NordVPN vs Private Internet Access: which VPN is best for you?
If you're wondering which service is better: NordVPN or Private Internet Access, you're probably not alone. Both VPNs have large server fleets, work with streaming platforms, and have their marketing departments working in full swing.
Still, they're very different providers, which can make your purchase decision much harder than it should be. So, in this comparison, I'm going to put both VPNs side by side in the speed, features, security, and ease of use categories. Let's find out which one you should pick: NordVPN or PIA, and why!
NordVPN vs. PIA
|Locations:||59 countries||77 countries|
|Pricing:||from $3.30/month||from $2.69/month|
|Current deal:||Get NordVPN, now 72% OFF!||Get PIA, now 79% OFF!|
|VPN protocols:||NordLynx, IKEv2, OpenVPN (UDP/TCP)||WireGuard, OpenVPN (UDP/TCP), IKEv2, Shadowsocks|
|Logging:||No logs||No logs|
|Support:||Knowledge base, FAQs, email, chatbot, 24/7 live chat||Knowledge base, FAQs, email, 24/7 live chat|
|Platforms:||Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS||Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS|
Speed and performance: NordVPN vs PIA
VPN speeds will rely on your baseline Internet connection. So, don't expect that you'll get blazing fast speeds with a slow Internet once you connect to their servers. Your data gets encrypted and has a detour through a VPN server before it reaches your device. For this reason, I will measure drop-off percentages. With them, you'll get a pretty good idea of what you could expect. Just take the speed test yourself and apply the percentage reductions to your baseline test scores.
- Baseline: 1 ms/300 Mbps download/300 Mbps upload
|Download average||235.5 Mbps||124.0 Mbps|
|Upload average||124.2 Mbps||154.6 Mbps|
Both services have the WireGuard tunneling protocol. NordVPN is just using a modified version of it and calling it NordLynx. So, NordVPN connected without problems, with only a 21% average drop-off for downloads and 58% for uploads. Meanwhile, PIA probably should have looked into how to modify WireGuard themselves, as its download speed is much lower than NordVPN's, dropping by 58%. On the bright side, it offers better upload speeds.
|Download average||197.2 Mbps||126.8 Mbps|
|Upload average||68.4 Mbps||131.4 Mbps|
Although PIA offers different security settings, I used the default mode for OpenVPN UDP. This time I managed to connect and the speeds weren't that bad. On average, download speeds with PIA dropped by 57%, while uploads suffered a 56% decline. The drops with NordVPN were 34% for download speeds and 77% for uploads.
|Download average||32.5 Mbps||32.8 Mbps|
|Upload average||27.5 Mbps||37.6 Mbps|
OpenVPN TCP is a slower and safer variant, and it shows in the speed drops. NordVPN average download speeds drop by 89%, while uploads drop by 90%. However, PIA isn't wildly different. Their average download speeds are 89%, while upload speeds are 87%. So, both results are essentially on par. This isn't surprising, as those are usual TCP speeds.
Overall, both providers are equal in TCP mode, in UDP mode NordVPN is faster with downloads, and WireGuard works better with NordVPN. All in all, it's pretty clear that NordVPN is faster and also has fewer connectivity issues.
Netflix and streaming performance
It isn't a secret that one of the VPN use cases is access to streaming platforms. Some of them, like Netflix, have different library sized for each country, while others may simply be unavailable. So, the ability to effortlessly unblock media websites is one of the most important ones for most users.
With PIA, Netflix proved to be a tough nut to crack. Even though the US Netflix worked, it was a bit slow, and the video quality wasn't great. Meanwhile, NordVPN stumbled at first, but after disabling the custom DNS option accessed restricted libraries.
PIA ended their lucky streak with BBC iPlayer. It showed the "BBC iPlayer only works in the UK" error, not allowing entry to the site. Meanwhile, NordVPN had no problems when accessing the contents of the site.
The DAZN streaming service test is one of the hardest – few services can bypass these blocks. DAZN proved to be out of reach for PIA. Meanwhile, NordVPN was one of the few services that successfully unblocked DAZN.
PIA also managed to unblock YouTube. So, if you want to watch a piece of content that isn't allowed in your country, PIA will work. Unsurprisingly, NordVPN also unblocked YouTube without problems.
So, if streaming is among the principal reason why you need a VPN, the choice is clearly NordVPN.
NordVPN and PIA are both P2P-compatible. So, with either provider, you'll be able to download torrent files.
PIA doesn't separate its fleet into specialized and non-P2P, so there's no difference to which server you connect. Meanwhile, NordVPN works a bit differently. It has specialized servers for torrenting and the regular kind. Technically, you can use any server for torrenting, but if P2P traffic is detected, you'll be automatically reconnected to a P2P server.
Besides, both providers include a free SOCKS5 Proxy, so although it's a less secure option, it helps a great deal when you need better speeds. It's configurable on torrent clients and routes your downloads via an intermediary server. However, it doesn't encrypt your connection, unlike the VPN app.
Exclusive features is one of the ways VPN services can distinguish themselves. From the consumer's perspective, most providers will give you the ability to hide your identity. However, few will have split tunneling or web filters to give you more control over your connection.
PIA proves to be a worthy opponent until NordVPN completely stomps it. Although PIA can match many of NordVPN's features, some are a bit buggy, while others are not available. Features-wise, it's a decisive victory for NordVPN.
Both services have split tunneling features, and they're implemented quite similarly. You can use VPN with only certain apps or add exclusions to make them connect directly while you're using system-wide VPN. So, whichever option is the most useful for you, you can set it up.
However, during our tests, we found out that in PIA's case, bypass VPN didn't always work as it should. For example, on desktop Oracle VM VirtualBox didn't behave like it was using a VPN. At the same time, Google Chrome worked without any problems. Keep this in mind if you don't want to leak your real IP address. The same feature worked with no issues on NordVPN for websites and apps.
On mobile, PIA's split tunneling is a simplified version of the desktop feature. For instance, it allows you to use split tunneling for specific apps but not for websites. NordVPN follows the same pattern allowing you to exclude certain apps.
Your connection can be made safer by using various DNS filters that block websites associated with malware or advertising. That way, you're getting a safer web experience while you're browsing.
NordVPN and PIA both have such filters. PIA's version is called MACE, while NordVPN calls theirs CyberSec. Essentially, they are identical features. During tests, I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary while using them.
With NordVPN, when I encountered a blacklisted page, CyberSec would display a warning to turn back as it's not a safe website. MACE had about a similar success rate. Still, plenty of ads got through, as many of them are delivered through HTTPS or WebSocket. So, it's a much better tool against malware pages than ads.
If you'd like to have the same VPN IP each time you connect, both VPNs offer this service. It costs extra on top of your subscription, but this may sometimes be the only solution to avoid circulated IP addresses. This means fewer captcha requests and better chances at unblocking some web services.
With NordVPN, you'll be able to use the same IP on two devices at the same time. Available locations include the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, and France. PIA's selection is a bit smaller, but you can still choose from the United States, Germany, United Kingdom, and Canada.
It's worth noting that in the case of NordVPN, you don't really need to get a dedicated IP in some cases where a static IP is needed. That's because you'll always get the same IP address if you connect to the same server every time. A dedicated IP is only necessary if you need to ensure that you are the only one who has access to that IP.
Unlike NordVPN, PIA supports port forwarding, which can be useful when streamlining torrent performance. However, it's a bit frustrating to use since you get assigned a forwarded port randomly. You need to configure your network to forward that port as well, each time you switch servers. It works on all their servers except the US ones.
In response, NordVPN can offer SmartPlay technology that can unblock streaming services without VPN software. So you no longer need to worry whether your device will be compatible with a VPN.
There are also other specialized servers like:
Double VPN – passes your traffic through two VPN servers to make your connection even safer
Onion over VPN – sends traffic through VPN and Tor network completely erasing your real IP traces
This isn't all, as NordVPN also has Dark Web Monitoring, where you can monitor whether your credentials have leaked.
NordVPN vs. PIA: which is more secure?
A secure VPN is a mixture of advanced technical processes and policies that set guidelines for how your data will be kept private. Your connection as a whole cannot be deemed safe if some component is faulty.
Both NordVPN and PIA are using AES encryption. NordVPN uses AES-256-CBC cipher with SHA-512 hash function. PIA is more varied, it lets you switch between AES-128-CBC with SHA-1 (default setting), and AES-256-CBC with SHA-256 (strong setting).
You should steer clear of PIAs default setting. AES-128-CBC is still a strong cipher, which will hold up against the attacker, but SHA-1 isn't optimal. It a hash function that dates back 26 years. Federal agencies have banned it from usage with classified documents since 2010. If you are using PIA, you should stick to a strong setting that uses AES-256-CBC with SHA-256.
Yet, NordVPN is proficient not only in encryption but also in their infrastructure, location, and transparency.
Hardware components used for your connection can be just as important as the cryptographic functions performed by them. That's why the server network must be standing on a solid foundation.
NordVPN has already taken steps to convert all of their 5000+ servers to work on RAM-only. Such servers have no physical hard drives, which is often the major flaw for a VPN service.
By design, the servers have to make logs. It's just how they're operating. When a VPN provider promises no logs, it really means that the log is still made, but it's somehow effectively purged. Even then, the problem is that Hard Drives are using magnetic platters, which could theoretically mean that the data could be recovered even after it was deleted.
Sadly, this is the case in point for PIA. Their huge fleet is rented and has mechanical hard drives, which is just an inferior method to process your data.
In comparison, NordVPN wouldn't be able to give out your data even if the government or someone else wanted to seize the server forcefully. That's because the second that the server is unplugged from a power source, it completely wipes itself out, meaning that no information could be recovered from it.
NordVPN is located in sunny Panama, which is a privacy-friendly location. It's outside the scope of Five, Nine, and Fourteen Eyes. This is good news because this means that they have no leverage against Panama. Seizing someone's data would always require a warrant issued by the Panamanian courts.
The government wouldn't have those obstacles if they wanted to knock on PIA's door. Since they're in the United States, this puts the service provider in the epicenter of the Five Eyes. Plus, some domestic laws like the reauthorized Patriot Act are in full effect are also threatening your privacy.
Plans and pricing
If you're allergic to complex pricing schemes, you'll find none of that here. The longer you subscribe, the better the savings will be. Take note that you will be charged the whole sum for the full duration, even if the displayed version will show just a monthly amount.
|Plan||NordVPN||Private Internet Access|
|Check Pricing||Check Pricing|
NordVPN charges $11.95 a month for its shortest plan, $59 for a year, and $99 for the first two years. So, by monthly amounts, the costs are $11.95, $4.92/month for a year, and $3.30/month for two years.
PIA has identical duration options. However, the monthly plan will cost $9.95, $39.95 for a yearly plan, and $69.95 for a two-year plan. If you distribute these costs by monthly sums, the prices will be $9.95, $3.33/month for a year, and $2.69/month for two years. Across all the plans, PIA is cheaper than NordVPN, back to back.
Neither service has a free version, but you can get a 30-day money-back guarantee. If you notice that a service isn't a right fit for you, there is a window of opportunity to get rid of your subscription.
Both providers accept credit cards, PayPal, and lots of cryptocurrency options. However, NordVPN extends this list by AmazonPay, Sofort, prepaid cards, Apple Pay, and Google Play. Still, it's not enough to steal a win from PIA, which is just a more affordable option.
Platforms, interface, and ease of use
|Supported OS||Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS||Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS|
|Other software and devices||Kodi, Android TVs, Fire devices||Android TVs, Fire devices|
|Browser extensions||Chrome, Firefox||Chrome, Firefox, Opera|
Whichever device you rely on for your daily tasks, NordVPN and PIA will probably have apps for it. PIA's major advantage is the higher number of simultaneous connections, which means that it's usable on more devices.
Not everything boils down to only the number of simultaneous connections, the quality of apps is also an important aspect. However, both NordVPN and PIA manage to deliver solid apps on desktop and mobile.
One thing to like about PIA is that their desktop apps for Windows and macOS are pretty informative. It displays the information about your connection, protocols, encryption, port, and authentication cipher used. Although you're not getting as pretty a UI, it gives you more data than other VPN services tend to share.
NordVPN desktop app UI includes a clickable map with a country sidebar. The only displayed information is the newly assigned IP address, so you're getting less information than PIA. Suppose you click on the three dots near a country in a sidebar. In that case, it opens a server selection screen, where you can pick the fastest or pick a particular server.
It's worth pointing out that NordVPN has a strange separation for macOS apps between the website (or sideload app) and the one downloadable from the App Store. The sideload has the latest updates but only the OpenVPN tunneling protocol. PIA has no such distinction, their clients won't act differently when downloaded from different sources.
UI-wise, there won't be a huge difference between Android and iOS apps. This applies to NordVPN and PIA. Both clients are also taking inspiration from their desktop counterparts.
NordVPN mobile clients feature a map and a country list. So, functionality is identical to desktop clients. Your settings are put into a separate tab, so it's easy to jump between tabs, change them, and go back to what you were doing.
On mobile, PIA's apps are trying to combine minimalism with abundant connection information. Unlike desktop, the apps have less space, which leads to some odd design choices. For example, they have a Network Management button, which displays a router icon and has no explanation of what it does. It's their Trusted WiFi feature, but I had to go to community forums to find this out.
Both service providers have added a possibility to switch apps from dark to light mode. So, they will nicely fit along with your other apps if you're using a system-wide setting.
It's a battle between two premium VPN services, so your expectations for customer service should be high. NordVPN and PIA cover the basics with guides and FAQs in their customer support portals. There, you'll find the necessary information when setting up apps or troubleshooting the most common issues.
PIA even has a community forum, which works like a supercharged FAQ section. So, you can either ask your question there or look if it was already answered by someone else.
Live chat is available 24/7, and it's available for NordVPN and PIA. However, the experience was much more pleasant with NordVPN. The agents were polite and quickly resolved minor issues that arise when using the app.
I asked PIA's customer support how to fix the WireGuard connection, as it wasn't working for me at the time being. The agent suggested a solution to reinstall the app in Safe Mode with Networking, which caused issues with my network card and didn't resolve the issue.
Which is better: NordVPN or Private Internet Access?
|Ease of use||✔️||✔️|
PIA has a bigger server fleet (29,000 against 5,000) and features like split tunneling and port forwarding. But NordVPN offers better speeds (especially with NordLynx), unblocks more streaming platforms (BBC iPlayer, and DAZN), uses specialized servers, and is based in a more privacy-friendly location (Panama vs. the United States).
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