How to Run a VPN Speed Test

We all have a good reason to be using a VPN these days. It seems that more and more, everyone from private companies to governments has a vested interest in keeping tabs on and analyzing our online activities.

If you are to (wisely) invest in a VPN service, you, of course, want it to be as fast as possible. A slow VPN will be detrimental to your online experience, and may even have you questioning whether having one is worth it at all.

This site is all about making sure that does not happen. We guide you in figuring out if you need a VPN, assist you with finding a quick provider and help you diagnose speed issues with your existing one.

But, the one vital piece we have not yet explained is how exactly you should test the speed of your VPN. How do you know how fast or slow it is? Seems like an important piece of the puzzle, doesn’t it?

The most common method of testing VPN speed is to use a service called SpeedTest.net. However, what use is knowing how fast your VPN connection is if you have nothing to compare it to. Therefore, your first step should always be to run a benchmark test against your Internet connection with the VPN disabled.

Measuring the speed of a VPN connection

The benchmark will give you an idea of the maximums your upload and download speeds can reach. Then, with those numbers in hand, you should be able to get a clear view of how much, if at all, the VPN connection is slowing down your Internet.

To run a baseline test on your Internet connection, follow the steps below.

  1. Make sure all VPN connections are disconnected, and clients turned off.
  2. Double check you have no other applications running that may be using up your bandwidth.
  3. Go to www.speedtest.net. Please note that to use this site, you will need to have a Flash plugin installed for your browser.
  4. Click the green “Begin Test” button.
  5. Let the website do its thing. It will first pick a server close to your physical location. Using that server, it will then run a ping (network latency) test, followed by an upload and a download test.
  6. The reported test results are in milliseconds for the ping and megabits per second for the upload and download speeds. Take note of all three numbers and re-run the test again at least twice.
  7. With all three tests done, pick the highest (best) numbers for each of the three metrics reported in any of the tests. These are your benchmark numbers.

Now that you have something to compare against, it’s time to test the speed of your virtual private network.

  1. Double check you have no bandwidth intensive application running in the background.
  2. Enable your VPN client and connect to a server closest to your physical location using the OpenVPN protocol over UDP (most if not all providers should offer this option).
  3. Open up a browser and follow steps 3 through 6 of the baseline Internet test above.
  4. After you run your three VPN speed tests, pick the best ping, download and upload speed numbers from any of the runs. These represent your VPN’s performance.

The difference between the best metrics from the baseline tests and those from the VPN tests is what running your virtual private network is costing you in performance. Armed with that knowledge, you can now start tweaking things to improve the speed of your VPN, or if all else fails, start your search for a new faster provider.

How to Make a Slow VPN Fast

On the internet, there are billions of packets routed between millions of devices each day. It is a massive and dynamic network. At any point, it is possible for some of the hardware routing the packets to become unavailable. When this occurs, data packets have to find a new path to reach their destination causing some slowdown, much like road traffic does during periods of construction. It may take time before an optimal new path is found or the old one restored. Therefore, speed issues are usually temporary. If they are not, here are a few things to consider.

The speed of any VPN will always be bound by the maximum speed of your internet connection. In fact in most cases, you should expect a VPN to be about 10% to 20% slower. This slowdown is due to things like data encryption and VPN server load and distance.

If you regularly find yourself having performance issues with your VPN, try some or all of the following.

  1. Switch the VPN Protocol or Port

    Devices typically connect to VPN servers using a predefined set of ports and a specific protocol. The maximum speed of these can be restricted by some internet service providers. Try playing around with various protocol and port combinations and use the one that gives you the best results.

  2. Switch the VPN Server

    The closer a server is to you, generally the faster the connection will be. Try picking a server that is as physically close to you as possible. Changing servers may also cause your data to avoid an area of the internet that is currently heavily congested.

    Picking a different VPN server

  3. Try a Different Device

    The device you are using may be unable to handle the increased load required to encrypt VPN transmissions. Older computers or smartphones are prime candidates. If you have access to a newer device with a better processor and more memory, try using it instead.

  4. Stop Using Wifi

    Your Wifi may be limiting the speed of your VPN connection. A single Wifi network can be simultaneously servicing multiple devices, with each eating into its maximum bandwidth. Plug in directly into your router with a cable if you can do so.

  5. Turn off Your Security Software

    Anti-virus software or a firewall can have a detrimental effect on a VPN connection. These applications typically scan and filter any outgoing and incoming packets. While you shouldn’t permanently disable your security software, try disabling it temporarily to see if your VPN speed improves. If it does, make soure your anti-virus application or firewall is properly configured.

  6. Restart Your Router or Device

    The longer they are on, the slower devices become. This applies to computers, smartphones as well as routers. This decrease in speed is generally due to issues like memory leaks. Simply restarting any or all of your devices and routers may cause a noticeable improvement in your VPN connection speed.

    Restarting your router may speed up your VPN

  7. Switch Locations

    Various internet service provider issues can cause VPN slowdowns. Take your device to a local coffee shop, library or the neighbor’s house and connected from there to see if your speed improves.

These seven points are some of the easiest and quickest ways to diagnose a slow VPN connection. If you find that none of these are helping, your next best step is to contact your VPN provider’s support department.

Which VPN Protocol Should You Use

So you just signed up for the fastest VPN service you could find. The next step is to figure out what protocol you’re going to use to connect. Most VPN services will provide you with multiple options.

This post will help you pick the one that will best suit your needs. It’s not meant to be the final word on VPN protocols by any means. But it will tell you the basics about each common option, how they relate to each other and which you should use to connect.

Various VPN protocol options

PPTP

Right off the bat, we’re going to say this: do not use PPTP. It is a protocol that has been around since the days of Windows 95, and while it is a very popular option, it is also full of security holes. While this fact has never been confirmed, it is very likely the NSA and other government agencies can decrypt what should be secure PPTP connections. If you value your privacy or live in a country with a repressive government, beware.

On the plus side, other than being very commonly implemented, as we have mentioned, PPTP is also easy to set up. Many platforms and operating systems ship with PPTP clients. But, that is the sole advantage. On the whole, using PPTP is not recommended.

OpenVPN

This VPN protocol is built on open-source technologies like the SSL v3/TLS v1 protocols, as well as the OpenSSL encryption library. It is highly configurable and can run on any port. You could, for example, set it up to connect to TCP port 443, which is the standard HTTPS port. Doing so would make your VPN traffic virtually indistinguishable from a connection to a secure website. This feature makes OpenVPN tough to block.

As part of its configurability, you can select the type of encryption you want to use. We recommend using AES over the weaker Blowfish option. We are also confident that OpenVPN has not been compromised by either the NSA or any other agency.

On the downside, OpenVPN support is not widely integrated into mobile or computer operating systems. A connection to a VPN server using OpenVPN will, therefore, require a third party client. Most if not all VPN services will, however, provide you with one.

Logo for OpenVPN protocol

L2TP/IPsec

L2TP stands for Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol and is a protocol that by default does not use encryption. That is the reason it usually comes bundled with IPsec encryption. L2TP is integrated into all modern mobile and computer operating systems, which makes it easy to configure and run. But, unlike OpenVPN, the port over which it establishes a connection is fixed to UDP port 500. This inflexibility makes it a lot easier to block.

In theory, IPsec encryption is secure. Some have voiced concerns that government organizations, the NSA included, could have ways of getting in. However, no one knows this for sure. In any case, OpenVPN is faster because L2TP/IPsec is a two step process. First, the transmitted data needs to be converted into L2TP and then encrypted using IPsec.

SSTP

SSTP is an acronym for Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol. It first made an appearance in Windows Vista SP1. Being a protocol proprietary to Microsoft, support for SSTP is, of course, best in a Windows environment. Compared to our favorite thus far, OpenVPN, because if its integration into the operating system, SSTP may be more stable in Windows. OpenVPN, as you may recall, requires a client application. But, that is the only advantage SSTP has going for it. Support on platforms other than Windows is available but not extensive.

SSTP support AES encryption, which makes it very secure. It also uses SSL v3, making it equally as hard to block as OpenVPN. If you run Windows, you should unquestionably pick it over PPTP. However, because SSTP is a protocol proprietary to Microsoft, its code is not open for independent security reviews and audits.

What to Use

If you have been keeping score, you will already know that OpenVPN is our winner. Most, if not all, high-speed VPN providers will offer it as one of the connection options. If you run into a service that does not, choose SSTP for Windows and L2TP/IPsec for all other platforms. Use PPTP only if you’re out of other options.

How to Get the Best out of Your VPN

For travelers to and residents of government censored countries like China, using a Virtual Private Network is a way of life. Access to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and some of the other most popular websites in the world is either heavily restricted or completely disabled.

VPN service providers like IPVanish or VyprVPN provide packages that are easy to install and use. Unfortunately, many people will still run into unstable or slow connections from time to time, through no fault of the vendor.

There are a few ways to optimize a VPN connection for improved reliability and speed. These are a combination of this we apply ourselves and suggestions from the VPN providers themselves. Most of these solutions required very little technical knowledge and can be implemented by anyone.

Fast VPN connection

Pick the Fastest Server

Most VPN vendors offer several server, or gateway, locations in various geographical locations around the globe. There are two key stats to consider: throughput and latency. You should figure out which of them is important to you and pick the server based on that decision.

Throughput

Throughput, or how quickly large amounts of data can be downloaded and uploaded. It is important to users that stream videos or transfer large files. The best way to test throughput is to use a speed test website. Running these tests will tell you exactly what the up and down data transfer rate speeds are.

Latency

This stat is important to those individuals who use real-time applications. These applications include voice over IP, Skype, gaming, and even regular web browsing. Latency tells you how quickly data can get to from your device to the destination and back again.

Just as is the case with throughput, latency can be tested using any number of speed test sites. Running a command called ping from your operating system’s command line also tests latency.

Low VPN server latency

Make the Connection Faster

If, after picking the quickest server you have access to, you find your connection still isn’t quite up to par, here are a few other things you can try doing.

Contact the VPN Provider

All VPN services come with support. There is no harm in contacting them, explaining your issues and seeing what they suggest. At best your speed problem is going to be fixed. At worse, you’ll be in the same position as you were before contacting support.

Change Your Internet Provider

This is, of course, meant more for travelers, since changing your ISP at home can be quite involved. Particularly in a country like China. If you do travel abroad, you will certainly have an option of ways to connect to the Internet. Experiment with alternatives like a different cell phone company, your hotel’s WiFi, or a corner coffee shop.

Choose the Right Protocol

When you connect to a VPN server, you will typically be allowed to select one of a multitude of protocols. If OpenVPN is one of those options, that is the one you should choose. More precisely, OpenVPN over UDP, not TCP. Using this protocol will yield the highest VPN speeds in most cases.

There are of course other steps that can be taken to improve your VPN connection speeds. Most are however beyond the scope of this post. That being said, for those that are interested, we will likely touch on them shortly.

How To Choose A VPN Service Provider

I though an appropriate first article would be to describe how to go about selecting a VPN provider. There are a few basic things everyone should think of when doing so.

A VPN (virtual private network) is a service/tool commonly used to help protect online privacy, especially when surfing on an unsecured network. This tool works by creating an encrypted tunnel where a user’s data is transmitted, hence making it virtually invisible to internet service providers or anyone snooping on your internet activity. The industry grade encryption makes it next to impossible for anyone to decipher hence guaranteeing anonymity and security online. With the many VPN providers out there, deciding on the best supplier to go for can be tricky.

How to select a VPN provider

Knowing what features to look for in a service provider can, however, give you an edge in identifying the right vendor. Some of the features and factors to consider when choosing a VPN service provider include:

  1. Technical Support

    While most companies have a customer support system, checking their availability and their knowledge of various technical issues is recommended. It would, therefore, be best to go for a provider with 24/7 technical support. This is especially important if you depend on the VPN for business operations.

  2. Reliability

    How reliable the provider is, should be your concern as well. A service provider’s reliability can be measured by the number of times its service is up or down. Although downtimes may be inevitable, the provider should provide at least 99% uptime.

  3. Connection Speeds

    The VPN’s connection speeds should be constant and fast enough. While this may depend purely on your ISP, the VPN service should have minimal effect on the connection speed.

  4. Account Setup Process

    Account setup should not only be simple but not take up a lot of your time. Creating an account with some of the best service providers takes up less than 5 minutes.

  5. VPN Protocols and Encryption Level

    If you’re concerned about data encryption and security, it would then be best to look into the VPN connection protocols. SSTP and OpenVPN are considerably the most secure protocols today. SSL VPN protocol is however recommended for firewalls that block VPN connections.

  6. VPN Bandwidth

    How much bandwidth the provider has to offer should be your other concern. If you need the VPN for day to day online services (watching videos, downloading, or surfing the internet), you may then have to go for high or unlimited bandwidth. This does not have to be expensive either.

If you value your online privacy more than anything, then VPNs can come in handy. Even the largest companies and organizations today use VPN services to protect their business data and connections. VPNs do more than just encrypt your connect, they hide your IP address, and secure private data on your computer. The will stop hackers and other malicious or curious individuals right in their tracks.