At the moment, NordVPN occupies the number-two spot in our overall VPN rankings. If you read our NordVPN review, you’ll see we love it for a number of reasons, some of which include the affordable long-term pricing, ease of use and excellent security.
Mullvad, on the other hand, hangs out much further down the totem pole of VPNs. However, if you check out our full Mullvad review, you’ll find there is a variety of interesting quirks about it that offer levels of privacy and affordability that most providers cannot.
With this in mind, we decided it was time for a NordVPN vs. Mullvad matchup to see who comes out on top as the king of budget-friendly privacy.
Setting up a Fight: NordVPN vs. Mullvad
To make this competition fair while also being densely informative, we’ve broken things down into five rounds. We’ll start each round by looking at how each provider performs in a certain category.
After evaluating each VPN, we’ll discuss which one is the winner, and why, then assign that VPN one point for that round. The first round focuses on the VPN’s features, followed by rounds on pricing, ease of use, speed and, finally, security.
- : Credit card, Google Pay, AmazonPay, ACH Transfer, UnionPay, Crypto Currencies, PayPal (via Paddle)
- : 6
- : PayPal, Credit card, Cash, Bank Transfer, Bitcoin, bitcoin cash, Swish
- : 5
- : No
To start things off, we’re going to see what kind of features are offered by each VPN provider. We are looking for a couple of things that are important to security, which we consider mandatory for all VPNs in order for them to be called usable.
First, we look for a kill switch, which shuts off the flow of internet traffic if the VPN disconnects. Secondly, we look for the ability to automatically run and connect on startup, which helps ensure that none of your information potentially leaks out before you can manually connect the VPN.
Aside from these, everything else is essentially icing on the cake. Providers will lose major points if there is no kill switch or automatic connection ability, but they will gain points by having extras goodies for tinkerers.
Right out of the gate, NordVPN seems set to impress. Not only does it have a standard kill switch, but it also has an app kill switch. This lets you define a list of programs to cut off from the internet if the VPN loses connection, rather than shutting off the internet entirely.
Additionally, NordVPN has a robust auto-connect menu. You can choose to run the app and always connect on startup, or you can decide to only connect when it detects an unsecure wireless connection. This helps keep your connection safe from the dangers of public WiFi.
The auto-connect menu also lets you choose a preferred server location or region to connect to automatically. As for other features, NordVPN has a few notable ones. Things like invisibility on your local area network and obfuscated servers can help boost your level of online security and anonymity.
For those who are truly security-conscious, NordVPN even offers a double VPN option, which uses multiple VPN servers in a relay to make tracking online activity even more challenging.
Mullvad’s menu layout breaks the settings down into two sections: “preferences” and “advanced.” Under “preferences,” you’ll find toggle switches that let you choose whether you want to configure the application to run on startup, as well as whether or not to connect automatically.
However, there are no settings that let you choose where Mullvad connects to, if you have it configured to connect automatically. However, it seems to connect to the most recent server you’ve used.
The other two options in the preferences menu are for turning notifications on or off, and for allowing local devices, such as printers, to see the connected computer.
Under “advanced,” we find Mullvad’s kill switch, which is simply labeled as “block when disconnected.” Underneath this option is a short description of what it does, which mentions that it blocks traffic when the VPN is not connected, even when the application is closed.
This is an inconvenient way to make a kill switch and, although it still keeps you safe, it’s likely that most people will leave this feature off to avoid the inconvenience.
Aside from the most basic and essential features we mentioned, Mullvad has almost nothing to offer, especially because the way those features are designed is fatally flawed.
Round One Thoughts
Both providers cover the absolute bare necessities that we mentioned, but Mullvad does a poor job of it. The way the Mullvad kill switch works makes it almost unusable, and NordVPN has a more robust implementation of every feature that the two share.
NordVPN also has a number of additional features that push it well ahead of Mullvad in this category. That said, there are still features that both of these providers lack, such as split tunneling.
If you’re interested in a truly feature-rich VPN that includes things like split tunneling, be sure to take a look at our ExpressVPN review.
Pricing is the section that usually allows underdog providers to catch up on points by offering a better deal than the competitor. However, the monetary cost alone is not the only thing we evaluate in this section.
We also look to see if the VPNs provide any free trials and what kind of refund policy they offer. We also consider what payment methods are available and how many connections are allowed per subscription.
As we saw in our NordVPN vs. CyberGhost matchup, NordVPN’s pricing beats out most other top-of-the-line VPNs, but it certainly isn’t unbeatable. NordVPN only offers a single plan with four different choices of billing period.
NordVPN’s monthly pricing is in the ballpark of many of the other top competitors. Not a great deal, but also not outlandish. Moving to an annual plan cuts the cost nearly in half, with the two- and three-year plans offering an even better value.
No matter what time period you choose, that plan lets you simultaneously connect up to six devices and includes unlimited bandwidth. Payment can be made with credit cards, Amazon Pay, Alipay, UnionPay and numerous cryptocurrencies.
Although NordVPN does not offer any kind of a free trial or free plan, it does have a 30-day money-back guarantee. This is vital because, in order to get the best long-term deal, you could be sinking a hundred dollars into software you’ve never tried.
Mullvad has what is arguably the most streamlined and easy-to-understand pricing model of any VPN on the market. There are no options for plans or time periods, there is only one monthly price.
There is only a month-to-month plan, but it is one of the most affordable VPNs on the market for those who are looking for the monthly option. In many ways, this acts as a perfect opposite to NordVPN’s pricing, which is high on the monthly side of things and begins to come down the longer you sign up for.
However, there are some similarities between the two, as well. For starters, Mullvad also offers the same 30-day money-back guarantee. Neither provider offers a free trial, and Mullvad also accepts a number of the same payment options as NordVPN does, including credit card, PayPal and bitcoin.
Although payment types like UnionPay and Amazon Pay are left out, Mullvad also accepts options that NordVPN doesn’t, including Swish and cash.
Round Two Thoughts
This was one of the hardest pricing rounds we’ve had to score in a head-to-head matchup. Because neither VPN offers a free plan, we encourage people who are interested in a risk-free VPN to check out our free VPN services roundup.
Although Mullvad has better pricing on a month-to-month basis, NordVPN’s prices drop lower than Mullvad’s once you hit the two-year plan and become even more enticing for the three-year plan. Considering the fact that NordVPN has better features, it is undeniably the better value and more affordable option at the end of the day.
3. Ease of Use
Just like in our full VPN reviews, ease of use is the third section we cover. In this section, we look at the overall user experience, from signing up for an account to actually using the VPN.
Although ease of use is the most subjective thing we take into consideration in these matchups, we think it’s important to offer an idea of what it’s like to use each VPN and who it might be best for. More complicated VPNs with tons of technical options have their place, but most people are looking for something ready to go without any tinkering required.
NordVPN’s desktop client and mobile applications are well refined and easy to use. The desktop client features a large map to the right side of the window with a list of the servers on the left.
This list is alphabetically sorted and shows a flag next to each country’s name, making it easier to quickly scroll through and find your desired location. There is also a search bar at the top of the country list, which lets you type in the country’s name, rather than manually searching the list.
Alternatively, you can peruse the map, which you can navigate by clicking and dragging. Clicking on the map’s blue location bubbles lets you connect to a server in that location, which actually brings us to the one major complaint we have regarding NordVPN’s user experience.
The algorithm that selects which server to use in your preferred location seems to be broken. It often chooses a server that is under significant load and does not get the best times. We’ll look at this a bit more in the upcoming “speed” section, but it is a hassle, at times.
This sometimes forces you to manually select a server from the list, which, thankfully, isn’t difficult to do with NordVPN’s refined interface. The settings menus are easy to access, and everything in the settings has clearly worded labels and explanations.
The NordVPN website is not necessarily noteworthy, but it is overall well streamlined to help you sign up or find support. Setting up an account requires an email and a password, which is standard fare for account creation for just about anything.
Overall, NordVPN is easy to use, even if you’re someone who isn’t well versed in technology. Simply install the client, which is easy to find on the website, and click on the map to connect to that location (read our guide to why NordVPN is not connecting if you have problems).
Right off the bat, Mullvad seemed to be out to annoy us. When we started downloading the client from Mullvad’s website, it ran at a sluggish speed and estimated that the few-megabyte-sized file would take two whole hours to download.
We ran a speed test on our connection to confirm nothing was wrong on our end, and our internet was fine. Eventually, the download timed out, and we started another attempt. This time, the download started off just as slow, but it eventually kicked into gear and was able to finish.
This small file, which should have taken seconds to download, still ended up taking about five minutes. Then we ran the executable file that we had just downloaded and were told that the installation failed.
To summarize our findings,most likely the installation trouble we encountered was due to settings and adapters that another VPN had added or changed on our computer, which interfered with what Mullvad’s installer was trying to do.
However, that doesn’t change the fact that, after dozens upon dozens of VPN tests, we’ve never had another VPN give us this problem. After cleaning up a few network settings on our computer, the installation worked. However, if you’ve ever used another VPN, certainly be wary of this potential trouble.
Once installed, the client is not bad and makes it easy enough to connect to the VPN. That said, the server list could be improved by adding the flags of each country. This helps more than you would expect when it comes to quickly identifying the location you’re looking for when scrolling down the list.
Rather than opening up in a new window, the client is anchored to the bottom-right system tray. The main screen lets you easily connect or change your desired location while the settings menus are easy to navigate, which should be a given, considering how barren they are.
Round Three Thoughts
NordVPN has a solid website that makes it easy to sign up and get the ball rolling with a VPN. Meanwhile, Mullvad gave us problems practically every step of the way.
From downloading the client, to getting it to run properly, to simply looking through the list of servers, Mullvad cannot match the level of polish and user-friendliness that NordVPN’s applications offer.
In stark contrast to the previous section, which was one of the most subjective things we cover, speed is arguably the most scientific section. In order to compare each VPN in a fair manner, we test them as quickly as we can, back to back.
We start by taking a control measurement without either VPN connected and use that as a baseline. We then put each VPN through the same five locations to see which one has better or more reliable speeds.
Additionally, we do some browsing, streaming and work to see how the speeds on paper translate into the real world.
NordVPN has been beaten before when it comes to speed, such as in our NordVPN vs. IPVanish article. This is not necessarily because NordVPN is slow, but because it is wildly inconsistent from server to server.
One server might reach nearly your entire unprotected bandwidth, while another in the same location might reduce your bandwidth to less than a tenth. This is such an issue, in fact, that we gave NordVPN a dishonorable mention in our fastest VPNs roundup.
At least part of this issue is, as we mentioned, thanks to the seemingly broken server selection that the client makes by default. The UK server, for example, was not working at all until we manually chose a different server to get the scores we did.
With all that said, NordVPN undoubtedly has a long way to go in terms of performance and consistency, but we still saw mostly good speeds this time around. Every server but Japan exceeded 100-Mbps download speeds, and even Japan was only a hair away from that.
Upload speeds were a different story, though, with the UK only giving us less than a single percent of our upload bandwidth back. Despite this, we were still able to get usable performance out of every server, even watching HD videos without any issue.
Mullvad was actually faster most of the time when forming a connection compared to NordVPN. NordVPN takes about 10 seconds, while Mullvad usually takes around five to seven. Although this is faster than NordVPN, it’s still not too impressive and is really the only place where Mullvad was faster than NordVPN.
|Location:||Ping (ms)||Download (Mbps)||Upload (Mbps)|
|Unprotected (St. Louis)||8||146.15||11.4|
Although NordVPN certainly has its flaws when it comes to reliability and speed, Mullvad struggles even more. Mullvad did not have a single server with higher download speed than NordVPN.
There are a few servers, though, where Mullvad was able to beat out NordVPN on upload speed and, in some cases, ping. In Brazil, for example, Mullvad shaved 20ms off NordVPN’s ping and bumped up the upload rate by almost 30 percent.
However, in most cases, download speed is king, and NordVPN had more than double Mullvad’s download speed in Brazil. Mullvad’s browsing experience was certainly tolerable, but compared to NordVPN, there was a noticeably higher delay of about half a second when loading websites.
Round Four Thoughts
As we said at the beginning of this section, comparing the speed of two VPNs is a scientific endeavor. Looking at the data, NordVPN is objectively faster, and we can anecdotally support this from our experiences using both of these VPNs.
That said, NordVPN has even more potential. If it weren’t for the broken state of the automatic server selection, this would have been even less of a contest. You can read more about NordVPN’s speed and wasted potential (as well as see it compared to some of the fastest options on the market) in our best VPN for gaming roundup.
5. Security and Privacy
The final section is what many would argue is the most important: security and privacy. Although these are each normally given their own sections in our full VPN reviews, in our matchups, we combine them into one.
When it comes to security, we look at what kinds of protocols the VPNs offer and what level of encryption they use. Additionally, we test for any DNS or IP leaks.
As we saw in our NordVPN vs. ExpressVPN matchup, NordVPN has security that can rival the best on the market. NordVPN uses the OpenVPN protocol paired with AES-256 encryption, which is considered the gold standard of VPN security (read our piece on NordVPN and torrenting).
Although there may not be any options to choose from when it comes to protocol or encryption, this configuration is reliably secure. We have not been able to detect a DNS leak or any other breach of security when testing NordVPN.
Most of the information NordVPN gets about you comes from your account creation when you give an email to sign up, but this can easily be a throwaway email that is still relatively anonymous.
There is also some information gathered on the website through cookies, but this information is used for maintaining the website and is, unfortunately, an inescapable practice online today (read our is NordVPN safe to use? piece).
Like pricing, this is another area where Mullvad is forging its own path and doing things in a unique way. It does not require an email address — or even a password — to create an account.
Instead, you simply click a button on Mullvad’s website that says “generate account,” and you are given a randomized 16-digit code. This code is essentially both your account name and password, so it is important to save it somehow and keep it safe.
Logging in only requires your randomly assigned code. Although this has advantages in terms of privacy, it also introduces some unique issues. For one, if you lose this code, you will have lost your account with no real method of recovery.
As for security, Mullvad uses the same configuration as NordVPN, with OpenVPN used for the protocol and AES-256 encryption. If you’re interested in learning what all this means, be sure to give our encryption and protocol articles a look. In short, this is a great pairing for performance and VPN security.
Round Five Thoughts
Although NordVPN is a safe and secure provider that does a good job of respecting and protecting your privacy, we have to give credit where credit is due. Mullvad uses a unique system in order to help maximize its users’ privacy.
Mullvad operates in such a way that, if you so choose, it has no information regarding who you are. This means it is literally impossible for them to identify you in any way, which is as private as it gets online.
6. Final Thoughts
With a final score of four-to-one, NordVPN is the clear winner in this matchup. NordVPN offers a better value for those who are able to pay upfront for the longer-term plans, and it also gives users more features and control over how the VPN operates.
Mullvad’s privacy is second to none, thanks to its unique method of keeping track of accounts, but that alone is not enough to make up for its slower speeds and more difficult installation and use, when compared to NordVPN. However, if security and anonymity are your only concerns, Mullvad might be the better option.
If you have experience with either of these VPNs, we’d love to hear your take in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading.