The first thing to say about PrivateVPN? It's underrated.
This is a great little VPN with a 7-day trial and some cool features. PrivateVPN is great for torrenting, offers an HTTP and SOCKS5 proxy, has a customizable level of encryption, and more.
In fact, despite not being among the most famous VPNs, this service competes with market leaders... and often wins!
So, in my PrivateVPN review, you'll learn it all. From speed and performance to privacy and customer support – here's what you should consider before getting PrivateVPN.
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|Overall rank:||#7 out of 27|
|Support:||Knowledge base, FAQs, email, 24/7 live chat|
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PrivateVPN pros and cons
- 7-day free trial
- Unblocks most streaming services
- Port forwarding
- 6 simultaneous connections
- Reliable kill switch
- SOCKS5 and HTTP proxies
- Customizable encryption
- Few tunneling protocols
- Small server fleet
- Basic mobile apps
- No split tunneling
Speed and performance: Is PrivateVPN fast?
Not all VPNs will reduce your speed by the same amount. This is why to determine the speed of a service, I measure the drop-off percentages. The lower they are, the faster your VPN will be.
Since PrivateVPN doesn't have many tunneling protocols but allows changing the encryption, I ran multiple speed tests with different OpenVPN configurations.
- Baseline: 1 ms/300 Mbps download/300 Mbps upload
|Location||UDP (AES-128-GCM)||TCP (AES-128-GCM)||UDP (AES-256-GCM)||TCP (AES-256-GCM)|
On average, UDP download speeds get reduced by ~56%, while uploads drop by 44%. These are pretty good OpenVPN speed scores, although on their own they're nothing to write home about. The latency times were pretty high across the board, which could introduce lag or stuttering if you connect to locations further away.
TCP isn't any faster: the average download speed has a 80% drop off, while the upload speeds fall by 89%. Those are in line with what you could expect from TCP, but no one is ever using this mode for speed. It's worth noting that in some cases, ping times were excessive. For example, Singapore and Australia exceeded 500 milliseconds. That's a half a second difference, which could be noticeable.
If you're wondering whether encryption makes the speeds worse – it's a complicated answer. On the one hand, average UDP download speeds take a 61% hit. On the other hand, the upload speeds are faster, with only a 38% dip. Ping times are still above average with either OpenVPN version.
TCP is somewhat on par (with AES-128 encryption). The average download speed drops by 80%, while the upload is 87% drop. So, the downloads are identical, while the upload is a bit faster with AES-256.
In short, the AES algorithm version is the most relevant to those who are using devices that don't support AES hardware acceleration. So, this may be more important when setting up PrivateVPN on a router.
I didn't test PPTP and L2TP, mainly because I didn't manage to get them to work. Both of them are pretty outdated and not very secure anyway, so you should stick to OpenVPN. They already have WireGuard in beta, so wait till it comes out if you want really good speeds. Currently, speed isn't one of PrivateVPN's fortes.
Streaming: does PrivateVPN work with Netflix?
If you dig deep in the forums looking for a good VPN for streaming, you will find that PrivateVPN gets mentioned quite often. It didn't take too long for me to find out why.
|Netflix||✔️ with US Netflix|
It took no effort to unblock geo-restricted YouTube videos and BBC iPlayer, making PrivateVPN a valid option for many of your streaming needs. Not to mention that even some more popular providers struggle with iPlayer.
Although Netflix worked, and the VPN helped to unblock restricted videos, the streaming quality was poor. It's unclear who is to blame for this: the VPN or the service itself, as Netflix lately has had some issues with heavier loads on their servers.
Even DAZN, which only a couple of VPN manages to unblock, was accessible with PrivateVPN. So, during our tests, PrivateVPN got us through to every geographically restricted service that we tested. This isn't something that you see every day, even when reviewing top-shelf VPN service providers.
Is PrivateVPN good for Torrenting?
PrivateVPN does support P2P traffic. Tough, to use it with torrenting clients to download files, you'll have to connect to DedicatedIP/Torrenting servers.
It took a while for the speed to max out, but it ended up very good. The maximum speed was 15MB/s (120mbps), which is great (but of course, it depends on many variables, including the leechers/seeders ratio). You'll have to get their free trial to get the actual picture. Port forwarding support is there and can be used for torrenting.
The only problem that I could potentially see with the service is that the specialized servers are not so numerous. This means that you could have to deal with overloaded servers.
PrivateVPN is unique in its approach to port forwarding. The feature is easily accessible after you connect to a server. When you're connected, a random port number pops up, which you can then enter in your torrent client. So, if you'll be using a VPN for torrenting, it's a godsend. You may also use the feature when setting up a remote server, so the usage isn't limited to torrenting.
The main problem with this feature is that it is enabled whether you want it or not. Whenever you connect to their server, you automatically get assigned a random port number without the option to disable it. There even used to be a related vulnerability, which could be exploited, which is now patched up. So, it's a double-edged sword of a feature.
All of their servers have support for HTTP and SOCKS5 proxies. They're both useful, but in somewhat different scenarios. The HTTP proxy will work only with HTTP and HTTPS traffic, so it's primarily concerned with browsers.
If you need support for another kind of traffic, you'll have to use SOCKS5. They're fairly flexible and secure, so many use them with torrent clients to add extra security. You can find the whole list of available servers with appropriate server addresses with corresponding ports here.
Is PrivateVPN safe?
PrivateVPN is a safe VPN regarding its encryption and tunneling protocols. There are no IP address or IPv6 leaks. However, port forwarding cannot be disabled. Using this VPN for the most privacy cautious individuals might be out of the question. The VPN service's business location is in a Fourteen Eyes Alliance country (Sweden), which doesn’t help their case.
Encryption is what makes your online traffic incomprehensible to anyone intercepting it. This includes your government and ISP. With PrivateVPN, you're even able to customize the encryption level.
You can pick between:
These choices boil down to picking between 128 or 256-bit versions and CBC or GCM modes.
128 and 256 mean different encryption key lengths – the longer it is, the more potential combinations it can have. More potential combinations are always better because hackers' computers would have to guess more to crack the encryption, making the whole process unviable.
The CBC and GCM difference is a bit more subtle. They both involve scrambling block cipher data, but they do it a bit differently. Theoretically, CBC is less safe because it depends on previous data blocks when encrypting data. GCM randomizes the blocks making it harder to put back as pieces of a puzzle.
PrivateVPN won't blow you away with their long list of tunneling protocols. You can choose these:
OpenVPN (TUN+UDP+1194) – the default setting uses UDP, which is faster but less secure than TCP. It uses 1194, which is a fairly common port, so it should fit most use cases.
OpenVPN (TUN+TCP+443) – sacrificing speed for security, this option should be your go-to if UDP/1194 doesn't work. Plus, it uses the 443 port, which is the same one that web browsers use for web connectivity. So, if Internet connectivity is available, this port should also be open.
OpenVPN (TAP+UDP) – is the only tunneling from the list with a big flair and the words "not recommended". The reason is that connected TAP devices function almost as if they were on LAN. This could also give a method to access your device if a hacker connected to the same server, provided that there's a vulnerability. Since port forwarding is also always enabled, this is a real cause for concern.
PPTP – severely outdated and shouldn't be used. With it, your connection won't be any safer.
L2TP/IPSec – considered secure, but OpenVPN provides much better security options.
There is also an option to enable Stealth VPN. Think of it as a VPN mode that disguises VPN traffic as regular web traffic. It sends extra data packets, burying your VPN connection underneath them. This allows you to access the Internet in countries like China.
WireGuard is already in their beta client, so soon, it could be expected to appear in the regular app as well. Until that happens, you're stuck with OpenVPN, which will be your only real choice when you're using PrivateVPN.
The kill switch is a safety precaution when your connection drops. So, we try to emulate such disruptions in our tests. In the first, we use a special router that blocks access to particular IP addresses, cutting off the connection to the server. In the second, we're disabling necessary application processes, seeing how the client acts in both cases.
None of my connections leaked outside of the VPN tunnel in the first test. The app notified me that the kill switch was enabled. The app was unable to reconnect, as the access to that server was blocked. It didn't attempt to connect to a different server, so you'll have to do this manually. Your IP address remains safe.
During the second test, the app reacted to the OpenVPN process being killed very quickly, and the killswitch worked as expected.
When I killed just the front end of the app, it closed all of the background processes and disconnected me from the VPN server without engaging the killswitch. This means that in some rare scenarios, the app might crash and expose your real IP address. However, it handled every other situation flawlessly.
I also found it weird that there was no option to enable the kill switch as the app is connecting to a server, leaving me no option but to have my IP and connections exposed while I wait for the app to connect.
PrivateVPN is located in Sweden. This isn't an optimal location for privacy purposes, as the country is a member of the 14-Eyes surveillance alliance. In addition, Sweden enforces data retention laws. ISPs keep user logs, which can date back for up to two years. So, it's a complication between the service provider and the legislation.
The personal data is not saved longer than necessary given the purpose of the processing, unless a longer storage time is required or permitted by law."
In short, this service is sending mixed signals about how personal data is handled. More transparency would go a long way towards making this service more trustworthy. Users that are most concerned about privacy should take this into account.
Servers and locations
PrivateVPN counts its servers in hundreds, not in thousands. This translates into a modest fleet of 150 servers in 62 countries.
|Regions||Number of countries|
|The Asia Pacific||13 countries|
|The Middle East and Africa||5 countries|
So, even though the country variety is good, the number of server locations is somewhat of a bottleneck. PrivateVPN is highly susceptible to overcrowded servers, which can hurt your user experience. I hope that they'll increase their fleet size, as most competitors are rocking much higher numbers. Plus, the fact that each user gets 6 simultaneous connections, can quickly make the overcrowding worse.
The upside is there are some excotic locations like Hong Kong, or Russia, which might be just the locations that you won't find anywhere else.
Plans and pricing
All PrivateVPN plans give you the same features. The only difference will be the duration, with better savings on longer subscriptions. It's a VPN market staple, you'll see this approach with almost all providers.
|3-month plan||$17.99 or $6.00/month|
|2-year plan||$59.99 or $2.50/month|
The shortest and the most expensive option is their monthly plan for $8.99. If you commit for two months more (three months plan), the price is $17.99, so you save almost 39%. The longest plan also provides the best deal with $59.99 a year. So, the prices are on par with the competition.
With each plan, you're getting 6 simultaneous connections, and you can try the service with a 7-day free trial. You'll have to write to their official support email address ([email protected]) to get a gift code. It doesn't require any payment information, so you won't feel caught off guard when your subscription "accidentally" renews. Still, you can also take advantage of a 30-day money-back guarantee.
You can pay with credit cards, PayPal, and cryptocurrencies. However, if you decide to pay via PayPal, you'll have to pay a 5% handling fee, which raises the price a bit. So, if you're buying the longest subscription, the price may increase by $3. It's a minor thing, but it's something to take into consideration.
Interface and ease of use
I found the Windows app simple to use. It pushes notifications for everything that is going on, so you'll always know your connection's status.
The main screen windows are customizable, allowing you to switch between simple and advanced views. The former only shows the status of your connection, with the ability to change the country you are connected to. Meanwhile, the advanced view gives access to customize the connection type and encryption, allowing you to access the app settings.
There were some weird issues. For example, "The Streaming Services" tab didn't show any servers. And although I liked the addition of port forwarding every time, it would assign a different port each time you connected. That means you would need to reconfigure your routers and other potential software to use a different port each time. Plus, you cannot disable it.
macOS app is almost identical to the Windows version, with more rounded buttons to better fit Apple's UI. However, there are some trade-offs, and not all the features you can use with Windows are there.
You shouldn't shed your tears for some of them - one of the losses is PPTP. This more of a security vulnerability than a tunneling protocol. Others, however, are quite useful additions like DNS leak protection and the ability to kill certain apps when disconnecting from a VPN server.
PrivateVPN mobile apps
The app mirrors the design principles present in the desktop versions. The key difference is that the desktop apps seem smoother, while the mobile counterparts seem a bit choppy. This means a different level of user experience when compared to desktop devices, which shouldn't be the case.
The app looks plain and only offers the bare minimum of what you could expect from a mobile VPN service. I appreciate a built-in kill switch, which solves the problem if you're using an older device without its native support.
Much of what is true about an Android app can also be said about the iOS version. The app is very minimal, offering a basic set of features.
You can toggle Stealth VPN and switch the used port. So, aside from the ability to change tunneling protocols and encryption, there isn't much that you can tweak.
The app itself only switches between the all servers list and dedicated IP address, so you get to avoid the glitchy streaming services list. Sady, the kill switch isn't available on iOS.
I found the PrivateVPNs knowledge base a bit lacking. Some features could have been explained a bit better. For example, they didn't go into detail to explain how their port forwarding works. To find out anything about it, you have to go and check manually.
They also have a live chat, which I used to get in touch with their customer support agents. Even though I was first in the queue, I did not get a representative even though I waited for 10 minutes, so I sent them an email with the same questions. I got a reply within 30 minutes, making PrivateVPN the service with the slowest live chat or the fastest email support.
Even if you have problems with installation, the customer support agents can also help you via TeamViewer. Although, I wouldn't give anyone direct access to my PC, even if it's a customer support agent.
Is PrivateVPN worth it?
As it seems from our PrivateVPN review, the service has some benefits that can also be seen as liabilities. You may appreciate their port forwarding, but it also cannot be disabled. They offer several varieties of encryption, which may end up being more confusing to the user rather than more secure, offering little practical difference.
The service unblocks most online media streaming websites but has UI problems with the streaming servers’ selection screen. There are no virtual servers, but the amount of server locations seems limited. So, for every benefit, you can find a corresponding drawback.
In turn, this puts PrivateVPN a step below the top VPN services. They could benefit from adding features like split tunneling and increasing the server count. Though, I do appreciate their 30-day money-back guarantee and 6 simultaneous connections, as well as a 7-day free trial with no payment information.
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Who owns PrivateVPN?
PrivateVPN is owned by Privat Kommunikation Sverige AB. The company is located in Sweden, Sollentuna.
Does PrivateVPN work in China?
Yes, PrivateVPN has a special Stealth VPN mode which is designed to bypass the Great Firewall of China. With it, you should be able to get access to the free Internet.
Is PrivateVPN safe?
Yes, PrivateVPN has many customization options, even allowing you to modify your encryption mode. Though, there are some concerns with port forwarding (a feature you can't disable on the app).