VPN Comparison for Beginners

Andrew LeniartBlogger, Journalist, IT Professional, Technical Writer, Qualified Editor
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IT Professional - Helping others to help themselves. https://andrewleniart.com & https://www.computerhelpzone.com.au/testimonial/
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An honest and unbiased comparison of four popular VPN software solutions available. Includes security features offered, reliability, speed tests while connected to identical servers (where possible), additional features offered and subscription cost comparisons. Includes a FREE VPN service provider.


This is Part-2 and a follow up to my previously published article “A Beginners Guide to VPN Software”. 


By necessity, the language used here is a bit more technical in nature than in Part-1, I have tried my best to convey information so that layman readers will still understand the majority of the content. If you’re unsure of anything, feel free to comment below, and I’ll do my best to expand on whatever it is you don’t understand.

That said, on with the show…


The following VPN Services are covered in this analysis/review:

  1. Malwarebytes Privacy VPN
  2. Surfshark VPN
  3. NordVPN
  4. ProtonVPN (Free)

BASELINE SPEED TEST


The following are test results from my system without any VPN service active. They are provided as a comparison point. All results shown throughout this article are the best of several tests run at different times of the day and night. 

 

Speed Testing Service Used – Speedtest by Ookla

No VPN Active

 


Notes on Testing Environment

  • Tests were conducted over several days and nights – only the best results are reported.
  • Network cache and Test computer (Windows 10 Pro) was restarted after each VPN was tested to provide a clean and equal testing platform for the next product. All VPNs were uninstalled for each test except for the one being tested.
  • All Internet network activity was disabled during testing, such as email checking, Windows, AV, installed program updates, Instant Messaging utilities etc.
  • All tests were conducted while connected to my Melbourne Optus NBN Internet Service.
  • No tweaks of any kind were applied - All VPN’s were left at their default installed values.
  • No network problems reported on any of the testing servers used at the times of testing. 



VPN Active Speed Test Results
 (Visual Snapshots)

 

Malwarebytes Privacy VPN Server – Sydney Australia


Malwarebytes Privacy VPN Server – NZ – Auckland


Malwarebytes Privacy VPN Server – USA New York, NY



Surfshark VPN ServerSydney Australia


Surfshark VPN ServerNZ – Auckland


Surfshark VPN ServerUSA New York, NY


 

NordVPN ServerSydney Australia


NordVPN ServerNZ - Auckland


NordVPN ServerUSA New York, NY


 

Proton (Free) VPN ServerUnited States

Proton (Free) VPN ServerNetherlands


Proton (Free) VPN ServerJapan




 

Summary of Plans and Features Provided

 

Malwarebytes Privacy VPN – Product Web Page: https://www.malwarebytes.com/vpn/

Cost
 
(AUD)

Servers  Available

Installs Allowed

Kill Switch

Android Support

iOS Support

Speed Rating

$69.99 for ONE Year

245 in 25 Countries

5

Yes

NO

NO

Fair

 

  • Discount available if purchased with Malwarebytes Premium Antimalware
    Not Yet Available for Mobile Devices
    No Chat Support – Email only
     


Surfshark VPN – Product Web Page:  https://surfshark.com/

Cost
 
(AUD)

Servers  Available

Installs Allowed

Kill Switch

Android Support

iOS Support

Speed Rating

$78.00 for TWO Years

3,200 in 65 Countries

Unlimited

Yes

Yes

Yes

Very Good

 

  • 24/7 Live Chat and Email Support
    Blocks ads and trackers
    Sharing subscription with friends and family permitted
    Whitelist apps and websites to bypass the VPN
    Strict “No Logs” Policy
    IKEv2/IPsec protocols by default, however, can be configured to use OpenVPN
    Supports P2P, Torrenting, Linux OS & Fire TV Devices
    Connect to multiple VPN Servers at once
    Independently Audited
     


NordVPN – Product Web Page:  https://nordvpn.com/

Cost
 
(USD)

Servers  Available

Installs Allowed

Kill Switch

Android Support

iOS Support

Speed Rating

$97.90 for TWO Years

5,450 in 59 Countries

6

Yes

Yes

Yes

Average

 

  • 24/7 Live Chat and Email Support
    Strict “No Logs” Policy
    Dedicated IP available
    Supports P2P and Torrenting
    Onion Router Support
    Blocks ads and trackers
     


     

Proton FREE VPN – Product Web Page:  https://protonvpn.com/free-vpn

Cost
 
(USD)

Servers  Available

Installs Allowed

Kill Switch

Android Support

iOS Support

Speed Rating

FREE

Servers in 3 Countries

N/A

Yes

Yes

Yes

Poor

Note: Only available VPN servers on the Free plan were able to be tested.

  • Only Email Support
     Adblocking
     Strict “No Logs” Policy
     1200+ Servers available (on Paid Plans Only)
     Speeds on paid plans were unable to be tested



Usability


I considered all four offerings to be as easy to use and configure as each other. No real technical knowledge is required, either in the installation, configuration, or use of the VPN services tested.


And the winner is...

Given the above results (and concentrating mostly on speed), Surfshark VPN services are the clear winner from my own extensive testing. It consistently outperformed the other offerings in Download and Upload speeds, as well as in Ping times. The service also comes feature-packed and is the most reasonably priced of the lot. 

Note the above is mostly to do with the VPN servers outside of my country though. Within Australia, speed differences are fairly minor, but as soon as I test off-shore, Surfshark VPN's superior performance is clear as is evidenced by the tests.

Surprising, however, was the performance noted from Proton’s free VPN offering. Whilst upload speeds and Ping times were pretty woeful on their free service, there is an opportunity to upgrade to a Paid plan which unlocks a host of features as well as access to faster (less congested) servers around the world.


Conclusion


Though more VPN providers were tested than what’s been presented here, the four covered here were the ones that (for me) stood out the most.

For me, the one thing that surprised me the most is how important it is to read and digest the features pages of any VPN software you’re considering subscribing to. Always compare the price you’re being asked to pay for what you’re getting compared to other offerings. The differences can be very noticeable.

Just as an example, comparing Malwarebytes Privacy VPN to, say Surfshark VPN, the difference in price, features, performance, supported devices, and the number of devices you are allowed to protect is huge. Do your homework, read independent reviews (just like this one) and shop around. The best-known name brand is rarely the best to go with.


If you've not yet read it, a link to Part 1 of this series can be found here: https://www.experts-exchange.com/articles/35782/


I hope you found this VPN analysis/review useful.


Till the next time…


©Andrew Leniart
 IT Professional 
Freelance Journalist
 Personal Blog: https://andrewleniart.com

 

Finally, please do not forget to press the "Thumbs Up" button if you think this article was helpful and useful. Thank you.




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Andrew LeniartBlogger, Journalist, IT Professional, Technical Writer, Qualified Editor
CERTIFIED EXPERT
IT Professional - Helping others to help themselves. https://andrewleniart.com & https://www.computerhelpzone.com.au/testimonial/

Comments (6)

Joe WinogradDeveloper
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Most Valuable Expert 2018

Commented:
Hi Andrew,
I just looked at the Surfshark pricing and noticed that $2.49/month USD for 24 months, a total of $59.76 USD, is a heavily discounted intro price (81% off). After the first 24 months, the price doubles to $59.76/year USD. That's still a reasonable price ($4.98/month USD) for an unlimited number of devices (and 24x7 customer service), but worth noting. Regards, Joe
Andrew LeniartBlogger, Journalist, IT Professional, Technical Writer, Qualified Editor
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Author of the Year 2019
Distinguished Expert 2020

Author

Commented:
Hi Joe,

Thanks so much for your kind comments and endorsement - both mean a great deal to me.

As to your other remarks:

I'm wondering if one of those is Mozilla VPN. I'm a fan of Mozilla's Firefox and Thunderbird, and am curious about their VPN product. I see that it's available in New Zealand, but not Australia, so this may limit your ability to test/use it, but if you did find a way, please let us know its results.

VPNs have been of particular interest to me for quite some time and I've trialled several over the years, but unfortunately, never Mozilla VPN. You would be surprised at the huge number of VPN Service offerings there are! Though my suspicion (based on very slightly modified GUI's I've noticed) is that many may be just reselling other services without disclosing it. That last said I haven't bothered to trawl through all of the fine print of the ones I've tried over the years to find out for sure.

However, based on my knowledge of your considerable IT skillset and fondness for the Mozilla product, you've raised my curiosity. I will try and obtain a trial for Mozilla VPN and provide an update. The lack of an Australian server should not stop my ability to test, nor being able to use it - it just means there won't be a local VPN server to test performance from a different state within Australia. Not a big deal as I usually want to change the country of my location when I use a VPN, not just where in Australia I'm located.

I run my tests over several days and report on the best results only, so expect an update on that in the next week or so. I'll ping you when it's ready.

I just looked at the Surfshark pricing and noticed that $2.49/month USD for 24 months, a total of $59.76 USD, is a heavily discounted intro price (81% off). After the first 24 months, the price doubles to $59.76/year USD. That's still a reasonable price ($4.98/month USD) for an unlimited number of devices (and 24x7 customer service), but worth noting.

Indeed, thank you for pointing out the oversight. I just went through all the notes I made and found I did make a note about that but neglected to include the information in the article. I'll update the article soon accordingly. Unfortunately, a lot of my notes consist of bunches of paper stapled together on each service with relevant things highlighted with a highlighter and what I used while writing the article. <blush> I'd forgotten to highlight that it was a 'special deal' with Surfshark at the time, but then again, so were many of the others I looked at and the special pricings are clearly listed on their website. I will update the article nevertheless though as the info should be there. Thanks.

Regards, Andrew
Andrew LeniartBlogger, Journalist, IT Professional, Technical Writer, Qualified Editor
CERTIFIED EXPERT
Author of the Year 2019
Distinguished Expert 2020

Author

Commented:
Joe,

Further to my last, I just took a closer look at Mozilla VPN and it appears to be a relatively new product still under development. You were correct in that for some reason, they are restricting subscribers to countries where they have already established relations with VPN Server providers to use. That currently doesn't include Australia, so I've placed myself on the waiting list to be notified when it is available.

This restriction makes no sense to me though and I can't think of a valid reason for it. VPN software itself is just a tool (program) to connect to any VPN servers that can be located anywhere in the world, so it shouldn't matter where a user is connecting from, but it is what it is and they must have their own reasons for it.

That aside, I decided to look at their current offerings and based on the information given on their website, would currently put them in the low category of providers similar to the ones I tested that didn't make it into my review. For example, their "Feature list" includes:

  • Device-level encryption                (Standard feature for all VPN providers)

  • 280+ servers in 30+ countries      (Low selection compared to other offerings)

  • No bandwidth restrictions            (Standard feature for all VPNs I've looked at)

  • No logging of your network activity   (Standard promise made by all VPN providers I looked at)

  • Connect up to 5 devices               (Comparable to most VPN providers restrictions)

  • Cost                                                (Average and comparable to most other offerings)

A notable and what I consider an important "lack" of features listed include:

  • No ability to connect to multiple VPN servers during the same session
  • No description of which protocols are used to protect and whether OpenVPN is a selectable/configurable option
  • No apparent support for P2P, Torrenting, or other devices such as Fire TV etc.
  • No ability to whitelist apps on your computer/device to always bypass an active VPN
  • No Ads and Tracker blocking functions included

To my mind, that's a fairly extensive lack of features included by other VPN providers with comparable subscription costs. I would compare it to Malwarebytes VPN Privacy in features.

I'd still like to test it, but may I ask what your particular interest and fondness is in this particular VPN?

Also, Mozilla doesn't appear to be creating their own VPN service - rather, they are partnered with MULLVAD VPN who will be the company/provider that provides the actual VPN services Mozilla offers. In other words, they're simply reselling a select number of Mullvad's VPN services. Were you aware of that?

Best regards, Andrew
Joe WinogradDeveloper
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Fellow
Most Valuable Expert 2018

Commented:
Hi Andrew,

> Thanks so much for your kind comments and endorsement

You're very welcome...and thanks back at you for such thorough replies to my post...much appreciated!

> it appears to be a relatively new product still under development

Good to know...I wasn't aware of that.

> That currently doesn't include Australia

Bummer!

> I've placed myself on the waiting list to be notified when it is available

Thanks for doing that.

> put them in the low category of providers similar to the ones I tested that didn't make it into my review

OK.

> their "Feature list" includes
> important "lack" of features listed include

Thanks for your analysis of that...very helpful!

> may I ask what your particular interest and fondness is in this particular VPN?

I have no interest or fondness in this VPN. My interest/fondness is in Mozilla as a developer, simply because I'm a big fan of Firefox and Thunderbird. But if their VPN doesn't cut the mustard, so be it.

> In other words, they're simply reselling a select number of Mullvad's VPN services. Were you aware of that?

No, I was not...thanks for letting me know.

Cheers, Joe
Joe WinogradDeveloper
CERTIFIED EXPERT
Fellow
Most Valuable Expert 2018

Commented:
Hi Andrew,

Following up on our discussion above about the Surfshark pricing after the first 24 months, here's my chat session with Surfshark Support today:

Chat Transcript with Joe Winograd
Chat started on 02 Apr 2021, 06:42 PM (GMT+0)
(06:42:44)  *** Joe Winograd joined the chat ***
(06:42:44)  Joe Winograd: Your "Save 81%" plan says "Billed USD 59.76 now, & annually after the first 24 months" but it doesn't say how much the annual cost is after the first 24 months. How much is it?
(06:42:47)  *** Ken joined the chat ***
(06:42:48)  Ken: Hey!
(06:42:50)  Ken: Welcome, Joe!
(06:43:00)  Ken: It will be the same price!
(06:43:11)  Ken: It won't change if you subscribe for that price. <smiley>
(06:43:46)  Joe Winograd: thanks, ken, that's great!
(06:43:56)  Ken: You are welcome, Joe!
(06:44:03)  Ken: Let me know if you have any further questions!
(06:45:20)  Joe Winograd: that'll do it for now. i'll close the chat now and will start a new one if i come up with more questions later.
(06:45:30)  Ken: Okay, sure!
(06:46:25)  *** Joe Winograd has rated the chat Good ***
(06:46:25)  *** Joe Winograd has commented: Perfect! ***
(06:46:25)  *** Joe Winograd left the chat ***


Regards, Joe

Update: It occurred to me that the annual vs. 24-month issue was not clear, so I did a second chat session that makes it perfectly clear:

Chat Transcript with Joe Winograd
Chat started on 02 Apr 2021, 07:10 PM (GMT+0)
(07:10:01)  *** Joe Winograd joined the chat ***
(07:10:01)  Joe Winograd: Hi Ken, Following up on our last chat session, I need a clarification. When you said, "It will be the same price!" and "It won't change if you subscribe for that price.", did you mean that it will be $59.76 annually (12 months) or $59.76 for 24 months. The former is *NOT* the same price...it is double the price of the initial subscription. The latter *IS* the same price as the initial subscription. I'll appreciate your clarifying this. Thanks, Joe
(07:10:50)  *** Oscar joined the chat ***
(07:10:51)  Oscar: Hello, Joe!
(07:10:55)  Oscar: Let me transfer you to Ken. <shark icon>
(07:10:59)  *** Ken joined the chat ***
(07:10:59)  *** Oscar left the chat ***
(07:11:07)  Ken: Hey!
(07:11:11)  Ken: Welcome back, Joe!
(07:12:02)  Ken: It will be annually every 2 years.
(07:12:16)  Ken: If I understood well what you mean. <smiley>
(07:15:25)  Joe Winograd: "annually every 2 years" is a contradiction in terms. Let me simplify the question: After the first two years, is the price $59.76 for one year of service or $59.76 for two years of service?
(07:15:38)  Ken: Oh!
(07:15:44)  Ken: It is for 2 years of service.
(07:17:48)  Joe Winograd: OK, that clears it up. The price is $59.76 for two years of service, even after the first two years. In other words, the 81% discount remains in effect even after the first two years. Am I understanding this right?
(07:18:06)  Ken: Yes, that's right.
(07:18:18)  Ken: If you get a deal for a good price and subscribe for that - the price will never change.
(07:19:05)  Joe Winograd: Got it! Thanks for the clarification. I'll close the chat now.
(07:19:23)  Ken: No problem, Joe!
(07:19:25)  Ken: <smiley>
(07:20:18)  *** Joe Winograd has rated the chat Good ***
(07:20:18)  *** Joe Winograd has commented: Perfect...again! ***
(07:20:18)  *** Joe Winograd left the chat ***

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