Private Internet Access VPN review
Private Internet Access (PIA) is a good VPN tool for all kinds of users. It offers additional features like browser extensions, supports the Shadowsocks proxy, and implements the WireGuard tunneling protocol. Also, PIA’s 10 simultaneous connections can be a tempting benefit if you need a VPN for multiple devices.
You might have actually heard of Private Internet Access as a service with an insane number of servers to choose from. However, PIA’s 29,000+ servers in 77 countries are not the only reason to check out this VPN provider.
In this Private Internet Access VPN review, I will answer a lot of burning questions many users have been asking throughout the years. Is PIA actually safe? Does it work with Netflix? Is it good for torrenting? Can it make your online activity more private? Read this review to find out.
|Overall rank:||#4 out of 27|
|Logs:||No activity logs|
|Price:||From $2.19 a month|
|Support:||Knowledge base, tickets, live chat|
|Current deal:||Get PIA, now 83% OFF + 2 Month FREE!|
Private Internet Access pros & cons
- Cheap 2-year plan
- Huge number of servers
- Good for torrenting
- Kill switch on all clients
- Anonymous payment methods
- Full Linux app
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Highly configurable
- Good security options
- Unblocks Youtube
- Great torrenting speeds
- Shadowsocks proxy
- No independent audit
- Based in a 5-Eyes country
- Speeds could be better
Speed performance: How fast is PIA?
In our speed tests we compare the baseline speeds with the speeds after you've connected via VPN. Then we calculate drop-off percentages - the lower they are, the less your VPN reduces your speed.
- Baseline: 1 ms/300 Mbps download/300 Mbps upload
|Location||Ping (ms)||Download Speed (Mbps)||Upload Speed (Mbps)|
If you want blazing fast speed, PIA VPN might not always fulfill your needs to the max. Despite its high server count, it’s not always able to deliver download and upload speeds that are as good as the ones of NordVPN or Surfshark. To get the optimal experience with PIA you'll often have to pick the closest server. Ping times won't be that impressive, as well.
For this test, I selected the OpenVPN tunneling protocol and tested its faster version, UDP. I also chose AES-256 encryption over AES-128, as this is the cipher you’ll most likely be using for maximum security.
So, you can see that the speed drop from the 300 Mbps baseline was quite significant. The fastest download speed I managed to get was with the Lithuanian server, which decreased my speed by 4%. This result is quite good - however, it was an exception to the rule.
For example, connecting to the US (NY) server using OpenVPN UDP left me with only 36.3% of my original speed. The sharpest drop in download speed (99.6%) occurred when I connected to the Indian server.
Keep in mind that your speeds might slightly increase with AES-128 used together with the RSA-2048 key. In my case, the download speed with the Indian server increased from 1 Mbps to 7 Mbps with the OpenVPN TCP protocol. Also, your speed will probably be much better when the WireGuard tunneling protocol is in use. At least this was true in my case:
|Location||Ping (ms)||Download Speed (mbps)||Upload Speed (mbps)|
As you can see from the table, the average speed drops were 58% drop off for downloads and 48% for uploads. There is a noticeable improvement in some cases, while in others, the speeds get worse.
For example, Australia has much better download speeds with OpenVPN, while it's slower with WireGuard. In contrast, Switzerland, which already has fast speeds with OpenVPN, sees even better improvement with WireGuard.
Streaming: does PIA work with Netflix?
Unlike many other VPNs, Private Internet Access VPN doesn’t advertise itself as a program for streaming. I see this as a positive thing, as many VPNs that claim to be able to flawlessly unblock streaming sites don’t always hold their end of the bargain.
|Netflix||✔️ with US and UK libraries|
Still, I tested PIA VPN with Netflix on multiple servers on both Windows and Android applications. It did work, and I was able to access Netflix US. It also came through when I connected to a server in Manchester to unblock exclusive UK content.
I also had some success with the Indian servers, which actually unblocked Indian content on Netflix. You might also get lucky with other random servers that are not yet recognized by Netflix and other streaming platforms.
In addition, this same server not only didn’t unblock Disney+, but also made the site display its main screen in the Czech language. It also didn’t let me create an account.
Unfortunately, the VPN didn’t work with DAZN or the BBC iPlayer either. On the other hand, PIA VPN unlocked geo-blocked videos on Youtube without breaking a sweat. It also seems that all of their US servers are compatible and unblock Hulu. So, if you're looking into ways to unblock US-based streaming libraries, PIA can be a helpful addition.
PIA has apps for Firestick, and can be set up on most Smart TV's. Which means, that this service can be very useful if you're looking for a VPN for streaming.
Is PIA good for torrenting?
All the servers of PIA VPN support P2P and torrenting. The VPN also offers an integrated SOCKS5 proxy and the Shadowsocks option to reroute your internet traffic for even more protection (or to protect only your torrent client, for example).
So, for this Private Internet Access review, I tried torrenting on my MacOS device. I was pleasantly surprised by PIA’s performance. That’s because torrenting not only worked - it was really fast compared to all the other VPNs that I tried. I was constantly getting 10-15 MB/s speeds (80-120 Mbps). There was no need to connect to specific servers for P2P support. Even the largest files won't take too long to download.
PIA VPN features
Even though rich in features, PIA VPN makes sure you’re not overwhelmed by them. You can find everything you need in its Settings tab, neatly grouped into different categories. They range from additional privacy features to advanced functions that will be very useful to experienced users.
Under the Network tab of Private Internet Access VPN there are lots of options for setting up split tunneling. It’s quite a useful feature that lets you select the applications that use (or don’t use) the VPN connection.
It can be helpful when you want to use online banking on one browser while privately browsing with another. However, split tunneling is not limited to browsers - you can also include/exclude games and other apps that use the internet connection.
When testing this feature, I found that the Bypass VPN option did not work for some apps, but worked for others. Oracle VM VirtualBox didn’t work with the split tunneling feature at all (it functioned as if it was not on the split tunneling list). However, Google Chrome functioned as it should.
Private Internet Access VPN supports port forwarding, an advanced feature that helps you connect to a remote device (among other things).
However, I found port forwarding a bit frustrating to use, since a forwarded port gets assigned to you randomly. As a result, you need to configure your network to forward that port as well. It is also important to note that PIA’s US servers don’t support port forwarding at all.
What I also liked very much about this feature is that you can further customize it with command line interface and write your own scripts.
PIA VPN allows you to use a proxy if you want to redirect the VPN connection through an additional location for an extra layer of anonymity when torrenting. You can also use this feature on your torrenting client or browser to save bandwidth.
Simply go to the Proxy tab and select the option you want your connection to go through. You can choose between the SOCKS5 Proxy and Shadowsocks. The latter might even bypass the Great Firewall of China. It offers six countries: the UK, Switzerland, Canada, the US, Israel, and Japan.
Is PIA secure?
Private Internet Access is a safe VPN. Though, default encryption algorithms and handshake ciphers were set to the least secure ones available in the app. To get the same level of security as with other VPNs, you need to know what you are doing and configure the options manually.
That said, it does offer a lot of freedom to set up your own security settings. Different levels of encryption, types of handshake, the possibility to use their proprietary DNS servers, to name a few.
When using Private Internet Access with the OpenVPN protocol, it’s up to you to set the level of encryption - or else it will be left on the default AES-128 (CBC). So, here are your choices once you open the Connections tab:
- AES-128 (CBC)
- AES-128 (GCM)
- AES-256 (CBC)
- AES-256 (GCM)
All of these options are really secure, but there exist a few differences between them. For example, even though AES-128 and AES-256 are both impenetrable to brute force attacks, AES-256 is the more secure one, and thus considered the golden standard.
Now, the main differences between CBC and GCM are speed and security: GCM is newer, more secure, and faster than CBC.
You can also disable the encryption entirely. Your credentials will still be encrypted and your IP hidden - however, not encrypting the actual data might allow for better speeds.
There’s also the possibility to pick between the SHA1 and SHA2 hashing algorithms for authentication (the latter being the stronger one). You’ll also find a long list of handshake methods that include RSA-4096 and ECC-521.
It’s always good to have a selection of tunneling protocols, as sometimes, a VPN might not function with a certain protocol due to some kind of a bug. In that case, the solution to your problem would simply be switching to another protocol.
Wireguard. This open-source tunneling protocol fits everyone’s needs. Strong security aside, it offers much faster speeds than other VPN protocols.
OpenVPN (UDP/TCP). Being a staple tunneling protocol, OpenVPN has proven its reliability time and time again. PIA VPN lets you choose between two versions, UDP (faster) and TCP (a bit slower but more stable).
IKEv2/IPsec. You can find this tunneling protocol only on the iOS app of Private Internet Access VPN. It’s great for mobile devices, as it offers great speed and stability.
So, the first thing you should know is that PIA VPN claims to not collect any activity logs. However, it does collect your username, IP, and data usage. On the other hand, this info is deleted as soon as you close the application.
We may disclose your Personal Data to any member of our group of companies (this means our subsidiaries, our ultimate holding company and all its subsidiaries) insofar as reasonably necessary for the purposes set out in this Policy.
Even after reading the whole document, I wasn’t sure what was meant by “reasonably necessary”. I think that the page should be revised for clarity, as most users won’t be able to fully understand it.
Every VPN should have a reliable kill switch, and thankfully, PIA VPN has a good one. It works like this: if the connection to the VPN gets interrupted, i.e., your real IP is no longer protected, PIA will disconnect you from the internet.
You have to reconnect to the VPN or turn on your wifi manually in order to restore the connection. In this way, your real IP address won’t accidentally leak. Not to mention, that built-in kill swich is something that many antivirus VPN apps lack.
Servers and server locations
I have yet to see a VPN with more servers than Private Internet Access VPN. That’s because its selection is massive: right now, it offers 29,000+ VPN and proxy servers in 99 locations across 77 countries.
The servers are located in Europe, South America, North America, Africa, Asia, as well as Australia and Oceania. However, a small part of the servers is virtual (PIA refers to them as “geo-located”), as it’s not possible to have physical servers in some countries due to certain regulatory reasons. For example, the Russian server is actually located in Estonia, the same applies to Hong Kong and other countries.
Virtual servers still behave as if you're located in the selected country, but they may be prone to more giveaway signs that you're using a VPN server.
Another important thing about the server fleet of Private Internet Access is the addition of the NextGen network. All of its servers are RAM-only, which means that their data is wiped out with every server reboot. Also, they are capable of 10 Gbps speeds. To access this network, you have to upgrade Private Internet Access to the latest version.
Plans & pricing
|1-month plan||$9.95 a month|
|1-year plan||$3.33 a month ($39.95 a year)|
|3-year plan||$2.19 a month ($79 for three years)|
The pricing system of Private Internet Access VPN is really simplistic. You get the same features together with 10 simultaneous connections with every single plan. The only difference is the duration of your subscription, which affects the price quite significantly.
You’ll pay the least if you commit to the two-year plan, which costs only $2.19 a month, or $79 for the whole duration of the subscription. In addition, you’ll get two extra months for free, as well as the Boxcryptor encryption tool.
Buying the yearly subscription results in $3.33 a month, which would cost you $39.95 a year. You will pay the most for a single-month plan, which costs $9.95. As usual, their monthly plan is the most expensive.
However, there’s no free plan or even a trial version for Private Internet Access VPN. On the other hand, you can use their 30-day money-back guarantee if you realize that PIA and you are not a good fit.
Also, you are not limited to a single refund (like in the case of many other VPN services). If you buy a new subscription 3 months after the previous refund, you can cancel your plan once again and get all your money back.
For a little extra, you can also get a dedicated IP address and an antivirus tool.
In terms of payment options, Private Internet Access VPN offers a few different credit cards, gift cards, PayPal, and lots of cryptocurrency options like Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, and Litecoin.
Interface and ease of use
PIA VPN is quite versatile when it comes to operating systems. You can download Private Internet Access VPN applications to your Windows, Linux, Mac, Android, and iOS devices. In addition, there are browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera that help when you want to blocks ads.
All PIA’s apps are intuitive and user-friendly. The design is easy on the eyes, and you can choose either the dark or the light theme. You also won’t have any problems with the installation process, as it’s quick, smooth, and doesn't require any prior knowledge.
However, it still seems like the VPN is geared towards more advanced users, as the abundance of different stats may confuse people who have never used a VPN before.
It’s also worth noting that all the Private Internet Access apps offer OpenVPN and WireGuard protocols, while the iOS app also supports IKEv2/IPsec.
PIA supports all desktop devices including Chromebooks. The main difference is that the latter will still be relying on an app with a mobile UI. If you're on Windows, macOS, or Linux, your experience will be much better.
The Windows desktop application of PIA VPN is slick and easy to navigate. The main window lets you manage the VPN connection, while the Settings window allows you to customize the VPN to your needs. You can also customize whether the app will be in light or dark modes.
I like the fact that the main window displays a lot of information about your connection like the protocol, encryption, port, and authentication cipher. It also includes a connection speed graph with a counter that tracks the amount of data you sent and received during the VPN session.
It’s also nice that you can snooze the VPN for a specified amount of time. However, I find it a bit inconvenient that there’s no map to choose a server from, as trying to select a server from a list is not as intuitive. You'll get a big button which when pressed will connect to a nearby location automatically.
I also experienced a weird bug that happened when connecting to a server. It caused my whole PC to freeze up for a few minutes. Then, the app crashed, and the PC started working normally again.
There’s one more thing you should know. Under the General tab, there’s the option to choose how the app is displayed on your screen (Attached to Tray/Window). Even though the default setting is Attached to Tray, I suggest you switch to Window as soon as possible - the former option makes the app automatically close as soon as you click outside it. Also, the Settings window is displayed behind the main tab, obscuring the view.
The app for Mac looks almost identical to the Windows application. Most of the features are there, including split tunneling, port forwarding, and the kill switch. While using it, I didn’t experience the issues I had with the Windows application.
Installing and using the Private Internet Access VPN app on Linux was surprisingly easy. All I had to do was download an installation script and run it. It has the same user interface as the macOS and Windows apps.
The application offers the same features as its Windows and macOS counterparts. However, the split tunneling feature is more complicated, because you need to be acquainted with the basics of the Linux filesystem to be able to use it. On the other hand, it has an additional option for virtual machines.
PIA mobile apps
The design of both of PIA’s mobile apps (Android and iOS) is almost identical to the one of its desktop versions.
The functionality is also very similar. For example, you can rearrange the connection options, view the full connection info, and snooze the VPN for a selected amount of time.
On the mobile operating system, the Settings menu is a bit different. Most features are renamed and simplified in comparison to the desktop apps of PIA VPN. For instance, the Android app allows you to use split tunneling only for specific apps, but not for specific websites.
If you run into some technical difficulties or simply have a question about Private Internet Access VPN, you can visit the VPN’s help center that includes:
- Setup guides
- A knowledge base
- A community forum
You can also fill in a support ticket or reach an agent though live chat. However, PIA’s customer support didn’t manage to solve my problem with my WireGuard connection. The agent insisted that the problem was related to my device instead of the VPN.
Despite this, I still managed PIA to get working. All things considered, I'd say that their customer service agents are qualified and polite. This really makes solving all problems that you might have, much easier.
PIA VPN video review
Is Private Internet Access VPN worth it?
In this Private Internet Access VPN review, I tried to take a deeper look at each aspect of the app. And what I found is a good service with a huge server count, great speeds for torrenting, and a strong emphasis on security options.
I also like that the price can get as low as $2.69 a month, which puts PIA among the most inexpensive VPNs on the market.
To sum up, PIA is a great VPN in itself, but could do with some polish here and there.
More on VPN providers from CyberNews:
PIA vs. ExpressVPN: which is the winner?
SurfShark review: VPN with strong security and great features for competitive price
PIA vs. NordVPN: how do they compare?
Can Private Internet Access be trusted?
Is PIA good for torrenting?
Yes. All the servers of Private Internet Access VPN support torrenting at a really high speed.
Does PIA work in China?
Private Internet Access VPN might work in China thanks to the Shadowsocks proxy. However, there are no consistent reports about this. Additionally, you can check our guide with the best VPNs for China.
Does PIA work with Hulu?
Right now, most users are able to unblock Hulu using PIA's US servers. You can also check our list of other VPNs that work great with Hulu.
Does Private Internet Access work on Firestick?
There is a dedicated PIA VPN app for Amazon Firestick. You can install it via Downloader. Also, feel free to check our top VPNs for Amazon Fire Stick & Fire TV.
PIA Version history: what’s new?
- Moved to OpenVPN 2.5.1 and OpenSSL 1.1.1k
- Now Linux split tunneling applies DNS srequests through the nameserver host
- Additional split tunneling diagnostics for macOS
- Linux installation no longer requires ifconfig
- Fixed macOS split tunneling bug that prevented VPN connections when killswich is set to Always
- Added automation rules that can be created to automathically connect or disconnect when joining a network