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Does a VPN slow down Internet speeds?

Dominik

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A virtual private network, no matter how good, will always slow down your Internet speed to some degree. Whether the extent of that performance drawback will be particularly noticeable will depend on a range of factors, most importantly the distance between yourself and your VPN server.

That’s assuming you’re paying top dollar for a cutting-edge anonymization service, of course. If you’re on a lower-tiered plan or, even worse, playing the privacy version of Russian roulette with an allegedly free VPN, then there’s a solid chance you won’t need meticulous testing to realize your Internet access appears to be paying homage to the dial-up era through the act of sucking so very badly.

VPNs require performance trade-offs due to their very nature; they’re an alternative to using the Internet in the most streamlined fashion possible, i.e. by sending a query to a server and receiving a response from it. Instead, a VPN inserts itself into that equation and acts as your messenger of sorts, encrypting your queries and responses in an end-to-end manner and hiding your real IP address while it’s at it.

What doing so gains on the security and privacy front, it loses on the performance side of things, though the relation between the two isn’t necessarily inversely proportional.

Illustrating the VPN effect on Internet speeds

As for how horrible can that experience actually get, here’s an illustration using Opera’s built-in VPN rated by Ookla’s SpeedTest, one of today’s most popular connection testers:

If that seems bad, just imagine the horrors a random proxy you stumble upon online could put you through; at least the anonymization software employed here operated on a native level and wasn’t merely embedded into a tab, which is a fundamental difference between VPN and proxies.

In other words, a 30% drop-off in download speeds isn’t unheard of even if your VPN server is relatively close to your actual location. Opera decided on extremely careful wording while describing this compromise on its pages, ultimately avoiding any talk about actual numbers.

Regardless, it’s clear that besides throughput speeds, you’re also making an even larger sacrifice in terms of ping, or server response time. This isn’t a big deal for regular Internet browsing, downloads, or even torrenting, but is a literal gamebreaker for multiplayer games, especially reflex-based ones like shooters.

Namely, a high ping leads to lag, which leads to suboptimal gaming experiences.

Many premium VPNs we’ve reviewed offer much better performance (trade-offs) than Opera’s free feature does, with the difference in download speeds being as insignificant as 10-15%.

The harsh truth: privacy (usually) isn’t convenient

It bears mentioning those figures only apply to optimal circumstances. Unfortunately, what’s best for speed usually isn’t ideal for one’s privacy or security. If you want to ensure you’re as protected as possible, you don’t have much choice when it comes to VPN server location because countries that care about your rights over government and corporation interests are a rare breed.

So, does a VPN slow down Internet speeds? Without exception, but that difference does not have to be painfully obvious and even if it is, that’s arguably still preferable to the alternative: being at the mercy of data-hungry Internet companies whose only loyalty is to profit margins.


Editor’s Note

Does a VPN slow down internet speed?” was written by Dominik Bosnjak, a long-time VPN-user-turned-advocate who spends more time scrutinizing VPN Providers on a daily basis than he’d like to admit. When he isn’t writing VPN Guides and covering general Tech News, he’s probably spending time with his dog, video games, or both. Fun fact: the Shih Tzu in question is the only remaining creature in Dominik’s life who hasn’t told him they’re sick of him talking about Best VPN practices and government-sponsored erosion of digital privacy which made using the Internet less convenient over the years. He occasionally dabbles in video editing, Wall Street memes, and demonstrating a remarkable lack of guitar-playing ability.

If you want more tidbit-sized rants about any of those things, you can find him on Twitter @dddominikk.

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