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Private Internet Access VPN review

Private Internet Access (PIA) review

You might have heard of Private Internet Access (PIA) 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? Read this review to find out.

Country:USA
Logs:No activity logs
Price:From $2.69 a month
Support:Knowledge base, tickets, live chat
Locations:77 countries
Torrenting:Yes
Netflix:No

Private Internet Access pros & cons

Pros

  • Cheap 2-year plan
  • Huge number of servers
  • Good for torrenting
  • User-friendly
  • Kill switch on all clients
  • Full Linux app
  • 30-day money-back guarantee
  • Highly configurable
  • Good security options
  • Unblocks Youtube
  • Great torrenting speeds
  • Shadowsocks proxy

Cons

  • No independent audit
  • Based in a 5-Eyes country
  • Doesn’t unblock US Netflix
  • Speeds could be better

Speed performance: How fast is PIA?

Baseline: 1 ms/300 Mbps download/300 Mbps upload

LocationPing (ms)Download Speed (Mbps)Upload Speed (Mbps)
US (NY)10915790
US (FL)183171165
US (LA)164109228
Switzerland42265245
UK43133200
Lithuania5288300
India177131
Argentina269104
Japan28193101
Australia24316037
“Secure settings”: AES-256-GCM, RSA-4096

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.

For the test, I selected the OpenVPN tunneling protocol and tested its faster version, UDP. I know – the fact that I didn’t test PIA’s abilities with WireGuard (which is the fastest tunneling protocol of the bunch) might feel like cheating. However, I wasn’t always able to connect using WireGuard, so testing it was not an option.

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.

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.

Still, I tested PIA VPN with Netflix on multiple servers on both Windows and Android applications. I couldn’t access the US or UK content. However, the site itself didn’t show any error messages.

On the other hand, I had some success with the Indian server, 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.

Private Internet Access VPN Netflix

I also tried a server called UK London-Streaming, but it didn’t manage to unlock the UK Netflix library. 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.

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.

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.

Split tunneling

Private Internet Access VPN networking preferences user interface

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.

Port forwarding

Private Internet Access VPN supports port forwarding, a 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.

Proxy

PIA proxy preferences user interface

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 VPN offers lots of freedom to set up your own security settings. Different levels of encryption, types of handshake, the possibility to use small packets – you will find all this in the Settings menu under the Connection tab.

However, I didn’t really like the fact that encryption algorithms and handshake ciyphers were set to the least secure ones that are 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.

This might not fly well with inexperienced users who are not familiar with different types of encryption and other security features.

PIA security preferences

Encryption

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: AES-CBC is faster while AES-GCM is more secure.

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.

Tunneling protocols

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. However, my device wasn’t able to support it while using PIA.

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.

Logging

Private Internet Access VPN is based in Colorado, US. As this is not the most privacy-friendly country you could think of (for starters, it belongs to the 5 Eyes Alliance), it’s important to get acquainted with PIA’s privacy policy.

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.

PIA VPN will also have your email address (for account management), some payment data (thankfully, not your full credit card details), cookie identifiers, the territory of origin, and your ZIP code. In addition, PIA’s privacy policy states:

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.

Kill Switch

Private Internet Access Kill Switch

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.

Servers and server locations

PIA VPN servers selection

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.

Plans & pricing

VersionPrice
1-month plan$9.95 a month
1-year plan$3.33 a month ($39.95 a year)
2-year plan$2.69 a month ($69.95 for two 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 $2.69 a month, or $69.95 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.

PIA VPN pricing tiers

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 with 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.

In terms of payment options, Private Internet Access VPN offers a few different credit 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.

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.

Desktop apps

Windows

Private Internet Access Windows App screenshot

The Windows 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.

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.

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.

MacOS

PIA MAC screenshot

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.

Linux

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

PIA Mobile App Screenshot

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 other hand, 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.

Customer support

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.

Is Private Internet Access VPN worth it?

In this Private Internet Access VPN review, I tried to take a deeper look at each of the VPN’s aspects. And what I found is a decent 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.

However, its best qualities can’t make me turn a blind eye to its flaws. Private Internet Access VPN is based in the US (a 5-Eyes country), has a slightly murky privacy policy, and hasn’t seen an independent audit yet. Perhaps most importantly to casual users, it fails to unblock most of the streaming services I tried.

To sum up, PIA is a great VPN in itself, but could do with some polish here and there.

FAQ

Can Private Internet Access be trusted?

Yes. Despite having a privacy policy that could use more transparency, PIA VPN offers great security options.

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.

Does PIA work with Hulu?

Right now, most users aren’t able to unblock Hulu using PIA VPN. However, the situation might change in the future.

Does Private Internet Access work on Firestick?

There is no dedicated PIA VPN app for Amazon Firestick. However, it is possible to set it up manually by using third-party software.

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Comments 4
  1. jai says:

    Hey, Cybernews team! I’m not a techie at all. I’m planning on buying a VPN. After reading a couple of reviews I’m leaning towards this one. But what is private internet access simultaneous connections ? I’m looking for a VPN that can allow many connections at the same time :phone, tablet, pc, and if this feature is allowing it, then I’m buying it! 

    • Rūta Rimkienė says:

      Hello, Jai! Having simultaneous connections means that you can use the VPN on a bunch of different devices at the same time: your laptop, smartphone, tablet, etc. As I understood from your comment, this is exactly what you need, because PIA allows you to have 10 connections at the same time. Hope this helped!

  2. terrance colls says:

    private internet access vpn roku is the best combo for me. roku is better than firestick to me. using it with private internet access made everything approachable. this vpn doesn’t lag, the speed is good, and so far, no one detected that i’m using a vpn!

  3. pia user says:

    How to install private internet access on amazon fire stick ? This vpn doesn’t have a dedicated app for fire stick, so it might be difficult to install it. Do you have any guide on how to do it? 

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