1. Connection Speed of a VPN
One of the most important aspects of a VPN is the type of connection speed they deliver.
You typically always suffer a little bit of speed reduction when connecting to the internet via a VPN, because you’re sending and receiving data via an extra server.
But that speed reduction should only be a little bit.
There are a few other things that can and will affect speed. One of them is how far away the VPN server is from your physical location.
So to make sure we rate VPN providers fairly, we always use the same server locations during our tests.
We pay special attention to the US and UK server speeds. And when we’re calculating a VPN provider’s rating score, we use the better of those 2 results.
So how do we calculate that rating score exactly?
- 5 points awarded for a speed reduction of between 10% (or less) and 15%
- 4 points awarded for a speed reduction of between 15% and 30%
- 3 points awarded for a speed reduction of between 30% and 40%
- 2 points awarded for a speed reduction of between 40% and 50%
- 1 point awarded for a speed reduction of 50% or more
2. Security of a VPN
If you’re only going to compare VPN providers based on one group of features, it should be the security measures they implement.
After all, one of the most common reasons for using a VPN (and the number 1 reason we advocate for their use) is to protect your right to online privacy.
So how do we rate VPN providers on their security for a total of 10 points?
- 1 point awarded to VPN providers who aren’t based in a 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, or 14 Eyes jurisdiction (countries who spy on their citizens online and share that information with each other). VPN providers based in these jurisdictions get 0 points.
- 2 points awarded for having military-grade encryption – 256-bit AES. 1 point awarded if 256-bit AES is only offered as an optional encryption level. 0 points awarded if the best encryption level offered is lower than 256-bit AES.
- 2 points awarded if the kill switch (which ends your internet session if your connection to the VPN server drops) is on by default. 1 point awarded if the kill switch needs manual configuration. 0 points awarded if there isn’t a kill switch.
- 1 point awarded if the VPN provider offers DNS leak protection (which helps keep you as anonymous as possible online). 0 points awarded if there’s no DNS leak protection.
- 1 point awarded for a no-logs policy. 0 points awarded if the VPN provider does keep logs (especially if they lie about it).
- 1 point awarded if the VPN is compatible with The Onion Router (TOR), an anonymous browser. 0 points awarded if the VPN isn’t TOR-compatible.
- 2 points awarded for using the VPN protocols OpenVPN and IKEv2. 1 point awarded if OpenVPN is the only available protocol. 0 points awarded if OpenVPN isn’t available.
We pay very, very close attention to where a VPN company is based because some locations simply aren’t safe.
So after we calculate a score out of 10 for security using the above, we remove 1 point if we find out the VPN provider is lying about their location.
3. Best Features of a VPN
Even a VPN provider with the best security measures and speed results can find themselves on our “avoid” list if their features aren’t up to scratch.
So how do we rate VPN providers on their additional features for a total of 10?
- 2 points awarded for specialized streaming servers. 1 point awarded if no specialized servers, but still suitable for streaming. 0 points are awarded if the VPN is unsuitable for streaming.
- 2 points awarded if the provider has a high server count (2,000+) with low network overload. 1 point awarded if the provider has a low/medium number of servers (500 to 2,000) and/or has occasional network overload. 0 points awarded if the server count is low (less than 500) and/or network overload is a big problem.
- 2 points awarded for specialized P2P servers. 1 point awarded if the VPN is torrent-friendly but doesn’t have specialized servers. 0 points awarded if the VPN is not recommended for torrenting.
- 1 point awarded if the VPN offers a MultiHop/DoubleVPN (which sends your data via 2 VPN servers). 0 points awarded if the feature isn’t available.
- 1 point awarded for split tunneling (which allows you to choose what the kill switch affects). 0 points awarded if there is no split tunneling feature.
- 2 points awarded if multiple devices are compatible. 1 point awarded if routers aren’t compatible. 0 points awarded if compatible with very few devices.
Similar to features, the usability of a VPN provider can make or break them. So how do we rate VPN providers for usability?
- 2 points awarded for easy installation. 1 point awarded if some manual configuration is necessary for installation (1.5 points if only Linux users need to use manual configuration). 0 points if installation is difficult.
- 2 points awarded to VPN providers with easy-to-use apps. 1 point awarded if the apps are only a little too complicated or simple. 0 points if the app is very difficult to use or has too many features missing.
- 1 point awarded for a stable app that doesn’t have issues. 0 points awarded for unstable apps that tend to crash or have bugs.
Pricing can sometimes tell you a lot about a provider, but it can also be misleading – which is why it’s one of the last things we calculate a score for.
Here’s how that rating is calculated:
- 5 points awarded for being budget-friendly without compromising on security and features, good savings on longer subscriptions, and a 30-day money-back guarantee and/or free trial
- 4 points awarded if pricey but not unreasonable considering security and features, good savings on longer subscriptions, with a 30-day money-back guarantee and/or free trial
- 3 points awarded if pricey OR budget-friendly, but missing some security and/or features OR poor savings on longer subscriptions OR shorter money-back guarantee with no free trial
- 2 points awarded if pricey OR budget-friendly, but at the expense of security and/or features, AND poor savings on longer subscriptions OR shorter/no money-back guarantee with no free trial
- 1 point awarded if a waste of money despite being budget-friendly
- 0 points awarded if an over-priced waste of money
Reliability and Support
Let’s put it this way – you expect your VPN to be reliable, but if SHTF, you want to know the provider will give you all the support you need.
Here’s how we rate VPN providers on their reliability and support (with live chat support as our standard):
- 5 points awarded if a reliable VPN with excellent support
- 4 points awarded if a reliable VPN with mediocre support
- 3 points awarded if a reliable or mediocre VPN with mediocre or excellent support, but live chat not 24/7
- 2 points awarded if a reliable VPN with mediocre or poor support, but no live chat at all
- 1 point awarded if an unreliable VPN with mediocre or poor support and no live chat
- 0 points awarded if an unreliable VPN with poor support
Overall Score Out of 5
At the end of our review process, we take a look at the scores the VPN provider earned for each section above.
Sometimes, we’ll make a small exception by giving an extra point (or removing one), but always for very good reason. And we explain these exceptions in the VPN’s review.
The final score is calculated by adding up the above scores and dividing by 8 for a total overall score out of 5.
Wondering what that score really means?
- 1 to 2.6 points means we do not recommend
- 2.7 to 3 points means we recommend only for very select purposes (such as streaming Kodi) or as a budget-friendly last resort
- 3.1 to 3.4 means we recommend as a very basic VPN
- 3.5 to 3.9 means we consider it a good VPN
- 4 to 5 means we absolutely recommend the VPN as excellent
We hope this guide helped you better understand our review process and how we rate VPN providers!