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NordVPN vs. PIA: Advanced Privacy for Power Users or Budget-Priced Basics – CNET

Comparing NordVPN and PIA is like deciding whether to purchase the collector’s edition 4K Blu-ray packed with making-of featurettes and director’s commentary tracks or the bargain bin Blu-ray. Either way, you can watch the film, but hardcore cinephiles will appreciate the added bonuses from the collector’s set. Both are two of CNET’s top VPNs but for different reasons. While NordVPN is fast and sports many useful privacy features, it’s not the cheapest virtual private network option on the market. PIA, meanwhile, is wallet-friendly, private and transparent, but lacks the advanced settings or speed you’ll find with premium VPNs such as Nord. To pit them against one another, I ran over 500 total internet speed tests, streamed hours of videos and used each VPN for daily tasks like web browsing or gaming. 

Based on my hands-on assessments, folks seeking cutting-edge privacy and the best possible internet speeds should choose NordVPN, whereas PIA is better for anyone wanting privacy basics on a budget. Here’s a look at NordVPN vs. PIA to decide which VPN is right for you.

NordVPN vs. PIA

NordVPN PIA
Cost $13 a month, $69 for the first year or $100 total for your first two years (the one- and two-year plans renew at $100 annually) $12 a month, $40 per year or $79 total for three years
Avg. speed % loss (2024 tests) 11% 49%
Server network 6,400-plus servers across 111 countries 35,000-plus servers across 91 countries
Encryption AES 256-bit encryption (OpenVPN, IKEv2)
ChaCha20 (NordLynx)
AES 256-bit encryption (OpenVPN, IKEv2)
ChaCha20 (WireGuard)
VPN protocols OpenVPN, IKEv2, NordLynx (WireGuard-based) OpenVPN, WireGuard, IKEV2
Jurisdiction Panama US
Compatible platforms Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android, Android TV, iOS/iPadOS, Fire TV, Apple TV, Browsers, Routers Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android, Android TV, iOS/iPadOS, Fire TV, Apple TV, Browsers, Routers
Simultaneous connections 10 Unlimited

Ease of use: NordVPN and PIA are both user-friendly

Private Internet Access -- PIA -- settings menu on MacOS

PIA is easy to use

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NordVPN and Private Internet Access are both incredibly intuitive. Although neither is as streamlined as ExpressVPN, they’re each easy enough for VPN beginners and seasoned tech enthusiasts alike. Even if you’ve never used a VPN before, Nord and PIA make getting connected a breeze. 

NordVPN server list on Windows NordVPN server list on Windows

NordVPN’s slick interface makes it simple to do everything from hop on a server to enable advanced privacy settings

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I had no issues finding settings when changing VPN protocols or toggling on features like split tunneling. PIA is even easy to use on Linux. Its graphical user interface — or GUI — app is simpler for Linux newcomers than a command-line interface or CLI app, which requires punching in specific commands. 

Speed test: NordVPN is faster than PIA — and every other VPN we tested

NordVPN’s connectivity trounces PIA, and it beats every other VPN we tested. All VPNs slow down your internet speeds somewhat, and I generally find an average internet download speed loss of 25% or less perfectly adequate. In my testing, NordVPN came out on top as the fastest VPN, delivering a best-in-class 11% average internet download speed loss, which is great for bandwidth-intensive applications like 4K video streaming or Zoom calls. PIA, meanwhile, was the slowest VPN I tested: I clocked a 49% average internet download speed loss. PIA should work fine for most folks with a fast, reliable internet connection — think fiber or cable — but satellite internet or 5G home internet users should look elsewhere. 

Streaming and gaming performance

NordVPN unblocking foreign Netflix libraries NordVPN unblocking foreign Netflix libraries

Nord’s excellent geo-unblocking and fast speeds make it great for streaming

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In my experience, PIA and NordVPN are both excellent for streaming. I had no issues unblocking Netflix libraries in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and Romania. Likewise, both VPNs provided US and UK Disney Plus and Amazon Prime Video library access. I had a few issues viewing Prime Video with PIA on a computer, but it worked flawlessly on streaming devices such as my Amazon Fire TV Stick and Nvidia Shield TV Android TV box. Nord and PIA each offer Apple TV apps for Mac aficionados. I effortlessly streamed Men In Black on Netflix using a UK server (it’s currently available on Hulu in the US) and Class of ‘09 on Disney Plus with a UK server (typically, it requires a Hulu subscription in the US even to view in the Disney Plus app).

NordVPN downloading games on Steam NordVPN downloading games on Steam

NordVPN’s blisteringly fast internet speeds make is a solid choice for gaming and downloading large files

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Because of its noticeably faster internet speeds, NordVPN takes the cake for streaming despite both VPNs’ similar geographical content unblocking capabilities. Its minimal speed loss means you can stream buttery smooth 4K Ultra High-Definition movies. Likewise, NordVPN is a far better choice for gaming, where the fastest possible internet connection is ideal. Nord is a fantastic option if you’re looking for a VPN to use with your gaming PC, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5 or Nintendo Switch.

Cost and value: PIA is a budget-priced no-frills VPN, while Nord provides premium privacy at a higher price

A Private Internet Access subscription sets you back $12 per month, $40 a year or $79 for three years. NordVPN goes for $13 per month, $69 the first year or $100 total for the first two years (the one- and two-year plans renew at $100 annually). Unlike most VPN services — Nord included — PIA doesn’t hit you with price hikes on its one- and three-year plans, so you’ll renew at the same price you signed up for. Notably, NordVPN lets you stack subscriptions; for instance, you can sign up for an annual subscription at $69 and then purchase a discounted two-year plan during a Black Friday sale, extending your subscription. There are ways to avoid auto-renewal price hikes with Nord and other VPN providers, but you’ll need to monitor your subscription.

Because of its relative affordability compared to most competitors, PIA is one of the best cheap VPNs. Usually, I don’t recommend subscribing to a VPN for more than a year at a time because of how quickly things change — your VPN provider could suffer a data breach or slow servers — but PIA’s $79 three-year tier is less expensive than most annual plans. You can get three years with PIA for just $10 more than Nord’s annual price.

While PIA is clearly the more affordable of the two options, Nord nevertheless boasts a ton of value. It’s a premium service that jostles with other high-end VPNs — including our Editors’ Choice ExpressVPN — but at a lower upfront cost. Moreover, Nord sports niche features, like Meshnet for creating a personal VPN server and Tor Over VPN connectivity. You’ll pay more for Nord, but you get a lot for your money, including fast internet connectivity and loads of advanced features. 

Travel: PIA has more servers, but Nord has a presence in more countries

Private Internet Access -- PIA -- server list on iPhone -- iOS Private Internet Access -- PIA -- server list on iPhone -- iOS

PIA has a generous international server fleet

Screenshot/CNET

PIA’s 35,000 total servers far outstrip Nord’s still ample 6,400 server fleet, but that’s not the whole story. Private Internet Access servers pepper 91 countries, while Nord is spread across 111, so Nord actually has a more comprehensive global footprint. Each VPN company maintains a strong international server network, so both are great for domestic and worldwide travel. Nord has a slight edge because of its larger global web of servers, although either option should work for most folks. 

Privacy and transparency: Nord and PIA are strong in different areas

NordVPN and PIA are each great for privacy. Both have strict no-logging policies. You can and probably should be skeptical of your VPN provider’s zero-logging braggadocio, but the two companies undergo annual audits to verify their claims. You’ll get the usual gamut of basic privacy features with either option, including a kill switch, split tunneling and modern encryption (AES-256-bit with OpenVPN or IKEv2, ChaCha20 for WireGuard). PIA still lets you pick 128-bit encryption, which I don’t recommend because it’s not as secure as 256-bit. I didn’t detect any DNS leaks in my Nord or PIA testing. PIA and Nord both provide obfuscation, masking the fact that you’re using a VPN, which can be helpful in situations where a VPN is frowned upon, like on school Wi-Fi.

Nord packs more advanced privacy amenities, including Tor Over VPN servers (which bolster your pseudo-anonymity with Tor), custom DNS settings and double VPN servers (which encrypt your traffic even more than a single VPN connection). PIA supports multi-hop connections, similar to Nord’s double VPN, but Private Internet Access relies on a proxy connection rather than a second VPN connection. Essentially, it’s a different means to accomplishing the same goal, making it harder to trace your data back to its source. 

PIA’s US jurisdiction may worry some privacy-concerned users. The United States is part of the Five, Nine and 14 Eyes data-sharing alliances, whereas Panama (Nord’s headquarters) is not. Nevertheless, Private Internet Access compensates for this with strong transparency. All of its apps are open-source and it features one of the most reader-friendly privacy policies I’ve perused, which reinforces its commitment to user privacy. In my deep dive, I found Nord’s privacy policy less transparent, although not bad, and it only has one open-source application: its Linux app. 

Overall, Nord offers more advanced privacy options and a privacy-friendly jurisdiction, while PIA is a bit more transparent. There are minor differences, but I feel confident enough in the privacy promises of Nord and PIA to trust either VPN company with my data.

Additional features: Nord has more advanced settings than PIA

Nord offers more advanced settings to tinker with in addition to fundamental privacy amenities, while PIA largely sticks to the basics. NordVPN’s Meshnet lets you set up a personal VPN server, which could help access a home server from abroad or host LAN parties with friends scattered across the globe. Plus, Nord includes Onion Over VPN and Double VPN servers, which provide extra privacy compared to a standard VPN connection.

PIA does allow port forwarding, which can be beneficial for torrenting, while Nord doesn’t. Nord lets you enable custom DNS settings, which are helpful for situations where you’re having issues with Nord’s own nameservers, like regional restrictions or streaming service content blocks. Either VPN offers a dedicated IP option, but Nord’s country selection (the US, UK, Germany, France, Japan and the Netherlands) is larger than PIA’s (the US, UK, Canada, Japan and Germany). Nord proves more satisfying to power users who want specialty servers, personal VPNs and more.

NordVPN vs. Private Internet Access: Bottom line

Ultimately, whether you opt for Nord or PIA depends on your needs and budget. NordVPN is a top-shelf VPN that delivers blazing-fast internet speeds, a generous server network and power user features like Meshnet or Onion over VPN servers. You’ll pay more for Nord than PIA but accordingly get more in return. Nord is better for bandwidth-demanding applications, such as 4K streaming, gaming and hopping on Zoom calls. Additionally, its suite of privacy tools, such as VPN servers with Tor, make it an exceptional choice for privacy-conscious users.

PIA is one of the cheapest VPNs available but doesn’t compromise privacy or transparency. It punches well above its weight class, offering unlimited simultaneous connections (Nord provides a still-generous 10), an extensive server network and user-friendly apps. Private Internet Access is solid for unblocking streaming service content, and its open-source apps, alongside a reader-friendly privacy policy, should satisfy folks with serious privacy concerns. PIA’s slow speeds are its main shortcoming; it was molasses-slow in my benchmarking, with a leisurely 49% average internet speed loss. 

If you want a fast VPN with advanced features, go with NordVPN. If you’re on a budget with basic privacy needs, go with PIA, assuming you’ve got fast (100 Mbps or above) internet speeds. 

PIA is better than NordVPN for folks seeking monetary savings, but Nord is better overall because it’s significantly faster, offers a larger server network and packs more advanced features for power users.

PIA costs $12 per month, $40 a year or $79 total for three years’ worth of service. NordVPN sets you back $13 monthly, $69 for the first year or $100 total for the first two years (both the one- and two-year plans typically renew at $100 annually).

Yes, both NordVPN and PIA are two of the best VPNs on the market. NordVPN is exceptionally fast, filled with useful advanced privacy trappings and excellent for streaming, while PIA is a no-cost VPN that’s great for basic privacy.

In our testing, NordVPN was the fastest overall VPN, with a best-in-class 11% average internet speed loss. Mullvad, Surfshark, Proton VPN and ExpressVPN were all reliable as well, delivering an average internet speed loss of 25% or less. PIA’s comparatively higher 49% average internet speed loss might not work as well for folks with slower or less reliable connections, like satellite internet.

Yes, NordVPN and PIA are excellent for streaming. Each service successfully unblocked dozens of streaming services, including international Netflix, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime Video libraries. Additionally, both PIA and Nord allow access to US-only streaming apps, like Hulu and Max (formerly HBO Max), while connected to US servers from abroad. Nord’s faster connectivity means it may perform better than PIA depending on your base internet speeds, especially when watching 4K videos.

NordVPN boasts more advanced privacy features than PIA, such as Onion Over VPN servers (which use Tor and a VPN), a double VPN for extra encryption and Meshnet for a personal VPN server. Additionally, its Panama jurisdiction is privacy-friendly. On the other hand, PIA includes open-source apps with source code that anyone can inspect, one of the most reader-friendly privacy policies we’ve seen and solid fundamental privacy offerings. Its US jurisdiction may not be ideal for some seriously privacy-concerned folks, but its transparency and commitment to user privacy assuaged our concerns.



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