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Private Internet Access is the thirteenth VPN we’ve reviewed on this site, and it’s definitely worth considering if you’re looking for a VPN service that ticks most of the right boxes. While it won’t topple the dominance of our current top three—the versatile NordVPN, the user-friendly ExpressVPN, or the speedy Hotspot Shield—it’s an affordable contender that supports a large number of simultaneous connections and boasts solid connection speeds.
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We’re currently revisiting and updating our VPN, but below is our current pick of the best VPN services that we pay the most attention to when weighing features and determining overall value:
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Private Internet Access offers three different pricing options: a one-month, six-month, and two-year option that comes with a two-month bonus. See how the costs balance for all three options in the table below.
In terms of ongoing monthly costs, Private Internet Access doesn’t beat the top three VPN services, but it comes out on top in terms of annual pricing compared to the other VPNs we reviewed. To get this special price, you have to pay upfront (a trend with VPN services), but you can get an even cheaper annual cost if you opt for the two-year option, which is beaten only by VPN Unlimited’s lifetime subscription for VPNs we’ve reviewed and cheap two-year Surfshark subscription.
From the start, Private Internet Access does things a little differently by assigning a username and password, emphasizing anonymity from the start. After installing the PIA VPN software, there is a quick tour option for PC users, but this is an incredibly lightweight VPN, so it’s not needed.
The great thing is that PIA VPN offers latency values and codes them as green for good (anything under 150ms) or orange for less great. For context, my latency initially claimed 137ms, but was actually 232ms when I tested my connection; in later days, the lag was more accurately stated in the 230+ range, but never dropped to acceptable green levels. It’s a shame, because PIA VPN is a fast connector (about four seconds) and disconnector (two seconds), with seconds to reach your internet. Also add a few extra seconds to connect to Australia or the UK.
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Private Internet Access claims to have over 28,000 VPN and proxy servers in 104 locations in 78 countries. That number of countries and locations is decent, but the number of servers blows away all the other VPNs we’ve reviewed, and CyberGhost VPN’s closest competitor is over 7,000. While this number of servers is impressive, it is strange that the international servers are consistently slower.
PIA VPN’s user interface is incredibly straightforward for Windows and Android (for my tests). It’s a bit cleaner on Android, but no matter what you’re using, connecting or disconnecting is as simple as tapping the big green connect button, while switching servers is as easy as bringing up the server list and connecting to a new server with another tap. Unlike other VPNs, PIA VPN plays well with all my daily online software, including peer-to-peer tools like Slack, and yes, it performed admirably in my torrent tests.
One Private Internet Access subscription can be used for 10 simultaneous connections, which is enough to cover all supported devices and a few more at home. While this number can’t compete with the unlimited concurrent connections offered by Windscribe VPN, IPVanish and Surfshark, it’s on par with PureVPN and better than the five-times standard.
This range of supported devices ticks the main boxes for computers, mobile devices, and browsers, but other VPN services support and/or offer guides for other devices, including smart TVs, set-top boxes, and game consoles. However, you can dig around and find limited router support for PIA VPN.
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Regardless of the VPN provider, every time you connect to a VPN server, your internet connection will slow down. In theory, connecting to a nearby server should have minimal impact on your internet speed, while connecting to international servers has acceptable speed variations. The better the VPN service’s server infrastructure, the better connection speeds you can expect.
To test it all with PIA VPN, I use my Superloop NBN 100/40Mbps Fibre-to-the-Curb home internet connection. The table below shows how Private Internet Access handles connections to servers in the US, Australia, and the UK. For context, my NBN connection is capable of a maximum download speed of 99.02Mbps and an upload speed of 44.34Mbps (although the copper cables in my building prevent me from achieving these speeds).
As you might expect from my points above, Sydney speeds are poor with a noticeable impact on my connection bringing it closer to NBN 50 speeds. The Melbourne connection picked up much faster download and upload speeds. Silicon Valley server speeds in the US are excellent and comparably decent speeds in the UK as well.
One of the most common uses of a VPN service is to access geo-blocked streaming content from around the world. While people who do this risk violating the user agreements for those services, it opens up a greater breadth of streaming options. Here’s how PIA VPN performs when trying to stream with one UK service, two Australian alternatives and four popular US options, all of which have VPN detection skills.
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Private Internet access was inconsistent in my tests, with Peacock proving to work reliably, albeit at medium to high buffering speeds depending on the server. The Netflix library is basically an easy win for most VPNs these days, but PIA VPN only worked when connected to certain US servers and was incredibly slow to load the library and had slow buffering results.
I usually provide a table here to give an idea of how private internet access should work with different NBN speed levels. But since Netflix and Hulu only have partial support (with slow buffering speeds for Netflix), this doesn’t seem like an accurate indicator of real-world usage. If you’re looking for a streaming VPN service, don’t use Private Internet Access.
One of the unique features of Private Internet Access is its open source transparency, meaning that VPN code can be reviewed and improved by the community. PIA VPN has an amazing zero-log policy that ensures your anonymity, while it has a DNS-based ad blocker to protect against malware, trackers, and ads. PIA VPN also has split tunneling so you can choose which apps or websites are covered by the VPN, Smart DNS service, and an internet kill switch if PIA VPN unexpectedly shuts down.
For comparison, here’s how Private Internet Access compares to our current VPN gold medalist, NordVPN. PIA VPN has an edge over NordVPN when it comes to pricing, with cheaper monthly, annual and bi-annual charges.
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PIA VPN scored another easy win on several key counts, with more servers (28,000+ vs. 5,400) in more countries (78 vs. 59) and more simultaneous device connections (10 vs. 6). Both VPN services have a zero-logging policy, smart DNS options, split tunnels, browser extensions, and anti-malware software included. Both VPN services have high-level encryption, 24/7 technical support, and a 30-day money-back guarantee.
When it comes to streaming, NordVPN is the better choice, which also applies to my recommendation between the two VPN services: go with NordVPN.
Private Internet Access has fast speeds to the US, Australia and the UK and works well as a background companion that doesn’t interfere with your daily internet use. However, the large number of servers and simultaneous connections allowed is limited by the lack of versatility when it comes to streaming services. PIA is a solid and affordable VPN, but there are better options out there.
John Brandon is a senior editor for TV apps, services and devices. It also currently covers the VPN market. He has a long history as a journalist and writer. His articles have appeared in numerous magazines, including Wired, Popular Mechanics, FoxNews.com, Inc. Magazine, Forbes, Entrepreneur and Relevant Magazine. His hobbies include disc golf, reading books, and watching obscure documentaries on Netflix. Contact him at [email protected] Eddie Max Eddie Senior Security Analyst My Experience Since starting in 2008, I’ve covered a wide range of topics from space missions to fax service reviews. At the company, much of my work has focused on security and privacy services, as well as a video game or two. I also write occasional security columns aimed at making information security practical for ordinary people. I helped organize the Ziff Davis Makers Association and currently serve as the unit’s president. Read Kim Key Kim’s Full Bio and Security Analyst Kim My Experience As a security analyst, I report on security solutions such as password managers and parental control software, as well as privacy tools such as VPNs. Every week I
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