ExpressVPN and NordVPN are two of the most well-known VPNs on the market. Whether you’ve seen ads for them on YouTube or had a friend mention them, odds are you’ve heard of at least one of these titans of the industry.
While we have done a dedicated ExpressVPN review as well as a NordVPN review, we feel that it isn’t enough to just look at each VPN in its own bubble. So we decided it was time to put these two head to head in an ExpressVPN vs NordVPN showdown to see which one takes the crown for best VPN.
Setting Up a Fight: NordVPN vs ExpressVPN
In order to ensure that our NordVPN vs ExpressVPN matchup is fair, we’ve developed a simple ruleset. We’ve broken things down into nine rounds with each section focusing on a vital aspect of VPN performance.
In each round, we’ll discuss how each of the VPNs perform in that area and compare each one’s performance. We’ll wrap up each round by declaring a winner, and that VPN will receive a point.
It is possible — and even likely, with these two top contenders — for there to be a tied round. If this happens, both VPNs are given a point. The VPN with the most points at the end is the winner and, in this case, the champion of champions.
The last time we did an ExpressVPN vs NordVPN article, this round was very clear-cut: ExpressVPN had better speeds than NordVPN in every location. In fact, if you check out our fastest VPNs roundup, we put NordVPN into the “dishonorable mentions” at one point because it had developed a reputation for being so inconsistent in our speed tests.
However, it seems that over the course of several months, NordVPN has been steadily improving. In our speed tests for this article, NordVPN was able to trade blows with ExpressVPN from location to location.
Starting off with the local U.S. servers, NordVPN had a lower ping time and higher speeds for both download and upload. Moving to the UK, NordVPN still has an advantage when it comes to ping, but ExpressVPN wins in download and upload speed.
NordVPN is faster in Hong Kong across the board, and while ExpressVPN manages to have lower ping in Israel, NordVPN gets vastly better speeds. However, despite having made progress on paper, there are still a few issues that NordVPN faces when it comes to speed.
For starters, NordVPN takes quite a bit longer to get connected. ExpressVPN can get a stable connection going in about five to seven seconds, and the connection feels immediately stable. NordVPN can take between 10 and 15 seconds to connect, and even after the software says it’s connected, it can still take a few additional seconds to actually get going.
Taking a bit longer to get connected to a server is one thing, but the real problem with NordVPN is that the on-paper speeds are not entirely reflective of what the actual performance is like.
Although NordVPN has certainly gotten better than it once was and is a respectably fast VPN, it seems to still have the similar stability and reliability issues that we discussed in the fastest VPNs article.
NordVPN sometimes functions flawlessly and feels very fast and responsive. Other times, however, things slow down to a crawl, and even simple text-based websites can randomly take 30 seconds to load in.
ExpressVPN, by contrast, is very reliable. It’s easy to unintentionally leave ExpressVPN connected for days at a time and never even realize it — we’ve done it before.
For this reason, we’re giving this round to ExpressVPN. Despite NordVPN having better performance on paper, it is still plagued by the issue of inconsistency and will suddenly lose the pep in its step at random and inconvenient times. For those looking for a fast and reliable VPN without ExpressVPN’s high price tag (which we’ll get into later) check out our Private Internet Access review (read our ExpressVPN vs PIA comparison, too).
Point for ExpressVPN
ExpressVPN and NordVPN are some of the best of the best when it comes to streaming performance. Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN support streaming on all servers, instead of requiring dedicated streaming servers.
You can connect to any server, and Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video will all work just fine no matter which VPN you’re using. In fact, NordVPN and ExpressVPN both appear on our best VPN for Netflix and best VPN for Hulu lists (we have guides that show you how to watch Hulu with ExpressVPN and how to watch Netflix with ExpressVPN).
That said, there is still a clear winner here. ExpressVPN loads in videos instantly and feels very responsive when scrubbing through a video. For some reason, NordVPN struggled when loading in streaming video on any site we tried.
This reinforces what we said in the last round. In spite of its excellent performance in our speed testing, NordVPN stuttered a lot when we tried streaming video, no matter what server we were on or what site we were streaming from.
Even sites like YouTube and Twitch, which don’t use geoblocking, were performing very poorly. On NordVPN, Twitch loaded in at 360p. This was a stark contrast to ExpressVPN, which immediately loaded Twitch at 1080p resolution and 60fps.
Although it is able to access the content, NordVPN loaded in at such a low quality and frame rate that we’re giving the streaming round to ExpressVPN.
ExpressVPN can avoid geoblocking with ease and at the same time load almost instantly in full HD every time. No wonder it’s our best VPN for streaming.
Point for ExpressVPN
3. Security and Privacy
NordVPN and ExpressVPN are almost identical when it comes to security. Both VPNs use OpenVPN as the protocol paired with AES-256 encryption. ExpressVPN also has IKEv2 and L2TP, and it even lets users change the OpenVPN configuration files to dial in certain aspects of the protocol, but this is a bit beyond what most users are willing to dabble in.
NordVPN offers IKEv2 as a protocol, but this is something that isn’t installed with the client and must be set up manually. If you want more options when it comes to protocol and encryption, be sure to take a look at our VyprVPN review. It offers several protocols, including the proprietary “Chameleon” protocol.
Both ExpressVPN and NordVPN have a perfectly functional kill switch, and we’ve never been able to detect any kind of IP address or DNS leaks while testing either VPN. As if this round wasn’t already close enough, both VPNs also have pretty similar privacy policies and neither one has ever disclosed user information.
Neither one logs your IP address, and both VPN providers collect only an absolute minimum amount of information, such as an email address and payment method.
NordVPN did suffer a hack some time ago, but, as we describe in this article, it seems to have dealt with the vulnerability quickly and efficiently. We can say that NordVPN is safe to use.
We can safely say that you’ll be free to securely browse the web no matter which of these VPNs you choose (ExpressVPN is our top pick for China and we have a guide on how to use ExpressVPN in China, but NordVPN works in China, too), and for that reason, we’re declaring this round a tie. Check out our article on the most secure VPNs for more on this.
No clear winner, points for all
To test each VPN provider’s torrenting performance, we download a 1.4GB video file, which is roughly the size you can expect an episode of a 30-minute TV show to be. ExpressVPN was able to get up to speed quickly on our test download and spent much of the download time running at around 7.5MB/s.
ExpressVPN’s download continued to speed up past the two and a half minute mark, reaching speeds of 13MB/s by the end of the download. The whole download took only three minutes and 15 seconds, and it finished while it seemed like there was still more in the tank. There is a potential that ExpressVPN could have reached higher speeds on a larger download.
NordVPN started off a bit more slowly than ExpressVPN, but it kept consistently climbing for the duration of the download. By two and a half minutes, the download was coming in at a blazing 17MB/s and the download finished in three minutes and five seconds.
The strange part is that for the results we got, we did not use the dedicated P2P servers that NordVPN offers, we just used the normal U.S. servers. The P2P servers were much slower, and the download took about six minutes using them.
Unlike in the “streaming” round, here we saw NordVPN actually make use of its superior speed that we saw on paper… as long as you use the non-P2P servers. This is the fastest download on a torrent file that we’ve seen yet and means that NordVPN is a top choice for torrenting. NordVPN wins its first round so far, further cementing its spot as the best VPN for torrenting. If you still prefer ExpressVPN, check out our torrenting with ExpressVPN guide.
Point for NordVPN
5. Server Locations
ExpressVPN is one of the best VPN providers for those who want as many location options as possible. It lets users connect to servers in 95 countries, including some pretty rare ones like Kenya and Laos. The distribution of the servers is great and includes several options in the Middle East and Africa, so you can have a server relatively nearby no matter where you are.
NordVPN actually has a greater number of servers than ExpressVPN, with some 4,500 servers to ExpressVPN’s roughly 2,000, but the spread is not as impressive. NordVPN has servers in only 62 countries.
Both providers have respectable networks, but the VPN with the most locations is actually neither of these top-shelf competitors, but HideMyAss. If you read our HideMyAss review, you’ll see that it has a server network with a jaw-dropping 290 locations in 190 countries.
HideMyAss isn’t competing against these two today though. ExpressVPN has more available locations and is the winner in this round.
Point for ExpressVPN
6. Simultaneous Connections
Most VPN services limit users to a certain number of simultaneous connections for a number of reasons. These can range from preventing excessive server load to just making it harder for people to share accounts.
If you’ve got a lot of devices at home that you want to protect, it’s important to make sure you can cover all of them, ideally with a single VPN subscription. When it comes to NordVPN and ExpressVPN, it’s close, but NordVPN takes the advantage.
NordVPN allows users to connect up to six devices at once, while ExpressVPN only allows for five simultaneous connections, making NordVPN the clear winner. If you have tons of devices that you want to protect and don’t want to bother with multiple accounts, check out our Windscribe review. Windscribe allows for an unlimited number of simultaneous connections per account.
Point for NordVPN
Starting with the most short-term plans and working up, both NordVPN and ExpressVPN offer a month-by-month signup option. NordVPN’s price for this option is about $1 per month less than ExpressVPN’s. Next, ExpressVPN offers a six-month plan that is a few dollars less per month than either NordVPN’s or ExpressVPN’s monthly plan.
Moving up even further, both VPN services have a one-year plan, with NordVPN’s annual plan technically coming it at slightly less than ExpressVPN’s. However, ExpressVPN actually includes an extra three months for free with this plan, which brings it’s per-month cost just below NordVPN’s.
This is where ExpressVPN’s options end, but NordVPN keeps going. NordVPN also has a two-year plan and even the option to sign up for three years. Both the two-year and three-year plans beat any price ExpressVPN has to offer, with the three-year option being one of the most competitively priced plans out there (look at our ExpressVPN vs CyberGhost and NordVPN vs CyberGhost comparisons, and check out our CyberGhost review for a look at NordVPN’s biggest competitor for affordable long-term VPN plans.)
Both VPN services have a 30-day money-back guarantee, and both also accept not only credit and debit cards but also bitcoin. Unfortunately, there’s no ExpressVPN free trial or NordVPN free trial, though, so if you’re looking for a free VPN, be sure to read our best free VPNs article.
NordVPN offers better pricing in the short term with its monthly pricing, while ExpressVPN takes a slight edge on the annual plans. Where NordVPN really shines though is in the long term with its three-year plan making for one of the best values we’ve seen. For that reason, we’re giving this round to NordVPN.
Point for NordVPN
ExpressVPN and NordVPN’s user interfaces are in many ways polar opposites, but both work well. ExpressVPN’s software design uses a very clean layout with minimal visual clutter, which allows for a smaller window size. This compact window has a large connect button in the middle with a server menu beneath that and a pair of recent locations at the bottom.
NordVPN, on the other hand, has a window that is about four times the size of ExpressVPN’s. The reason for NordVPN needing all of this screen space is that the interface features a large world map.
This map has small bubbles in each location that has a server, which you can click to connect to that location (read our guide to why NordVPN is not connecting, if you have trouble). To the left of the map is a list of available locations, in case the map isn’t your preferred method of browsing locations.
Moving into the settings, NordVPN has a slight edge. The layout of the settings is a bit better, but more importantly, NordVPN gives some explanation in the menu as to what each setting does. This makes it easy, even for those who are unfamiliar with using a VPN, to configure the settings to their liking.
Ultimately, both of these VPNs are very user-friendly. It really comes down to whether you value having a compact software that leaves most of your screen visible, or having a nice map to see all the available locations. For that reason, this round ends in a tie.
No clear winner, points for all
For starters, both ExpressVPN and NordVPN have all of the basic features that we expect all decent VPNs to cover. Both options have a functional kill switch as well as a way to automatically connect on startup. Both providers also offer 24/7 live chat customer support.
As for additional bells and whistles, each VPN has one standout extra feature. For NordVPN, it’s “CyberSec.” This is an ad blocker that also helps keep you safe from malware, phishing and other online threats. It does this simply by blocking the sites that serve this kind of content.
ExpressVPN’s big extra feature is split-tunneling. This is an incredibly useful feature that lets you choose on a per-application basis which computer programs use the VPN’s secure connection and which programs use your regular internet connection.
This means you could be downloading a torrent file through a VPN connection while playing a game on your low-ping regular internet. This is a great feature that is hard to find, and ExpressVPN’s implementation of this feature is one of the best available thanks to the straightforward simplicity when it comes to setting it up.
NordVPN’s blocker is nice to have, but there are countless other options when it comes to ad blockers, and many people are already using one separate from their VPN. Split-tunneling is a feature that is valuable and hard to find, meaning ExpressVPN takes the final round.
Point for ExpressVPN
10. Final Thoughts
As we expected, many of the rounds in this ExpressVPN vs NordVPN matchup ended in a tie. Both of these VPNs are excellent and at the top of the industry (read our NordVPN vs IPVanish piece), but ExpressVPN was able to take the win in this matchup by a single point thanks to its split-tunneling feature. ExpressVPN’s superior reliability was also a major deciding factor in pushing it ahead in several rounds.
If you’ve had experience with NordVPN or ExpressVPN, we’re always interested in hearing about it in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading.