Every time you turn on your VPN, all your traffic and data is encrypted and decrypted again after reaching the final destination.
While you’re unlikely to see much of a difference when using the best VPN services, the encryption process inevitably slows down your internet connection.
Below we explain the factors that affect your VPN speed and how you can test your service. We also share some tips to boost your online performance in no time, along with more details about the best fast VPN of the moment according to our latest tests.
How Does a VPN Affect Internet Speed?
We’ve already mentioned that VPN encryption will always affect your connection speed — even if it’s just a few Mbps.
However, there are other factors that could make this drop in performance a real problem. These include:
- VPN server location. The main reason your connection is slowing down is the distance between you and your chosen server. Since all of your traffic has to go through this server, your connection will inevitably be faster if you connect to a server closer to your physical location.
- load on the VPN server. Many users are likely to be connected to your chosen network at the same time as you. A drop in connection speed can occur when the server becomes overloaded. This is more likely to happen when the VPN infrastructure is outdated or inadequate. Premium services usually provide some details on this point.
- protocol. Since encryption is a major reason a VPN slows down your overall internet speeds, the security protocol that defines the type of encryption used is a key factor here. Among all those available, WireGuard is the fastest option you can opt for at the moment.
How to test your VPN speed
This might sound a bit complicated, but the good news is that there are many free services online that you can use to test the performance of your internet connection. speed test (opens in new tab) is one of the best speed test apps out there and one of the services we use when reviewing VPNs.
Before you check how fast your connection is when browsing the internet safely with the VPN turned on, you need to get an idea of your basic internet performance. To do this, we recommend running two different tests to compare the results.
After the speed test finishes, you will be presented with a series of results and factors to consider according to your needs.
- ping rate. This represents the delay between performing an action — for example, clicking a link — and the website or app registering that action. The lower your ping, the faster it will be. A low ping rate is crucial for those using a gaming VPN to gamble online.
- download speeds. This is perhaps the most important result for anyone surfing the web, as it represents how fast data can be downloaded – for example, how long it takes for a page to fully load. The higher the better – with the advent of fiber broadband, speeds in excess of 100Mbps are common, but anything over 20Mbps is fine for streaming and browsing.
- upload speeds. This defines the rate at which you send online data. High upload speeds are especially important if you make frequent calls, video conferences or play games. Aim for at least 3 Mbps for everyday use and around 10 Mbps for maximum performance.
How to improve your VPN performance
Here are some tips to boost your online performance and enjoy the best possible VPN speeds.
1. Change VPN server
We’ve already talked about how VPN servers can affect the performance of your security software. Because of this, it may help you to try different networks to get a faster connection. All the top providers offer a huge selection of international servers – our all-time favorite ExpressVPN has over 3,000 in 94 countries. In addition to choosing one that is closest to your geographic location, premium VPN providers often have multiple different servers in the same country as well.
2. Change encryption protocols
Since the type of security protocol can affect your overall VPN speed, you might be able to get better performance by switching to a different one. All you have to do is go to your VPN app’s settings and adjust your selection. The new industry standard for security and speed is WireGuard. However, ExpressVPN has developed its own Lightway protocol that competes closely with WireGuard.
3. Enable split tunneling
Many VPN services offer a feature called split tunneling, which can come in handy when looking to boost internet speeds. This is because by enabling this option you can decide which traffic within the VPN tunnel should be encrypted and which should be disabled. Reducing VPN traffic is beneficial to your speed, especially when your internet connection is limited and/or unstable.
4. Restart your device
As with any technology, it may help to restart your device or home router. You may have some heavy programs running in the background that are impacting your bandwidth, or your hardware’s memory buffer may need to be flushed. For similar reasons, disconnecting and reconnecting your VPN app could improve its performance rate.
5. Update your operating system
It could even be that the cause of a sluggish internet connection lies within your device itself. We recommend checking that you are using the latest version of the operating system available and updating accordingly.
6. Use a wired connection
Last but not least, you can get more stable internet levels by switching to a wired connection. Wi-Fi is much more convenient, but it can be unpredictable at times. Whether you use a VPN or not, a wired connection always delivers faster speeds and more consistent results.