Private Internet Access vs NordVPN – Full Comparison in 2023
Private Internet Access and NordVPN are two leaders in the VPN industry, both with plenty to offer. Secure browsing and torrenting, ad- and threat-blocking, great streaming capabilities, you name it. It’s a tight race between NordVPN vs PIA, but there’s a clear winner here.
We tested both NordVPN and PIA on a variety of streaming services and while torrenting. Then we also analyzed all of their features to get our result.
According to our tests, NordVPN is the better of the two VPNs in a few key categories, such as streaming support and overall speeds.
Exceptions include price, server number, location variety, encryption customization, and number of simultaneous connections.
Private Internet Access vs NordVPN at a Glance
Here’s a quick look at the main features of both VPN providers.
|Feature||Private Internet Access||NordVPN|
|Servers||Undisclosed (14,000+ estimate)|
|5,400+ in 60 countries|
|Audited no-logs policy||Yes||Yes|
|Pricing||From $2.19/month||From $4.19/month|
|Money-back guarantee||30 days||30 days|
|Customer support||24/7 live chat, email||24/7 live chat, email|
|Browser extensions||Chrome, Firefox, Opera||Chrome, Firefox, Edge|
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon Prime Video
|Split tunneling||Windows, Mac, Android, Linux||Windows, Android, Android TV|
|Other features||Kill switch|
NordVPN vs PIA Netflix and Streaming Support
|Streaming platform||Private Internet Access||NordVPN|
|Netflix||Yes (5+ libraries)||Yes (15+ libraries)|
|Number of Streaming Services||30+||30+|
|Smart DNS||Yes||Yes (SmartPlay)|
In the past, the words “Virtual Private Network” would conjure up images of high-tech cyber security features. And maybe the falling green code in The Matrix.
Nowadays, over half of all VPN usage (~60%) is to access the full library of various streaming platforms. Whether it’s Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, and many more, VPN services offer a quick way to a whole new world of content.
Both NordVPN and Private Internet Access are great on this end. They work with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and BBC iPlayer, among others.
However, the best VPN for streaming overall is NordVPN, as it works with more Netflix libraries than PIA. During our tests, NordVPN unblocked 10+ more Netflix locations reliably.
NordVPN has a smart DNS feature called SmartPlay that’s integrated seamlessly in their VPN app. This helps it bypass VPN blocks, including some of the more stubborn ones out there.
Private Internet Access also includes smart DNS with your plan. We like that you can manually set it up on devices that don’t natively support VPN.
Unblock streaming services on the big screen, whether you use Apple TV, Chromebook, Chromecast, PlayStation, Xbox, Roku TV, smart TVs, or other devices. Only five locations are available, though: the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, the UK, and Japan.
Private Internet Access offers 10 simultaneous connections. Meanwhile, NordVPN only lets you link up to 6 devices at the same time. PIA is the better option for larger households with plenty of gadgets.
Sadly, there isn’t a NordVPN or Private Internet Access app for routers. That said, they do have manual setup guides if you’re up for the task. Alternatively, PIA sells pre-configured VPN routers so you avoid the hassle.
VPN Server Locations
|Feature||Private Internet Access||NordVPN|
|Number of servers and locations||14,000+ estimate servers|
|5,400+ in 60 countries|
|P2P servers||Server network fully P2P-friendly||4,500 servers|
|Dedicated IP Addresses||United States|
|Specialty Servers||Multi-hop through SOCKS5|
|Colocated Servers||95 servers|
Private Internet Access has a much larger server network than any provider out there. They no longer reveal the actual number as of 2020, but estimates put it at around 14,000+ servers in 84 countries.
Why remove the server number from the PIA website? Your guess is as good as ours. We suspect it might have to do with scaling down operations to implement colocated servers. If you didn’t know, Private Internet Access used to have over 35,000+ servers at one point.
Aside from that, we appreciate PIA’s “50 servers in 50 states” initiative, where they offered at least one server (physical or virtual) in all US states. In fact, they added an extra one in D.C., for good measure.
The NordVPN server count is much smaller, at “only” 5,400+ units in 60 countries. That said, PIA has a number of virtual server locations that aren’t clearly advertised. It means that not all of their 84 locations have physical servers available, which may put off some users.
Both NordVPN and PIA servers are RAM-only, meaning any data passing through gets wiped upon reset. This will protect your data against government seizures, rogue employee attacks, and other threats.
A good chunk of the NordVPN server network is colocated, meaning they own all the hardware. You get better security standards, since no third party data centers are involved.
We do like that PIA has started colocating its network as well. Currently, the so-called NextGen Private Internet Access servers are mostly focused in major cities in North America, Europe, and Australia. NordVPN has had a head start in the process, so they take the win.
More importantly, NordVPN offers a wide variety of specialty servers, such as double VPN (aka multi-hop), Onion-over-VPN, and obfuscated servers.
PIA touts a multi-hop feature as well. Unlike NordVPN, however, PIA uses either a SOCKS5 or Shadowsocks proxy as the first “hop”. As such, it’s not a traditional approach, as it doesn’t route your VPN traffic through a second PIA server. SOCKS5 also doesn’t offer any encryption.
PIA vs NordVPN Speed Tests
Both NordVPN and Private Internet Access VPN speeds are amazing. That said, NordVPN has a slight edge in download speeds.
Here’s how we got our results.
First, we tested our speeds without turning on a VPN, using a Wi-Fi connection in Romania.
Specs for comparison purposes: 35.35 Mbps download speeds, 36.37 Mbps upload speeds. Close enough to the global averages (67.25 Mbps / 28.5 Mbps, Statista 2022).
Then we connected to three separate locations: the US, the Netherlands, and Japan. Some well-rounded locations in terms of Netflix libraries, and lax attitude towards torrenting (the Netherlands).
Note that the average speed test isn’t indicative of the actual speeds you get with each VPN provider. Connection quality, server locations and load, node path, time of day, and many other factors can influence speed.
In any case, here are our NordVPN vs Private Internet Access speed test results:
|Speed and Location||NordVPN||Private Internet Access|
|Download||34.21 Mbps||33.81 Mbps|
|Upload||20.70 Mbps||21.63 Mbps|
|Download||33.27 Mbps||32.53 Mbps|
|Upload||24.18 Mbps||23.91 Mbps|
|Download||30.12 Mbps||28.95 Mbps|
|Upload||19.53 Mbps||19.23 Mbps|
We did mention NordVPN is faster for downloads, though the difference in upload speeds was negligible.
NordVPN and PIA include a split tunneling feature, which lets you control which apps use the encrypted VPN tunnel.
NordVPN offers it on Windows, Android, and Android TV. Meanwhile Private Internet Access includes it in their Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android apps.
It’s a shame NordVPN doesn’t have split tunneling on Mac, Then again, there aren’t many VPNs that offer the feature on Android TV, either. It’s up to you to decide which one works best in this case.
We prefer NordVPN overall for their faster speeds, even when connecting to distant servers.
Torrenting with NordVPN and PIA
We’ve previously discussed how NordVPN is good for torrenting, and that PIA is a safe alternative as well. You can check those out for more in-depth coverage on the topic.
Looking for a quick comparison between NordVPN vs PIA for torrenting?
Well, NordVPN has the better speeds, but PIA has some great features for torrenting.
Before we get into those, here are the results of our torrenting tests. First, we downloaded a 5.03 GB torrent file in around 10 minutes.
Let’s see how the two providers compare. For reference, we used a server in The Netherlands and one in Mexico (both areas with lax attitudes towards torrenting).
|Download time||NordVPN||Private Internet Access|
|Nearby server (The Netherlands)||13 minutes||14 minutes|
|Distant server (Mexico)||18 minutes||20 minutes|
If you’re looking to download torrent files at high speeds without any extra tweaks, NordVPN is the best choice. It has over 4,500+ dedicated servers for torrenting and the locations are pretty varied.
Useful P2P Features
While NordVPN is faster, PIA is one of the few VPNs with port forwarding available. This feature lets more users connect to your device for faster download and upload speeds. Unfortunately, the feature is not available on their US servers.
Private Internet Access also provides SOCKS5 and Shadowsocks proxies through their multi-hop feature. Just in case you need the extra anonymity while torrenting. NordVPN only includes SOCKS5 proxies.
Both NordVPN and PIA come with full IPv6, DNS and WebRTC leak protection. We’ve also checked for torrent client leaks, and our real IP addresses never showed up in any test results.
Better yet, both are fully no-logs VPN services and come with independent audits to prove it. Private Internet Access even had its no-logs claims tested in court twice before. As expected, the provider had no user data to hand over to authorities, since it doesn’t collect any.
There’s a kill switch available in both providers’ apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android (system-side). We prefer NordVPN as you can control its kill switch on a per-app basis.
Each VPN provider comes with its own built-in ad- and threat-blocker. This is ideal when visiting most trackers that have sketchy ads plastered all over.
PIA Mace and NordVPN’s Threat Protection block ads, as well as filter malicious domains and trackers. NordVPN’s option even scans downloaded .exe files for malware on Windows and Mac.
PIA vs NordVPN Plans and Prices
NordVPN and PIA are two highly affordable options, especially if you decide on a long-term VPN subscription.
Here’s a comparison of their standard prices (no extra features included).
|Feature||Private Internet Access||NordVPN|
|Six month plan||$7.50/month||N/A|
|One year plan||N/A||$4.99/month|
|Two year plan||$2.19/month||$4.19/month|
Private Internet Access is about $1 cheaper on their monthly plan. Good to know if you’re on a super strict budget.
Where you really start seeing good savings is on PIA’s on their long-term subscription. Then again, not everyone will want to commit to a two-year plan. We’d like to see them add a one-year plan as well.
All NordVPN and PIA plans are backed by generous 30-day money-back guarantees. No complaints here.
PIA Payment Methods
We like that Private Internet Access offers multiple ways to pay for your subscription. You get the standard credit or debit card option (VISA, MasterCard, Amex, and Discover).
Naturally, you can pay through iTunes or Google Play through their Android app. You can also use PayPal or AmazonPay if you prefer.
Private Internet Access accepts gift cards for private payments as well. According to their website, you can get them from Starbucks, Walmart, Best Buy, and 71 more brands.
Lastly, you can pay using cryptocurrencies through Bitpay. Currently, PIA supports Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin payments (non-recurring subscriptions only).
NordVPN Payment Methods
NordVPN comes with a wide variety of payment options, much like PIA. You can pay using MasterCard, VISA, Amex, Discover, JCB, and UnionPay. Alternatively, you can use Google Pay, iTunes, and even AmazonPay in some regions (such as the US).
Thankfully, NordVPN also comes with the option to pay with crypto. For non-recurring subscriptions, you can pay with Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Ripple.
It’s also possible to pay with PayPal and Sofort by logging into your NordAccount. PayPal installments are processed through Paddle, an alternative payment processor that’s supposed to be more secure.
Finally, NordVPN is one of the few VPN services that let you pay in cash. Several retailers in the US, the UK, Canada, Germany, Ireland, and the Netherlands will let you pay for a NordVPN account.
NordVPN vs PIA: Privacy Comparison
NordVPN offers specialty servers for security buffs and is headquartered in a more privacy-friendly jurisdiction than PIA.
Other than that, some of NordVPN’s security features are slightly better in some respects. Here’s what we mean.
Private Internet Access is headquartered in Colorado, in the United States.
While the US doesn’t have any ISP data retention laws, it’s still a member of the infamous “14 Eyes” alliance. The countries in said alliance are well known for sharing mass surveillance data among themselves.
When comparing NordVPN vs Private Internet Access, we can see the former is located in a more privacy-focused jurisdiction. Panama has no mandatory data retention laws, and is not part of the “14 Eyes”, either.
Fortunately, PIA has a fresh no-logs audit to prove they don’t collect your data. Not only that, but their claims were also court-proven twice before. Still, it’s worth mentioning for anyone with a strong focus on privacy and anonymity.
NordVPN and PIA use top-of-the-line VPN protocols to secure your Internet connection against hackers and surveillance.
Both VPNs make use of the new and efficient WireGuard protocol. It’s more lightweight than OpenVPN, with fewer lines of code that make it easier to check for vulnerabilities.
Some of you may be aware that WireGuard has an IP-logging component that’s been criticized by security experts. Fortunately, NordVPN and PIA have resolved this issue in two different ways:
- NordVPN uses NordLynx, an upgraded version of WireGuard that integrates a double NAT system. Thus your actual IP is never stored anywhere.
- Private Internet Access uses standard WireGuard, but first sends an encrypted HTTPS request to their server for an IP address. Only then do they forward UDP WireGuard traffic.
In either case, your data remains completely secure.
Otherwise, each VPN comes with the standard OpenVPN option. They also have IKEv2/IPSec, which is great for switching between mobile data and Wi-Fi without dropping the VPN connection.
PIA only includes IKEv2/IPSec in their iOS app. NordVPN also has IKEv2 on iOS, but offers manual setup guides to include the protocol on Windows and Mac.
So far the two providers have been on fairly equal footing. But if there’s one place where NordVPN loses vs Private Internet Access, it’s encryption customization.
PIA lets you customize your OpenVPN and WireGuard connections:
- Switch between AES-256 and AES-128 on OpenVPN (less security for more speed).
- Change VPN port number to bypass potential port-blocking on your network.
- Use smaller data packets if your connection is unreliable. Leaving the MTU on Auto works pretty reliably.
- Change between static and dynamic IPs (DHCP) in case you have trouble connecting.
Note that you can use a custom, manual OpenVPN configuration with NordVPN as well. However, we like that you can do so from the Private Internet Access app itself, with no extra setup involved.
Logging Policy and Audit
As expected, both VPNs have been independently audited to ensure they stick to their zero logs claims.
- The Private Internet Access VPN audit by Deloitte can be found here (PDF file).
- NordVPN’s security audit (by VerSprite) can be found in your user dashboard under “Reports“. Previously, the provider has been audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers AG Switzerland.
You can rest easy knowing that neither provider logs your Internet traffic in any way.
No differences between NordVPN vs PIA on this end.
Both providers come with full IPv6, WebRTC, and DNS leak protection to ensure your privacy.
We’ve performed extensive leak tests in both cases, and found no leaks whatsoever.
Virtual private networks aren’t infallible. When your VPN connection fails (due to technical issues or other reasons), your identity may be exposed online.
Fortunately, an Internet kill switch acts as a fail-safe that turns off your Internet during disconnects. Both providers include this essential feature, plus some additional functionality:
- PIA has an “Advanced Kill Switch” that blocks all Internet traffic when you aren’t connected to the VPN. This feature is also present in the NordVPN app.
- Meanwhile, NordVPN’s “App Kill Switch” lets you choose which apps get turned off in case the VPN connection drops.
We prefer NordVPN vs PIA because of the granular control they offer. For example, disabling your torrent client or browser feels more convenient than completely shutting off all Internet traffic.
Of course, Private Internet Access is still perfectly usable, especially if you need complete privacy at all times.
Obfuscation masks your VPN traffic as HTTPS traffic, the kind you see for most regular websites nowadays. This helps you bypass VPN blocks at school, work, or in censorship-heavy countries like China and Russia.
You can access various obfuscated server locations in the NordVPN app, just under “Specialty servers.“
Meanwhile, Private Internet Access includes the setting under “Multi-Hop.” Here you can turn on “Multi-hop and Obfuscation” and route your traffic through either a SOCKS5 or Shadowsocks proxy. Such proxies are regularly used to bypass censorship in China.
PIA Shadowsocks locations include: the Netherlands, the UK, Switzerland, the US, Israel, Canada, and Japan.
Both providers’ obfuscation methods are effective at sidestepping firewalls at school or at work.
However, NordVPN is more effective at bypassing VPN blocks in China and similar restrictive regions. There have been reports of users getting PIA to work in China, but it’s not always reliable.
Double VPN Servers (or Multi-hop)
Speaking of multi-hop, those that require improved anonymity should use the double VPN feature found in the NordVPN app. Your traffic is routed through a secondary VPN server, and an extra layer of encryption is added for good measure.
Locations include Canada, France, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, the UK, and the US.
Note: iOS and Mac users should download the NordVPN app from the provider’s website. Unfortunately, the App Store version doesn’t include multi-hop or obfuscated servers.
Private Internet Access offer a non-standard multi-hop option using SOCKS5 or Shadowsocks, as mentioned in the previous section. Not exactly a 1:1 alternative, as VPN encryption is preferable to Shadowsocks. So we’ll have to go with NordVPN vs PIA this time.
More Features for NordVPN and PIA
In addition to these security features, Private Internet Access and NordVPN come with various tools to improve your online experience.
Split tunneling lets you choose which apps use the secure VPN tunnel.
Need better speeds in VoIP services like Discord or Skype? Watching your local Netflix library through the app? Whitelist them in your VPN settings and let your ISP handle the traffic instead.
- Private Internet Access includes the feature on Android, Windows, macOS, and in the Linux app.
- NordVPN only has it on Windows, Android, and Android TV.
Private Internet Access supports the feature on more platforms, and offers more control over what goes through the VPN app. For example, you can include or exclude individual websites as well.
Meanwhile, NordVPN only lets you disable VPN for selected apps. Still pretty good, but having extra options is always nice.
Ad-blocker and Anti-Phishing
NordVPN and Private Internet Access have each implemented new ways to boost your online security outside encrypting your traffic. With PIA Mace and NordVPN Threat Protection, you get:
- Built-in ad-blocking
- Tracker blocking
- Malicious domain filtering
In addition, Threat Protection scans downloaded files for malware (only on Windows and Mac devices). You don’t even have to be connected to the VPN for it to do its thing.
The feature is included in NordVPN’s Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and Linux apps. Meanwhile, PIA’s solution is only available for Windows, macOS, and Linux by default.
We do like that PIA includes the ad-blocker in its Android app despite Google’s anti-adblock stance. However, you’ll need to download an .apk file from the provider’s website instead of the Google Play Store.
Both features were highly effective against all manner of ads and trackers, even on sketchy websites (e.g. torrent trackers).
That said, the anti-malware deep scanning from NordVPN is a highly welcome addition – especially if you frequently download email attachments and such. Point goes to NordVPN.
Dedicated IP Addresses
For an extra fee, dedicated IP addresses can help you:
- Get rid of annoying CAPTCHA challenges online.
- Avoid being blacklisted by home banking apps, streaming platforms, and more.
- Whitelist VPN-secured devices on your workplace’s firewall.
Both Private Internet Access and NordVPN let you purchase dedicated IP addresses. Here are the available locations for each provider:
- PIA – the US, Canada, Australia, the UK, and Germany
- NordVPN – Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, the UK, and the US
With more servers available, we expected PIA to have a wider variety of locations. Another point for NordVPN.
Tor Over VPN
Normally, you’d need the Tor browser to access the Tor network for better anonymity (learn more here).
NordVPN added an Onion-over-VPN server category to make it easier to access the Tor network. No need to use a separate browser.
What’s more, using Onion-over-VPN hides your IP address from the entry node in a Tor link. That way, your identity is safe even if someone happens to monitor that section of the Onion network.
Sadly, Private Internet Access doesn’t include such a feature. You can still use it in tandem with the external Tor browser, though.
PIA is one of the few VPNs that support port forwarding (you can request it from the app settings). Note that it’s not available on their US VPN servers.
This feature is often sought out for torrenting purposes. Port forwarding allows for more incoming connections, and may speed up torrents.
Unfortunately, NordVPN does not include it due to security concerns. Because of their shared-IP architecture, opening ports on your device could also make you vulnerable to certain attacks.
VPN Browser Extensions
VPN extensions are a more lightweight alternative to a full VPN client. If you usually stream in your browser on your laptop, or just need a way to secure your browsing and payments, a VPN extension will do the trick nicely.
- NordVPN comes with browser add-ons for Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge.
- PIA offers extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.
NordVPN and PIA’s browser extensions come with Threat Protection Lite and PIA Mace, respectively. You can block pesky ads, cookies, and other threats straight from your browser..
Both providers’ extensions include in-browser split tunneling, so you can disable VPN protection for various websites.
Both VPNs offer email and 24/7 live chat, but PIA’s customer support seems to have suffered a downgrade in the past months.
Support reps do respond pretty fast, but responses are usually limited to copy-pasted information unrelated to your question. Your mileage may vary, of course.
On the other hand, we’ve seen no such problems with NordVPN’s support reps. We’ve always found them helpful and their answers were to the point.
Which VPN Service Should I Choose?
Depending on what you’re looking for, it could go one way or the other. Here’s a summary of our findings:
- There are many more Private Internet Access servers and locations, but some of them are virtual locations (which the provider doesn’t clearly advertise).
- NordVPN has faster streaming and torrenting speeds, and unblocks 10+ more Netflix libraries. Plus it’s more reliable at unblocking some popular streaming services.
- Private Internet Access lets you use 10 devices simultaneously, while NordVPN only allows 6.
- NordVPN is headquartered in a better jurisdiction (Panama), while PIA’s HQ is located in the US (part of the “14 Eyes” alliance).
- PIA has cheaper plans overall, but no yearly plan (you need to commit to 2 years for the biggest savings).
- NordVPN is more reliable at bypassing VPN blocks in countries like China. They also have various specialty servers for privacy-focused individuals.
- Private Internet Access offers SOCKS5 and Shadowsocks proxying, as well as port forwarding. NordVPN only has SOCKS5.
- Both providers have a built-in threat blocker, but NordVPN also scans downloaded files for malware on Windows and Mac.
Conclusion – NordVPN is the Better VPN Service in 2023
It really is a tight race between the two. PIA comes with more servers and cheaper plans, and has some great tools for torrenting.
However, NordVPN offers unbeatable security features, as well as faster speeds and slightly better streaming support. Plus it’s more reliable at evading VPN blocks in heavily censored regions, and is headquartered in a more privacy-friendly jurisdiction.
There’s something to be said about PIA’s customer support as well, but that’s largely anecdotal, so we don’t hold that against them.
Overall, while NordVPN is a little more expensive, it makes up for it by delivering better quality. In the end, you can always try them out risk-free for 30 days and see which works best.