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How to Test Your VPN Connection Speed

VPN speed tests
We have built two auto-VPN speed test applications in the past. Currently our system runs over 80 speed tests every month and publishes the results at HideandSeek.online (see latest speed test results here).

Sluggish VPN connections are sometimes the result of simply using the wrong settings. Because of the great technology available today, I can show you how a few tweaks will drastically improve your VPN connection speed.

So, you’ve just signed up for a new VPN service, and things aren’t going well? Movies seem laggy, websites take more time to load, and everything feels sluggish. You’ll soon be downloading and streaming at warp speeds by changing a few settings.

I used to get around 20% of my ISP-advertised speeds when I first started using VPNs. Naturally, that’s not the case anymore, and my VPN connections run at a full-blown 500Mbps. If you want to learn how, read on.

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Testing Your VPN Connection Speed

Before working on improvements, you need a tangible result to see if your VPN negatively impacts your Internet performance. You can easily do this with a few simple free tests and will only take moments to perform.

Part 1: Checking Your Internet Speed

SpeedTest website
SpeedTest is a reliable internet speed tester available for free.

The first thing we want to do is see if you’re getting the speeds your ISP claims to provide. Performing the steps below will give you a relatively good idea of your actual Internet line speed. 

  1. Ensure no one else is using your Internet connection.
  2. Stop all web-related activities on your device (e.g., VPN, YouTube, P2P downloads).
  3. Open a web browser and visit SpeedTest.net 
  4. Hit the big “Go” button on the screen and let the test run.

The upload and download speeds shown in your test results should be as close as possible to the numbers claimed by your service provider.

For example, if you’ve subscribed to a 100Mbs line, your upload and download speeds should be within a 10% deviation. Now that we know your line speed, we can check to see how significant an impact your VPN is causing.

Part 2: Comparing Performance with an Active VPN

Speed Comparison with and without a VPN
My speed test without a VPN (left) compared to with Surfshark VPN running (right)

Repeat the test steps shown in Part 1 above, but do it while your VPN is active. Make sure you connect to a VPN server close to your location.

Once you have the new speed test result, compare it to the previous numbers. How much different are those numbers? If you’re getting much slower speeds with your VPN connection, it’s time to make a few changes.

Aspects of a Speed Test to Note

The main numbers to pay attention to when conducting a speed test for your VPN are the download and upload speeds. However, you should also note the Ping timing. Ping is a route-following test that indicates availability and latency.

It measures the time data takes to travel from your device to the destination (or back). Consider it as “overhead” to your connection speed. The higher the ping time, the laggier a connection will feel. 

Factors Affecting VPN Connection Speed

Several factors determine the performance of your VPN. These include your Internet connection speed, the VPN server location you select, and even the settings on your VPN application. Understanding these factors will go a long way in improving your VPN connection speed.

1. Actual Internet Speed

VPNs are only able to run as fast as your line is. You won’t get 1Gbps speeds with a VPN if the maximum your Internet line gets is 50Mbps. The actual Internet speed you get is the best your VPN can work at (except for throttled connections).

2. Distance to the VPN Server Location

Most VPNs provide access to global server networks. It helps them offer better performance to users in multiple regions. It also geo-unblocks access to those areas as well. However, the distance between you and your chosen VPN server affects its performance.

Data takes time to travel over distance. Hence, the further away from the VPN server, the longer the time overhead. For example, if you’re located in New York, connecting to a US-based server will show much better speeds. 

3. The Power of Your Device

The capabilities of your device can also affect VPN connection speeds. VPNs encrypt (and decrypt) data using local resources. So if you’re using a low-powered device like an old computer, smartphone, or Chromebook, you may notice an impact on how well the VPN performs.

Routers are especially low-powered and often don’t handle VPNs well. Always run a VPN application on your device instead of implementing it on your router.

4. VPN Server Load

Because of the erratic nature of user connections, some VPN service providers may face trouble with load balancing. This phenomenon often impacts smaller VPN brands that have fewer servers. If too many users connect to some regions, the VPN servers may slow down.

Try to sign up with VPN brands that offer extensive network and server coverage. These brands often don’t cost more than their smaller competitors. For example, NordVPN provides access to over 5,000 servers for $4.99/mo. Comparatively, Hotspot Shield has around 1,800 and charges $7.99/mo.

5. VPN Protocol Selection

VPN ProtocolsEncryptionSecuritySpeed
OpenVPN256-bitHighest encryptionFast on high latency connections
L2TP256-bitHighest encryptionSlow and highly processor dependant
SSTP256-bitHighest encryptionSlow
IKEv2256-bitHighest encryptionFast
PPTP128-bitMinimum securityFast

VPN Protocols are sets of instructions governing how a VPN application handles data. Several VPN protocols are in use today, but the most notable are IKEv2, OpenVPN, and WireGuard. IKEv2 is primarily for mobile devices. OpenVPN is the most well-distributed option available on almost all VPN brands.

The protocol you choose may affect the performance of your VPN. Among the three, WireGuard is the newest and not yet extensively tested. While it has shown astonishing speeds compared to OpenVPN, potential undiscovered issues may impact security and privacy.

To date, WireGuard adoption among VPN brands is increasing. However, not all VPNs offer access to this protocol at the moment.

6. Router Performance

Asus RT-1300UHP router, which works fine for most home users.
Asus RT-1300UHP router, which works fine for most home users.

Home routers need to manage a considerable amount of data. Constantly running your router under loads can cause its performance to degrade. Because of that, your VPN speed may also be affected.

Tips on Improving VPN Connection Speed

1. Contact Your ISP for Help or Upgrades

ISPs provide Internet speeds on a “best-effort” basis. If you feel your Internet speeds are too slow, try upgrading your Internet service package to a faster one. Alternatively, contact your ISP support team for assistance.

2. Swap VPN Server Location

Surfshark server list in app
Surfshark allows you to choose from multiple areas within some countries (visit SurfShark here).

If you already have a VPN subscription and feel the server may be overloaded, try switching to a different server location and repeat the speed test. Swapping to a less overcrowded site may help improve your connection speed.

Some VPN brands will allow you to choose specific servers for connection for those who need access to certain areas. For example, Surfshark provides access to area-based servers in some locations like the US and Australia.

3. Use a Nearby VPN Server When Possible

Unless you need to unblock specific countries, always connect to a nearby VPN server. The caveat to this is somewhat intangible. I’ve noticed that sometimes, the nearest location may not be the best. If possible, choose the closest server location in a country known to have excellent Internet Infrastructure. For example, in Southeast Asia, an ideal location would be Singapore.

4. Select the WireGuard Protocol When Possible

I use WireGuard on almost all VPN brands I cycle through. It is speedy and will alter your VPN experience. Check your VPN application to see if WireGuard is supported. If it is, use it! If not, remember that some VPN brands offer money-back guarantees.

5. Optimize or Upgrade Your Device

It may help if you try to improve the performance of your device by freeing up memory, uninstalling resource-intensive applications, and reducing background tasks. You can do these things manually. If you’re unsure how some applications like IObit Optimizer can help.

Aging devices will struggle to keep up with most tasks, even a high-speed Internet connection. Some older mobile devices even have chips that lack enhanced encryption/decryption support. There’s no natural way to circumvent things except by replacing the device in cases like this.

6. Restart or Reboot Your Device

If you usually get decent performance on your VPN, rebooting your device or even your router may improve things. It clears the memory buffer and lets the router start afresh and be ready to work at top performance.

Final Thoughts: Choose the Right VPN Service

It’s important to understand that not all VPN brands are equally capable. I’ve tested dozens of VPN services, from the most prominent to the most obscure. Some are awesome, while others have been real lemons.

Choosing the wrong VPN brand can be a disaster regardless of what speed tests you run or how you optimize things. That’s especially true for those with limited tech support to help you if things go wrong.

It may sound a bit cheesy, but try to go with an established VPN brand. Remember that often, these can provide outstanding performance and reasonable prices due to economy of scale. Some brands I highly recommend include NordVPN, Surfshark, and CyberGhost.

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Article by Timothy Shim

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