NordVPN vs PIA: which VPN is better in 2023?
NordVPN and Private Internet Access are both very powerful VPNs with advanced protection features. They offer large server networks, a selection of tunneling protocols, and work with plenty of streaming sites.
But how do they compare in terms of security measures, speeds, and more? And which one offers better value for your money? To help you out, we did extensive research and performed hands-on tests to find the winner.
In this NordVPN vs PIA comparison, we’ll walk you through the security, speed, streaming, torrenting, and other categories of both services.
NordVPN vs PIA
NordVPN is a far better choice than PIA due to its streaming capabilities and excellent performance. It offers an ultra-fast proprietary NordLynx protocol and unblocks virtually any platform we’ve tested. PIA, on the other hand, has a much bigger server fleet and more simultaneous connections (10 compared to NordVPN’s 6). Ultimately, due to a vast feature list, NordVPN is the winner.
|NordVPN||Private Internet Access|
|🥇 Overall rank:||#1 out of #35||#13 out of #35|
|🖥️ Servers:||5500+ servers in 60 countries||30000+ servers in 83 countries|
|📖 No logs policy:||No logs||No logs|
|💵 Pricing:||From $3.29/month||From $2.19/month|
|🔥 Coupons:||NordVPN coupon 63% OFF||PIA coupon 82% OFF|
|🔒 VPN protocols:||OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPsec, WireGuard (NordLynx)||Wireguard, OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPsec|
|🍿 Streaming services:||Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, and more||Netflix, YouTube, Hulu|
|🖥️ Platforms:||Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, Chrome, Firefox||Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, Chrome, Firefox, Brave, Edge, Opera|
|📥 Simultaneous connections:||6||Unlimited|
|💁🏻 Support:||Knowledge base, FAQs, email, 24/7 live chat||Knowledge base, tickets, live chat|
Netflix and streaming performance
|Platform||NordVPN||Private Internet Access|
|Netflix||✅ Yes||✅ Yes|
|Amazon Prime Video||✅ Yes||❌ No|
|YouTube||✅ Yes||✅ Yes|
|Hulu||✅ Yes||✅ Yes|
|HBO Max||✅ Yes||❌ No|
|Disney+||✅ Yes||❌ No|
|BBC iPlayer||✅ Yes||❌ No|
NordVPN is much better at unlocking streaming services than PIA. For instance, when it comes to Netflix, NordVPN effortlessly accessed multiple libraries, including the US and the UK. Meanwhile, for PIA, it wasa rather a tough nut to crack. Although the US Netflix worked, it was quite slow, and the video quality wasn't great either.
Another service that PIA managed to unlock was Hulu. In fact, once we downloaded PIA, whatever US server we chose, we could easily access the platform. Plus, YouTube was more difficult but still possible to unlock with PIA.
But PIA’s lucky streak ended there. We couldn’t access BBC iPlayer, Disney Plus, or Amazon Prime Video. In contrast, NordVPN had little to no problems when bypassing restrictions on any of the sites.
Plans and pricing
Private Internet Access VPN is relatively cheaper than NordVPN. Of course, the longer you subscribe, the better the savings will be. So the final price difference isn’t that big.
|Plan||NordVPN||Private Internet Access|
|See NordVPN discounts||See PIA discounts|
It’s visible that the monthly plans of both providers are not cost-efficient. If you want a VPN for a month, it’s better to get a long-term plan. This way, you can make use of the 30-day money-back guarantee before the first month ends.
The yearly subscriptions are much better in terms of pricing. The longest subscription of NordVPN is 2 years (for $3.29/month), and PIA’s is also 2 years ($2.19/month).
Both providers accept credit cards, PayPal, Amazon Pay, and lots of cryptocurrency options as well. However, NordVPN extends this list by 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.
NordVPN vs. PIA: which is more secure?
|NordVPN||Private Internet Access|
|Encryption||AES-256 or ChaCha20Poly1305||AES-128 or AES-256|
|Hash||SHA-512||SHA1 and SHA2|
|Member of the Five Eyes Alliance?||No||Yes|
|No-logs policy||Audited||Audited and court-proven|
Both NordVPN and PIA are secure VPN services that use one of the strongest 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 PIA's default setting. AES-128-CBC is still a strong cipher, which will hold up against the attacker, but SHA-1 isn't optimal. It is a hash function that dates back 26 years. Federal agencies have banned it from usage with classified documents since 2010. If you are using Private Internet Access, you should stick to a strong setting that uses AES-256-CBC with SHA-256.
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.
Both NordVPN and PIA have taken the steps and converted all of their servers to work on RAM-only. Such servers have virtual hard drives that store user data instead of physical ones.
By design, the servers have to make logs. It's just how they're operating. However, the data is wiped out with each reboot.
NordVPN is located in Panama, which is a privacy-friendly location. It's outside the scope of the global surveillance alliance. 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 Private Internet Access is based 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, threatening your privacy. However, with RAM-only servers and an audited no-logs policy, PIA negates these dangers.
Speed and performance: NordVPN vs PIA
VPN speeds will rely on your baseline Internet connection. So don't expect blazing-fast performance with a VPN if your initial Internet connection is slow. You see, your data gets encrypted and has a detour through a VPN server before it reaches your device. Naturally, your device can slightly slow down, but it shouldn’t be visible.
Both NordVPN and PIA use WireGuard, which is currently considered one of the fastest tunneling protocols available. However, the Nord Security product is using a modified version of it called NordLynx which shows even better performance.
To get some real numbers, we measured NordVPN vs PIA speeds in 6 locations around the world – the US, the UK, Canada, Germany, France, and Japan.
- Baseline: 452Mbps download / 461Mbps upload
|NordVPN (NordLynx)||Private Internet Access (WireGuard)|
|The US||277 Mbps / 178 Mbps||248 Mbps / 269 Mbps|
|The UK||336 Mbps / 340 Mbps||310 Mbps / 301 Mbps|
|Canada||327 Mbps / 270 Mbps||333 Mbps / 226 Mbps|
|Germany||358 Mbps / 350 Mbps||354 Mbps / 298 Mbps|
|France||343 Mbps / 322 Mbps||299 Mbps / 305 Mbps|
|Japan||250 Mbps / 212 Mbps||217 Mbps / 198 Mbps|
In most cases, NordVPN’s NordLynx showed faster speeds than PIA’s WireGuard protocol. NordVPN’s proprietary protocol retained 70% of initial download and 65% of upload speeds. Meanwhile, PIA’s WireGuard protocol retained 65% and 59% of download and upload speeds, respectively.
On the other hand, there were also a few instances where PIA was slightly faster, including download speeds in Canada and upload speeds in the US. But taking everything into consideration, NordVPN still performed better.
|NordVPN||Private Internet Access|
|Split tunneling||✅ Yes||✅ Yes|
|Smart DNS||✅ Yes||✅ Yes|
|RAM-only servers||✅ Yes||✅ Yes|
|Meshnet||✅ Yes||❌ No|
|Traffic obfuscation||✅ Yes||✅ Yes|
|Specialty servers||✅ Yes||❌ No|
|Web filters||✅ Yes||✅ Yes|
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 offer additional features, such as RAM-only servers, Smart DNS, or others.
Both services have the split tunneling feature available, and they're implemented quite similarly. You can use the VPN with only certain apps or exclude those that will be connecting directly. So, you have the freedom to customize the connection however you like.
However, during our tests, we found out that in PIA's case, the Bypass VPN option didn't always work as it should. Meanwhile, 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 features available, yet they’re not the same. NordVPN’s Threat Protection identifies malicious files and blocks annoying ads, trackers, and websites, securing you from all corners.
Meanwhile, PIA’s version is called MACE. It’s focused on blocking ads like pop-ups or banners, not forgetting websites and trackers.
Of course, we had to test these features to see how they perform in the real world. Once we encountered a blacklisted page, the Threat Protection feature of NordVPN displayed a warning to turn back as it’s not a secure 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, PIA's MACE is a much better tool against malware pages than ads.
If you'd like to have the same IP each time you connect, both VPNs offer this service. Dedicated IPs cost extra, 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.
Both NordVPN and PIA offer the Smart DNS feature. It allows you to bypass geo-restrictions on devices that don’t support VPNs in the first place. This includes Smart TVs and gaming consoles.
NordVPN’s Smart DNS feature is called SmartPlay. With it, we managed to access various geo-restricted platforms, such as the US library of Netflix. Yet, we couldn’t do the same with PIA.
Keep in mind that the Smart DNS feature doesn’t hide your IP address nor encrypt your data, so you’re not getting any extra security.
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 each time you switch servers. It works on all their servers except the US ones. You can learn more in our Private Internet Access VPN review.
In response, NordVPN offers the Meshnet feature that allows you to create a safe connection between your (or your friend’s) devices. It can be useful for LAN parties, gaming, work, or sharing files.
NordVPN also has many types of specialized servers for different situations:
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.
P2P servers – best for torrenting, but they’re good for any type of P2P traffic.
But that’s not all – NordVPN also offers the Dark Web Monitoring feature. It does exactly what the name says – checks the dark web for your leaked information. You can read more about this provider in our NordVPN review.
|NordVPN||Private Internet Access|
It’s clear that Private Internet Access has plenty more servers than NordVPN (30000+ and 5500+, respectively) that are also distributed across more locations.
Plus, both providers have put effort into making their infrastructure much safer. All of their servers are RAM-only, meaning your data gets destroyed after each reboot. This way, no one can gain access to your information.
It’s also worth noting that NordVPN has various types of specialty servers – from Tor over VPN that increases security to P2P servers for torrenting.
NordVPN and PIA are both P2P-compatible. So you'll be able to download torrent files with either provider.
PIA doesn't separate its fleet into specialized and non-P2P, so there's no difference to which server you connect. Meanwhile, NordVPN does have separate specialized servers for torrenting. Technically, you can use any server for this online activity, but if P2P traffic is detected, you'll be automatically reconnected to a P2P server.
Besides, both providers include free SOCKS5 proxies, 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.
And as mentioned earlier, PIA offers port forwarding which is great if you find yourself behind a firewall. This often causes issues with seeding torrents and that's important if you need to keep a certain download/upload ratio.
Platforms, interface, and ease of use
|NordVPN||Private Internet Access|
|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, Edge, Brave, Opera||Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Brave, Opera|
|Usability level||Easy to use||Easy to use|
Whichever device you rely on for your daily tasks, NordVPN and PIA will probably have apps for any of them. Both providers support various operating systems (OS), browsers, and other software.
Plus, with NordVPN and PIA, you get 6 and Unlimited simultaneous connections respectively. This means you can connect all of your devices to one account.
In terms of apps, both providers ensure a smooth and effortless experience even for people who have never before used a VPN.
NordVPN desktop app UI includes a clickable map with a country sidebar. The only displayed information is the newly assigned IP address. When using the app, the overall experience was great. Everything is organized, so even if you’ve never had a VPN before, you’re going to get the hang of it fast.
You can even choose a particular server. For instance, you can type a country in NordVPN’s search bar and then add a hashtag to find specific servers.
Moving on, 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.
To sum up, both providers have their pros and cons when it comes to the interface but nothing major that would be worth rejecting both of them.
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 that make it difficult to figure some features 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.
|NordVPN||Private Internet Access|
|24/7 live chat||✅||✅|
|Guides or articles||✅||✅|
NordVPN and PIA both offer great customer support options. In terms of human assistance, you can contact either of the providers by email or a 24/7 live chat.
If you like to DIY your way out of arising issues, both services will provide you with various tutorials and FAQs as well.
While both services offer various support options, 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||✅||✅|
While both VPN services are secure, NordVPN is simply better than Private Internet Access in various spheres, including speeds, features, protection, and streaming.
NordVPN offers much better speeds (especially with NordLynx), unblocks more streaming platforms (like BBC iPlayer and Disney+), and uses specialized servers. Not to mention that it’s based in a more privacy-friendly location (Panama vs the United States).
Meanwhile, PIA has a bigger server fleet (30000+ against 5500+) and includes features like port forwarding.
Yet, even PIA's overall lower price can't beat NordVPN's price-to-value ratio.
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Is Private Internet Access better than NordVPN?
No. Even though Private Internet Access is a good VPN, NordVPN is better in terms of speed, features, security, streaming capabilities, and customer support options.
Is NordVPN faster than PIA?
Yes, NordVPN offers better download speeds when using NordLynx and OpenVPN UDP. The speeds with NordLynx are especially good, leaving you with approximately 80% of your original speed on average.
Is PIA still a good VPN?
Yes, PIA is still a good VPN service. It offers good protection, supports torrenting, is really easy to use, and isn’t expensive. However, it's still a few steps behind the market leader NordVPN.
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