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Best fast VPN 2021: which provider is fastest?

Best fast VPN
(Image credit: Alexander Supertramp/Shutterstock)

A fast VPN is absolutely essential if you want to stay protected online without an adverse effect on your connection speeds. While the best VPN services should all be fairly speedy, torrenters, gamers and streamers won't be satisfied unless they have the very fastest VPN on the market.

It's worth noting that every VPN has an impact on your connection thanks to the simple fact your traffic is going further, so making sure that slow-down is as minimal as possible is a top priority. Without subscriptions to all the fastest VPN services yourself it's impossible to test this, so that's why we've put together this list to help you make an informed decision.

What makes a great fast VPN?

In this guide we're prioritizing speed over everything else. However, every fast VPN service here will also deliver top-quality privacy and security too, so to max out your connection there shouldn't be too many sacrifices to be made.

For those interested in the tech behind it, you'll notice that most of the fastest VPNs use protocols other than OpenVPN. While the old favorite is still swift and reliable, new protocols like list-topper Hotspot Shield's Catapult Hydra and the burgeoning WireGuard are leading the way in terms of sheer speed.

If you've got a pretty standard Internet connection that tops out below 100Mbps, it's unlikely you'll notice any difference in speeds between the fast VPN services below – and in that case we'd recommend our overall best-rated VPN ExpressVPN. However, for those on ultrafast lines, there are a few other blistering options to pick from.

1. ExpressVPN – the best VPN overall is incredibly fast
If you need a fast VPN, we'd recommend ExpressVPN over all others. Its maximum speeds of over 600Mbps are more than enough, and as the full package it's great for streaming and security. Plus, Tom's Guide readers can now claim three months free.
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2. NordVPN – an excellent choice for VPN speed
NordVPN's introduction of the WireGuard-based NordLynx protocol has sent its speeds skyrocketing to up to 800Mbps in certain circumstances, which is seriously fast. Plus, excellent privacy features and additional functionality make it excellent value for money.View Deal

3. Hotspot Shield – very fast and simple to use
Hotspot Shield is super simple to use, and its incredible connection speeds are tough to beat. While a select few have managed to overtake its top speeds, it's still well worth considering thanks to its low price point.View Deal

The best fast VPNs available today

ExpressVPN best fast vpn

(Image credit: ExpressVPN)

1. ExpressVPN

The most reliably fast VPN money can buy

Specifications
Number of servers: 3,000+
Server locations: 94 countries
Maximum devices supported: 5
Streaming sites unblocked: Netflix, iPlayer, YouTube, Amazon, Hulu
WireGuard or alternative modern protocol?: Yes, LightWay
Maximum tested US speed on 1Gbps line: 630Mbps
Reasons to buy
+Super fast connections+Plenty of servers for global speed+Excellent apps for everything+Brilliant support team
Reasons to avoid
-Maximum of five connections

ExpressVPN is an excellent fast VPN, and out of all the fastest VPN services on the market, none come close to Express's versatility and ease of use. And, since our last review, it's overtaken the previous leaders and earned itself top spot in this rundown.

With average speeds of around 600Mbps it's incredibly fast, and the current integration of the proprietary LightWay protocol has seen these speeds ramp up in the last few months.

ExpressVPN makes it super simple to install and get access to these great speeds, plus you'll have great streaming performance – Netflix, iPlayer, Hulu and the rest are all no match for Express.

The apps themselves are more comprehensive that Hotspot Shield's, and include some really nifty features like a built-in speed test, DNS and WebRTC leak detectors, as well as an effective kill switch and split tunneling. 

If anything ends up not working as it should – or you've got any questions about how to use it – ExpressVPN's support is also unrivalled. In all of our testing the live chat operators have been very knowledgeable and quick to respond, and it boasts the best library of setup and troubleshooting articles in the industry.

So, if you're after a fast VPN with all the bells and whistles, ExpressVPN is the one to go for.

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Nordvpn best fast vpn

(Image credit: NordVPN)

2. NordVPN

Privacy giant delivers excellent speeds

Specifications
Number of servers: 5,000+
Server locations: 59 countries
Maximum devices supported: 6
Streaming sites unblocked: Netflix, iPlayer, YouTube, Amazon, Hulu
WireGuard or alternative modern protocol?: Yes, NordLynx (WireGuard)
Maximum tested speed on 1Gbps line: 820Mbps
Reasons to buy
+Great top speeds+Tons of servers+Security-focused experience
Reasons to avoid
-Some fluctuation in speeds

If you've heard of just one VPN, it'll be NordVPN. The old favorite is practically a household name now, with a huge public presence gained from television advertising and, frankly, a great overall service.

For those looking for a fast VPN, NordVPN can provide. Using the WireGuard-based NordLynx protocol in our NordVPN review, speeds reached an unrivalled 820Mbps, However, in our testing OpenVPN connections did seem to suffer, with some fluctuations hitting single digits. If you think you'll ever need to use OpenVPN instead of NordLynx, be aware that it's not as stellar as others.

Other than its excellent connections, you might be drawn to Nord because of its security-focused service. With its powerful and additional features like Onion over VPN and Double VPN it's a hacker's nightmare, and is all but guaranteed to keep you anonymous online.

A slight issue we have is with the layout of the otherwise polished and exceedingly usable mobile apps – the interface is taken directly from its desktop counterpart, and while it works well on larger screen, the map-based design is a bit awkward on phone screens. However, that's unlikely to truly put anyone off, as you'll only be in the app for a minute or two to select a server or adjust settings.

NordVPN is one of the fastest VPNs around, and with great security paired with top-tier streaming performance, it's well worth a look.

Sign up now on the NordVPN website

Hotspot Shield best fast VPN

3. Hotspot Shield

Incredibly fast, but not the leader it used to be

Specifications
Number of servers: 1,800+
Server locations: 80 countries
Maximum devices supported: 5
Streaming sites unblocked: Netflix, iPlayer, YouTube, Amazon, Hulu
WireGuard or alternative modern protocol?: Yes, Catapult Hydra
Maximum tested US speed on 600MB line: 380Mbps
Reasons to buy
+Great raw speeds+Good selection of servers+Excellent for streaming+Useful free version
Reasons to avoid
-Not as flexible as others

Hotspot Shield is one of the best fast VPN services available today, and it's evident from the numbers that it's perfected the art of the unfettered VPN connection

The (not so) secret lies in its use of the proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol, which trounces OpenVPN-based services, and is still considerably faster than some that have adopted WireGuard. However, in our most recent Hotspot Shield review we did notice that while this provider's speeds have stayed much the same, others improved and closed the gap.

The fact Hotspot Shield only supports Catapult Hydra does present a couple of issues – most notably the fact that you won't be able to manually set up VPN connections, and you'll be limited to Hotspot Shield's own apps. However, for the vast majority, that won't be a problem at all.

In terms of making use of these speeds, you'll be able to access just about any online streaming service you can think of, including Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer and more. This is a great improvement since our last testing of the software, in which it struggled to access a couple of sites. And, on top of that, a good range of server locations means you'll also be able to watch tons of overseas content.

Hotspot Shield doesn't offer the greatest amount of in-depth features, but for most people that'll be a non-issue – and if you're looking for the fastest VPN speeds money can buy, it's a great option.

Sign up now on the Hotspot Shield website

Bitdefender best fast vpn

(Image credit: Future)

4. Bitdefender Premium VPN

Catapult Hydra-using newbie is seriously fast

Specifications
Number of servers: 1,300+
Server locations: 30 countries
Maximum devices supported: 10
Streaming sites unblocked: Netflix, YouTube
WireGuard or alternative modern protocol?: Catapult Hydra
Maximum tested US speed on 600MB line: 420Mbps
Reasons to buy
+Cheaper than Hotspot Shield+10 simultaneous connections+Incredibly fast
Reasons to avoid
-Bare-bones apps-Poor streaming performance

What's this – another VPN using Catapult Hydra? Yep, that's right. Antivirus stalwart Bitdefender's foray into VPN is getting in on the incredible speeds on offer from Hotspot Shield's homebrew protocol, and the tempting thing is that Bitdefender Premium VPN is a fair bit cheaper than the original, too.

With speeds topping out at over 400Mbps, it's clear that Catapult Hydra has something special going on, so if you're after incredible speeds at a bargain price, this might be a good option.

However, that's where the similarities end. Unfortunately Bitdefender doesn't share Hotspot's excellent streaming power, and can only really access Netflix and YouTube. If you don't have an Amazon Prime or Disney+ account, and don't want to watch iPlayer, that'll be fine, but for many it's a deal breaker.

But, if you can look past that and the admittedly simplistic apps, Bitdefender is a properly affordable way to get some of the fastest VPN speeds available today – and as the brand establishes itself in the VPN area, we can only see it getting stronger.

Sign up now on the Bitdefender website

Speedify best fast vpn

(Image credit: Speedify)

5. Speedify

Very fast but let down by streaming support

Specifications
Number of servers: Undisclosed
Server locations: 50 countries
Maximum devices supported: 5
Streaming sites unblocked: YouTube
WireGuard or alternative modern protocol?: No, but combines connections
Maximum tested US speed on 600MB line: 403MB
Reasons to buy
+Great speeds +Useful free plan+Good value longer plans
Reasons to avoid
-Poor streaming support-Not much configuration

There's a lot in a name. Speedify is just that – very speedy – and it's evident that being a fast VPN is provider's main objective.

To reach speeds of up to 403MB on a 600MB line, Speedify uses some very clever tech which can combine any and all connections it has at its disposal. While other fast VPNs might only use your regular internet connection, or your mobile data when out and about, Speedify can tap into all of these and deliver searing speeds – at the expense of any data cap you might have, that is.

If you just want swift day-to-day browsing Speedify will do the job well, but if you're looking to stream geo-blocked content you're out of luck. It's unable to access any streaming site except for the virtually unprotected YouTube, and it's telling that there's a dedicated option to route streaming traffic through your unprotected connection if the VPN is turned on. If they've made the effort to do that, it doesn't look promising that this issue will be fixed any time soon.

However, for a relatively cheap yet seriously fast VPN, Speedify is a great option – just make sure you can live with its weaknesses.

Sign up now on the Speedify website

What is the best fast VPN?

For outright speeds, we rate ExpressVPN as the fastest VPN today. Its Lightway protocol is even faster than WireGuard, and with its great streaming support you're pretty much guaranteed never to be left buffering with this fast VPN.

Why do I need a fast VPN?

While a VPN is a security tool first and foremost, usability shouldn't fall by the wayside in the process. A fast VPN means you can realistically use the service 24/7 without having any of the downsides commonly associated with VPN usage – poor streaming abilities, low connections speeds...

If you use a fast VPN, it makes it an easier transition from never having used one before, and for those who may have had bad experiences years ago or with crummy providers recently, any of the services on this list are sure to reinvigorate your trust in VPNs.

In essence, if you can get a fast VPN that does the job properly as well as delivering excellent connection speeds, why settle for anything else?

Why are some VPNs so slow?

Using a VPN put extra steps between your device and the sites you're visiting. That includes encryption, redirection to VPN servers and then on to the site you were initially heading for. 

A fast VPN negates much of the slow-down by using modern servers and having massive bandwidth to share between its users. In many cases you'll now be limited by your own internet connection rather than your VPN provider. 

While it's true that some VPNs still suffer from low connection speeds and struggle for bandwidth at peak times, top fast VPN providers like ExpressVPN and Hotspot Shield really can be relied to deliver superfast speeds at any time of the day. Plus, by avoiding throttling, you'll be able to use your connection for anything without being held back.

Is a fast VPN as safe?

Well, if you choose ExpressVPN, the answer's a big yes! However, it's understandable to worry about this, as surely to get great speeds means you've got to sacrifice something, right?

In truth, most VPNs run on very similar architecture, utilise the same AES-256 encryption and use protocols such as OpenVPN or IKEv2. The biggest difference is the server number, capacity and maintenance, all of which contribute to how fast any individual connection will be.

However, Hotspot Shield stands out here as it has arguably sacrificed some privacy for speed – but not nearly enough to put users at risk. While it does support 256-bit encryption, out of the box Hotspot Shield makes do with 128-bit. That's still practically impossible to decode but, along with its Catapult Hydra protocol, gives it the edge over pretty much every other provider.

Overall, in our eyes if we've included a VPN on any of our guides, we'd recommend it as safe for anyone to use.

  • Short of cash? Check out the best free VPN services
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Mo is eCommerce Editor at Tom's Guide. Day-to-day he oversees privacy and security content, and his product guides help his readers find the best software and products for their needs. When he's not testing VPNs, you'll find him working on his classic car or plugged into a guitar amp.

  • morningnewspaper
    Strange article, it's supposed be about speed, but ExpressVPN is not the fastest and is still in 1st place. Hotspot, NordVPN and Speedify were all faster by your own tests. Moreover, few days ago a German testing company named NordVPN as the fastest company: https://www.av-test.org/fileadmin/pdf/reports/AV-TEST_NordVPN_Comparative_Test_Report_September_2020.pdf
    Do you have any comments? Maybe a revision is in order? I understand that you looked at the overall package, but this article is about speed after all...
    Reply
  • rgd1101
    title said best fast. not the fastest. And speed go up and down. I don't think they will redo it every time a new test result come out.
    Reply
  • morningnewspaper
    rgd1101 said:
    title said best fast. not the fastest. And speed go up and down. I don't think they will redo it every time a new test result come out.
    Still a bit misleading, since in the title is:
    Best fast VPN 2020: which provider is fastest?
    Automatically you expect that the product in 1st place is the fastest.
    Reply