Consistently outstanding speed test results. Numerous, geographically diverse servers. Excellent interface. Add-on features like Firewall and dedicated IP. Allows P2P and BitTorrent.
No quick-start option. Ad-blocking only in Chrome. Doesn't play nice with Netflix.
- Bottom Line
PureVPN shows outstanding speed test results for the second year in a row, making it the fastest virtual private network we've tested. That earns it our Editors' Choice endorsement.
By Max Eddy
I often explain to people that while speed is important, it is not the most important aspect of a VPN. Experience has taught me that, unless the service is really bad, the impact of VPN usage is, for me, almost unnoticeable in most situations. But for many other people, just the idea of browsing or streaming at less than top speed is reason enough to avoid VPNs. For them, PureVPN is probably the best VPN available. It offers numerous features, a robust backbone of diversely located VPN servers, and the highest scores in my speed tests for the second year running. For all that, PureVPN is our newest Editors' Choice winner for VPN services.
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What Is a VPN?
Office workers reading this may recognize the term VPN as referring to "that thing you need to log into to do work stuff from home," but a VPN is much more than that. When you use a VPN, your web traffic travels through an encrypted tunnel to the VPN service's secure server before heading out into the wider internet. This means that any bad guys monitoring your network—be they hackers, advertisers, or government spooks—won't be able to see your web traffic, or trace your movements on the internet back to you. The next time you're using a public Wi-Fi network, like the one at your local coffee shop, you might want to fire up a VPN to make sure no one is snooping on your movements.
VPNs protect your privacy, but they can also unlock restricted content. In countries with oppressive internet policies, activists and journalists use VPNs to sidestep government control and contact the outside world. VPNs can also be used to access region-locked content, such as BBC and Netflix streaming services, but many such companies are starting to fight back against VPN cheats. More on this below.
While using a VPN is a great step toward better security, it's important to know the limitations of VPNs, too. Although they obscure your IP address, the TOR service is far better at true anonymization. Also, if the site you're headed to doesn't use HTTPS, your traffic may be intercepted along the way, anyhow. One thing a VPN can do is help secure your data from your ISP, lest it be sold.
Pricing and Features
PureVPN currently offers neither a free version or a free trial of their product. There is, however, a seven-day money-back guarantee. If you're unwilling to plunk down cash for a VPN, consider the numerous excellent free VPN services on the market.
I really like that PureVPN doesn't lock features behind different price tiers, instead offering the same capabilities with different billing cycles. PureVPN costs $10.95 per month, though there are usually discounts in play. You can also opt to pay $53.70 for a six-month subscription, or $70.80 for a two-year term. Subscription payments can be made via just about every means you could desire: credit card, AliPay, Bitcoin, Cashu, PaymentWall, or PayPal. The service also accepts nearly a dozen other cryptocurrencies. You can even pay with gift cards from popular stores. If you ever wanted to use your Starbucks gift card to buy a VPN service, this is your chance.
PureVPN has a very reasonable monthly price, but it's worth noting that another Editors' Choice winner, NordVPN, costs only one more dollar per month, and offers specialized servers for specific needs. Editors' Choice co-winner Private Internet Access has four times as many servers as PureVPN, and is more affordable at $6.95 per month.
When you go to complete your transaction, PureVPN gives you the chance to purchase add-on services. An additional $1.99 per month gets you a NAT Firewall, and $1.99 buys you a dedicated IP address. Note that these are promotional prices, and subject to change. VPNs are confusing enough already, so I appreciate the thorough information buttons that explain each add-on and tell you who might want to purchase it.
Whichever plan you choose, you get five licenses to spread across all your devices. PureVPN has clients for Linux, macOS, and Windows, as well as mobile clients for Android and iOS. Recently, the company has added a Chrome plug-in to the list of supported platforms. Using the plug-in only secures the web traffic of your browser, which might be ideal for some users. It also blocks ads and advertising trackers, and has some malware protection capabilities. Interestingly, these are features not found in the core VPN app. In that way, it's similar to TunnelBear, which offers both a VPN plug-in and an ad-blocking plug-in.
The plug-in also blocks some WebRTC elements. These allow websites to use certain elements of your computer—your webcam, for example. Not everyone is a fan of WebRTC because of this, and blocking tools like those included in PureVPN have begun popping up as of late.
I'm always happy to see companies adding more features, but do note that PureVPN's malware, advertising, and tracker blockers are powered by blacklists. That's a good start, but it won't hold a candle to the advanced malware detection and removal tools found in stand-alone antivirus solutions. Definitely use PureVPN's tool in conjunction with traditional antivirus, not as a replacement.
PureVPN also offers software for routers and streaming devices. TorGuard VPN sells routers and Apple TVs with its software preinstalled, as does Private Internet Access. Running VPN software on your router can be a smart way to extend protection to every device in your house—including smart devices that can't run VPN software, like your fridge or your game console—at no additional cost.
Other benefits include PureVPN's offering P2P file sharing and BitTorrent on more than200 of its servers. The Split Tunnelling feature also lets you select specific traffic to go through the VPN, which is excellent. That way, you can keep certain activities secure and allow more data-hungry but less sensitive functions to get all the access they need.
The service supports IKEv2, L2TP, PPTP, OpenVPN, and SSTP, protocols. All of these provide 256-bit encryption, except PPTP, which offers only 128-bit encryption. Generally, I recommend that people use OpenVPN when possible, because of its speed, reliability, and open-source status. I am, however, happy to see that PureVPN offers many choices, from legacy support to the latest and greatest standards.
PureVPN doesn't do everything, however. For instance, it doesn't provide access to the Tor network, in addition to its VPN protection, which NordVPN does. These are, admittedly, fringe features. Their absence doesn't hurt PureVPN's score, but their presence helps boost the profile of the competition.
There is also a business version of PureVPN, priced on a per-seat basis. It's $49.99 per month for five accounts, $99.00 per month for 10 users, and $84.00 per month for 15 accounts. Annual pricing is also available and custom pricing is available for larger organizations.
Note that PureVPN is headquartered in Hong Kong. This ironic, given how repressive some of China's internet regulations are. Yet, Hong Kong doesn't have mandatory data-retention laws, so PureVPN is not required to store data on users or their behavior. Also, some VPN companies have, in the past, injected ads into users' web traffic. A company representative assured me that PureVPN does not do this, nor does it any way profit from user web traffic.
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Hands On With PureVPN
For this review, I installed PureVPN on a Lenovo ThinkPad T460 running Windows 10. Installation on my test system was quick and painless.
When you create an account for billing purposes with PureVPN, you enter an email and a password (a mere 12 characters, with no special characters—hardly secure). But this isn't the password or login information you use with the actual PureVPN app. Instead, you receive an email with the password and username in plaintext. Other VPNs also handle user logins this way. The logic is that it separates your usage and payment identities, allowing for greater anonymity. I'd like to see PureVPN handle this more elegantly—and more securely. First-time customers may be confused, wondering why the login credentials they used to purchase a subscription don't work in the client.
Right from the start, PureVPN feels different from other VPN apps. A screen prompts you to select one of five options: Stream, Internet Freedom, Security/Privacy, File Sharing, and Remote/Dedi IP (short for Dedicated IP address). Depending on what you select, PureVPN delivers a customized experience. This is smart organization, but I wonder how helpful it will be for someone who just wants to get online. Hide My Ass does something similar, although its approach is a bit more straightforward.
Most of the settings in the PureVPN app are very to the point. Internet Freedom, for example, lets you select that you want to watch Netflix, or that you are in China as an option. Privacy, it turns out, is what I would consider to be the default experience for a VPN client, letting you search the available servers and select one for connection.
The Protocols pull-down meny lets you choose IKEv2, L2TP, OpenVPN, PPTP, and SSTP, as well as PureVPN's custom Stealth protocol. Each option is accompanied by a rating for speed and security, which is certainly helpful. By default, PureVPN is set to Auto and chooses the protocol it thinks is best.
The Global Map tab on the left lets you bypass PureVPN's recommendations and simply select one of the company's servers. PureVPN offers users 794 servers across 141 countries in 180 different locations. The list includes servers in Africa, Asia, Australia, Central America, Europe, North America, and South America. Note that PureVPN also offers servers in China, Russia, and Turkey. That puts PureVPN among the top contenders, based on servers and locations alone. But keep in mind that Private Internet Access has more than 3,000 servers, meaning you'll easily find a server close to you no matter where you go.
The PureVPN client feels much zippier since the last time I used it. And while it is bright, the use of colorful photos sometimes makes it difficult to read. Once connected, you see your connection status, your current IP address, and your session duration in the lower half of the interface. There's also a traffic chart, showing how much bandwidth you have consumed during in your session. It's a good way to be aware of internet usage. PureVPN doesn't have bandwidth caps, though, so it's mostly window dressing unless you have some other need to meter your usage.
One thing to note is that if you plan on watching Netflix, PureVPN won't be much help. In my testing, I found that Netflix detected that I was using a VPN and blocked streaming. I had the same issue even when I was using PureVPN's streaming mode. It's not surprising that Netflix blocks access from PureVPN servers, as it has done the same for most VPNs, but it is disappointing considering the hoopla that PureVPN makes about being to stream content from anywhere.
Regardless of what VPN you use, your speed performance will likely take a hit from the extra security measures. Most of the time this is just a mild annoyance; it's hardly like going back to the days of modem screeches and dial-up performance. When I first tested PureVPN, however, I was surprised by the degree to which it improved download speeds. I'm happy to say that it has again lived up to its claim of being the fastest VPN for the second year in a row.
To measure a VPN's impact on web browsing, I compare the average results from Ookla's speedtest.net (which is owned by PCMag's publisher, Ziff Davis) on domestic servers both with and without the VPN active. I then find a percent change between those results. That way, I can simulate how most people use PureVPN. I then perform the same tests, but using a test server in Anchorage, Alaska, and a VPN server in Australia. Putting that much distance in the mix serves as a stress test meant to simulate the conditions people might experience connecting to servers in other countries. Network conditions can change at the drop of a hat, so your mileage may vary.
In my domestic tests, I found that PureVPN increased latency by a tiny 6.7 percent. Hide My Ass has the best score in the latency test, increasing latency by only 5.6 percent. PureVPN then destroyed the download speed test by improving download speeds by an impressive 346.5 percent. The competition generally makes download speeds slower, not faster, by about six percent, across the board. PureVPN didn't have a supercharging effect on upload speeds, however; it slowed uploads by 4.9 percent. That's still the best score in this category.
I am happy to note that PureVPN also performed remarkably well in the international speed tests. The service increased latency by 210 percent, and was bested by AnchorFree Hotspot Shield Elite, which increased latency by only 155.4 percent. But PureVPN improved download speeds by 403.8 percent, which is a peerless result. Other VPNs actually lower download speeds by about 10 to 15 percent. PureVPN didn't perform as well with uploads, which it slowed by 22.7 percent. Hotspot Shield eked out a win in this category, improving upload speeds by 1.4 percent.
Speedy and Slick
Every VPN claims that it's extremely fast, or at the very least, that it won't impact your internet experience. And while a handful live up to this claim, PureVPN blows them away with a stunning increase in download performance. If speed is your most important feature, this is the service you want. Combine that with excellent features, affordable pricing, and a robust infrastructure, and PureVPN is our newest Editors' Choice winner, sharing the honor with KeepSolid, NordVPN, and Private Internet Access.
By Max Eddy Software Analyst
Max Eddy is a Software Analyst, taking a critical eye to Android apps and security services. He's also PCMag's foremost authority on weather stations and digital scrapbooking software. When not polishing his tinfoil hat or plumbing the depths of the Dark Web, he can be found working to discern the 100 Best Android Apps. Prior to PCMag, Max wrote for the International Digital Times, The International Science Times, and The Mary Sue. He has also been known to write for Geek.com. You can follow him on… More »
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