Private Internet Access Review – Can it Compete With the Major Players?
Private Internet Access is known as a VPN service that offers excellent value for money. With over 25,000 servers in 77 countries globally, it has one of the industry’s largest VPN networks. It’s apps and clients come packed with advantageous security settings while at the same time being intuitive and very simple to use. To top all of this off, all of the features are available at only a couple of bucks per month, making this VPN sound too good to be true.
But, on the opposite side of the coin, PIA is also plagued with a reputation of being unreliable and inconsistent. When it works, it can unblock and bypass any restriction—when it doesn’t, using it can be simply frustrating. So, does it have what it takes to compete for the top spots in the industry? Here are the results of our extensive tests on Private Internet Access.
TL; DR – Table Overview of Crucial Private Internet Access Features
- A massive server network
- A lot of advanced security settings
- No-logs policy
- Up to 10 simultaneous connections
- Based in the United States
- Not always reliable in going around geo-blocks
How Fast is PIA? – Testing their Speed and Reliability
Private Internet Access is by no means considered to be the fastest VPN on the market, and we knew this when going into the performance testing phase. Still, this VPN falls into the top ten services speed-wise, so we still expected relatively stable performance levels across the board. With that in mind, here’s what we’ve learned from the PIA speed and reliability tests.
When testing Private Internet Access’ speed and performance, we used a dedicated network suitable for 1-2 users to ensure objective results unaffected by any other devices. First, let’s take a look at the baseline value we got for our network connection without using a VPN:
After getting a baseline value for our network connection speed, we ran several tests connected to nearby Private Internet Access servers. Here’s the speed of PIA’s local servers:
After testing their local server speeds, we decided to expand the test and examine how PIA performs when connecting to a remote server. Here’s how PIA’s service performed when connected to a server on the other side of the globe:
Lastly, we also wanted to try just how functional and smart is PIA’s “Choose Automatically” option, so we’ve tested the speed and performance of such a server as well. Here are the results:
We were impressed to see just how intuitive and functional their “Choose Automatically” feature is. This is especially due to the fact that it even outperformed a local server we’ve selected manually.
One thing we want to note is that these screenshots are averages taken from several tests on the same servers. PIA offered very inconsistent testing results between each speed test, so you can’t always expect the same performance, even when connected to a local server.
Overall, PIA does offer above-average download and upload speeds, as well as relatively stable ping across all servers. That said, this service’s inconsistent performance is something to keep in mind if you’re primarily looking for a VPN that excelled in speed.
Private Internet Access Servers – Locations and Availability
In terms of pure numbers, Private Internet Access offers likely the biggest and most spread-out server base out of any of its competitors. With over 25,000 VPN and Proxy servers spread across 99 locations in 77 countries, you can count on a well-covered local network regardless of your physical location. PIA also comes with a SOCKS5 proxy included in its service.
The service highlights that it “only uses bare-metal servers for our VPN network for enhanced security and performance.” This is good to hear, as it means that there are no virtual servers that could potentially be compromised by a hacker breach.
PIA has also started rolling out RAM servers last year to narrow the gap between itself and the top two names in the industry. Based on their Next Generation network of hardened VPN servers, PIA’s RAM servers are still in the beta phase but show a lot of promise going into the future.
Aside from the sheer number of locations, it’s important to mention that Private Internet Access offers Gigabit VPN port speeds, as well as unmetered VPN transfer. They also advertise “Premium VPN Bandwidth”, but we didn’t get a clear answer from their support on what this actually means except that it includes unlimited data bandwidth.
Is PIA Safe? – Overview of their Security Features
Although it might not be the fastest or best-performing VPN in the industry, when looking at their security and privacy features, Private Internet Access undoubtedly ranks among the top VPNs on the market. If you’re a privacy-conscious user who pays great attention to every detail, here’s a detailed rundown of all of the PIA security features:
- Kill Switch – This feature is set on by default on all apps and servers to block any leaks by cutting off your traffic in case of any sudden network connection drops.
- PIA Mace – A privacy preference you can tailor to block all domains used for ads, trackers, and malware.
- Split Tunneling – PIA’s split tunneling feature allows you to route some of your network traffic through its servers while maintaining your real IP for all other apps or services.
- Port Forwarding – This VPN also supports port forwarding, enabling you to increase your torrenting speeds or remotely access your devices by rerouting incoming connections to bypass the NAT firewall.
- DNS Custom Configuration – As a part of their big Next Generation migration project, all of their servers now use private IPs instead of a public-facing DNS server.
- Custom Proxy Preferences – If you want to redirect your VPN connection through an additional location, you can also utilize PIA’s highly configurable proxy preferences.
- Dedicated IP Settings – For an additional purchase, PIA also offers a dedicated IP from any country of your choice. Ideal for businesses and highly-secure data transfers, their dedicated IP provides even better security for your sensitive information.
Aside from all of the highly-configurable features we listed above, we were also glad to see that the service also allows its customers to custom set both the type of handshake and data encryption standard they want to employ for their connection.
Does Private Internet Access Log User Data?
No, Private Internet Access doesn’t keep logs of any user activities nor personal user information. They don’t keep data records on your real IP address, the time you spent using their servers, or which sites you visit. The VPN maintains a spotless reputation for protecting customer privacy and is an excellent choice if you are looking for a service that guarantees absolute privacy for its users.
Private Internet Access Available Protocols
Compared to its competitors, Private Internet Access offers a limited selection of protocols you can switch between when using their apps. All of their apps support only a couple of protocols. This is because PIA has removed all other protocols from their devices apart from only two, as part of their Next Generation project we mentioned above. Having this in mind, let’s go over the two Private Internet Access protocols in more details:
- OpenVPN (UDP vs. TCP) – Easily configurable and offering the best balance between performance and security, the OpenVPN protocol is the default option in all PIA apps. It is a protocol that works excellently across all platforms and is regarded as the gold standard in its category.
- WireGuard – A new open-source protocol created in 2016, WireGuard is an increasingly popular protocol that differs from all others available out there. It has a hundred times fewer lines of code compared to the above-listed protocol and is streamlined, minimalistic, and much less draining on your device’s performance.
If you’re looking for many different protocols from your new VPN provider, PIA’s lineup may seem a bit disappointing. And, while the lack of L2TP/IPSec and IKEv2 might be noticeable for more advanced users, casual VPN users and beginners won’t experience any performance lacks from the two currently available protocols.
Private Internet Access Streaming Capabilities
Streaming with Private Internet Access can be a hit or miss. Up until last year, PIA servers were very unreliable at unblocking streaming sites, most notably Netflix. The service has updated its performance over the previous year, but there still are some persisting issues with unblocking major sites.
PIA has been reasonably useful in providing access to the US, UK, and Canadian Netflix versions. The main issue we had with their service in terms of streaming isn’t that it can’t unblock major sites. Instead, it’s that it can’t do this consistently on every try.
Aside from Netflix, we also tried unblocking several other big streaming sites. PIA servers also struggled in accessing the BBC iPlayer consistently, although they did work well on Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video.
Overall, when it comes to unblocking streaming platforms, PIA does outperform a lot of its competitors. That said, it still can’t match what leading VPNs like ExpressVPN and NordVPN can offer, especially when it comes to unblocking Netflix. Until PIA manages to fix these unreliability issues, we recommend you use a different VPN for streaming.
PIA P2P Support – Can You Torrent Using this VPN?
Although this VPN service shouldn’t be your first choice if you’re looking for a reliable VPN for streaming, PIA is more than suitable for torrenting. The sheer number of servers, advanced settings, and no bandwidth limitations make this VPN one of the better ones out there.
On top of this, the service has a zero-log policy, meaning that it won’t have any track records of your torrenting activities. A particularly convenient aspect about PIA in terms of torrenting is that it’s one of the few VPNs that offer port-forwarding. This tool allows you to route torrent connections directly to your computer, providing a great increase in overall torrenting speed.
As one of the more sophisticated VPNs on the market, PIA makes torrenting extremely easy. This is because you can test each server’s P2P speed and performance just by connecting to it, without even downloading anything. Moreover, torrenting is supported on every PIA server. With that in mind, we were encouraged to run several P2P tests on both local and remote servers.
We’d like to note that our dedicated network supports an upload speed of up to 2Mbps without a VPN connection. Here’s how it performed for torrenting when connected, first to a local and then a remote PIA server:
As you can see from the direct comparison above, there is a noticeable drop in torrenting speed between local and remote connections. The remote connection reaches only half of our regular download speed without a VPN. That said, it still offers solid performance for those users who want to access and download from restricted P2P platforms from remote servers.
Is Private Internet Access Expensive? – A Look at Their Pricing Plans
Private Internet Access offers its customers three price plans – monthly, yearly, and bi-yearly subscription. Their monthly plan is relatively expensive, matching the price points of some of the most expensive VPNs on the market. But, if you decide to commit to their service for the long run, you can still look forward to some excellent savings, especially with the two-year plan. You can see the specific price details in the image below:
As you can see from the image above, the up-front payment for their bi-yearly plan can save you a lot of money in the long run. This is because this service plan amounts to a little over a couple of bucks per month when spread over two years. Plus, customers who opt for the two-year plan will also get to use BoxCryptor for the PIA subscription duration.
Other than the BoxCryptor bonus deal, it’s worth mentioning that all three subscription plans offer the same service features. Among these are the free email breach monitoring support, up to 10 simultaneous connections, and 25,000+ servers in 77+ countries worldwide.
In terms of payment methods, you can choose from close to a dozen different payment solutions. This includes major credit cards, PayPal, and Amazon Payments. Non-recurring subscription buyers can also use alternative payment methods such as Bitcoin, Ripple, CashU, and others.
Can I try Private Internet Access for Free?
No, much like many other top subscription-based VPN services, Private Internet Access doesn’t offer a free trial plan you can try out without paying. That said, if you’re wary of the quality of their service, PIA offers you a 30-day money-back guarantee you can take advantage of to try out their service without any risks.
The service bumped up this offer, as up until recently, they were only offering a one-week money-back offer. The process of getting your money back is simple and efficient. All you have to do is open a new ticket with their support team, and they will promptly act on your refund request.
Private Internet Access Apps and Programs
Private Internet Access has created VPN apps and extensions for all major platforms. To make sure you get the most accurate and up-to-date information, we’ve tested each one. Let’s take a closer look at how Private Internet Access fares across each popular device and platform:
Private Internet Access for Windows
If you’re a proficient VPN user who knows his way around all of the critical settings a client like this can offer, the PIA Windows app provides you with the ultimate freedom to tailor your online experience however you choose. Aside from the general settings, the app is divided into several sections covering specific features. Here’s a detailed overview of the PIA Windows app:
- Privacy – The featured privacy preferences allow you to adjust kill-switch settings in the app. Additionally, you can also turn on the PIA MACE setting to block all ads and malware, which is turned off by default.
- Network – This part of their Windows client lets you switch between name servers, enable split tunneling, allow or disallow LAN traffic, or request port forwarding.
- Connection – The Windows app’s connection tab covers all settings that might interest you when tailoring your connection preferences. This includes but isn’t limited to the type of your connection, data encryption, preferred handshake, and configuration method.
- Proxy and Dedicated IP Sections – You can also tailor your proxy preferences to redirect your VPN connection through an additional location. Aside from this, the service offers you dedicated IP preferences so that you can secure your remote connections with a dedicated IP address.
The app is straightforward to navigate in terms of usability, despite featuring so many complex features. You can use the Quick Connect feature to connect to one of several recommended nearby servers. If you wish to browse for the server on your own, you can do so by opening the server list. Additionally, there is a search bar that you can use to type in the name of the desired server if you have a specific one in mind. The client also features loads of useful information, such as your download and upload usage, as well as an automatic VPN snooze function.
Private Internet Access for macOS
Similar in design and features to its Windows counterpart, the Private Internet Access macOS app offers nearly all of the same options that we discussed above, including split tunneling. It lacks a few privacy features compared to the client we talked about above but still provides you with more than enough advanced connection settings.
Although similarly designed, the macOS app is a bit more intuitive to use, as it’s not as overcluttered as the Windows app. Unlike the Windows client, which is available in 32-bit and 64-bit versions, this only supports 64-bit macOS devices.
Private Internet Access for Android
From switching between the two featured protocols to tailoring proxy settings and utilizing port forwarding, you won’t feel any lack of features compared to even the desktop clients. Plus, there’s also a built-in kill switch for maximum security if any Wi-Fi connection drops.
Available to download directly from their site or the Google Play Store, the PIA Android app comes with loads of features, all fitted nicely in a smooth and non-intrusive mobile application. The only thing we found lacking in the Android app was the split tunneling feature available in PIA’s desktop apps.
Private Internet Access for iOS
Like most VPN apps for iOS, this one doesn’t let the abundance of its features impact the performance and user experience iOS devices can provide. There aren’t many significant differences between the Android and iOS apps, as both include and lack the same settings. When it comes to the latter, this most notably includes the lack of the MACE ad-blocking feature.
Private Internet Access Browser Extensions
As of writing this review, Private Internet Access currently offers three different browser extensions, supporting Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. All three browser extensions work by redirecting your traffic through an HTTPS proxy server.
The browser extension looks similar to the other client apps, so you’ll have no problem navigating your way through it. If you wish to keep your browser extension usage only to its minimal capacity, you can easily use it with just one tap on the connect button. That said, PIA browser extensions also allow you to tailor the extensions quite a lot.
You can adjust split-tunneling options and explore other advanced privacy and security settings. Private Internet Access’ browser extensions aren’t dependent on the application, though you can use them together if you wish to. Overall, their browser extensions can do a lot more compared to what most VPN extensions can muster.
Private Internet Access for Routers
Like the majority of its competitors, Private Internet Access has made its service available for routers. If you want to secure your entire network directly from your router, you can do so by purchasing a router with Private Internet Access already pre-installed on it.
You can also set up PIA on your own on your existing router, provided that it supports such an option. If you wish to do so, you can find detailed info on supported routers and how to set up PIA on your router, all on their site.
How to Install Private Internet Access Apps?
Even though all of its apps and extensions come packed with tons of advanced features, Private Internet Access apps are very easy to install. This is because the majority of the installation steps apply to each device. Here’s a detailed step-by-step guide on how to install Private Internet Access apps:
- Choose the appropriate PIA app for your device on their website.
- Download and install the client.
- Once the installation is complete, input the login credentials you received in your email.
- Accept any permissions or configuration confirmations when prompted.
- Open up the app and connect to any server of your choice!
You can follow these steps across the board for any device you choose to install the service on. Having said that, if you get stuck along the way on any of the above-listed steps, you can rest assured that PIA has got you covered.
They’ve created an extensive knowledge base covering installation steps for each supported app. Their installation guides have step-by-step screenshots to make sure you get through the process without a hitch, even if you’ve never installed or used a similar app before.
PIA Customer Support and User Experience
In terms of their customer service, we can confidently say that Private Internet Access ranks among the best VPNs in the market. They offer around the clock customer support through a very efficient live chat service.
We must mention that, to get in touch with their support, you will have to share some details with them before getting through to a live agent. This includes your email address, network type, and connection method, among other details.
If you have a query but don’t wish to get in touch with live customer support, you can submit a ticket directly on their site. Alternatively, you can also browse their FAQ page or search their support library. The latter features data on almost anything you would want to find out related to PIA’s service.
Aside from their on-site support channels, PIA is also available on most prominent social media platforms, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Youtube. It was also interesting to see that PIA maintains a very active presence on Reddit, but we’ll cover this part in more detail in one of the following sections.
Private Internet Access Customer Experience From Around the Web
Aside from testing every VPN’s customer support directly, we also like to browse the web to get a better feel of the general online consensus surrounding a particular service. With Private Internet Access, this was particularly advantageous to do, as this VPN maintains a strong social media presence, especially when it comes to online forums such as Reddit.
Besides this site, we also tend to browse many other user review sites that can offer direct customer feedback, most notably Google Play. That said, let’s take a closer look at how PIA polls among its users across the web:
Private Internet Access User Opinions on Google Play
With over 32,000 user reviews and a 4.5 rating, Private Internet Access holds a high reputation on Google Play. However, we’ve noted that this service doesn’t respond to comments and reviews on Google Play, unlike some other top VPNs in the industry. We would like to see this improve in the future, as it can help further push their reputation of being a customer-friendly service. Let’s take a look at some of the recent praises and complaints this VPN has received on the site:
What does Reddit Think of Private Internet Access?
As we mentioned above, PIA runs it’s own subreddit with close to 13,000 members. There they announce updates and interact with the Reddit community on a fairly regular basis. Users can ask them anything there and expect a prompt answer related to their queries.
Aside from the PIA subreddit, many other Reddit threads are discussing this VPN service. This goes to show just how popular PIA is among the privacy-conscious Internet user base. The service maintains an excellent reputation on Reddit, mostly being praised for its torrenting abilities, but also criticized for its streaming ineffectiveness and buggy app clients at times.
Does PIA Offer a Good VPN Service? – The Bottom Line
With all of the good and bad aspects of this service we’ve highlighted on this page, does PIA amount for a worthy VPN service? In short, yes, Private Internet Access is still an above-average VPN. Their service is far from perfect, but it does offer a very robust VPN tool at affordable subscription rates.
Despite its unreliable connection speeds and sporadic inability to unblock websites, Private Internet Access comes packed to the top with excellent features. If you’re looking for a secure and private VPN, PIA is an excellent choice. Apart from its safety features, Private Internet Access is also one of the best-performing VPNs in terms of torrenting.
That said, if streaming is your number one priority, consider looking elsewhere. Hopefully, they will also improve on their existing faults, as the service has a lot of potential to rank among the industry’s best.
Private Internet Access FAQs
Is Private Internet Access Safe?
Yes, Private Internet Access is one of the safest VPNs on the market. Despite some lack of features in its service, PIA performs excellently on the privacy front. It’s a very secure and transparent VPN that doesn’t keep any logs or user information on its customers.
Where is Private Internet Access Based?
Private Internet Access is based in the US, with a headquarters in Denver, Colorado. This fact sits uncomfortably with many privacy-conscious users, as the US is a part of all major western intelligence operations and alliances. That said, since the US doesn’t have a mandatory data retention policy, PIA can’t be forced to log any data.
Who owns Private Internet Access?
At the end of 2019, Private Internet Access changed owners and is now owned by Kape Technologies. Their parent company is well-known in the VPN world, as it has previously acquired two other prominent VPN services, CyberGhost and ZenMate. This sale generated a lot of negative attention at the time, as Kape Technologies previously developed browser toolbars bundled with potentially unwanted programs.