, the demands that you’re placing on your VPN connection are greater than the connection can handle, plain and simple. If you’re using multiple bandwidth-intensive applications at once, and can’t (or don’t want to) shut some of them down to solve your speed issues, several VPN providers offer another option. It’s called split tunneling.
Split Tunneling allows you to specify which traffic goes over the VPN and which goes out unencrypted over your regular internet connection.
If your VPN provider allows the use of split tunneling, follow their instructions to get it running correctly. No matter how they implement this feature, things will boil down to specifying which traffic to exempt from the VPN tunnel and which to include.
In some cases, you may also be able to use inverse split tunneling. This method lets you specify only the traffic that must use the VPN rather than excluding a large number of programs or traffic types from it. Inverse split tunneling is an excellent option if you use a VPN to evade region restrictions or are bypassing content blocks put in place by your country or ISP.
Check Your Internet Service
If, after trying all of the above, you are still experiencing slow speeds when accessing websites or other online services with a VPN, the next thing to do is figure out if your underlying internet connection is to blame.
First, disconnect from the VPN. Disconnecting ensures your data goes straight out over the standard internet connection and is not re-routed through a VPN server.
Once that is done, run a speed test to determine the performance of your internet. If the results are subpar, just like that, you’ve eliminated the VPN as the source of the problem.
Assuming bad results, you can try restarting your internet modem (if you’re on a home connection) or try switching to a different hotspot if one is available. If neither of these steps fixes the issue, you will, unfortunately, have to take things up with your ISP or the hotspot owner.
Check System Resources
Sometimes the cause of a slow VPN connection is closer to home than you may realize. That’s why it’s also wise to check if any applications on your device might be taking up excessive amounts of bandwidth.
For example, if you’ve left your BitTorrent client open in the background and it’s currently seeding twenty-seven other clients, the odds are that’s the cause of your slowdown.
To quickly find out what programs you have running that might be tying up your connection, take a look at your device’s task manager. Here’s how to access it (or its equivalent) on the most popular operating systems:
- Microsoft Windows: Task Manager
- Android: Background Apps
- Apple iOS: App Switcher
- Apple OS X: Activity Monitor
It’s a good idea to close any programs or apps that you don’t need. That might free up unnecessarily used bandwidth on your VPN connection. Even if the applications aren’t using the internet, closing them will still free up system resources, which certainly won’t hurt.
Use a Wired Connection
These days, most of us connect to the internet via Wi-Fi. It is, by far, the most convenient and mobile way to get online. Unfortunately, wireless connections are susceptible to interference from other devices, building structural components, and even household appliances. To get a better connection, you may need to go old-school.
If you’re using a device with an Ethernet port, use a network cable to plugin directly into your router or modem. A wired connection ensures that your device has a clear and uninterrupted path to the internet. It eliminates any Wi-Fi interference issues from the equation and brings you one step closer to finding the cause of your VPN slowness.
If you cannot use a wired connection, analyze your Wi-Fi to double-check you’re using the most optimal settings. Changing your location (moving to the other end of the couch, for example) may help too.
Try Another VPN
Unfortunately, there are some causes of slow VPN performance that are entirely outside of your control – things like subpar network hardware or lousy VPN server load balancing. In these cases, there’s nothing that you can do to overcome the problem except to switch to a different provider.
Switching VPN providers is your option of last resort if you’ve tried every other means of fixing the slow VPN connection.
If you’re reluctant to switch, you should consider that the sheer popularity of VPNs today has led to a market that’s overflowing with options. That means that there may be a service that didn’t exist when you chose your current VPN. Alternatively, a provider you once dismissed may have also since stepped up their game.
Take the time to do your research. After all, why switch from one VPN service you’re not entirely happy with to another one just like it.
Since connection speed is one of the goals, any provider on my performance test based list of the fastest VPNs can make a good starting point. Besides top speed test results, a large server network, a wide range of protocols and configuration options, and features like split tunneling are also pluses. Services like the very affordable Surfshark or CyberGhost check all those boxes.
As explained earlier, if a provider offers an implementation of the WireGuard protocol, it too has an excellent chance of vastly improving your connection performance. NordVPN and their NordLynx protocol is one such example.
Many Solutions, One Goal
With any luck, one (or more) of the above solutions will be the key to solving your VPN speed issues. In fact, I bet there is a good chance that this will be the case. In most cases, a VPN won’t make your internet faster. But, ideally, the amount of slowdown should be barely noticeable.
With VPNs becoming increasingly popular, it’s more important than ever for everyone to become more familiar with how they work. You’ll find that under the hood, VPNs are not as complicated as you may have thought. In the end, a little detective work and tinkering can go a long way towards making your connection perform at its best and no longer leave you wondering, “Why is my VPN connection so slow?”