NordVPN vs. Surfshark: which VPN is the best?
When looking for a good VPN, you might feel spoilt for choice. Both NordVPN and Surfshark are excellent services. As a matter of fact, both of these tools are sitting comfortably at the top of our best VPN list.
But how do they stack up head-to-head? Which offers more security and which is better for streaming?
In this NordVPN vs Surfshark comparison, I'll contrast their speed test scores, features, security strength, apps, and quality of their customer support. After this short read, you'll have a much better idea which service is ultimately a better VPN.
NordVPN vs. Surfshark
|Country:||Panama||British Virgin Islands|
|Locations:||59 countries||65 countries|
|Pricing:||from $3.30/month||from $2.49/month|
|Current deal:||Get NordVPN, now 72% OFF!||Get Surfshark, now 81% 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 comparison: which is faster, NordVPN or Surfshark?
A VPN introduces an intermediary in your connection, which reduces your connection speeds. It means that the most adequate way to evaluate VPN speeds is actually by measuring the severity of speed drops. I've calculated the average speeds per tunneling protocol and compared them provider to provider.
- Baseline: 1 ms/300 Mbps download/300 Mbps upload
|Download average||259 Mbps||263 Mbps|
|Upload average||137 Mbps||170 Mbps|
Both NordVPN and Surfshark have WireGuard implementations. On average, NordVPN download speed drop is 14%, while upload drops more severely – by 54%. These are not bad scores. However, Surfshark manages to beat their score with even more impressive numbers. Its average download and upload speed drops are 12% and 43%, respectively.
|Download average||215 Mbps||219.8 Mbps|
|Upload average||50.6 Mbps||38.5 Mbps|
One of the mobile users' fan favorites – IKEv2 – is also present in these providers. Although it won't usually be as fast as Wireguard, NordVPN's average download speed drop is 28%. The upload speed drop average is 83%, so the reduction is quite severe. Surfshark average download speed is 27%, and 87% for upload. So, in terms of download speeds, both providers are almost identical. However, NordVPN is a bit more efficient with upload speeds.
|Download average||197.2 Mbps||120.2 Mbps|
|Upload average||68.4 Mbps||140.3 Mbps|
While OpenVPN UDP is a faster version of this protocol, the speed drop percentages vary. For example, NordVPN reduces the average download speed by 34% and upload speed by 77%. In contrast, average Surfshark download speeds drop by 60% and uploads by 53%. So, it seems that NordVPN has peaks in some locations, while Surfshark is overall more consistent.
|Download average||32.5 Mbps||25.8 Mbps|
|Upload average||27.5 Mbps||28 Mbps|
On OpenVPN TCP mode, the severe reduction is a common sight. This is a protocol focused on security, not speeds. So, NordVPN's average download speed drops are 89% and 90% for uploads. Surfshark isn't that much different, with 91% average download speed drops and 90% upload speed drops. So, both services give an almost identical performance.
Overall, both services are similarly matched: with IKEv2 and OpenVPN (UDP/TCP), the performance is very similar. Surfshark's WireGuard is faster, which is an advantage that can give the service a win.
For a VPN service, features are as crucial as toppings on a pizza: it can work without them, but they can make the final product better. Both NordVPN and Surfshark add a lot of additional subscription benefits.
Although NordVPN has more specialty server options, Surfshark proves to be just as capable. It's like a mirror image with matching features every step of the way.
Most devices that are your go-to media streaming gadgets don't always have native VPN support. So, NordVPN and Surfshark came up with ways to have VPN-like functionalities without the need for an app.
In case of NordVPN, you get SmartPlay. It automatically kicks in when you're using a VPN to unblock streaming websites. Although, you can also set it up as a regular SmartDNS feature which will replace your device's DNS settings, it will also trigger through the app each time when you're accessing websites with geo-restricted media. As such, it's a bit more than just SmartDNS.
Surfshark's spin on the same formula is just called SmartDNS. It works exactly like NordVPN's version. Even the success rate is similar.
Both NordVPN and Surfshark have specialized servers. They provide additional benefits to your connection and have unique use cases. For example, Surfshark has multi-hop, P2P, and static IP servers.
Multi-hop – with these servers, your connections get passed through 2 VPN servers instead of 1. Thus, it eliminates any trace of your real IP address.
P2P – although you can torrent on any of their servers, a dedicated P2P option will have the best speeds.
Static IP – contrary to other static IP options, anyone can use Surfshark's static IP servers. The IP address will not belong to you alone, but you'll get assigned the same IP address each time you connect to them.
Although otherwise these would be very impressive offerings, NordVPN is just as versatile. It matches their Multi-hop with their Double VPN servers. The same goes for P2P server, but the overall number of types is higher.
Onion over VPN – combines your VPN connection with the Tor network.
Obfuscated servers – specialized servers that scramble your traffic by making it appear as non-VPN (although, Surfshark also has a special toggle in the settings).
Finally, NordVPN's dedicated IPs/IP addresses are reserved only for those who pay extra. Still, you're the only one who has access to that particular IP address.
Split tunneling is one of the most useful features that a VPN service can have. It gives you a much more precise way to route your internet traffic.
NordVPN and Surfshark have very similar implementations. You can route only particular apps via VPN or add exclusions from your VPN connection. In both instances, this eliminates the need to disconnect from the VPN when you need to connect directly.
Sadly, both providers have only implemented it on Windows and Android. So, if you're a Mac and iPhone user, this feature won't be available.
Whichever contestant you pick, you'll get web filters to protect you when you're browsing. Surfshark's version of this feature is called CleanWeb. It stops intrusive trackers and ads right in their tracks. This is achieved by blocking known IPs associated with adware hosts, malware, or trackers.
NordVPN's spin on this formula is called CyberSec. It does exactly the same as CleanWeb – blocks blacklisted IPs. When you try to enter a website with an associated IP, you'll be warned that this page is unsafe and off-limits.
Overall, NordVPN has a counterpunch ready for almost every feature that Surfshark has rolled out. For example, while NordVPN has Dark web monitoring, Surfshark has Alerts, and they both check if your data has ended up in data breaches.
However, Surfshark has a one-of-a-kind GPS spoofing feature on Android, allowing you to alter the coordinates of your device. There's also their proprietary search engine. On the other hand, NordVPN has connection pausing, and presets.
Surfshark vs. NordVPN: which is more secure?
One of the key areas in which you should accept no compromises is security. You will be routing your Internet traffic via an intermediary, so you must make sure that it's the one you can trust.
To keep your connection private, NordVPN uses the AES-256-CBC cipher, while Surfshark relies on AES-256-GCM and Chacha20Poly1305. Although the AES GCM version is a bit more recent and theoretically safer, all of these options are uncrackable.
For authentication, both services are using the SHA-512 hash function, scrambling your credentials into fixed-size chunks. So, your password never gets uploaded anywhere in plain text.
The encryption is identical, and both services use RAM-only servers. Both are even located in privacy-friendly jurisdictions, but transparency is another matter.
When it comes to public security audits, both services have something to show for themselves. NordVPN has undergone two public audits for their no-logs policy by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC). Also, in 2019, VerSprite performed a security audit on NordVPN’s applications.
Meanwhile, Surfshark has been audited twice. These tests were performed by Cure53, who tested Surfshark’s browser extensions and, subsequently, server infrastructure and general security of the tool.
Even though both NordVPN and Surfshark have proven themselves to be really secure, NordVPN has actually audited their no-logs policy. This makes it a win for NordVPN in this category.
RAM-only VPN servers were something that only a handful of providers had only recently. Nowadays, you can find more services that run without hard drives. Both NordVPN and Surfshark have upgraded the majority of their servers to run on RAM-only. This means that there is no hard drive in which the usage logs could be written.
This also limits the possibility for servers to become breached. The servers with hard drives could allow backdoors to be installed for monitoring. However, RAM-only servers wipe themselves during each restart.
It makes the servers by design a lot harder to crack because they don't follow the conventional design.
Surfshark is based in the British Virgin Islands. This privacy-friendly location doesn't belong to the Five Eyes surveillance alliance and is generally a privacy-friendly location. The country also has no data retention laws and will cooperate with foreign intelligence only with an order from BVI courts.
NordVPN follows an almost identical pattern, but they place their service in Panama. It's another privacy-friendly location that is out of reach of surveillance alliances. So, your data isn't threatened by intrusive legislation, whichever service you decide to pick.
As is commonplace for VPN service providers, both Surfshark and NordVPN promise that your data will not be logged. This gives extra credibility to their RAM-only server claims. However, NordVPN has a leading horse in this race.
NordVPN also has a bug bounty program on its HackerOne page. Overall, NordVPN has the advantage in this area. For more information take a look at our NordVPN review.
Netflix and streaming performance
Both Surfshark and NordVPN mention capabilities to unblock geo-restricted streaming websites in their features section. Netflix, as one of the most popular streaming platforms, also gets a mention.
As you would expect, neither NordVPN nor Surfshark struggled when unblocking foreign Netflix libraries. I was able to unblock the US exclusives and managed to connect to Japan with both services. So, if you're looking for a VPN for Netflix, both options will do nicely. Both of them support split tunneling, so you can also set up Netflix to work exclusively with a VPN.
This goes beyond Netflix as well - I was able to unblock BBC iPlayer and YouTube. So, other media services aren't out of the question. Both providers triggered no errors that would ruin the experience.
The only difference comes with DAZN. Many VPNs struggle when unblocking this sports streaming service, and Surfshark didn't pass this test. However, NordVPN managed to do it, earning a perfect streak. It might have to do something with their secret weapon – SmartPlay technology.
Both competing VPNs have dedicated P2P servers, which are better optimized for faster downloads. On Surfshark, you can torrent on any of their servers, but the speeds will be a bit lower. While NordVPN is a bit more restrictive, you can also choose whichever server. Still, when P2P traffic is detected, you'll be automatically reconnected to a P2P server.
However, NordVPN also includes a free SOCKS5 proxy. Many torrenters will surely appreciate the better speeds and flexibility provided by this option. This is enough to provide NordVPN a narrow edge over Surfshark.
Plans and pricing
With VPNs, usually, the pricing schemes are pretty simple to digest. The longer your subscription is, the better are your savings. That much is true for both providers in this comparison as well.
One of the main differences between the two services is that with NordVPN, you're getting 6 simultaneous connections per account, while Surfshark has no cap on this number. You can use it with as many devices as you want. Think of it as a supercharged family plan at a fraction of the price.
|Check Pricing||Check Pricing|
The monthly subscription is the shortest option, and it will be the priciest. NordVPN costs $11.95, while Surfshark will be a bit more expensive – $12.95. Neither option is friendly to your wallet, so it makes sense to look at the longer options to strike a healthier value balance.
Their second tier is for different durations, making this comparison tricky. NordVPN has a yearly plan that charges $59. However, Surfshark has only a half-year option, $38.94 for 6 months. So, it would seem that the full year with Surfshark would cost $77.88, which is more than NordVPN is asking. So, if you want a shorter half-year subscription, Surfshark has a better deal, but if you want longer than that, go with NordVPN.
The longest two-year plan gets you the best savings. NordVPN costs $99 for the first two years, while Surfshark charges $59.76. There, Surfshark wins by a huge margin. Overall you save almost ~$30. Each month, the service would cost you $2.49, so it's a superb deal.
NordVPN is a bit more inclusive regarding payment options. You can use credit cards, PayPal (in particular regions), AmazonPay, Sofort, prepaid cards, Apple Pay, Google Pay, and cryptocurrencies. With any luck, you can buy it on retail shelves, as well.
Surfshark accepts credit cards, PayPal, Google Pay, and cryptocurrencies. So, the list is a bit shorter, but you're not restricted here either. In any case, both services support a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you'll be able to try them out before you fully commit.
Surfshark vs. NordVPN: which is best to use in China?
If you're traveling to China, NordVPN and Surfshark will be able to bypass The Great Firewall. The client will be a hit or miss, but you'll have the best chances by setting up a manual connection. You'll find the tutorials on the customer support pages of both services.
Don't forget that the restrictions in China work in cycles. Sometimes, the blocks will be stricter, so there will be little to do with even the most sophisticated VPN.
Both providers have different strengths. NordVPN has 5542 servers across 59 countries, while Surfshark has 3200 servers in 65 countries. So, with the one, you're getting more servers. With the other, you're getting slightly more countries to choose from.
It's worth considering that NordVPN in Europe and the US has as many servers as Surfshark's entire network. I expect the bigger fleet to provide more consistent performance across different user locations.
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|
NordVPN and Surfshark support a wide variety of operating systems. Their apps also come in many shapes and forms, so setting up either will not be a pain.
Overall, both providers don't restrict your usage cases with wide device support and convenient UI.
As usual, Linux users don't get the prettiest option. Neither NordVPN nor Surfshark has any visual interface for the Linux apps. So, you'll be using the terminal by typing in your intended servers. That said, both apps worked fine, and I didn't notice any issues.
Windows users get the best treatment. Not only do they get an aesthetically pleasing user interface, but they are also given quite a bunch of features that are unavailable on macOS, like Split Tunneling/Whitelister.
It's worth noting that the macOS versions for NordVPN and Surfshark come in two forms: App Store versions and the website download versions. NordVPN's sideload will have more recent updates, but only the OpenVPN tunneling protocol. Meanwhile, Surfshark's sideload has only the IKEv2 protocol with an option for beta updates. So, if you need more tunneling protocols, download the client from the App store.
The rule of Android VPN apps being superior to their iOS counterparts is not contested there. Both NordVPN and Surfshark have a superb Android version, while iOS is a bit behind.
Surfshark's Android version has Whitelister and GPS spoofing – a feature that no other competing VPN has implemented yet. You can read more about this features in our Surfshark VPN review. While NordVPN's Android has a configurable kill switch, split tunneling, pausing, and auto-connect.
Although NordVPN's iOS app has a built-in kill switch, favorites tab, and dark web monitoring, it also has its uses. Surfshark's iOS version also includes a kill switch, but other additions are only CleanWeb and auto-connect.
If you run into any issues, you'll get many customer support options, whichever provider you choose. Both have up-to-date customer support webpages with guides and FAQs.
If you prefer a more direct approach or need to get in touch with a human, NordVPN and Surfshark have 24/7 live chat. So, you'll be able to find help even in the middle of the night.
My experience with both providers was pleasant. I didn't have to wait in long queues, and when I got assigned an agent, they proved to be knowledgeable and quickly answered all my questions.
Even when your query proves to be more challenging, your problem is turned into a ticket, and you can expect an email with a solution in a short while. So, whichever service you do decide to pick, customer support will be just as good.
Video review: NordVPN vs Surfshark
Which is better NordVPN vs. Surfshark?
|Ease of use||✔️||✔️|
NordVPN win by a narrow margin. Both Surfshark and NordVPN provide comparable protection and versatility. Whether it’s streaming or torrenting, you’ll get the right tools for the job. Yet, NordVPN gives you a more fleshed-out suite, which you should be looking for when shopping for a VPN.
The only area in which the gap between NordVPN and Surfshark was transparency. NordVPN just went through more public audits, so it has very tangible proof about ultimately being the safer option. However, Surfshark can almost match (and sometimes bypass) NordVPN in speeds, features, protection, torrenting, price, and clients. So, it should be no surprise that both these services end up in most "best VPN" lists.
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