How much does a VPN slow down the internet? Speed test results

A VPN is great for security and privacy, but does all that encryption slow down the internet? Here are the speed test results

The whole purpose of a VPN (virtual private network), is to provide privacy and security when using the internet, but this is no use if it slows down the net too much. So how much does it slow down?

For this test I will be using NordVPN, a service I recently signed up to. I got a great 2-year deal which works out at a few dollars a month. Not much more than a large Starbucks coffee really.

Here’s my affiliate link if you want your own secure and private internet - NordVPN.

Check my internet speed

Suppose you want to see how fast your broadband speed is, how would you speed test the internet?

This is actually quite easy and there are numerous online speed checkers to choose from. The best internet speed test and probably the most popular, is speedtest.net. It is very easy to use and gives great results, usually.

Web browsers cache web pages and associated files, so to avoid them interfering with the speed test you should open an incognito browser window (Chrome) or Safari private window on the File menu.

The interface is slightly different depending on whether you have Flash. I used Safari on a MacBook without Flash. Just click the GO or BEGIN TEST button and sit back and watch the speedometer-style dials as the site measures the upload and download speed of your internet connection.

Speed without VPN

Here are the results with NordVPN disconnected. This is a standard wireless internet connection using my home broadband.

Results of measuring the internet connection speed at speedtest.com

The final result was an download speed of 41.95 Mbps and an upload speed of 7.24 Mbps. The ping, which is a measure of the response speed of the internet, is 17 ms. (Upload speeds are always a fraction of download speeds and is perfectly normal.)

Results of measuring the internet connection speed at speedtest.com

That is around what I was expecting. I have a 72 Mbps fibre optic connection, except for the last 400 m running up to my home, which is poor quality copper wire. It drags the speed down.

Speed with VPN

Safari was shut down, NordVPN was enabled, and a new private window opened. NordVPN connected to the nearest VPN server based on my location, which was London, UK.

The test at speedtest.net was run again through the VPN and the result was completely unexpected.

Internet speed testing with speedtest.net

Surely this can't be right!

Results of measuring the internet connection speed at speedtest.com

This is crazy fast! In fact, I don’t believe it. I tried changing servers used by speedtest.net (there is a link you can click on the page with the Go button). The results were slightly different, but in the same ballpark.

I can’t explain the speedtest.net results. Turn off NordVPN and the speed went back to normal, turn it on and it was four times faster.

It was super fast with NordVPN, and obviously wrong. I would have thought that speed would be beyond the capabilities of a 2012 MacBook Pro's Wi-Fi.

Alternative internet speed tests

Speedtest.net is too well known, so a couple of lesser known tests were tried. The first was Which? Broadband Speed test. Which? is like a UK version of the US Consumer Reports.

This gave better results and here is the internet speed test with NordVPN disabled.

Which? broadband speed test results

43.66 Mbps download speed.

When NordVPN was enabled and the internet traffic encrypted to prevent anyone from spying or hacking, the speed was 40.29 Mbps download. That is 3 Mbps slower than the unencrypted connection.

Which? internet speed test results

I also tried Uswitch, which is a UK price comparison website. It lists broadband prices and it has a speed test utility.

Uswitch gave almost identical speed results whether NordVPN was active or disabled. It made little difference - about 0.8 Mbps in fact. That is within the normal variation of speed tests - run a test twice and it is never exactly the same.

Related: 15 ways to increase the security of your Apple Mac

Conclusion

It is clear that speedtest.net is wrong when testing the internet speed with NordVPN.

Other tests showed a small to insignificant difference in speed. It is certainly not noticeable when using the internet normally and the amount it slows down, if at all, is imperceptible.

The advantages of having a secure and private internet connection, especially when using a MacBook with public Wi-Fi far outweigh the tiny loss of speed that won’t affect you anyway.

You should be aware that not all VPNs will produce similar speed results. Free ones are really poor because they tend to be full of freeloaders trying to get a VPN for nothing. If you want performance and security, you have to pay for it, but it needn’t cost a lot.

If you want a good, reliable VPN, and I got the 2 year deal, here’s my affiliate link again: NordVPN 

 

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