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How to speed up your VPN and increase internet download speed

Verified by Amy Reeves

Virtual private networks (VPNs) have become critical for ensuring data protection and online privacy. However, a challenge that users frequently encounter is the VPN-induced internet slowdown. Our guide explores the most effective steps to take if your VPN slows down the internet traffic on your devices.

Internet slowdown can impact our online activities significantly, especially when streaming, video conferencing, gaming and downloading data. This concern prompts many to question the effectiveness of VPNs, which inherently encrypt and reroute internet traffic, inevitably causing some latency. 

It’s vital to realise that optimising your VPN speed can mitigate these delays, striking a balance between security and efficient connectivity. Addressing the common concern that using a VPN slows down your internet speed, our experts have collected the best strategies to speed up your VPN, internet connection and overall network performance, thus bridging the gap between security and speed. 

We’ll also explore the options for faster downloads while using a VPN and the most suitable VPN solutions available. Let’s start with some top tips.

Speed up your VPN: Quick tips

  • Choose a fast VPN server: Opting for a geographically closer server with a lower user load can increase connection speed and stability
  • Use a wired connection: Ethernet cables often provide greater bandwidth and stability than wireless connections, enhancing VPN performance
  • Change VPN protocol: Adjusting the rules for data transmission between your device and the VPN server can resolve persistent connectivity issues
  • Disable firewall and antivirus: Firewalls and antivirus software can hinder VPN connections by blocking specific Internet Protocol (IP) ranges or ports, so temporarily turning them off could enhance connectivity
  • Use split tunnelling: Routing only necessary traffic through the VPN can alleviate bandwidth demands and potentially increase speed
  • Enable Quality of Service (QoS): Activating QoS prioritises VPN traffic over other types of network traffic, ensuring a consistent, speedy connection
  • Use a VPN router: Implementing a VPN router can reduce disconnections and save time by eliminating the need to install the VPN software on multiple devices

Tips to increase overall internet speed while using a VPN

  • Use a fast internet connection: A robust, high-speed internet connection is fundamental to ensure optimal VPN performance and speed; always use a wired option if available
  • Regularly clear browser cache: This prevents slowdowns caused by storing vast amounts of data and increases internet speed while using a VPN
  • Disable background apps: Closing unnecessary background applications can free up bandwidth and computational resources, enhancing VPN performance
  • Use ad blockers: Ad blockers can prevent bandwidth-intensive ads from loading, reducing data usage and potentially increasing internet speed during a VPN session

Factors influencing VPN speed

The speed of your VPN depends on various factors, such as your VPN provider’s routing of the data between servers, your network setup and VPN protocols. Furthermore, distant server locations can cause latency. Encryption, server loads, Central Processing Unit (CPU)/Random Access Memory (RAM) usage and overall network traffic are other determinants of VPN speeds.

Let’s explore some of the main factors to consider.

  • Encryption
    VPN encryption plays a crucial role in determining the speed of your connection. More robust encryption, like Advanced Encryption Standard with 256 bits (AES-256), provides higher security but demands more processing power, slowing down the VPN connection. On the other hand, AES-128 encryption is lighter and faster but compromises the safety of your data. Each encryption adds extra data to the data stream, consuming more bandwidth and potentially reducing speed. Thus, choosing an encryption type compatible with your device and platform while balancing speed and security is crucial. 
  • Server load
    The number of users connected to a VPN server directly influences your connection speed. The more users there are on a server, the further its resources are divided, potentially slowing down the service for everyone. This occurrence, known as server overload, is widespread with free or cheaper VPN services without adequate server density and capacity. However, it can also occur with any VPN if the server’s total bandwidth is exceeded. Premium VPNs often provide server load information, helping you select less crowded servers for better speeds. 
  • Network congestion
    Network congestion arises when a network is burdened with more traffic than it can handle, leading to a data traffic jam. Such congestion typically happens when too many data requests or communications are initiated simultaneously over a network with inadequate bandwidth to manage them. Like a crowded highway during rush hour, this traffic overload can significantly slow down data delivery, affecting VPN connection speeds.

VPN speed test and analysis

The tool for VPN speed testing used and recommended by our experts is Speedtest by Ookla. However, the results are approximations, as VPN speeds can fluctuate based on factors such as your internet connection, computer performance and even your browser.

Here’s a straightforward method you can use:

  1. Log in to your VPN account and connect to a VPN server.
  2. Visit speedtest.com 
  3. Click “Go” and await the initial connection.

  4. Read the speed test results, focusing on the download speed.

  5. Disconnect your VPN and repeat the process, noting the speed difference.

The percentage change in download speeds with and without the VPN can give a snapshot of the VPN’s performance.

The speed test result shows three key metrics:

  • Download speed
    This value indicates how quickly data from the internet reaches your device, measured in megabits per second (Mbps). A high download speed allows for fast video streaming, file download and website access. A download speed of around 20-25Mbps is acceptable.
  • Upload speed
    This measures the speed at which you send data and requests to the internet. A low upload speed can hinder tasks like video calls or live streaming. An upload speed of around 3Mbps for casual usage is adequate, but you might need about 10Mbps for high-quality video streaming.
  • Latency, also known as Ping, rate
    This measures overall connection speed, denoting the time (in milliseconds) it takes for a data packet to be sent from your device to a server and back. A lower ping number indicates a faster connection. For example, a ping rate of 80ms means it took approximately 80 milliseconds for the data exchange to occur. The ideal value for gamers is well under 50ms, but any ping rate below 100ms is acceptable.

How to optimise VPN speed and performance

Now that we’ve seen what influences your VPN speed, let’s talk about how you can optimise it.

Choosing a fast and reliable VPN provider

An excellent VPN service guards your online activities and provides a seamless browsing experience.

Consider the following factors when you’re on the hunt for the ideal VPN service: 

  • Security features
    Look for uncrackable Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)-256 encryption, secure tunnelling protocols, a no-log policy and a kill switch for optimal privacy and data protection.

  • Speed and stability
    A VPN provider should offer a fast and consistent connection to ensure a seamless browsing experience.
  • Server locations and bandwidth capacity
    Providers with an expansive network of servers worldwide, like ExpressVPN, with servers in 94 countries, can offer better speeds and lower latency due to a smaller probability of server overload or congestion. Conversely, providers with a limited number of servers, such as Atlas VPN, which only has servers in three locations in two countries, may face higher risks of server congestion. Additionally, consider the VPN service’s bandwidth capacity to avoid potential slowdowns during peak usage times.
  • Supported VPN protocols
    The variety and security level of VPN protocols the provider supports are important to match your specific needs.
  • Device compatibility
    Ensure the VPN service is compatible with all your devices and performs flawlessly on your preferred platform.
  • Customer support
    Round-the-clock customer support can be a lifesaver when you face any issues or have questions about the service.
  • Cost
    The VPN service should provide good value for the price and fit within your budget.

Selecting the right VPN server

Consider server proximity 

Typically, a VPN server close to your physical location will yield faster connection speeds, as the data has a shorter distance to travel. For example, if you’re in Boston, you’d likely get a quicker VPN connection from a New York City or Montreal server than one in Sydney or Tokyo. However, this may not always be viable if you aim to access content or services specific to a particular geographic region. 

Consider server load 

The number of users on a server can impact its connection speed. If a server is overloaded with users, your connection may slow down. Many premium VPN services provide server load information, helping you choose less crowded servers for potentially faster speeds. 

How to choose the most suitable VPN server for optimal speed

  1. Understand your needs: Before selecting a server, identify your particular needs. For accessing geographically restricted content, choose a server in the relevant region, or pick one closer to your physical location for general browsing and security
  2. Test different servers: Try connecting to servers in different locations. Use the speed test tool to measure each server’s speed and reliability and choose the server that provides the best balance of speed and connectivity
  3. Check server load: Many premium VPN providers display the current load for each server. Servers with fewer users tend to be faster and more reliable
  4. Experiment and adjust: Optimal server choice might change depending on the time of day, the number of active users and other factors. Repeat the above steps to ensure you always get the best speed possible

How to configure VPN protocols and encryption

Choosing the correct VPN protocol can play a significant role in the speed and security of your VPN connection. Each protocol has different strengths and might be more suitable depending on your needs. Let’s discuss different VPN protocols and their impact on speed:

OpenVPN 

This is one of the most widely-used VPN protocols due to its flexibility and balance between speed and security. OpenVPN can operate on the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) or User Datagram Protocol (UDP). 

Because it prioritises the correct and complete delivery of data packets, TCP provides a reliable connection but at a slightly slower speed. On the other hand, UDP is designed for speed and efficiency. It doesn’t verify the receipt or the data packets’ order, making it faster but slightly less reliable than TCP. You can choose either protocol depending on your speed or data reliability needs.

IKEv2/IPSec 

Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2)/Internet Protocol Security (IPSec) stands out in its connection speed and stability, making it ideal for mobile users switching between networks (like wifi and mobile data). It establishes, breaks and re-establishes connections quickly, ensuring minimal delay. The downside is that it might be slower than some newer protocols.

WireGuard 

The newcomer in the VPN protocol arena, WireGuard, offers superior speeds due to its simplified code structure and cryptography. Its lightweight nature allows faster transmission speeds and quicker connection times than older protocols. 

Additionally, specific VPN providers have developed proprietary protocols, such as ExpressVPN’s Lightway or NordVPN’s NordLynx. These protocols claim to offer high-speed connections without compromising security.

Select appropriate encryption levels

Consider your security requirements and system resources when choosing a VPN encryption level. 

Most VPNs use AES, which provides three levels: 128-bit, 192-bit and 256-bit. Some free VPNs use AES-128, which is lighter and provides basic security at a low computational cost and higher speeds. However, it’s not suitable for handling sensitive information. 

We recommend opting for AES-256 for utmost data security, especially in high-sensitivity environments. Note that the stronger the encryption, the higher the performance requirement. Despite its computational demands, AES-256 provides robust protection against brute-force attacks. This is the encryption level used by top industry players, such as NordVPN, ExpressVPN, Surfshark, Proton VPN, PureVPN, hide.me, CyberGhost and Windscribe.

When selecting a VPN encryption level, consider your risk tolerance, operational needs and the sensitivity of the data being protected. Furthermore, ensure to complement AES encryption with strong passwords, multifactor authentication and increased awareness of social engineering and phishing attacks to maximise your data protection. 

Adjusting VPN settings for speed

Optimising your VPN settings can also increase speed. The two features directly related to speed and performance are split tunnelling and protocol selection. Our researchers have illustrated the process using the NordVPN app, but you can find these functions in the most popular VPN solutions.

Enable split tunnelling 

Split tunnelling allows you selectively route traffic through the VPN or your regular internet connection. For instance, you can secure your streaming traffic with the VPN while allowing your gaming data to bypass it for a faster experience. To activate split tunnelling, follow these steps:

  1. Start the VPN app.
  2. Locate and click the gear icon leading to the “Settings” menu.

  3. Select “Split Tunnelling”.
  4. Activate split tunnelling by switching on the toggle button.
  5. Next, you will see two options: disabling the VPN for specific apps or enabling it solely for chosen apps. Determine your preferred choice.
  6. Proceed to add the apps you wish to include in your selection.

Routing only necessary traffic through the VPN reduces bandwidth burden, boosting VPN and overall internet speeds.

Switch VPN protocols

The protocols your VPN app supports are easy to discover in the settings.

With NordVPN, you can select NordLynx (a version of WireGuard), IKEv2/IPSec or OpenVPN. Here’s how to change them. 

  1. Launch the VPN application and click the gear icon to open the “Settings” menu.
  2. Locate and select the “Connection” section.

  3. Select the dropdown menu with all available protocols.
  4. Choose the desired protocol.

After adjusting protocols, reconnect to the VPN. Try using the different protocols to identify the one that works best for you regarding speed and performance.

Network optimisation techniques

Optimising your network is essential for enhancing its performance and improving your VPN operation. Here are some effective techniques.

  • Ensure regular maintenance of your network, including firmware and software updates to add new features and security patches, improving network device performance
  • Inspect network connections, including cables, switches, routers and other hardware, to make sure they’re configured, connected and operating correctly
  • Optimise bandwidth to allocate enough capacity to vital traffic and applications
  • Upgrade your network to increase bandwidth and enhance performance by changing outdated hardware
  • Adjust network settings, such as QoS, buffer and packet sizes, to prioritise critical traffic and optimise performance
  • Implement network segmentation to set subnetworks, which helps manage traffic and resources better, avoid congestion and enhance security
  • Balance network load by distributing requests among multiple servers, which prevents individual server overload, avoids network congestion and enhances performance

Improving VPN download speeds

Although it’s generally known that VPNs cause traffic slowdowns, you can use them to accelerate downloads. 

Choose VPN servers with peer-to-peer (P2P) support

Selecting a P2P-optimised VPN server can significantly enhance your download speeds. Unlike conventional server–client interactions, a P2P network employs every device as both a client and server. Since files are divided into smaller segments for downloading from multiple sources simultaneously, a P2P-optimised server offers faster download times.

Investing in a VPN with dedicated P2P support, such as NordVPN, Proton VPN, ExpressVPN, Surfshark and CyberGhost, brings substantial benefits:

  • Ensures your connection remains stable and secure during P2P transfers
  • Masks your activity from potential surveillance, including internet service providers (ISPs) and government entities
  • Bypasses potential throttling by ISPs or disconnections associated with P2P activities
  • Protects and maintains your bandwidth and speed, delivering efficient and swift downloads

By optimising the capabilities of P2P networks and the security features of a VPN, users can maximise their internet speed potential securely and efficiently.

Download manager integration

Download manager software, such as Internet Download Manager, enhances the downloading process. Download managers segment files into multiple streams, allowing accelerated and more manageable downloading. Also, they can resume interrupted downloads, providing robust recovery solutions in case of network failures or other disruptions. 

Key benefits include:

  • Improved download speeds by utilising full bandwidth
  • Enhanced security through VPN compatibility
  • Efficient download management and scheduling
  • Advanced recovery and resume capabilities

Incorporating a download manager with your VPN optimises and accelerates the download process while enhancing online privacy.

Faster VPN options

After testing five popular VPN providers, we found that Surfshark is the fastest VPN. Our evaluation was based on download and upload speeds both with and without the VPN and performance when connecting from the UK to the UK, the US and Australia.

In the table below, you’ll see a breakdown of the speeds we recorded.

VPN provider No VPN download speed No VPN upload speed UK to UK download speed UK to UK upload speed UK to US download speed UK to US upload speed UK to Aus download speed
NordVPN 68.8Mbps 18.2Mbps 62.6Mbps 15.2Mbps 51.4Mbps 13.2Mbps 45.3Mbps
Surfshark 71.5Mbps 18.6Mbps 68.5Mbps 17.8Mbps 63.1Mbps 16.9Mbps 46Mbps
CyberGhost 72.1Mbps 18.6Mbps 62.7Mbps 17.4Mbps 53.4Mbps 16Mbps 33.9Mbps
ExpressVPN 70.3Mbps 18.5Mbps 65.3Mbps 15.2Mbps 37.8Mbps 16.9Mbps 41.3Mbps
VPNSecure 70.3Mbps 18.6Mbps 67.3Mbps 17.4Mbps 48Mbps 15.7Mbps 38.5Mbps

Our comprehensive testing indicates that Surfshark consistently maintains download and upload speeds across all tested locations. CyberGhost and NordVPN follow closely, both showcasing robust performance.

Although ExpressVPN exhibits impressive speeds when operating within the UK, a noticeable decrease in speed is observed when the connection is extended to the US and beyond. Similarly, VPNSecure delivers commendable results within the UK but presents average performance when testing other regions.

Frequently asked questions

Your VPN may be slow on your phone due to several factors:

  • Server distance: The farther the VPN server is from your location, the slower the speed
  • Limited RAM: VPNs need sufficient RAM to run smoothly
  • Background processes: Running alongside other apps can slow down VPN performance
  • Encryption overhead: Encryption can increase data usage by 5 to 10 per cent and potentially cause a 10 to 20 per cent drop in speed

Here are some tips to speed up your VPN on Windows 10 and above:

  • Switch servers: Choose a server closer to your location for better speeds
  • Change VPN protocols: Try switching to a different protocol, as some are faster than others
  • Optimise network settings: Check if your router settings and wifi signal strength are optimal
  • Use a wired connection: A wired connection often provides faster and more stable speeds than wireless
  • Enable split tunnelling: If your VPN supports it, split tunnelling can speed up your connection by only routing necessary traffic through the VPN
  • Close unnecessary applications: Running too many apps can slow down your connection, so close any unneeded ones
  • Update your VPN: Ensure your VPN client is up to date, as updates often contain performance improvements

While VPNs generally slow down your internet due to the encryption process, there are instances where a VPN might increase your download speed. Some ISPs throttle or deliberately slow down specific types of traffic, including streaming services such as Netflix.

Using a VPN can bypass this throttling because the encrypted VPN traffic prevents the ISP from recognising the services you’re accessing, enhancing your internet speed.

A VPN’s download speed can be slow due to a few reasons:

  • Server location: Connecting to a VPN server far from your location can slow down speeds
  • Encryption overhead: Encryption processes used by VPNs can cause some speed loss
  • Network congestion: A VPN server crowded with users can affect download speeds

Yes, a VPN can slow down your internet connection. This is primarily due to the encryption process and the physical distance to the VPN server. However, this slowdown is usually minimal and often not noticeable for regular browsing.

Round up of today’s best VPN deals
NordVPN 2 year £2.49 /Month
£2.49 /Month
Surfshark 24 month £1.79 /Month
£1.79 /Month
ExpressVPN 12 month £6.79 /Month
£6.79 /Month
CyberGhost 2 year £1.78 /Month
£1.78 /Month
Proton 2 year £4.26 /Month
£4.26 /Month
PIA 2 year £1.57 /Month
£1.57 /Month
Atlas 2 year £1.34 /Month
£1.34 /Month
PrivadoVPN 2 year £1.99 /Month
£1.99 /Month
Windscribe 12 month £4.60 /Month
£4.60 /Month
IPVanish 2 year £2.92 /Month
£2.92 /Month

Mariana is an experienced technology writer specialising in web and internet technology. She writes about cyber security, including VPN; web development; and software engineering. She has been writing since 2006 and held a position of English lecturer at Technical University of Varna in Bulgaria until 2022, working in a variety of educational fields.

For the Independent Advisor, Mariana writes about the usefulness of VPNs and how people can protect themselves and their data online.

Amy Reeves

Editor

Amy is a seasoned writer and editor with a special interest in home design, sustainable technology and green building methods.

She has interviewed hundreds of self-builders, extenders and renovators about their journeys towards individual, well-considered homes, as well as architects and industry experts during her five years working as Assistant Editor at Homebuilding & Renovating, part of Future plc.

Amy’s work covers topics ranging from home, interior and garden design to DIY step-by-steps, planning permission and build costs, and has been published in Period Living, Real Homes, and 25 Beautiful Homes, Homes and Gardens.

Now an Editor at the Independent Advisor, Amy manages homes-related content for the site, including solar panels, combi boilers, and windows.

Her passion for saving tired and inefficient homes also extends to her own life; Amy completed a renovation of a mid-century house in 2022 and is about to embark on an energy-efficient overhaul of a 1800s cottage in Somerset.