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Does VPN server count really matter?

VPN servers behind an open vault door
(Image credit: Chris Clor / Getty Images)

Head to the homepage of just about any of the best VPN providers and you’ll be confronted with a seemingly very important figure: how many VPN servers it has. And, on the surface, you may very well assume that a massive amount of servers is A Good Thing.

However, like much of the marketing fluff that surrounds the VPN industry, there’s much more to a quality VPN than a surfeit of servers. Of course, there should be enough to go around, but there are arguably plenty of other factors that should guide your buying decision more significantly.

Here, we’ll be running down whether how many servers a VPN has really matters, and what might be more important when it comes to choosing a provider.

Why do VPNs need multiple servers?

Starting off with the basics, it’s essential that VPNs have a range of different servers for a number of reasons.

Having physical servers in different countries enables users to virtually relocate themselves. If you’re in the UK and connect to a server named ‘Los Angeles’, it’s highly likely that the server really is in LA. Of course, there are such things as virtual servers, but the vast majority of servers provided by the best services are physically located in the location they serve.

Depending on how many users are connected at any one time, a single server may get crowded and slow. This is why there will be a number of servers in each location. If there are plenty to choose from, the VPN can intelligently direct users to the fastest server, ensuring good performance for every user.

Finally, each server can assign you to a number of different IP addresses. Beyond rotating your IP address to keep your identity anonymous, this is especially useful when it comes to streaming VPNs. Streaming sites block VPN users in a number of ways, but many blanket ban swathes of IP addresses that have been associated with VPN use.

A provider with a wide range of servers – and therefore a wide range of IP addresses – will typically be better suited for unblocking streaming sites. However, this isn’t always the case, and in our testing we’ve experienced VPN providers with modest server counts perform much more effectively than those with a gargantuan fleet.

man checking on server units in data center

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Quality over quantity

The number of servers a VPN provider operates can fluctuate, but generally all of our top-rated providers consistently run at least over 1,000 servers worldwide. Some offer considerably more. Below, we’ll run down our favorite providers in order of preference and compare how many servers they run.

  1. ExpressVPN: 3,000+
  2. NordVPN: 5,500+
  3. Surfshark: 3,200+
  4. Proton VPN: 1,700+
  5. Private Internet Access: 10,000+ (reported, but undisclosed)
  6. CyberGhost: 8,000+

As you can see, while all the best services have a hefty amount on offer, the number of servers doesn’t necessarily correlate with how well a VPN performs in practice. 

In fact, our favorite VPN, ExpressVPN, has relatively few servers compared with many rivals providers. However, making up for this is the fact it’s got an incredibly wide spread – it has servers in 94 countries – along with excellent speeds and good streaming support. It also employs its TrustedServer tech, meaning that every server runs on RAM and is incapable of storing logs on users.

NordVPN, Surfshark and others also use RAM-only servers, so this isn't unique to ExpressVPN. However, ensuring your VPN has a good range of locations, all the latest security features, and servers that really work is far more important than the raw number advertised on-site.

How many servers do you really need? 

When recommending VPNs, server count certainly comes into the picture – but it’s not a defining factor. We’d say that Proton VPN’s 1,700 servers is at the low end, and when reviewing a service we’d consider anything lower than 1,000 a negative.

But, as mentioned above, server spread and quality are much more important.

Dark servers data center room with computers and storage systems

(Image credit: Jasmin Merdan/Getty Images)

What else should you be looking for? 

It’s definitely worth taking a look at how many servers a VPN has, but other features will likely have a more tangible impact on your day-to-day usage. 

First up, privacy and security should be at the top of your list – there’s no point in signing up to a VPN service that doesn’t cover these absolute basics. 

Then, it’s worth considering what you’ll actually be using your VPN for. If you’re not a big TV streamer you likely won’t be looking for a Netflix VPN or BBC iPlayer VPN, but for many this will be a major attraction. The same goes for a torrenting VPN – does your chosen provider support P2P on every server?

Ease of use is also a factor. Hardcore techies will be able to forgive a complex UI if it affords comprehensive customization, but those looking to plug and play will favor simple, intuitive app design.

What do we recommend?

ExpressVPN stands out from the competition in terms of price, features, and value. With over 3,000 servers in 94 countries, all the security features necessary, blazing connection speeds, and reliable access to multiple streaming services, ExpressVPN is an excellent choice for those after a premium service with no compromises.

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Mo is VPN Editor at Tom's Guide. Day-to-day he oversees VPN, privacy, and cybersecurity content, and also undertakes independent testing of VPN services to ensure his recommendations are accurate and up to date. When he's not getting stuck into the nitty-gritty settings of a VPN you've never heard of, you'll find him working on his Peugeot 205 GTi or watching Peep Show instead of finally putting up those shelves.