After reviewing dozens upon dozens of virtual private networks, a few standouts have naturally risen to the top. ExpressVPN is a great example of this. In our ExpressVPN review, we looked at its stalwart security, impressive speeds and its hard-to-find split tunneling feature.
CyberGhost is a VPN provider that we have been watching for a long time, but it’s had its issues. That is, until early 2019, when it released CyberGhost 7, the latest version of its software client. In our CyberGhost review, we were wowed by the improvements the new software offered and by CyberGhost’s very robust split tunneling.
With the upgraded software, CyberGhost jumped to the number-three spot in our overall VPN rankings. Considering that both of these two top-of-the-line VPNs offer split tunneling, a feature that is incredibly useful and just as hard to find, we thought it would be perfect to compare them head to head in an ExpressVPN vs CyberGhost showdown.
Setting Up a Fight: ExpressVPN vs CyberGhost
To ensure that our ExpressVPN vs CyberGhost comparison is fair, we need to lay down some rules. We usually break these articles down into nine rounds, but in this case we have a special topic to cover: split tunneling. This feature is rare enough and important enough that we are giving this article a 10th section dedicated to comparing the two versions of split tunneling.
In each round we look at an aspect of VPN performance and see how each provider measures up in that category. At the end of the round we choose a winner. The winner of each round is given a point, and the best VPN with more points at the end is declared the winner.
To see how VPNs perform when it comes to speed, we test each one in four different locations around the world. To keep things fair, we make sure that each VPN is using the same protocol and encryption.
The reason why this is especially significant when comparing ExpressVPN and CyberGhost is that CyberGhost uses IKEv2 as the default protocol. For reason we’ll discuss in more detail later in the “security and privacy” section, we set up both VPNs to use OpenVPN as the protocol during our speed testing. This, as we saw in our fastest VPNs roundup, hurts CyberGhost’s performance on paper quite a bit.
That said, with both ExpressVPN and CyberGhost using OpenVPN and AES-256 encryption, both perform very well in the highly trafficked servers of the U.S. and UK, with ExpressVPN taking the lead in both locations. It’s also worth noting that both VPNs also had very low ping time, which is why both ranked highly in our best VPN for gaming article.
Moving to regions with less traffic, things got worse for both providers, but much more so for CyberGhost. ExpressVPN still had triple digits across the board while CyberGhost sank all the way into the single digits in Switzerland, which CyberGhost’s client was telling us was only at 44-percent load at the time.
That said, even the Swiss server was actually quite usable. Somehow, even though the math doesn’t quite add up, YouTube loaded in videos at 1080p and 60fps without almost any noticeable delay and Twitch did the same after about five seconds of playing at 360p.
Still, despite CyberGhost being serviceable across the board when in use, the numbers on paper paint a very clear picture. As we’ve seen before, ExpressVPN is very hard to beat in this category thanks to its ability to not only reach very high speeds, but to do so consistently day in and day out.
Both ExpressVPN and CyberGhost appear on several of our best-streaming-VPNs lists, such as our best VPN for Netflix article, in which ExpressVPN ranked at the top, and our best VPN for Hulu article, where CyberGhost took the top spot.
The first major difference in how these two providers handle streaming is that ExpressVPN supports streaming on every one of its servers.
Some providers have special servers available that are configured to work better for streaming geoblocked content, and CyberGhost uses this setup. Check out our Windscribe review for a look at another great streaming VPN that has dedicated servers.
Even without dedicated streaming servers, ExpressVPN is able to cut right through any kind of VPN detection and denial system. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and even BBC iPlayer all work without any special server or settings. Check out our how to watch Netflix with ExpressVPN and how to watch Hulu with ExpressVPN guides.
We started out by testing CyberGhost’s ability to access streaming sites without using the dedicated servers. Impressively, even the standard servers were able to get through to BBC iPlayer and watch Netflix with CyberGhost. We were also able to get Amazon Prime Video working using the nonstreaming servers, but it was a bit slow to get started and was running in 720p.
Hulu seemed to work at first on the nonstreaming sites, but when we clicked on something to watch, it would get stuck on a black screen waiting for the video to load and start playing. This issue was immediately remedied when we connected to a streaming server.
Although both providers were able to access every major streaming site we tried, ExpressVPN was able to do so with fewer hoops. ExpressVPN also had no issue playing things at 1080p without delay, while on occasion things would drop in quality with CyberGhost.
3. Security and Privacy
There are a lot of things that a VPN provider has to cover to be effective at protecting your online privacy. First, we expect every VPN worth its weight to have both a kill switch and a way to have the VPN connect automatically. Both ExpressVPN and CyberGhost have these foundational security features covered.
Next, we expect to see the option of using OpenVPN paired with AES-256 encryption, which is the gold standard for online privacy. Again, both of these VPNs have this covered. In addition to this, CyberGhost offers IKEv2 while ExpressVPN offers IKEv2 and L2TP. If you want a VPN service that offers some harder-to-find protocols, check out our VyprVPN review.
These VPNs measure up very similarly to each other when it comes to security, but ExpressVPN has a slight edge thanks to the fact that it offers one protocol more than CyberGhost does and the fact that it’s based in the British Virgin Islands.
The British Virgin Islands have some of the best privacy laws in the world. CyberGhost, on the other hand, is based in Romania, which has respectable privacy laws and is also covered by the solid EU privacy laws, the British Virgin Islands go above and beyond in this regard.
Just like we saw earlier in the streaming section, CyberGhost offers dedicated servers for torrenting while ExpressVPN’s network is built around multipurpose servers that handle any task you want (read our guide to torrenting with ExpressVPN).
ExpressVPN’s generalized servers actually had the quickest download we’ve ever seen in our torrent testing. The previous record was held by NordVPN, which ironically earned it in our ExpressVPN vs NordVPN article (read our NordVPN vs CyberGhost comparison, too).
ExpressVPN was able to reach 8MB/s within 30 seconds of starting the download and hit 12MB/s by the end of the first minute. By the end of the download, it was running at 15MB/s and showed no signs of slowing down.
Our test file is a 1.4GB video that is the same size as one episode of a 30-minute show. ExpressVPN was able to complete this entire download in two minutes and 30 seconds.
We tested both CyberGhost’s normal servers as well as the dedicated torrenting servers. Predictably, the torrenting servers performed better, but it was still much slower than ExpressVPN. After about two minutes it had only reached a speed of about 8MB/s and it stayed there until it completed the download at the three minute and 25 seconds mark.
This is still a decent time, but ExpressVPN blew it out of the water by beating every VPN we’ve ever tested.
5. Server Locations
Luckily, after all the data-intensive talk of the last few rounds, we get a couple of rounds that are much more straightforward. CyberGhost beats ExpressVPN when it comes to the sheer number of servers, coming in at an impressive 5,000 compared to ExpressVPN’s 2,000.
However, ExpressVPN has a better global distribution of its servers, with locations available in 94 countries, while CyberGhost only has servers in 89 countries. ExpressVPN’s network uses those extra locations well to cover some of the harder-to-find spots, such as Laos.
Since CyberGhost doesn’t let you choose exactly which server you’re connecting to (check out our NordVPN review for a VPN that lets you do that), it’s not that important how many servers are available.
Additionally, it’s clear that ExpressVPN’s 3,000 servers are large enough and have sufficient bandwidth to reliably service its userbase, so its better distribution in more locations wins ExpressVPN this round.
6. Simultaneous Connections
Most VPN providers limit the number of devices that you can use at once to prevent an excessive load on the servers or any issues with people sharing accounts.
This is actually one of ExpressVPN’s weakest areas, as it only allows you to use five devices at once on its network. CyberGhost, on the other hand, allows up to seven simultaneous connections, meaning it wins this round.
Both CyberGhost and ExpressVPN have some pretty expensive plans if you want to purchase your subscription month to month. Both are priced as top-shelf options, and rightfully so, with CyberGhost coming in at just a few cents more.
The next time frame moving up is six months, which is something ExpressVPN offers but not CyberGhost. As you might expect, this six-month option is a few dollars cheaper than either provider’s monthly plan.
Next is the annual plan, which both VPNs offer, but CyberGhost’s pricing is much better with an average per-month cost that is less than half of what you’d pay signing up month-to-month.
Although ExpressVPN’s plans stop there, CyberGhost still has two more options. Its two-year and three-year plans are some of the most affordable VPN plans available when broken down into a per-month cost. The three-year plan comes out to only a few dollars per month.
Moving on to payment methods, both VPNs accept credit cards, debit cards, PayPal and bitcoin. This is significant because paying with bitcoin offers an even greater level of anonymity and means you can sign up using only an email address — no name required, like you’d need with a credit card.
ExpressVPN also accepts a few additional payment methods like UnionPay, Alipay and Sofort, which CyberGhost does not take.
Each VPN service also has a money-back guarantee. Cancelling ExpressVPN is easy, and users get 30 days to take advantage of the money-back guarantee, while CyberGhost lends you a generous 45 days to make up your mind.
Not only that, but CyberGhost also has a free trial, whereas ExpressVPN has no free trial. Between the better long-term pricing, the more forgiving money-back guarantee and the free trial, CyberGhost wins this round easily.
At first glance, when placed side by side, the CyberGhost and ExpressVPN clients have a similar overall layout. A large power button on both lets you connect to the VPN, and the current connection status is clearly displayed in text. Below this is a menu for selecting which server you want to connect to.
ExpressVPN’s server list opens in a second window while CyberGhost has a small dropdown with only a few servers. In the dropdown menu, there is the option to show all of the servers, which then expands the client to make room for a large and well-organized server list.
Both VPNs have well-sorted server lists, but CyberGhost shows your distance from each location as well as the current server load, and it even lets you sort the list by distance or load. Moving into the settings, CyberGhost does a great job of giving explanations for each setting to explain what it is that you’re changing.
ExpressVPN’s settings are a bit less friendly and don’t offer much support for those who are unfamiliar with VPN use. The saving grace to this, however, is that if you can’t figure something out or have a question, there is 24/7 customer support available.
ExpressVPN isn’t difficult to use, by any means, but CyberGhost gives more information that helps you choose a location and lets you sort the server list more flexibly than ExpressVPN. CyberGhost also has helpful explanations in the settings, and while ExpressVPN has 24/7 customer support, so does CyberGhost, which earns CyberGhost the point for this round.
As we’ve seen throughout this article, both of these VPNs do a good job of covering the most basic features, such as a kill switch and automatic connection. In the next round we’ll be talking about the big feature that both of these VPNs share, which is split tunneling. However, in this round we’re going to look for any extra bells and whistles either of these providers might have.
Both of these VPNs aim to be streamlined and user-friendly, so to avoid becoming over cluttered with settings and options, the number of extraneous features is pretty minimal. You can see what packing in too many features can do to a VPN’s usability in our TorGuard review.
CyberGhost doesn’t have much in the way of features outside of the split tunneling. There is a built-in ad blocker that has a few options including things like blocking malicious websites or online tracking, as well as the option to use compression to reduce data usage.
ExpressVPN also features relatively little outside of the split tunneling when it comes to extras. The only thing really noteworthy is that, when you connect to the VPN, a kind of quickbar appears at the bottom of the window. This can be configured with your favorite websites and programs so you can easily launch them with a single click after you connect to the VPN.
Both CyberGhost’s ad blocker and ExpressVPN’s quickbar are things that we’d consider nice-to-have trinkets and not much more.
Most people already have a dedicated ad blocker in place, and if you use CyberGhost’s built-in blocker, it means you won’t be blocking anything if you’re not connected to the VPN. ExpressVPN’s quickbar is convenient, but doesn’t offer much functionality. Because of this, we’re declaring this round a tie and assigning a point to both VPNs.
10. Split Tunneling
Split tunneling is one of the most useful features out there, but it’s hard to find and these two contenders are some of the only VPNs to offer it. Since it is such a rare feature, it’s no surprise that each one handles it differently.
In CyberGhost’s menus, split tunneling goes by “smart rules” and the tunneling is handled on a website-by-website basis. You define a list of exceptions, or websites that you do not want to use the VPN’s connection.
ExpressVPN, on the other hand, handles the split tunneling on an app-by-app basis. There are three options given: either all apps use the VPN, you can define a list of programs that will not be allowed to use the VPN, or you can make a list of apps that must use the VPN.
This is great because it lets you, for example, play a game on your low-latency unprotected connection while at the same time downloading something securely using the VPN connection.
Although it would be fantastic to see one of these VPNs incorporate both a website-based split tunneling and an application-based split tunneling, for now we have to choose. Overall, being able to filter which programs are and aren’t using the VPN is more valuable and useful than filtering by website, so ExpressVPN wins the round.
11. Final Thoughts
It was a close match and very hard fought on both sides, but in the end ExpressVPN takes home the win with a final score of six to five.
Both of these VPNs are great, and CyberGhost’s long-term pricing makes it tempting for those who want something high performance and affordable. However, ExpressVPN is just too fast and its split tunneling is simply too good to be beaten.
If you’ve had experience with either of these VPNs, we’d love to hear how it was in the comments below. Take a look at our ExpressVPN vs PIA piece, too. As always, thanks for reading.