NordVPN and Private Internet Access (PIA) are among the big names in the VPN industry. Both offer similar features and we understand that it is extremely challenging to pick between these two providers.
In today’s guide, we will be showing you an in-depth comparison between these two VPNs to see which comes out the best. Hopefully, our detailed analysis will help you pick out the VPN that fits you right.
Factors to Choose a Good VPN
Below we will go through a few important considerations to take note of before deciding on which VPN service to subscribe to.
Obviously, a VPN needs to deliver lightning-fast speed that will not interrupt your online activity. It is absolutely pointless to get a VPN service that significantly slows down just when you need it.
Different tests with different services have found that a VPN generally reduces your connection speed by 5 – 20%, meaning the effects on online gaming can range from barely noticeable to barely tolerable.
The first thing you need to look at is the VPN service provider’s server proximity. You should be able to get the same level of security regardless of distance or location. On that note, you also need to decide whether you will be using the VPN from one location only or while traveling. Some VPN providers only have servers in a few countries and the internet performance will drop significantly when you’re outside of these countries.
Next, the overall speed of a VPN provider depends on the company’s technology and implementation. Not all VPN services are created equal – some work better for speed and performance while others may be slower but with a much better user experience. Ideally, you should keep in mind to look out for fast connectivity that is both reliable and consistent.
Unblocking Geo-Restricted Content
Many media content such as Netflix, Hulu, BBC, and HBO are geographically restricted due to license agreements. A good VPN is able to open up access to allow you to continue streaming your favorite movies and TV series regardless of where you are in the world.
On top of streaming Netflix, VPNs can also help you get early access to new games. Let’s say there is a particular online game that you’ve been eyeing for a long time finally drops a release date – but it’s going to be available in Japan first, hours before any other servers go live. If you hope to stay ahead of others, all you need is to connect to a Japanese IP address through a VPN and you’re all set and ready to go.
The main reason most people subscribe to a VPN is to ensure their data remains safe and secured. It is pointless to invest in a protection plan that easily leaks information to other parties.
How secure a VPN company really simply boils down to two main factors: encryption method and country of origin. Some VPNs use older or traditional encryption that is more susceptible to attacks, while only a few VPNs have proprietary encryption technology that is harder to break into.
On top of that, it is vital to know where your VPN service provider is based and what local laws might mean for your privacy. Some countries have local government laws that require companies to retain information on customers and their internet usage that needs to be handed over to the authorities as and when requested.
For a home gamer who does not need all the extra features offered by top VPN providers, you can save a lot of time and effort by choosing a user-friendly VPN that is easy to setup. In any case, customer service should always be available to help you prepare for the worst.
Many VPNs have live chat support that runs 24/7 but is difficult to reach by phone outside of their business hours. Some have phone customer service reps that run on shifts to help you out no matter the time. Others have robust tutorial videos and guides geared towards users who are more technologically proficient that only just need a leg up in resolving any issues.
Many VPNs now come with a wide range of pricing, now they’ve further complicated decision making by offering subscription period at great discounts. Some have high monthly charges billed monthly, but a much cheaper rate per month if billed annually, while some have lower monthly charges, but their annual bill remains almost the same. Newer VPN providers even offer affordable subscription plans for up to 5 years of service.
NordVPN vs PIA Review
In our comparison today, we looked into several important aspects listed below:
- Servers and Network
- Ease of Use
1. Servers and Network
Number of Servers
A VPN service is really as good as the number of servers available for users to connect to. All the best VPNs can afford to maintain a huge server and IP address park. This way the users can be evenly distributed among the servers to maintain speed and stability.
As of today, NordVPN is packed with more than 5,600 servers while PIA is at 3,375. Does Private Internet Access work? While NordVPN wins in this category by a huge margin, PIA is still one of the top VPNs in terms of number of servers.
Number of Countries
Another important aspect to take note of is the number of countries offered by the VPN service providers for their users to access the internet with. Generally, most VPN users prefer to hide their IP addresses, however, there is still a significant number of netizens that need an IP based in an “obscure” state such as in the case of accessing location restricted media content.
NordVPN supports 60 different countries while PIA has 32. Below is a list of countries available on NordVPN but not on PIA.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Both VPN service providers had decent speed test results. Just a little background info, all speed tests were conducted using OpenVPN with AES-256 encryption and my baseline speed was at approximately 160 Mbps.
I tested out the server speeds in several locations as listed below:
Private Internet Access
Overall, NordVPN offers much almost double the download speed of PIA across different countries. This could partly be due to NordVPN’s larger server network as compared to Private Internet Access. If performance is your top priority, NordVPN may be the better option to go for.
3. Netflix & Streaming
If you are a major Netflix lover, you’re gonna want to find out if your VPN supports streaming. Fortunately, NordVPN is able to access US Netflix without any issues but I still get redirected to an error page when I open Netflix through PIA. In any case, streaming Netflix through a VPN is often hit-or-miss as there are only a handful of VPN services that unblock Netflix.
NordVPN proves to be a better pick for Netflix fans as it works effortlessly to unblock content in the US, UK, Canada, France, Japan, and Brazil. This provider is well-equipped for consistent streaming with their great choice of servers and proprietary SmartPlay DNS feature.
Overall, NordVPN unblocks a large number of streaming services, both in the US and internationally, which includes Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, HBO, Showtime, and others.
Private Internet Access does not reliably block any of the streaming services, although some of their servers do provide access to Netflix at random times. All-in-all, it’s not the VPN to go for if you’re looking to stream media.
The great news is that both VPNs allow P2P connections on their servers. With that said, NordVPN has a quality-of-life torrenting feature that is not present in PIA. This makes it one of the best VPN for torrenting. You can find a separate tab in their app for you to choose from more than 4,400 servers to connect to.
PIA, on the other hand, is a little more spartan. Though you can still connect to any server for secure torrenting, their P2P-optimized servers mean the VPN silently reroutes your connection if P2P traffic is detected. The resulting double-hopping will likely slow your connection down and it is still better to pick the right server from the very start.
To further complicate the mix, PIA even adds a port forwarding feature for you to use. This is a feature that NordVPN does not offer but it’s only available on a handful of servers in Canada, Switzerland, France, Sweden, Germany, Romania, Israel, and the Netherlands. This feature is not too well explained on their website so you may need to take a trip to the forums to find out more details.
On top of that, both VPNs support SOCKS5 proxies which require an extra authentication instead of just encryption. These proxies also tend to provide better speeds.
Lastly, since PIA is a US-based service, they are obliged to follow a strict Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) policy. This may not be the best thing if you’re a major torrenting fan. NordVPN, however, is based in Panama and is therefore not as vulnerable to DMCA notices.
5. Ease of Use
What good would a VPN be if you face a difficult time trying to use it? Both NordVPN and PIA understands this and that is why their apps have stylish and intuitive interfaces.
NordVPN likes to keep things simple with a sharp design and a one-click protection with their quick connect button. You can also easily access their full server list presented on the main menu to quickly pick a specific location to connect to. The settings tab is easy to find with a decently long and organized list of everything you can tinker with.
For PIA, their app design features a much more compact and mobile-like style. While you can’t move the app around, you can customize it by adding quick settings, recent servers, and info on data usage and performance. PIA’s settings tab is divided into six categories, but their overall features stay about the same as NordVPN.
Another nifty feature is that PIA has the option to enable Dark theme that really boosts the app’s appearance. PIA also provides users with a little more freedom when it comes to connection settings.
As one of the best commercial VPNs available on the market, NordVPN and PIA work seamlessly on a variety of platforms. They both have dedicated apps for each major operating system, as well as specialized support for many other devices.
The majority of internet users prefer Windows operating system and both VPNs work impressively here. NordVPN app support starts from Windows 7 and up – similar to PIA. Although, NordVPN does have a little more flexibility with manual setups for XP and Vista versions.
NordVPN does require you to upgrade to at least version 10.10 (Sierra) for their app to work, while PIA requires version 10.11 (El Capitan) and higher. And again, NordVPN offers slightly more flexibility than PIA here.
Both VPNs work with most of the newer and older Android versions, thought PIA requires an Android 4.1 and above. Other than that, the VPN apps can even be installed onto your Android TV.
For those who do not want to go through the Google Play Store, you can opt to download the app’s APK directly from NordVPN or PIA website.
Both VPN services have native apps for your Apple devices, but you’ll need at least an iOS0 for either to work.
NordVPN fares a little worse off as it has limited Linux support compared to PIA. Both work on the Debian distros, but PIA is also compatible with Ubuntu (16.04+), Mint (18+), and Arch.
Both VPNs work with a wide array of router firmware such as DD-WRT, Tomato, and pfSense. Though NordVPN has a slight advantage with their support for additional firmware.
If you’re trying to set up a VPN router by yourself, you can easily browse through their well-written tutorials and extra resources from both services. There are even pre-configured routers available for both VPN services via third-party vendors.
NordVPN supports the following platforms
- Browser extensions (Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari, Internet Explorer)
- Media and gaming consoles (via router)
- Smart TVs (via router)
Private Internet Access supports the following platforms:
- Browser extensions (Chrome, Firefox, Opera)
If you’re concerned about the safety of your data, you need to take a good look at where your VPN service provider is based at. There have been many cases in the United States where government agencies have forced VPNs to handover user information. That is why it is important to look for a VPN provider that is in a “Safe” location far away from the fourteen eyes alliances.
In terms of jurisdiction, NordVPN is based in Panama which is much better than the US-based PIA. Panama is not a member of any of the international surveillance alliances and is not obligated to submit your information to the authorities.
Private Internet Access is headquartered in the United States and is considered as a bad privacy jurisdiction due to the country’s mass surveillance practices, data collection, and cooperation between other surveillance states.
However, there is no direct evidence to prove that jurisdiction will affect the privacy of your VPN users in a bad way. Like NordVPN, PIA was never caught gathering or sharing their customers’ private data. By weighing all the risks, NordVPN is still a safer option in the Jurisdiction category.
Considering the main reason people subscribe to a VPN service is for better privacy, almost every VPN claim that they do not keep any logs. However, most of the time you’ll find loopholes in the fine print or hidden behind intentionally vague statements. One way or another, VPN service providers do need to retain a certain amount of data on their users. This is where it’s critical to understand the difference between connection logs and activity logs.
While NordVPN is not subjected to any data retentions, the US-based PIA can be pressured by authorities to access user information. However, in order to get around this, Private Internet Access adopts a strict no-logs policy. You can’t give something you don’t possess.
PIA’s no-logs policy was tested in court twice where the company was unable to provide any useful information on specific users’ connection data. The only information the providers were able to offer was the email address you signed up with. This can easily be handled by getting a throwaway email address and paying the subscription with cryptocurrencies.
Similarly, NordVPN has a strict no-logs policy and they also allow payment in cryptocurrencies. However, the option is far fewer than with PIA.
Encryption and Protocols
NordVPN comes with military-grade AES-256 encryption. This uncrackable encryption is generally an industry-standard among all VPN providers. The supported protocols are OpenVPN and IK Ev2/IPSec which are great to have thanks to their good balance between security and performance.
Additionally, NordVPN guarantees Perfect Forward Secrecy thanks to their dynamic 2048-bit GH (Diffie Hell Mann) keys. NordVPN works with the OpenVPN protocol on major platforms like Windows, Mac, and Android while the iOS app runs on IKEc2/IPSec with the option of a manual OpenVPN setup.
PIE offers the same robust AES-256 encryption with 2048-bit DH keys, but in addition, the company even gives you the option to switch to AES-128. While the 128-bit encryption has lesser security levels, the connection speed does improve significantly.
PIA’s Windows, Mac, and Android apps run OpenVPN on default while iOS runs on IPSec. The VPN also can be manually configured with OpenVPN on your iPhone or iPad.
Both NordVPN and Private Internet Access take security functions very seriously, which is why you’ll find that they offer plenty of useful features with a lot of depth to them.
Is NordVPN safe? It uses CyberSec suite while PIA uses MACE feature that acts as ad blocking and anti-malware tools.
Both service providers offer DNS leak protection where you can choose to either enter your own DNS address or use one of the addresses provided by the service provider.
In terms of kill switch, NordVPN has two of them – one for your connection and another for specific apps on your device. Although PIA does not offer an app kill switch, it has its own feature that comes in two modes – Auto and Always. Auto mode will block outside traffic while the VPN is on and the Always mode prevents any traffic from leaking while the VPN is off.
Additionally, NordVPN features 460+ Obfuscated servers for users that require the extra stealth in their internet usage. These aren’t just any normal servers; they are an elaborate feature that transforms your VPN app with just a single click. When running in Obfuscated mode, you only have access to special Obfuscated servers, some of which even allow you to get past the Great Firewall of China.
PIA also provides a certain degree of obfuscation by allowing you to switch OPENVPN TCP to port 443. This option helps you bypass many OpenVPN blocks in several countries, but PIA still struggles to provide a reliable access into China.
Overall, NordVPN is the clear winner in this head-to-head competition. The company supplies excellent privacy protections, great multi-platform support, wide-ranging streaming support, comprehensive global server coverage, and excellent BitTorrent support. While Private Internet Access scored well excellent connection speeds and user-friendliness, this VPN lacks wider global server coverage.
Regardless of which VPN provider you find is best for you, it is always best to test them out first with a shorter subscription before committing to a cheaper but much longer payment plan.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is using VPN legal?
Yes, using a VPN is completely legal. It is in your right to protect and encrypt all your internet connection to protect your personal data. It is the same concept as using an envelope to cover your letters. Some information is better kept private to ensure you’re not vulnerable to all kinds of malicious cyber-attacks.
Am I anonymous when browsing through a VPN?
While a VPN greatly increases your security and privacy, it does not make you anonymous. By subscribing to their services, you essentially expose yourself and your online activities to the VPN provider.
You also need to take note of where your VPN service provider is based in. Many countries have a data retention law that compels a company to log user activity that they are required to hand over to the authorities. VPN companies that focus on privacy will accept gift cards cash, or Bitcoin as your subscription payment. You will also not be required to submit your real name, phone number, address, or banking details in order to use their services.
Am I safe when using public Wi-Fi hotspots with a VPN?
In most cases, it is safe to use public Wi-Fi hotspots with a VPN. VPN encrypts the traffic between your device and VPN servers. This way hackers won’t be able to read your data. Even if they somehow are able to intercept your traffic, all they will really see is useless encrypted gibberish.
As a Master Degree graduate in the Internet Technology field, Stefan is highly dedicated towards improving the overall web security so internet users can browse freely without having to be afraid of technical loopholes. With over 15 years in the internet security industry, you should definitely take his advice seriously.