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How to get the best VPN speeds

Posted on March 2nd, 2021 by in How-to.

 

Several factors affect VPN speeds, including which servers you select and how many other people are using your VPN service. We created this article to help demystify these factors and help you get the best VPN speeds while using ProtonVPN.

If you would like to learn more in depth about internet speed  and the various factors that can slow you down or speed you up, please see our article on latency, bandwidth, and throughput

To establish some basic background: 

Using a VPN means your data is encrypted and decrypted at both the client and server end, which takes processing power. It also means that your data has to travel an extra distance to the VPN server, which can cause delays (as described in the article mentioned above). 

Using a VPN, therefore, has an impact on your internet speed, but how much of an impact depends on factors such as how far away you are from the VPN server, how busy the VPN server is, how far the VPN server is from the website target or other destination, and which VPN protocol you use. ProtonVPN also implements a performance-enhancing proxy (PEP) to greatly improve internet speeds when using our service.

We discuss all these factors below.

Factors that affect VPN speeds

Distance

The distance your data has to travel is the single biggest factor to impact your raw internet connection speed. This is true whether or not you use a VPN, but a VPN adds to the distance your data must travel because of the extra journey to the VPN server.

The reason distance affects internet speed is because the internet is made up of countless inter-connected individual networks. So the further your data must travel, the more complex its routing is, which increases the risk of encountering obstacles along the way.

These obstacles include, but are not limited to: 

  • More routers, switches, and networks that your data packets need to travel through 
  • Congestion when encountering routers that can even lead to loss of data packets
  • The type of cables your data packets need to travel through. Old copper-based infrastructure, for example, can greatly reduce the speed at which data travels 
  • The extra physical distance to the destination 

Obstacles that slow down your data on its way to destination increase latency (the time it takes for your data to reach its destination), irrespective of how much bandwidth you have available.

When using a VPN, the distance your data travels is increased because it must travel to the VPN server before being forwarded to its intended destination. When using our Secure Core feature, the data is routed through two VPN servers (the first of which is located in Switzerland, Iceland or Sweden), resulting in a further increase in latency. 

VPN Server load

Although distance is the biggest factor affecting VPN performance, VPN server load is also important. Server load is simply how busy a given VPN server is. That is, how many people are using it. 

The more people using a given server, the higher the likelihood of network congestion at its switches. A large number of users can also put strain on a server’s resources (processing power, memory, disk throughput, etc.), which can impact overall speed performance. 

As we discuss later in the article, our apps display a server load indicator to clearly show you how loaded each server is. 

VPN protocol

VPN protocols and the encryption they use to secure your data involve complex math, which it takes computer processors’ time to perform. 

Even most low-end mobile phones these days (let alone desktop systems) can handle the extra processing required to encrypt and decrypt VPN-secured data client-side with no noticeable performance loss, but on VPN servers that are potentially handling hundreds of connections at a time, the VPN protocol you use can affect how fast they processes your data.

Properly implemented OpenVPN is extremely secure, but it is also a little “clunky” and slow compared with some other VPN protocols . That is, it requires greater processing power to implement. 

IKEv2 is widely considered to be very secure, while also being a much more modern and efficient protocol than OpenVPN. Using IKEv2 therefore tends to result in better speed performance than OpenVPN. 

VPN Accelerator

VPN Accelerator is unique to ProtonVPN and comprises a set of technologies that can increase your VPN speeds by over 400% in certain situations. Thanks to this new technology, you can always enjoy the best possible VPN speeds when using our service. 

Key aspects of VPN Accelerator are a re-engineered OpenVPN that reduces server load by evenly distributing sessions between multiple CPU threads, a TCP delay-controlled TCP flow control algorithm called BBR that dramatically reduces latency, plus various other improvements, such as offloading interprocess communications to custom-written “companion” processes in order to improve forwarding efficiency.

Learn more about VPN Accelerator

How to improve VPN speed performance 

Change server

Our Quick Connect feature takes all key factors into account when automatically selecting the best server for you, but if you prefer to take manual control, then you should take the following factors into account:

Distance

In general, connecting to a server as geographically close to you as possible will result in the best speed performance. And as noted earlier, this is the single most important factor affecting your VPN speed.

If you need to connect to a website or other internet resource in a particular country, connect to the closest one possible that fulfills your needs. For example, if you live in Europe and want to watch the US version of Netflix, connecting to one of our New York servers is a good option.

It should be noted, however, that VPN Accelerator should heavily mitigate performance loss due to distance, anyway. 

Server load

Where possible, you should connect to a VPN server which is not busy. ProtonVPN apps display the server load next for each of our servers in order to help you manually select a fast server for your needs. The circle surrounding the information button provides an at-a-glance look at how busy a server is. 

When server load is light, this circle is green, changing to yellow if server load is moderate, or red if the server is overloaded. Click on the icon to find out more details.

Change VPN protocol

IKEv2 is usually faster than OpenVPN, although if your IKEv2 connection is slow then it’s worth seeing if switching to OpenVPN helps.

If using OpenVPN, TCP mode can be effective at defeating VPN blocks, but UDP mode is faster because TCP performs error correction, while UDP does not (please see What is the difference between UDP and TCP? for more details).

Windows

Our Windows app supports OpenVPN in UDP and TCP modes. To change the VPN protocol, go to Settings -> Connection tab -> Default Protocol.

It is also possible to manually configure the built-in Windows VPN client to connect to ProtonVPN servers using the IKEv2 protocol. Please see ProtonVPN manual Windows 10 IKEv2 VPN setup for details.

macOS

Our macOS app uses the IKEv2 protocol. You can connect to our servers using OpenVPN (UDP or TCP) by manually configuring the open source Tunnelblick client. Please see How to set up OpenVPN on Mac via Tunnelblick for details.

Linux

Our Linux client uses OpenVPN. When you connect in the usual way (“protonvpn-cli connect” or  “protonvpn-cli c”), you can choose which protocol to use: OpenVPN UDP or OpenVPN TCP. 

It is also possible to connect to our servers using the IKEv2 protocol by manually configuring the strongSwan VPN client. Please see our Linux IKEv2 ProtonVPN tutorial for details. 

iOS and iPadOS

Our iOS app supports the IKEv2 and OpenVPN (UDP and TCP) protocols. To switch between protocols, go to Settings -> Security options -> Protocol.

Android (and Chromebook)

Our Android app also supports the IKEv2 and OpenVPN (UDP and TCP) protocols. To manually switch between protocols, go to Settings  -> Smart Protocol, and toggle the switch to the off position.

You can now choose between IKEv2 and OpenVPN. If you select OpenVPN then you choose between TCP and UDP.

Don’t use Secure Core or Tor

Our Secure Core and Tor through VPN features can greatly improve your online privacy and security, but for best speed performance you might want to disable them.

As discussed above, Secure Core routes your VPN connection through two VPN servers, which increases distance and the likelihood of congestion. There are also only three Secure Core server locations, which is likely to increase the distance you data must travel. 

The Tor network routes your data through random three nodes, which can be located anywhere in the world, re-encrypting it each time. So Tor is slow at the best of times. 

Upgrade your ProtonVPN plan

ProtonVPN offers a 100% free VPN plan with no data limits and access to servers around the world (specifically, in the US, the Netherlands and Japan). We enforce no artificial speed limits, but our free servers tend to be slower than our Plus servers simply because more people use them. Which increases server load.

It’s also very likely that our free servers won’t be located very close to you geographically, therefore increasing distance

By upgrading to our Basic, Plus or Visionary plans you can access servers that are likely to be much less busy than our free servers, and also much closer to your geographic location.

Douglas has worked for many years as a technology writer in the cyberprivacy and cybersecurity sector. He is now very pleased to work for a company with a mission that he passionately believes in.

19 comments

  1. Glory

    I am planning on purchasing a Proton VPN but I have some questions I need answered before buying. How many devices can I use a Proton VPN PLUS plan? I have 3 family iPhones, an iPad Pro and 2 laptops (Macs). Please help clarify what “10 VPN connections” mean. Is that the same as 10 devices connected?

  2. Albert Einstein

    Isn’t linux using IKEV2 protocol yet?

  3. Orelu

    Comment configurer et utiliser le vpn gratuitement

  4. Pierre

    Hello. I have been using Proton VPN for some time. I notice that several sites are blocking connections from VPNs. Mainly for viewing movies to which I have subscribed. I have to disconnect from the VPN to access my subscription. Not very practical. The connection to the VPN is through my router for protection of the whole house. A new phenomenon has appeared in recent days, the fact of disconnecting the VPN, then reconnecting after watching a movie, the router no longer connects to anything. I need to turn the router off and back on to correct the situation. Using the Proton VPN application on each workstation does not really protect because some sites are able to determine my IP address even if I am connected with the Proton VPN application (Windows).
    Greetings.

  5. JTC

    Thank you for this detailed article. I learned a lot, even if I do choose which country I want to connect through and it may be a different one each connection.

  6. Rejected_Colombian

    While I love the service. I don’t know why my Kaspersky antivirus is extremely stringent against this VPN or GOG. Everytime I want to connect, I need to disable my antivirus. Does anyone know why is this? Do those russians want me to forcefully use their VPN?

  7. Lu Mahalo

    I’m using the free plan for now just to see how Proton works out b4 upgrading.
    I sort of figured out the load business, but I get my highest speeds choosing a server that is as close to 100%, if not 100%, loaded. The lower the load, the lower my speeds are. I always check my speeds using Speedtest before proceeding work. (macOS 10.15.7)

  8. Tomas

    Hello,
    unfortunately i can’t choose closest server to improve VPN speed performance.
    closest to my is Lithuanian servers and something wrong with them, 1st: IP address not Lithuanian but Belarus, 2nd: don’t load half of pages, especially Lithuanian, in one word Lithuania servers is useless, don’t waste Your money for them :)

  9. Robert Lowrie

    Whether I’m using ProtonVPN on my Windows 10 desktop, my MacOS MacBook Pro, or mi iOS iPhone 11, what are the pros and cons to using UDP protocol versus TCP?
    Thanks.

  10. Arend

    Thanks for this article about VPN, it’s much clearer now and will surely help me setting the protocol at its most efficient way!

  11. Filipe Freire

    One of the best articles I’ve read recently about VPN speeds and its intricacies! Thank you! ✌🏻

  12. Mason Taylor

    I followed your directions for iPadOS. But could not find in Settings the Security Options -> Protocol. So I could not open VPN nor UDP. Your comment?
    I do get free ProtonMail.com & continue to recommend it.
    Question: I continue to use DuckDuckGo as search engine. This seems compatible with ProtonMail. Your comment?
    Should I quit Facebook? and gmail? Or can protonmail.com protect me on those sites?

  13. WJ Spies

    Curious…
    1. All the free VPN servers (now located – only – in US, Japan, Netherlands for me) are saturated w/ traffic;
    typically > 89, 90, 95, 98, or 99%. This as you’ve noted slows connection speed greatly. Why doesn’t Proton
    open a few more free servers (make it like it used to be).
    Since COVID hit all free VPN servers get choked-up very fast all of the time.
    I’m on a paid WiFi so it’s not a great hardship, but if I ever want or need public WiFi I’m in a less than optimal
    situation.

    2. I can’t seem to open my video movie streaming service (not Netflix) no matter how I connect via VPN, unless
    it’s n an open provider network profile/protocol. Other VPN’s don’t cause this p

    Tnx &best regards

    3. Proton’s email message default screen auto navigates the cursor to the top of the screen — always.
    Is there a way to set the cursor to stay pointed at the user’s last text input position?

  14. Holly Simms

    The second sentence under “Change VPN Protocol “ is absolutely essential If the average VPN user wishes to comprehend the VIXd63 systematic ordinance regarding 7332^rrttp: but only If the operating system occurs within the parameters of LNV^~~ to xdbn#*7782, in which case, if it’s a Thursday, one must recalibrate the settings to MMMXR__4>§92 for IOS only. If the author of this article has a sense of humor, the secret code: SddLW22#_^m!!! will perhaps facilitate an understanding of what that sentence meant to this very average but not completely ignorant Protonmail user of 3 years and going, 😂😅😂.
    Thank you for the work you’re doing and please try to keep us non-techno yet paying, card-carrying Protonmail users in mind. I suggest the inclusion of a follow-up sentence using some layman/woman’s language to translate the GIST of what you think you’ve just commumicated to the masses (😉😉😉).
    Written in humor, peace, and appreciation.

  15. William Heller

    I seem to encounter failures to connect with websites, even with ProtonMail itself, when operating with my paid VPN switched on. Is the double load of VPN and regular encryption too much in the case of PM? What about other websites, several of which I am a paid subscriber? I have been totally befuddled by this so most of the time I don’t have the VPN enabled. I’d like to enable it and just leave it on.
    Bill Heller

  16. Daniel

    can i use protonmail vpn and a second vpn simultaneously?

  17. Paul

    Thanks for the good info re: VPN speed. I always appreciate the ProtonMail newsletter.

  18. Tomm

    Wireguard protocol introduce even more faster connection overall, this been case with each VPN service that had earlier OpenVPN and introduced later Wireguard.

  19. Age

    And WireGuard for even more efficient connections compared to OpenVPN and IKEv2 will be available when? ;)

Comments are closed.

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