Proton VPN, from the creators of ProtonMail, claims to prioritize your online privacy even on its free tier. It also purports to offer fast speeds and specialty servers. You'll struggle to find a VPN with better security and privacy credentials, but how does it compare with the biggest players in the game?
Overall, Proton VPN is a solid choice for those seeking a trustworthy and secure VPN. It’s tough to find a VPN with a better history of upholding internet freedom, and its security features are top-notch. The free version is also worth a shot, and there's a 30-day money-back guarantee to explore all its benefits risk-free. There are only a few minor issues that prevent it from being the very best.
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Streaming — A Great Choice for Avid Streamers9.0
Proton VPN’s streaming-optimized servers worked well with all the popular services my colleagues and I tested. I made use of an international team of testers to make sure Proton VPN works with the services legally available to you. The only small issue we had on occasion was when switching between a few Plus servers to find an optimal match.
Free servers also work with many platforms. They're not as efficient, but I was pleased they
managed to let us watch Peacock and Max libraries from the US. However, they took a while to load. Some of our testers could only watch Netflix Originals with free servers too. Still, considering these servers are usually congested, the experience was surprisingly good.
Here's a compilation of streaming services that Proton VPN is optimized for. However, this list might change, so I advise you to regularly visit Proton VPN's official website for updates. I appreciate that the VPN provides a guide for the platforms it supports.
|Amazon Prime Video
While you could theoretically use Proton VPN to access streaming platforms that aren’t available in your region, please be aware this will go against their terms of service and result in violating copyright laws.
Important. My team and I do not condone any copyright violations. Proton VPN uses a verified zero-logs policy, which means it promises to never monitor your online activities. That means it’s up to you to use it responsibly. We recommend you always follow the rules and regulations of any app, service, or site you access.
Works With: Netflix
My international team of testers and I could watch Netflix in several countries, including the UK, the US, France, and Japan. Our best results came with the optimized servers, which let us load videos instantly.
Our UK tester could access all the exclusive titles available for their region
The US servers also let my American tester watch What's Eating Gilbert Grape, a movie that is only available in the US library.
Works With: Hulu & Disney+
Very few VPNs can load videos on Hulu, so I was glad Proton VPN did.
They were able to watch the entire episode without any buffering or quality dips
With the same server, my American colleague could stream Marvel Studios LEGENDS on Disney+ too.
Works With: Peacock
Our US testers watched several videos on Peacock with the streaming-ready servers.
The video quality stayed consistently good throughout, and there was no buffering
The first two servers tested actually offered poor video quality, which was quite frustrating as they were also optimized for it. So, be prepared to anticipate such experiences.
Works With: ITV
In our next tests, ITV streamed just as well as Hulu and Disney+, even when our UK correspondent jumped to different sections of the videos.
The video took a few seconds to load, but its quality stayed steady throughout
It also let us live-stream several programs, including Love Your Garden, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, and Inspector Morse in HD.
Also Works With: BBC iPlayer, Max, ESPN+, and Amazon Prime Video
Neither Max nor Amazon Prime Video recognized that any of our testers were using a VPN. There were a few moments of buffering when I jumped around on Prime Video, but the image quality was impressive. My colleagues in various European countries where Max is available could also access it.
Watching videos on BBC iPlayer and ESPN+ was also straightforward. However, my colleagues had to switch among a few UK servers before finding one that worked well with BBC iPlayer.
Aside from the hiccups with a few servers, Proton VPN is a solid pick for streaming enthusiasts if you get the premium version.
Speed — Fast on Nearby Servers; Reliable on Many Distant Ones9.8
Proton VPN offers fast speeds, with only minor slowdowns at long distances. You’ll get the best speeds using Proton VPN’s WireGuard protocol. We used it for the results reported below because it consistently outperformed the other protocols.
I also got good speeds on its free, Secure Core and P2P servers. However, speeds on free servers can change rapidly, which I’ll explain in further detail below. The Tor servers were consistently slow, but that’s no surprise due to how that technology works.
For consistent, reliable comparisons, all speed tests were conducted from a single location using the same internet connection. Our UK-based speed specialist conducted at least 10 tests for each server to determine average speeds.
We ensured the VPN Accelerator feature remained on to get the best results. It's designed to give you the best speeds, particularly when connecting to distant servers, even on a less reliable internet connection. It’s enabled by default. I observed a speed boost ranging from 1.4% to 2.6% when it was active, so it's beneficial to keep it on at all times.
Here's a breakdown of the 3 primary metrics we examine in our tests:
Our speeds dropped 7% on average with nearby servers, and 26% on distant ones
- Download speeds. This indicates the rate at which you receive data, and it’s measured in Mbps (megabits per second). It determines how quickly you’ll be able to stream, browse, torrent, etc.
- Upload speeds. This determines how fast you send data. You’ll want high rates to send emails, post on social media, upload videos, and more. This, too, is quantified in Mbps.
- Ping. This measurement represents the time it takes for your data to travel. A lower ping ensures a more responsive connection, which is crucial for online gaming. It’s measured in milliseconds (ms).
Only a handful of VPNs I've tried can outpace Proton VPN in speed. Typically, most VPNs reduce your speeds by about 10-20% when connected to nearby servers. Even at a distance of 5,000 km, Proton VPN only reduced our speeds by 9%.
At extreme distances, the majority of VPNs will slow your connection by over 60%. We only experienced a 41% reduction when connected to a New Zealand server, 18,000+km away from our tester in the UK.
Proton VPN's speeds on local servers were nearly on par with the fastest VPNs we've tested — averaging a drop of only 5.3%.
Proton VPN’s Frankfurt server dropped my speed by only 6.1%
Except for the Tor servers, every other server in Europe we tested reduced our speed by no more than 8%. This is commendable, as even with a relatively low starting speed, you can still stream and browse without any problems. The ping rate was also consistently impressive across all these servers. It stayed under 50ms, which is ideal for gaming.
On distant servers, it delivered solid speeds for most online activities. As you’d expect, with increased distance came slower speeds. The farthest server we could find was in New Zealand. However, as I mentioned above, it still gave us fast enough speeds for high-bandwidth activities like streaming and torrenting.
A 29% drop is remarkable, given the server was 11,000+ km away
We only recorded significant speed reductions on crowded servers. For instance, at one time, all premium servers in Japan were running at over 60%. I genuinely appreciate that the VPN provides this information (which it calls server load) since many of its competitors don’t.
Optimized Server Speed
Speaking of different server types, we decided to test each of Proton VPN’s categories to see how they compare.
Rerouting traffic via Tor lowers speeds significantly whether you use a VPN or not
For a precise comparison, we primarily tested servers from the same city. I was impressed that some free servers performed on par with the Plus ones. This was largely due to their low server load at the time of testing. But, it's worth noting this can change rapidly as they often become congested.
Secure Core servers were also fast despite providing double encryption. P2P servers are tailored to facilitate fast downloads and uploads, and some are even optimized for streaming, so their speed didn't surprise me. Tor servers were extremely slow, but this is almost impossible to avoid due to how the Tor network encrypts your traffic.
Speed-wise, Proton VPN can rival the performance of most top VPNs on both nearby and faraway servers.
Gaming — A Good Pick for Online Gaming Enthusiasts8.8
Proton VPN will let you stay safe while you enjoy online games. You’ll want to use a nearby location because they offer lower ping rates, which are important for gaming. Ideally, a ping rate below 100ms is what you want for lag-free gaming.
In my tests, it let me play the multiplayer game World of Tanks without problems. I tried different game modes, and in each, I successfully maneuvered my vehicle to pull off victories against tough opponents.
I suggest connecting to a Plus server with a low load for smooth gameplay
I also tried the more fast-paced Apex Legends and had a similar experience on the nearby Nigerian servers. Although the VPN recommends trying the P2P-optimized servers for gaming, I didn’t observe a notable difference when I connected to the Plus servers in South Africa. Both servers were within 4,000km of my location, so I anticipated similar performance from them.
I'd advise against relying on its free servers for gaming; they exhibited more lag than I'd hoped for. Overall, it’s a great VPN for gaming, but only if you’re a paid subscriber using a server close to you.
Server Network — Not in Many Countries, but Has Lots of Specialized Servers8.8
Proton VPN doesn’t have servers in the most countries, compared to other VPNs, but the specialized options make it quite flexible. It offers 3,217 servers in 71 countries that cover Europe, North America, Central America, South America, Asia, the Middle East, Australasia, and Africa.
They’re normally faster than country-level servers, and most VPNs restrict them to specific countries
To the left of each server name is the load percentage, and it also appears at the top next to the IP address once you’re connected. You can also quickly gauge how full a connection is by noting the color: green is low, yellow is moderate, and red means it’s quite crowded.
Another nice thing about its servers is that they don’t use third-party DNS servers. This is good because it eliminates another way hackers have to intercept your information. Plus, it supports custom DNS server setups on Windows and Linux for alternatives like AdGuard DNS.
The VPN rents some servers but thoroughly vets its partners. Plus, they’re located in trusted data centers, and they use full disk encryption. This means no third-party can extract data from them. The ability to encrypt the entire storage system is the reason Proton VPN states it never uses RAM-based servers.
It also works with its partners to ensure it can’t be compelled to follow laws in countries outside of Switzerland, where it’s based. On top of that, it owns all Secure Core servers, so if you prefer not to use the ones it leases out, then consider opting for them for an extra layer of security.
Proton VPN has 100 free servers in 3 countries: Japan, the Netherlands, and the USA. Many VPNs only offer 1 server to free customers, so this is impressive. Plus, there’s no data limits on them, and you can use the Quick Connect feature to connect to the best available one.
Even though Proton VPN has a smaller server network, its servers are secure, updated frequently, and serve several useful functions.
As implied by its name, this feature connects you to the fastest server near you. It uses factors such as server load, your location, and distance to the nearest server to make the selection. I use it whenever I don’t want to pick one myself.
Proton VPN offers virtual servers in countries such as Cambodia, the Philippines, and Egypt. This capability, referred to as Smart Routing by the VPN, allows you to connect to an IP address in one country while the actual servers are situated in a different location.
They operate similarly to other servers in its network and run on Proton VPN's bare metal servers (that are physically situated in their listed country), so they are equally secure. Keep in mind that they can significantly affect your speeds, especially if the physical servers are situated farther away than you anticipate.
Here's an overview of those servers and their respective locations.
|Bare Metal Servers (Physical Servers)
The VPN also offers virtual servers to double its capacity in countries with physical servers. Here’s a list of locations that use Smart Routing, along with the locations of the actual bare metal servers they reside on:
|Bare Metal Servers (Physical Servers)
|United Arab Emirates
Proton VPN has optimized servers for torrenting, streaming, and more. The streaming ones are spread out in most countries, including Argentina, the UK, the US, and South Africa. However, the P2P-friendly servers are located in selected countries, like Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Nigeria, and Switzerland.
The symbols (or lack of them) next to these servers show you their function.
Several servers have a variety of functions, so they have multiple symbols beside them
- Plus: A little play button (a sideways triangle) indicates the plus servers. These servers are optimized for streaming. You'll need a subscription to the premium plan to access them (and every other server besides the free ones).
- P2P: The double-sided arrow shows you the P2P servers, which are ideal for torrenting.
- Tor: The small gray onion symbol denotes servers compatible with the TOR network.
- Secure Core: To enable them, click on the lock symbol at the top of the server list on the desktop or toggle the switch on mobile. They double as plus servers, so you'll need to upgrade to use them.
- Smart Routing: These are its virtual servers and are represented with a globe icon.
- Free: There's no symbol next to these servers, but you can easily identify them by typing the word free in the search bar.
If you see a wrench next to the server, this means it’s down for maintenance. During my tests, there was a moment when the servers in Cambodia and South Korea were under maintenance, and the wrench symbol appeared to the left to signify that.
Dedicated IP Addresses
These are available to businesses upon request. If interested, you'll need to reach out to the support team for more details. The VPN periodically retires servers and activates new ones; having a static IP can help avoid such inconveniences. Plus, a dedicated IP can prevent your business from being mistakenly associated with dubious activities performed by other users.
Security — Excellent Security Technology and Features9.8
Proton VPN has an impressive selection of security features, and notably, I found no leaks on all 15+ servers I tried. DNS leak protection is permanently enabled, and you have the option to toggle IPv6 traffic on or off across Mac, Windows, and Linux. Its open-source nature makes it even more secure. This is because people around the world can test it for vulnerabilities.
I repeatedly checked the servers throughout the day to confirm they were leak-proof
On top of that, it was developed by CERN scientists with the same technology behind ProtonMail, the most popular encrypted email service. Having such impressive technologists behind the development of the VPN adds another layer of credibility to its security functions.
The same team recently unveiled Proton Pass, a secure password management tool that you can pair with Two-Factor Authentication to bolster the security of your accounts.
The free account gives you all the basics you need to stay secure online as well. This includes strong encryption, Perfect Forward secrecy, and advanced protocols. You’ll have to upgrade to use advanced features like Secure Core servers, NetShield, and Tor over VPN. Its ad-free nature also sets it apart from many free VPNs.
Proton VPN uses AES 256-bit (military-grade) or ChaCha20 encryption to keep your data safe. AES 256-bit encryption is the benchmark for top VPNs because of its virtually impenetrable nature. ChaCha20 is just as difficult to crack and encrypts your connection when using WireGuard.
For one extra layer of security, it utilizes Perfect Forward Secrecy. This feature continuously changes the encryption keys that Proton VPN securely generates. So, even in the rare event a key is compromised, you remain protected with new ones.
The VPN lets you switch protocols depending on your situation, but the options differ depending on your device.
Proton VPN’s Smart protocol feature ensures you’re always connected to the VPN, even when one protocol is blocked. Such blockages often occur on restrictive networks, like in schools, workplaces, or areas with content censorship. It auto-selects the fastest, most stable protocol and switches to another if it's necessary. It’s available for every OS except Linux.
- OpenVPN. It’s the safest protocol since it’s open source, which means experts are constantly checking it for vulnerabilities. UDP is faster, so it’s ideal for gaming, torrenting, or streaming. TCP can help on a network that blocks VPNs, but Proton VPN recommends using Stealth. For now, you can use it on Windows, Android and Linux.
- IKEv2/IPSec. An older protocol that is sometimes faster than OpenVPN. It’s also a little less secure since it isn't open source. It’s only available on Mac.
- WireGuard. It's open source, like OpenVPN, and it’s optimized for both speed and security. Plus, it’s less resource-intensive and supported on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS apps.
- Stealth. Designed by Proton VPN, this protocol helps mask your VPN usage from DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) systems and internet service providers. This makes it invaluable in areas with tight network controls. It’s built upon WireGuard tunneled over TLS, so it uses the same encryption as WireGuard. Currently, it’s limited to Android, Mac, and iOS apps.
This feature automatically protects you by disabling your internet if the VPN loses connection, preventing your IP and other sensitive information from leaking.
It will also terminate your internet connection when your computer goes to sleep
You have to activate it manually, and there's even an option to enable a permanent kill switch, which limits internet access unless connected to a server.
Secure Core servers offer double encryption by sending your data through 2 servers. Other VPNs call this feature multi-hop or Double VPN. The difference is the first destination is always Proton VPN's extra-safe Secure Core servers.
The VPN developed these servers to improve user privacy in high-risk jurisdictions like Russia, Turkey, and the US, with strict data-sharing laws. This feature lets users get IPs from countries that prioritize privacy with the added protection of running their traffic through more physically secure servers first. Thus, even if servers in the final destination are ever compromised, your data will still be protected.
They’re located in Switzerland, Sweden, and Iceland — countries known for their privacy-friendly policies and non-affiliation with the 14 Eyes Alliance. Placing these servers outside this alliance helps ensure they can’t be compromised.
The VPN houses them in secure locations that use equipment only provided by the VPN. In Sweden, they’re stored in high-security underground data centers, while those in Iceland are stationed in a former military base. The Swiss data center mandates biometric authentication for access. Plus, it owns all Secure Core Servers, and each IP is a part of Proton VPN's own Local Internet Registry. This cuts out another middleman for added security.
Many VPNs have double-hop features that funnel customer’s data through two servers. However, the added physical security Secure Core servers provide makes them stand out.
You can use this feature to choose what traffic moves through the VPN tunnel. I often use it to make bank transfers with a normal connection while encrypting my torrenting activities to protect my data from hackers and snoops. At the moment, it’s accessible on Android and Windows, functioning at both app and IP levels. I hope Proton VPN will soon extend this availability to Mac and iOS.
Netshield blocks ads and protects against trackers and malware. I found it to be effective at eliminating pop-ups and banner ads. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop YouTube ads and only operates when the VPN is active.
It’s available on both desktop and mobile apps and offers 2 levels of protection
It can be set to block malware only or malware, trackers, and ads. Overall, it’s a nice feature and is one of the better ad blockers included with a premium VPN.
The Onion Router (Tor) Compatibility
Tor servers severely throttle your speed and make browsing frustrating. The servers in the US, France, and Germany decreased our speed by over 96%, often with a 300ms ping or more.
There are a total of nine servers — two each in the US and Germany, and one each in France, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Sweden, and Iceland. However, this isn’t considerably worse than my Tor experience without a VPN.
Privacy — A Trustworthy Company That Won't Share Your Data9.6
Proton VPN uses a verified no-logs policy and has a strong history that proves it’ll be responsible with your data. It's also headquartered in Switzerland, a country with some of the best internet privacy laws. Plus, the company continuously advocates for internet freedom by opposing laws that would make it easier for governments to spy on their citizens.
Does Proton VPN Keep Logs? No
Proton VPN doesn’t store any sensitive information and only retains the data you willingly provide. This includes your user name, email, payment details, and support tickets. You can use a dedicated email for sign-up and opt for cryptocurrency or cash for anonymous payments. The VPN also commits to erasing any data held upon your account’s deletion.
The VPN does record a timestamp of login attempts, but it gets overwritten with every successful login. This timestamp, devoid of any identifying information, helps Proton VPN detect and provide protection against password-guessing attacks
The company never voluntarily shares your email or payment info with outside parties
The readiness of Proton VPN to adhere to legally binding requests might raise eyebrows; however, there's no cause for alarm since the company doesn't log any user-related data.
Its no logging claims were proven in a real world case in 2019. Proton VPN was mandated to release logs to help identify a user, but the VPN had nothing to share since identifiable logs were non-existent.
Was Proton VPN Audited? Yes
Proton VPN features open-source apps, which means anyone can read and analyze the code on GitHub to make it better. This shows how transparent Proton VPN really is. You can also download them from F-Droid, a software repository that hosts open-source apps.
Plus, the VPN encourages continuous security improvements via its bug bounty initiative. It pays up to $10,000 to anyone who can discover a vulnerability in its software, so you know its security is constantly being tested and updated.
Various third-party audits have also confirmed that Proton VPN's encrypted traffic is undecipherable. One by SEC Consult, a leading tech auditing firm, scrutinized Proton VPN's Windows, Android, iOS, and Mac apps. A few minor vulnerabilities were found, but each of these was immediately fixed. These vulnerabilities would only risk user data if a hacker had direct device access.
A recent audit in 2022 by Securitum, a premier European security audit firm, painted a more favorable picture. It uncovered no major security issues. When I examined the audit, it confirmed that Proton VPN doesn’t collect sensitive information like user logs and DNS traffic. The audit also showed the effectiveness of Proton VPN’s open-source software development.
Before these assessments, Proton VPN allowed Mozilla to scrutinize its technology in anticipation of a prospective collaboration. On top of that, the company routinely publishes findings from independent security audits. This transparency underscores the company's confidence in its practices and its readiness to fix any identified concerns.
Based in Switzerland
Proton VPN is located in Geneva, Switzerland, outside the 14 Eyes Alliance and also home to CERN. The 14 Eyes Alliance is a pact between governments to share information on their citizens. So, it’s unlikely it’ll be forced to change its privacy policies.
Swiss laws are some of the best when it comes to protecting its citizen’s online information. Every VPN must operate within the legal framework of its host country. So, it’s good it’s headquartered in a non EU country. This is because the European Union has been known to retain citizens’ metadata due to its Data Retention Directive.
On top of that, the VPN isn't subject to the data-retention requirements of the recent Swiss surveillance law, which primarily targets major telecommunications and ISPs. This law was enacted to help curb domestic threats. Plus, if the VPN is ever requested to provide user data, it would only release the little information it holds.
Switzerland also has a history of neutrality. It doesn’t cooperate with foreign governments. So, there’s no better place for Proton VPN to be.
Proton Technologies AG — A Transparent Company With a Solid History
Proton Technologies AG has a great reputation for protecting customers who depend on its security technology to keep them safe. Established in 2014 by a team of scientists from MIT and CERN, the company's roots trace back to some of the brightest minds in the field.
One of its members even pioneered the World Wide Web back in 1989. In short, these experts deeply understand the digital realm. Since Proton VPN and ProtonMail were developed by CERN scientists, you know they operate on cutting-edge technology.
After the success of its ProtonMail technology (an encrypted email service), the team decided to create a VPN when it found other services lacking. Proton VPN was crowdfunded for development in 2017.
Proton VPN was transparent about its practices from its inception, and even its funding sources were available to the public. Its main goal was to protect journalists and activists when the team became distressed about government tracking threatening online privacy worldwide.
When Proton VPN was approached for customer information, this fact was disclosed to all clients through a transparency report. The company has consistently voiced concerns over legislative measures that could compromise user privacy. It continues to push back against potential laws that would allow law enforcement to demand data.
This advocacy went as far as rallying 70,000 signatures to oppose a Swiss law threatening online freedom. Its dedication to privacy and the ongoing fight against surveillance makes Proton Technologies AG a company I trust with my data.
Does Proton VPN Work in China? Maybe
The performance of Proton VPN may not be consistent in China. Proton VPN recommends using the Stealth protocol for Android, iOS, and macOS, with the Quick Connect option to establish a connection. For Windows and Linux, they suggested the Smart or OpenVPN TCP protocol paired with Quick Connect.
It uses the Stealth protocol to stay unnoticed in countries like China, UAE, and Turkey
On top of that, I appreciate that Proton VPN has proactive measures to ensure you can access its services even when connections to its servers are blocked in such locations. The Alternative Routing feature, available on both desktop and mobile apps, channels your connection via third-party services (like AWS), which are less likely to be obstructed, ensuring uninterrupted access to their servers. So, it’s always nice to have this feature turned on.
Although many VPNs are banned in China, the government rarely targets individual users. However, my team and I do not endorse unlawful activities. We recommend you familiarize yourself with the laws of the country you are in before using a VPN.
Torrenting — Supports P2P on Most Servers With Great Performance9.0
Its P2P-ready server in Nigeria lets me download an 816MB file in 29 minutes and 4 seconds. It was the fastest available, thanks to its Quick Connect feature that automatically selected it for me. I also tested a non-torrenting server in South Africa (since all servers in Nigeria support P2P) and downloaded the same file in 34 minutes and 10 seconds.
When I enabled port forwarding while connected to the same server, the download time was reduced to 10 minutes and 41 seconds. Without a VPN connection, I downloaded the file in 13 minutes and 59 seconds. I was impressed because it’s rare that I can download files faster while connected to a VPN.
You’ll get disconnected if you try to torrent with free servers. When I tried downloading torrents using the free Netherlands server, an in-app alert notified me of the disconnection. That’s too bad since it’s one of the only free services with no data limits. Finally, Proton VPN’s excellent security and privacy features also make it a solid option for torrenting.
Remember, while torrenting might be legal in many places, downloading copyrighted content typically isn't. To stay within the confines of your country's laws, familiarize yourself with its regulations and focus on downloading files that are in the public domain.
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