A feature-rich virtual private network that has been around for eight years, NordVPN has grown its service from an Android app launched in 2012 to one of the biggest names among VPNs in 2020. But does NordVPN’s performance live up to its big name? We put the multi-platform service through its paces and against its peers, to see how it measures up in price, performance, and features to determine if it’s the best VPN you can buy.
Design and Features
Signing up for NordVPN was a simple process, as the service takes all sorts of payments, from Alipay to Apple Pay – and even some crypto for good measure. After paying, an account activation email immediately followed suit, prompting the NordVPN download. On the iMac we tested it on, the NordVPN download link prompted the Mac App Store to open, a nice perk for Apple users who prefer to stay in MacOS’s walled garden.
NordVPN’s desktop app is simple to use, and provides a little personalization for more demanding users. Like many other VPNs, NordVPN’s “Quick connect” button will automatically link users to a server recommended by the company’s algorithms. Or, if you want to connect to a server in a specific country, the app’s left-hand drawer offers locations that users can select from. If you find a steady server in a far-flung locale that you like, you can favorite it for later use.
NordVPN boasts “5500+ servers in 59 countries,” but we didn’t count them out to fact-check their claim. Still, with options from Albania to Vietnam, that estimate seems plausible. One downside to NordVPN’s extensive number of servers is that the service lists them by number, instead of by city. So, if you want to connect to a country’s server to get better responsiveness on a game hosted there, you have to guess the precise location. This does not apply to U.S. servers, however – they do have regional and numerical identification.
The simplicity of NordVPN’s desktop app could leave users to wonder where all its other advertised features can be found. Some – like its IP address masking and next-generation encryption – are found in the plumbing, while others, like its dedicated IP address offering are hard to find. (It’s configurable through the NordVPN website.) Installable Chrome and Firefox extensions bring malware and ad-blocking to those browsers, a feature that some other VPNs also offer.
In addition to the NordVPN Mac app, the service also offers its VPN on Android, iOS, Windows, and Linux as well as a slew of other devices and platforms like Western Digital’s MyCloud, Raspberry Pi, and Blackberry. While NordVPN supports Android TV, it does not run on Apple TV devices via an app, though the company does have a workaround listed on its website.
Head-to-head comparisons with competing services show that NordVPN is not the best VPN, speed-wise, but it certainly is among the fastest.
For this review, NordVPN’s performance was measured both in the afternoon and evening, measuring averages of its download and upload speeds, as well as pings on several popular online multiplayer games: Fortnite, League of Legends, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. To determine which is the best VPN for gaming, we selected either the fastest server promoted by the various VPNs or the server closest to the games’ server locations. In addition, each of the games were played while NordVPN was activated to gage the VPN’s gaming performance. Similarly, we streamed a movie while using NordVPN to see if it was the best VPN for Netflix.
Both in the afternoon and evening, NordVPN averaged faster download speeds than when the VPN was not engaged, a rare result that may not be indicative of every user. (It’s possible that the VPN was sending traffic around a network bottleneck, or that the ISP was throttling the non-VPN connection.) But this speed boost is a good indication that NordVPN won’t necessarily slow down your internet connection, either. On the other hand, NordVPN’s upload speeds were consistently slower with the VPN on than without the service. NordVPN’s pings, meanwhile, were either slightly faster (for Fortnite or CSGO in the afternoon) or slower (LoL any time, and CSGO in the evening).
Fortnite was a pleasant surprise on NordVPN, with the service boosting bandwidth over our unprotected internet connection. (Again, this is not a result everyone should expect.) Frame rates felt fluid and rendering worked fairly fast, with no hiccups of note. Likewise, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive moved quickly and cleanly as well, with the game’s fast action bolstered by faster-than-usual speeds and even the in-game chatter from fellow players coming through loudly and clearly. NordVPN was also more than ample to keep up with League of Legends.
Watching Netflix with NordVPN went well. The video streamed quickly and did not buffer and Extraction’s action scenes seemed to appear crisper and more fluid than when the VPN was not engaged. These are subjective observations, of course, but all measurements from the speed tests support the findings.
NordVPN offers four different pre-paid pricing schemes that range from a one-month pay-as-you-go offering to a three-year plan that discounts the price 70%. Like its competitors, NordVPN offers a 30-day money back guarantee. So, for, $11.95 you can use the VPN a month at a time. NordVPN’s one-year plan ends up costing $6.99 per month, but it’s billed out at $83.88, yearly. For two years of NordVPN, users can expect a one-time fee of $119.76, which breaks down to $4.99 per month. And for $125.64, billed once every three years, users can get NordVPN for $3.49 per month.
This article was originally published by IGN.COM