NordVPN vs Private Internet Access (PIA)

NordVPN vs. Private Internet Access (PIA) – Who Should You Choose?

Security breaches, especially over the past few years, have been occuring on a massive scale. Companies such as Target, Equifax, and even Sony have been compromised leading to hundreds of millions of people having their information leaked. Our personal and financial information can be stolen by simply using a hotspot.

Companies I trust are proving themselves to be untrustworthy, and it seems any wrong move on the web can result in negative consequences. I have never felt the need to use a virtual private Network, or VPN, but now it seems unavoidable. With a VPN, I can have an encrypted network connection which will protect my IP address, location, and ultimately my personal and financial information.

There Are Many VPN Choices Available

While I was incredibly relieved to know something like a VPN can protect me, the amount of choices available to me were overwhelming. Out of all the different VPN services that exist, which ones were best for me? PIA and NordVPN are the two I decided to compare and contrast.

The Protection of Your Privacy

One of the main reasons I wanted to use a vpn was to protect my private information, including my bank account information.  When you use a VPN, you are using something that allows you to communicate over a public, unsecured, unencrypted network in a private way. All your data is passed through an encrypted tunnel, which means this data is encrypted as well.

So what is accomplished when using a VPN server? When you connect through a VPN, any server you make an active connection to (even when simply browsing) will only see the IP address of the VPN server and not your personal IP. This means that your location is hidden.

Logging Your Information

Using a VPN can hide your internet traffic from your ISP, but not everything is encrypted and anonymous. One potentially serious drawback is a VPN’s logging policy. For various reasons, your VPN may be logging your connection data to aid in server maintenance or even to sell it in the future.

When choosing a VPN, it is important that logging is kept to a minimum. Any information they may keep can defeat the purpose of having a VPN in the first place. Any logs that are kept should be for maintenance purposes only. The fewer the logs they collect, the better off you will end up being. Also be mindful of where your VPN service is located, as some countries have a data retention policy.

What Makes a VPN Great?

What VPN you ultimately end up choosing really depends on what you are going to use it for. When used strictly for your own privacy, things to look for include powerful encryption, tools in place to reduce or eliminate DNS or IP leaks, and minimal or no logging. When looking at a VPN service for media usage such as Netflix, you need to ensure that it is allowed or configured to do so.

Another consideration when choosing a VPN might be the number of servers as well as the location of those servers. If the VPN offers servers in different geographic locations, you have the potential to access more sites as well as greater speeds. Someone who lives in a heavily censored country could access a site that would otherwise be blocked by choosing a VPN based on the location of a server.

Affordable

Some VPN services are free, and some you have to pay for on a monthly basis through a subscription. A great rule of thumb is to avoid the free VPN services, as these may be nefarious. Discounts may exist over longer subscriptions, so this may be something for you to consider if you need to save money.

Some VPN services also go the extra mile to stay consistent with protecting your information. Anonymous payments like gift cards or cryptocurrency means you can make purchases without your name, address, or private payment information. In the end though, choosing a VPN based on price depends on what you are trying to achieve. Added security, better compatibility, and even faster speeds can mean a bigger bill in the end.

NordVPN vs PIA

PIA and NordVPN are two services that continuously pop up among the best performing and most popular VPNs’. With my goal being mainly privacy, I decided to compare and contrast the two to decide which one was a better choice for me. Perhaps some of the information I discovered will be helpful to you as well.

Privacy

If you are purchasing a VPN service, you want to know that there are effective security and privacy features in place. PIA and NordVPN both excelled when it comes to comprehensive features to protect you and your information.

Encryption Strength

Encryption strength is critical to keeping the VPN tunnel and your data secure. The more powerful the encryption bit, the more protected you are. Strength can slow a connection down though. This is why it is important to be able to select your encryption strength NordVPN uses AES-256 bit-GCM encryption right off the bat, while PIA starts at AES 128-bit encryption with the option to change it up to 256.

Logging Your Information

As stated earlier, logging is an important consideration when adopting a VPN. Both companies claim to have a strict, no logging policy.  For the most part, this is true. However, both VPN servers will record your email address and payment information. If you want to go the extra mile to protect your privacy, use a fake email address and an anonymous pay source such as a gift card or cryptocurrency. Both companies allow them.

NordVPN though, states that performance data is tracked throughout your usage of their service. If you find yourself concerned about this, the company does state it is solely to analyze and determine which server might be the most suitable for your needs.

DNS Leaks

NordVPN also states that if offers protection from DNS leaks. This can help prevent leaks if my system or device were to accidentally connect to a public DNS server rather than through the VPN. A leak can potentially expose information I am trying to protect. NordVPN manages their own DNS servers, which means they have control over how they are configured in terms of logging.

Looking through PIA’s site, I have not been able to find anything that states the service offers any mitigation for DNS leaks. This was a little concerning. Different test results though, show that NordVPN and PIA demonstrated no DNS leaks.

Bandwidth and Performance

Even though you are using a VPN, you still want to maximize the performance your ISP offers. You may still be able to download or stream videos at a reasonable rate. Privacy comes at sacrificing performance, but finding a balance was important for me. Neither PIA or NordVPN disappointed me when it came to performance.

The Results

NordVPN has claims like “blazing speed and performance” all over their website. These statements are not without merit, as different speed tests showed NordVPN is a superior performer. Some download speeds have been clocked at 87.5 Mbps with upload speeds at 66.3 Mbps.

PIA also showed excellent performance with some download speeds being measured at 72.8 Mbps and upload at 68.2 Mbps. There is still about a 15 Mb difference in download speeds between NordVPN and PIA, but PIA does not plaster speed and performance on their site like NordVPN does.

The Importance of VPN Speed

Security will always be the base of VPN use, but users are also implementing VPN services in order to access streaming sites that may be blocked, play games that may be locked down to a specific region of the world, or even downloading anonymously.

Speed is an important factor for many users now, as a VPN with lack thereof means you may spend an unnecessary amount of time even trying to access a specific website. If it comes down to an extra few dollars for better speeds, it might be worth the consideration.

Amount of Servers

The amount of servers available to connect to may be another important factor when considering which VPN to go with. How far away one may be from you, level of use a server is experiencing, and even the location of a server can determine what you can access, and how fast it is accessed.

Generally, the more users and the more geographical distance between you and the server there is, the slower everything is going to be. You might want a larger number of servers to connect to, geographically spread out, so you are not limited in performance.

NordVPN vs PIA Number of Servers

PIA and NordVPN are both known as two of the top VPN services when it comes to the number of servers in different countries. PIA has over 5,000 servers that reside in 60 different countries, and PIA also has an astounding number with over 3,300 servers in 32 countries.  

The numbers for both services are constantly increasing with the addition more in an effort to meet demand, as well as retain performance.

Extras

VPN services also offer an array of different options to make them more attractive, and these may ultimately be the deciding factor to a selection. Different features are constantly being added to both NordVPN and PIA.

Kill Switch

A killswitch could possibly mean the difference between your IP address being exposed and staying private. Whether you are using a VPN service or your internet connectivity cuts out, your system can potentially automatically connect to a public network. This could be your home WiFi and expose your information. When you use a killswitch, the VPN disables the local network card until VPN services are backed up.

Multiple Connections

The ability to have multiple connections is a great feature that your VPN service may offer. Number of devices, regardless of OS or platform, does not matter. Your phone, computer, or tablet can all be connected at once and you still will not be charged. NordVPN allows up to six simultaneous connections, while PIA offers a bit more at ten.

Other Benefits

Ease of configuration of use is another important consideration. Both NordVPN and PIA were able to be downloaded quickly, and using them is simple and straightforward. Both services also offer additional protection in the form of ad-blocking and no data cap with unlimited bandwidth.

Customer Service

If you are not the most computer-savvy individual and still want to protect yourself while browsing the internet, you need to know that you have the support to download and use the product effectively.

Customer service is incredibly important because you are paying for a service, and you need to know that a question can be answered in a timely and effective manor. This is why I looked into NordVPN and PIA’s customer service options.

NordVPN Customer Service

Upon accessing NordVPN’s homepage, one of the first things that you might notice is a live chat capability. This can be a great first resource as you can ask a live person for help. Most of the time though, it is for sales purposes only. The agent through NordVPN seems to only direct you to articles and tutorials. Emailing them for technical questions is the better option.

NordVPN also has an amazing knowledgebase, containing guides and tutorials for every aspect of their VPN service. It not only provides you with additional insight into the VPN, but allows you to possibly answer questions well before waiting for technical support to answer them.

PIA Customer Service

PIA also has a live chat functionality on their web page. The downside here is that it is only available for customers actively paying for the product. This is a nuisance if you are curious about the service, as you are restricted to contacting them through email or other methods. PIA also offers an expansive knowledge base page that contains different articles, news, and guides.
PIA also has a presence on social media through Twitter, and have been pretty responsive in answering questions customers may have. It is more of a nicety though, as not everyone has a twitter account.

Media Streaming

As stated earlier, people use VPNs’ for a variety of different reasons outside of web security and privacy. Media streaming is something that many are requiring to even consider a VPN service. In certain countries, any streaming like Youtube, Netflix, or Prime can be blocked. And while VPNs’ may have geoblocking circumvention, it does not mean they are stable enough to be successfully proficient in streaming.

NordVPN’s SmartPlay

SmartPlay is a feature of NordVPN specifically for the purpose of streaming. It provides access to 400 sites that are being geoblocked such as Netflix. It is built right into the VPN app, making it easily accessible. When tested with Netflix, five out of the six servers that were connected to allowed for successful streaming.

PIA Streaming Features

PIA’s website does not specify anything that says it allows for media streaming. It relies on the fact that of all the servers they currently manage, many are bound to allow streaming. This is most likely done in order to prevent different entities from cracking down on VPNs.

When PIA was tested, only one out of four sites allowed Netflix streaming. PIA, while it does allow for streaming, might not be what you want to use if media is your primary purpose.

VPN for Gaming

People are even adopting VPNs for the purposes of gaming. The benefits a VPN may give to a games is access to games that might be geo-restricted, as well as tournaments in countries they otherwise could not access in their home country.

How PIA and NordVPN Performs With Gaming

NordVPN advertises fast speeds and streaming capability through their SmartPlay. They have also built a pretty good reputation when it comes to gaming as well. It is ranked number two as a VPN adopted for the purpose of gaming. Gamers using NordVPN experience fast connection speeds, the right amount of bandwidth required for gaming, as well as compatibility with different platforms.

PIA, like many other functionalities it has, does not cater advertisement to the gaming community. Much like NordVPN though, users have said that PIA has an excellent selection of different server locations and speeds. PIA might be a great choice for the avid gamer.

Torrenting

In terms of performance and ensuring your downloads remain anonymous for torrents and P2P, NordVPN shines. They have a selection of servers dedicated to P2P activity in an effort to keep your activities secure. There are also hundreds of these server types dispersed around the world.

PIA is known in the VPN world as being one of the best when it comes to downloading torrents and P2P (peer-to-peer) sharing. It does not discriminate when it comes to the torrenting client you use, it does not throttle traffic, and does not monitor traffic.

NordVPN vs PIA Pricing

In terms of cost, both PIA and NordVPN are affordable options. NordVPN is the slightly more expensive option coming out to a little over $12 a month, as opposed to  PIA which is around $10 a month. Money can be saved over the long haul with discounts over longer subscriptions for both of these services.

When you sign up for a three-year subscription with NordVPN, the cost is $2.99 a month. PIA is $3.11 a month for a two year plan, while also offering the first 3 months free. If you are confident in what VPN you are going to use for the long haul, a longer subscription saves you money.

With a three-year subscription, NordVPN drops to $2.99 a month. PIA drops to $3.11 a month for a two-year plan with the first three months free. So if you are confident in the VPN you want, a longer subscription may be the better option in the long run.

Final Thoughts

You cannot go wrong with Either PIA and NordVPN. Both options were affordable in terms of cost. They are among the best in providing security, and both have thousands of servers located around the world.

The ability to connect multiple devices simultaneously through a single subscription as well as great speeds mean that either of these VPNs’ simply come down to preference in terms of which one is better.

Privacy

If protecting your personal information is your main goal, PIA is the better option.  Cost is lower, and encryption can be configured to your preference between AES 128-bit encryption  and 256. This in conjunction with a killswitch and no known DNS leaks, it is a great and secure option.
PIA is known in the VPN world and has a strong reputation. In  2017, it was considered the “Most Stable VPN”. For privacy, you cannot go wrong by using PIA.

Additional Features

NordVPN wins in terms of extra features. Security is strong at 256 bits, and other features like DNS leak protection and a killswitch also exist. It also has something called Onion Over VPN, protecting you when you browse the dark web. The Smartplay option is also a nice touch when it comes to media streaming.

In Conclusion

Both VPNs’ have great features and are comparable in performance. It really comes down to what you want to use a VPN for. Both have excellent reviews, so either are a great option.

Related Questions

Here are answers to commonly asked questions and concerns regarding VPNs.

Will NordVPN or PIA Circumvent the Great Firewall of China?

China is incredibly strict and rigid when it comes to internet censorship. They block most sites that do not benefit the interest of the government, leading to most entertainment and western sites, to include social media, being blocked.

The Results

Both NordVPN and PIA have been reported to connect to the public internet six out of seven times, according to one study. As aggressive as China is though, these VPN services might not always work in the future as the country has put forth many technologies to discourage the use of VPN services.

What Is a DNS Leak and How Does MY VPN Protect Me?

Most of us have never heard of a DNS leak. We type in an internet address and a page simply pops up. In order for that to function the way it does, there is a lot that happens behind the scenes. DNS stands for Domain Name System.

Everything on the internet relies on IP address to communicate much like a phone relies on a phone number. Rather than memorizing digits to hundreds of different pages, a DNS server translates a name, like google.com, to an IP address automatically.

What’s a DNS Leak?

When you use a VPN for anonymity, you want to avoid public DNS servers that exist on the web because they log your connection information. When using a VPN, your traffic is routed through a DNS server managed by them. If your VPN connection drops while you are browsing, your traffic may revert back to using a public DNS server. This is what a DNS leak is.

How a VPN Can Help

DNS leak protection is starting to become standard with VPN services to ensure your DNS requests will never be leaked and recorded. You can test a VPN on your own to ensure DNS leakage is not an issue.