Testing a VPN speed is the easiest and trickiest thing to do. So, stay tuned to this explainer in which we shed light to the nuances of this ‘simple’ process, including the tools to get this right.
After testing ProtonVPN, ExpressVPN, Surfshark, MullvadVPN, and many others, I can safely say speed is the most misunderstood factor among VPN users.
It’s simple to log on to some speed testing tool, yet very difficult to accurately comprehend the results.
Thus, before jumping on to how to test VPN speeds, let’s go through some fundamentals.
Factors Affecting VPN Speeds
This section entails a non-exhaustive list of aspects affecting VPN speeds and some ‘standard’ you-need-to-know things before jumping on the actual testing.
#1. No Two Servers Perform Equal
It heavily depends on the server you connect to, as the hardware has many hard-to-point dissimilarities and the server load, which also varies.
And this performance difference is significantly visible if you connect to servers from two separate physical locations. This is because of the unique internet infrastructure connecting you to those machines, including the quality of cables, distance, routers, etc.
#2. Choice of VPN Protocol
Consider VPN Protocols as the soul of a VPN connection. They dictate how the VPN tunnels perform, including the encryption strength, speed, efficiency, overall security, etc.
Some are built for speed, like WireGuard, while others are time-tested all-rounders, like OpenVPN.
In addition, a few VPN providers also develop their custom protocols for the utmost flexibility.
#3. Extra Security
Security chips off speed. And practically, most of us don’t need features such as multi-hop, Tor over VPN, bank-grade encryption, etc.
Although such characteristics are ideal for people in authoritarian regimes, journalists, and activists; for others, this needless security is an overkill taking an unavoidable toll on the network speed.
Notably, proxies are a decent replacement for a VPN if the agenda is just about spoofing one’s location.
#4. Native Factors
The first one is your normal internet speed. VPNs can only cut from the typical speeds we get from our internet service providers.
So, it’s important to check the default network speed before pointing fingers at your VPN.
In addition, your distance from the WiFi router also has a play in the final output–more distance means lesser speeds.
Besides, the type of connection, WiFi or Ethernet, also has a say, with ethernet connectivity being the faster of the two.
Finally, the quality of your computer hardware (cable quality, modem, etc.) affects the overall experience.
So these are a few things your final connection speed depends on.
Testing a VPN Speed
I will demonstrate the process with a few speed-testing tools.
Notably, I’m on a 40 Mbps symmetrical broadband connection (equal download and upload speeds) with the router installed upstairs. My approximate distance from the WiFi router beaming 2.5Ghz internet is 7m horizontally and 5m vertically. And this laptop I’m working on is the only device connected to the router.
Besides, I don’t have any active downloads during this test. And there is no active application, except the browser I’m using to speedtest and write (so two open tabs) and a screenshot application. Moreover, I have disabled all browser extensions other than that of the VPN itself.
Additionally, I’m not using any application to control the background processes on my Windows 11 laptop.
Finally, it’s advised to take readings at least thrice, several times a day, and lastly, take the average values for the best accuracy.
However, I will be doing it once with the tools for this demonstration.
Ookla Speed Test
Speedtest is one of the most popular speed-testing tools. It gives detailed information about the upload speed, download speed, ping parameters, IP address, etc.
It also assigns a unique URL to share your results, and one can also export the findings.
The process of testing is simple. Just visit speedtest.net and click the encircled GO.
My default parameters:
Next, I connected to the VPN’s Singapore server, roughly 6,200 KM from my place.
You can check the most damage was done to the upload speed (almost 30%) and Ping (11➡️79). While the VPN could have improved the upload performance, a higher Ping is the direct result of the distance and a few non-VPN-related factors.
So, this was the Ookla Speedtest.
Fast is a Netflix offering to test the network parameters. It provides a much cleaner interface; however, the output is similar in download speed, upload speed, and latency (Ping) value.
Likewise, I performed the speedtest twice, with and without the VPN, by connecting to the same VPN server.
We can check a clear difference between the two tools we’ve tested so far. And that’s expected as the servers testing these characteristics also differ.
Here, the unloaded latency value refers to a traffic-less network compared to the loaded one where data-heavy applications are running alongside.
Broadband Speedchecker works to compare internet speeds and service providers for the UK people. However, it can check your network speeds, irrespective of the location.
If you’re in the UK, you can use this tool to check ISPs, their plans, speeds, etc., to pick the right one.
As you can observe, speeds vary a lot. As a matter of fact, I used these tools multiple times to get two consistent results to illustrate.
Besides, no two tools give out the same outputs. And multiple tools are powered by others. For instance, Google Speed Test (along with many others) is underpinned by Ookla’s Speedtest.
But these speed tests matter a little, and the values differ with every other run, even with the same tool. So, what matters is the real-life performance.
And for that, we have listed a few to serve you well.
Switzerland-based ProtonVPN is one of the best in the entire VPN industry. In fact, they have multiple privacy-focused products, which include an encrypted email service, secure cloud drive, calendar, and VPN.
They offer incredible speeds and have an excellent geo-unblocking record.
In addition, ProtonVPN features a native adblocker, Tor over VPN, worldwide servers, and a slick user interface.