Let’s face it: Using a virtual private network will slow down your internet — often by 50% or more.
It’s the nature of how VPNs work, and there’s really no way around it. However, there are a few things you can try to get the fastest possible speeds out of your VPN connection.
VPNs add a layer of encryption to your internet connection as your traffic gets routed through a secure server in a remote location. This is the process that’s primarily responsible for the speed loss. It takes time to encrypt and decrypt your traffic and for your data to travel to the VPN server and back to your device.
Other factors like the VPN protocol you’re using or the load on the VPN server you’re connecting through can also have a hand in slowing down your connection speeds.
The speed hit may be virtually imperceptible for normal internet use when you use a fast VPN, but you’ll want all the speeds you can get for data-heavy activities like gaming, streaming or video conferencing. A delay of even a few milliseconds can mean the difference between glory and failure in your online game. And slow VPN speeds can result in a ruined video streaming experience, spoiled by constant buffering and a heaping dose of pixelation. And if you’re using a VPN while on a Zoom call, you’ll want to do whatever you can to maximize your VPN speeds to ensure the call goes smoothly and doesn’t drop out.
If your VPN isn’t as fast as you need it to be, here’s what you can do to speed up your connection.
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7 ways to improve your VPN speeds
Connect to a server closer to your physical location
Generally speaking, the closer the VPN server is to your physical location, the faster your connection speeds should be. Your traffic will have a shorter physical distance to cover when it’s routed through a VPN server that’s close by rather than one that’s halfway across the world. If you’re in Boston, your VPN connection should be a lot faster if you connect to a VPN server in New York City or Montreal than one in Sydney or Tokyo, for example.
This won’t always be practical if, say, you want to stream content from a specific country or access a gaming server from a particular location. But when you need a faster connection, try connecting to a few different VPN servers close to where you’re physically located and see which ones yield the fastest speeds. Some VPNs will have a speed test feature built into their apps, but you can always use a speed testing website like Ookla Speedtest to check the speed of your connection.
If you’re looking for a VPN with tons of server locations, try ExpressVPN, which offers servers in 160 locations across 94 countries — so you’re bound to find a few relatively close to where you are.
Connect to a server that isn’t overloaded
When too many people are using a single VPN server, the server can get overloaded and your connection speed can take a hit. Some VPN providers display the current server load on their servers either in the app itself or on the website. If you choose one with a lighter load, you’ll generally achieve faster speeds. If your VPN provider doesn’t display the current load on its servers, try connecting to a few different ones to see which gets you the fastest speeds. Sometimes, it just takes a little trial and error.
Your VPN will lower the speed of your connection, but you can try to minimize that hit.
Try connecting via a different VPN protocol
A VPN protocol is a set of instructions between the VPN app on your device and the VPN server that determines how the secure connection is established. There are various VPN protocols and most providers give you the ability to choose between a few different options. Different protocols have different advantages and disadvantages in terms of speed and security, so if you connect via one VPN protocol rather than another, you can potentially boost the speed of your VPN.
Today, the gold standard VPN protocol is OpenVPN. It is the most battle-tested protocol, and it offers a nice combination of speed, stability and security — which is why many VPNs use OpenVPN as their default protocol. More and more VPN providers are now also offering newer VPN protocols like IKEv2 and WireGuard that promise faster speeds alongside excellent security. And some have even developed proprietary VPN protocols like ExpressVPN’s Lightway and NordVPN’s NordLynx that claim to offer the best of both worlds.
Switching to one of these other protocols, if offered by your VPN provider, can yield you faster connection speeds through your VPN. Just be aware that — though their security appears to be solid — these protocols haven’t been as thoroughly tested in the wild as OpenVPN, so they shouldn’t be your first choice for critical VPN use.
If you prefer to use OpenVPN exclusively, use UDP rather than TCP to get the best speeds. While TCP is typically the more stable option, it tends to be slower than UDP because it needs to send data packets in the right order and will wait for confirmation of receipt from the recipient prior to sending the next packet. UDP isn’t concerned about the order in which it sends data packets or getting any acknowledgment that they were received, so it tends to be much faster and more efficient, but less stable.
Most VPN apps allow you to change the protocol you connect through in their settings section, so try playing around with the protocol settings to see which ones get you the fastest speeds.
Enable split tunneling if available
If your VPN provider offers a split-tunneling feature, then try enabling it to see if you can boost your VPN speeds. Split tunneling allows you to send only the traffic you want through your VPN connection, while sending the rest unencrypted through your regular internet connection.
For example, if you’re using your VPN for streaming, you can allocate just your streaming traffic to go through the VPN, which won’t slow down your online gaming. This can help optimize your VPN speeds for certain activities, because all the excess traffic you don’t need running through your VPN won’t burden your bandwidth.
Use a wired connection
Using a wired connection will typically be faster than using your Wi-Fi. Chances are you’ve got several devices connected to your home Wi-Fi network all at the same time — devices that are all sharing and competing for resources on the same wireless channel. This can result in an unstable internet connection and, therefore, slower speeds. If you have the proper equipment, try establishing a wired connection by hooking your computer up directly to your router via ethernet cable and then connect to your VPN.
Close unnecessary apps running in the background
If you have apps running in the background that you’re not using, they could be taking up resources on your machine and slowing your connection. Take a minute to check if anything’s running in the background that you’re not using and close those processes. By clearing up potential bottlenecks like this, you might notice a faster connection.
Restart your router and other devices
When was the last time you restarted your devices? Just like anything else, tech like your computer and router occasionally need a little R&R. When you reboot your computer, you’ll give it a needed refresh, free up some RAM and get it working optimally. So, as cliche as it sounds, try turning it off and back on again, then see how your VPN speeds improve as a result.
Looking for more VPN info? Check out our other coverage:
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- Beware, That VPN May Not Be What You Think It Is