HOW TO CHOOSE AND TEST A VPN SERVICE
There are several factors to consider when you’re choosing a paid VPN. Adam Marshall divulges his best tips on finding the right one for your needs.
There are several factors to consider when you’re choosing a paid VPN. Here are Adam Marshall’s best tips on finding the right one for your needs.
1 Does the plan have servers in every country and region you require? Having more than one server in a country can help spread the load, but doesn’t guarantee improved performance, so don’t assume a plan with 500 servers will automatically beat another with 100.
2 Check the number of simultaneous connections supported. Typically, this is 3-5, which allows you to have a PC, mobile and tablet connected at the same time. But beware, many companies say this is for a single user only, and they all have fair usage policies to prevent people hogging resources. If you let the entire family download and stream videos separately then you’ll run into trouble.
3 Some providers list the connection protocols they use. OpenVPN and IKeV2 are good choices, fast and secure. You might see SSTP and the older PPTP, as well as protocol options (TCP or UDP for OpenVPN). You don’t need to understand the low-level details, but having the extra choice can help the service make faster and/or more reliable connections.
5 It’s important to consider the client, the software which handles your connections. These all have a list of servers and a Connect/ Disconnect button, but could you use more? Some clients display server load and ping time in the interface, helping you choose the right server.
Regular users might appreciate a ‘Favourites’ system to save and recall specific servers. If you know what you’re doing, having access to low-level network settings will help you tune the whole system.
6 Finally, there’s the price. Beware of apparently cheap deals: these may have restricted features, exclude taxes, be discounted for the first billing period only, and renew automatically, so that apparent one-off US$3.99 might become almost US$15 next month. Look for a ‘Pricing’ link, read the small print, and if possible use something like PayPal where it’s easy to check and cancel a subscription yourself.
Once you’ve found what looks like a good VPN candidate, be sure to give it a trial before you spend big money. But a short trial can only tell you so much, so once that’s expired, pay for a month, run as many tests as you can, then upgrade to a better value plan (usually yearly) if you’re happy.
HOW WE ASSESS VPNS (AND HOW YOU CAN TOO)
When reviewing VPNs, we start by looking at a provider’s range of plans. We’re looking for features, value, and clear and honest pricing. Free ways to learn more about a service — free plans, trial periods, refund periods — are important, and we also look for companies which maintain your privacy when you sign up (such as not requiring an email address, trials being made available without credit cards, and Bitcoin available as a payment option).
VPN performance is difficult to measure as there are so many variables, but we use multiple techniques to try and get a feel for each service’s abilities. We first use speedtest.net to measure the latency, upload and download speeds for a distant connection (typically Australia to California), then repeat the test immediately with the VPN turned off, and look at any changes.
We follow this up with a much shorter connection (typically Australia to Hong Kong) to see a more typical peak performance, run a second benchmark to confirm our results, and run some general browsing tests — including streaming HD video — to look for other problems. VPNs will always give you a new IP address, but some
“VPN performance is difficult to measure as there are so many variables, but we use multiple techniques to try and get a feel for each service’s abilities.”
services may have DNS or other leaks which give clues about your identity. We visit IPLeak.net and other privacy sites to look for problems.
In terms of the client and interface, we look for good server selection tools (by country, region, server, speed, with filters, a Favourites system, perhaps with server load or ping time displayed), with plenty of configuration options, but also a client which stays out of the way until it’s needed.
Many sites related to peer-to-peer piracy are now blocked in Australia.
The best VPNs provide servers across the globe, letting you pick a virtual location to suit your specific needs.
You can test whether your VPN is working as advertised by visiting sites like ipleak.net.