NordVPN Review: Easy But Slow

[This review was originally published in June 2017. It has been updated several times to reflect additional features and server locations.]

NordVPN is easy to set up and use, is reasonably priced, and offers more than 4,000 VPN servers across the world. Its performance in our 2017 round of tests was neither great nor terrible, but we wish we knew a bit more about who owns and runs the company. Overall, however, we prefer Private Internet Access, which is faster and cheaper.

Costs and What's Covered

NordVPN costs $11.99 a month, or $69 a year, payable via credit card, Bitcoin, Ethereum, PayPal or other online-payment services. (A two-year commitment runs to about $79, or $3.29 per month, and there's now also a three-year deal that's $99, or $2.75 per month.) You can use the company's free three-day trial to see if NordVPN works for you.

NordVPN has client software for Windows PCs, Macs, iOS and Android devices. Chromebooks, Linux boxes and routers (both open-source and branded ones) can be set up manually to use the NordVPN service, and there are instructions to do so on the NordVPN website. You can also use the open-source OpenVPN client software on platforms that support it, including Raspberry Pi.

Features and Interface

NordVPN's user interface is cartoonish and pleasant, with consistency between the desktop and mobile-client software. Rather than displaying a list of connection points, NordVPN displays a visual map with pushpins showing each country where it has hardware available.

Just click on the closest one, or let NordVPN select the fastest connection. As of April 2018, the company had 3,600 connection points in 62 countries. There's a handy connection wizard to ease setup anxieties, as well as online tutorials.

NordVPN lets you set it to automatically start upon system boot, and there are no limitations on bandwidth or data usage.

The service's big feature is what it calls "Double VPN," which means that when you connect to a NordVPN server, all your traffic is then routed through a second VPN server before it escapes out into the wider internet. That means your data is encrypted not once, but twice.

DoubleVPN certainly won't hamper privacy, but we're not sure exactly how it makes it better, as the AES-256 encryption NordVPN uses is already plenty strong enough. The double encryption might have a detrimental effect on traffic speed, however.

In July 2017, NordVPN added a feature it calls "CyberSec," which both blocks ads and filters out known malicious websites. The website screener consults publicly available URL blacklists, as some web browsers already do, but prevents all internet connections on your computer, smartphone or router from accessing the rogue servers.

In October 2017, NordVPN added a Chrome extension that lets subscribers run all Chrome browser traffic through an encrypted proxy. That's not quite a VPN, but it's a quick and painless way to bypass geoblocking on, say, the BBC website so that you can watch Doctor Who online.

Privacy Protections

If you're paying with Bitcoin, you don't need to provide a real name when signing up with NordVPN; a valid email address will do. The company says it does not keep logs of user activity.

NordVPN has an optional "kill switch" that terminates an internet connection when the link to the VPN server goes down. When we first published this review in June 2017, NordVPN's kill switch needed to be set application by application; however, it's now "global" and will stop all internet service at once.

NordVPN is registered in Panama and owned by a holding company there called Tefincom S.A., which theoretically gives NordVPN excellent legal protection from nosy investigators. But we couldn't find out much about NordVPN's operations or staffers through its website, other than that the company was founded in 2012 by "four childhood friends."

The job listings on NordVPN's website didn't mention where the open positions might be located, and Tefincom's publicly listed officers are also officers of hundreds of otherwise-unrelated shell companies based in Panama. We've asked a company representative for more information.

The NordVPN website's registration is hidden behind a proxy service in Luxembourg. The company's Terms of Service, for both customer and affiliate relationships, mention no country of jurisdiction, though they are written in American-flavored legal language.

Performance

NordVPN performed solidly but unremarkably in our tests, placing near the middle of the pack among the nine VPN services we evaluated.

Its download speed of 34.7 Mbps was off by 36 percent from the non-VPN speed of 54.1 Mbps. NordVPN's upload rate was 16.8 Mbps — again, 36 percent slower than the non-VPN rate. Its latency was 26.9 milliseconds, which was about 149 percent of that without a VPN. All three readings were near the median of the six services we reviewed.

Downloading a 428MB video file took 11 minutes and 15 seconds, about 250 percent slower than without a VPN. That was good enough for fourth place, but was far behind Private Internet Access' 4 minutes and 25 seconds.

NordVPN required a couple of reconnections during a month of testing. Again, that was about average.

Setup and Customer Support

The NordVPN desktop software installs in 5 minutes, and the service allows up to six simultaneous connections, so it's good for protecting your phone, tablet and laptop while you're traveling. (If you're connecting to the same VPN server from different devices at the same location, you'll need to connect using different VPN protocols.)

Customer support is via live chat and email. The company promises to respond to emailed queries within 48 hours. However, we found some complaints online about apparent difficulty in closing out an account.

Bottom Line

NordVPN is neither good nor bad, and neither expensive nor cheap. We like the idea of Double VPN, even if we're not sure it's necessary. We also wish the company were more transparent about its ownership. Overall, though, Private Internet Access is faster and cheaper.

Specs

Client software platforms: Win, Mac, Android, iOS
Native support platforms:
Win, Mac, Android, iOS, Chrome OS, Linux, Windows Phone, open-source and branded routers
Supported protocols:
L2TP/IPSec, OpenVPN, IKEv2, PPTP, SSTP
No. of servers:
3,600
No. of countries:
62
Country of registration:
Panama
Payment options:
Credit card, PayPal, Bitcoin, Ethereum, UnionPay, Alipay
Real name necessary?
No
Encryption protocol:
AES-256
Data usage:
Unlimited
Bandwidth usage:
Unlimited
Max. no, of simultaneously connected devices:
Six
Customer support:
Email
Privacy policy:
No logging

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  • CuddlyPop
    It's really easy to install and use and want to contradict about speeds they are really great. So you get a premium product for great price.
  • Fastergi
    Don't want to agree with speed test results. I'm located in Europe and just tested US, UK, NL and DE servers and got just around 10 percent off, so on 100Mbps not cable line I've reached 85-93 Mbps speed. Ownership anonymity and not disclosing identities is big advantage preventing user's anonymity even more.
  • Alezzane
    I got nearly the same speed with Nord as without and You write you have 36 percent speed drop due to encryption but describing you download speed you are about to describe you've downloaded the same file 4 times quicker. So I think you should re-test NordVPN. And maybe you have tested on different encryption? They have recently improved and demonstrates one of the best speeds in the market at the moment
  • JoshRoss
    Anonymous said:
    I got nearly the same speed with Nord as without and You write you have 36 percent speed drop due to encryption but describing you download speed you are about to describe you downloaded the same file 4 times quicker. So I think you should re-test NordVPN. And maybe you have tested on different encryption? They have recently improved and demonstrates one of the best speeds in the market at the moment


    Agreed with Alezzane, Nord has been improving quite vastly. I have had a couple of encounters, and I have not noticed that massive speed drops, maybe 5-7% at worst, if that. Maybe you are trying to download a lot of files at once, or someone is in your network at the same time using the internet?
  • PeterKendrick
    What's your input on their new Cybersec feature?
  • sizzling
    I used NordVPN for a month and it was unusable for streaming Netflix. I got less than 10% of my normal download speed. I'm UK based.
  • SaberSter
    I'm in Finland at the moment and Netflix, HBO works well so enjoying watching GoT. All good with speeds
  • bitmill
    I have great speeds and don't know other VPNs which have improved so well in a few months
  • Thomasis75
    Also disagree with speed, cost and ownership points.

    First I check my speed everyday. I get 48-49 mbps down using NordVPN on my 50 Mbps connection.

    Second, my cost is far less than stated

    Third - isn't stealth ownership what you WANT if you are using a VPN connection? and;

    Doesn't it make more sense to have a VPN service drop the SPECIFIC connection you are concerned with when a connection is dropped instead of your whole machine.

    That is my story and I am sticking to it.
  • visiveri
    Looks this review is not carried out properly as I also have great DL speed (~90mbps on one hundred line), connections drops are rare thing and totally disagree with cons about companies ownership. Its big advantages i.e FBO won't know who is responsible in some investigations
  • jefftomnerd
    Gave NordVPN a try since they have a 3 day trial period. First time I had ever used a VPN for home computers. I have used work VPNs from home. Before starting this adventure, I thought to myself, "How can a company afford to have all that bandwidth from its users through its pipes and make any money?". I think I know the answer, they can't. I have a modest 20 mgb cable connection that typically give me great speeds. I install the NordVPN client, connect to it and proceed to stream a download and it ranges between 6Kbs and 50 kbs speeds. I let that run for a good 10 minutes and it is pathetic. While the download is going I disconnect NordVPN and my download jumps up to 6 Mgbs. I'll be looking for a better solution. Test for yourself before buying. I do have to applaud NordVPN for giving us the 3 day trial, thanks NordVPN!
  • ing.karel.kral
    Horrible experience! I have purchased 2 year subsription. Most of time NordVPN is not working at all. Connects, transfers for 30 sec. After this time connection is still connected but transfer speed drops to 0 kB/s.
  • Deshan
    very slow comparing with ExpressVPN and it take forever to download any file!
  • SR-71 Blackbird
    My Nord runs fast on all my devices.
  • orseersho
    This review isn't up to date. I'm using NordVPN and have great speed, on average I'm experiencing just 10% DL deacrease. So far no app crash or connection drops - satisfied with NordVPN
  • arcadesale69
    I purchased a 2 Year Sunscription simply due to the Great Price. I really like the simple interface and support has been pretty good overall. The BIG PROBLEM is SPEED! Plain and Simply. We lose 50% of our Speed with anything and everything while connected to NordVPN. As soon as we Disable it, all of our speed comes right back. We are also experiencing Numerous Disconnects during Peak hours. Again, disconnecting from NordVPN gives us a solid connection with NO disconnects.

    CONCLUSION... You get what you pay for as we are only paying an average of $3.00 per month since we pre-paid for 2 years. The #1 problem is SPEED SUCKS! Some Disconnects. Everything else is good.
  • SR-71 Blackbird
    I use NordVPN on all my setups , no issues with speed at all.
  • joecreatabledotco
    I've just put an offer on NordVPN up on my site and I've had no issues with speed during my tests. Sure, it's not as fast as a direct connection, that's to be expected! If you're getting slow speeds then I recommend going to the server list and selecting a server with a low load percentage.