- Strengths & Weaknesses
- Alternatives for Private Internet Access
- Split Tunneling and MACE
- PIA on Fire Stick, Routers and More
- Private Internet Access Features Overview
Private Internet Access is one of the best VPN services around, offering a slew of features and a low price tag, to boot. Although it doesn’t quite reach the ranks of a service like ExpressVPN, it puts up an impressive fight (read our ExpressVPN review). If you’re looking for a fast, full-featured VPN on the cheap, PIA is for you.
In this Private Internet Access review, we’re going to evaluate its features, security, speed, pricing and more. We signed up for an account, like anyone else would, to truly evaluate the user experience. From creating an account to getting connected, we’re going to cover every aspect of PIA.
PIA Video Review
Strengths & Weaknesses
- Large server network
- No-logs policy
- Easy to use
- Highly customizable
- Gets into Netflix
- WireGuard protocol
- Inconsistent speed
- Struggles with Hulu & Amazon
- No obfuscated OpenVPN protocol
Alternatives for Private Internet Access
- : PayPal, Credit card, AmazonPay
- : 10
- : PayPal, Credit card, Bitcoin, regional payment systems, WebMoney
- : 5
- : Credit card, Google Pay, AmazonPay, ACH Transfer, UnionPay, Crypto Currencies, PayPal (via Paddle)
- : 6
- : PayPal, Credit card, bitcoin
- : 7
- : PayPal, Credit card
- : 5
- : No
For many years, PIA was a straightforward VPN without many features. Although the redesigned application still takes a streamlined approach to the connection process, there are now a lot more goodies to mess around with. PIA may not be as customizable as TorGuard, but given how easy it is to use, that hardly matters.
Starting with the kill switch, PIA gives you three options: off, auto and always. “Auto” is the default option, which will block your internet connection if the VPN fails while you’re connected. “Always” is a step up from that, blocking all internet traffic unless you’re connected to the VPN. We recommend this setting if you’re in a high-risk country.
You’re also given full control over your network settings as long as you’re using OpenVPN. You can use your own DNS servers, set up port forwarding, choose the remote port and more. We’ve seen these settings before, but not in such a digestible manner. PIA makes advanced configuration easy with helpful tooltips and a streamlined settings menu.
In addition to the VPN tunnel, you can also set up a proxy to redirect your traffic through another location. This is similar to a double-hop connection, though without the second layer of encryption. You can use the SOCKS5 protocol, but the big deal is that PIA has a number of Shadowsocks proxies available in the application.
Setting up a proxy in addition to your VPN is usually an arduous process for networking newbies. PIA makes it dead simple as long as you’re using Shadowsocks, though, allowing you to easily add an extra layer of protection when needed.
Split Tunneling and MACE
We are five paragraphs into this PIA review, and we still haven’t talked about the two features that set PIA apart: split tunneling and MACE. Starting with the former, you can specify which applications you want to use the VPN tunnel for and which you don’t. This is a great feature to have if, for example, you want your browser protected while running your online backup at full speed.
MACE is a lot more interesting, though. It’s basically an ad blocker, protecting you from annoying pop-ups, malware and cross-site trackers. It works differently than normal ad blockers, though. Most ad blockers work by blocking the request to an ad or tracking server using a known blacklist. MACE works differently.
Instead of blocking the request, MACE redirects the DNS request to your local IP address (read our guide on DNS records to see how that happens). In practice, that means the blocking process doesn’t take as long, as MACE doesn’t need to cross reference the blacklist before blocking the request.
PIA on Fire Stick, Routers and More
PIA has a fairly standard range of supported platforms, with native applications for Windows, macOS, iOS, Android and Linux, as well as browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera. However, you can install PIA on just about any platform, not only because it makes its OpenVPN configuration files available, but also because you can download the Android APK.
Instead of restricting the Android app to the Google Play store, PIA makes its APK openly available, which opens a lot of possibilities. For example, you can sideload the app on an Amazon Fire Stick or Nvidia Shield, which would otherwise not have access to the VPN.
If, for some reason, there’s a device you can’t get PIA running on, you can always install it on your router (that’ll count as only a single device against your simultaneous connection limit, no matter how many devices are connected to your network). PIA supports most router firmwares and provides detailed guides on how to get set up.
Private Internet Access Features Overview
- : PayPal, Credit card, AmazonPay
- : 10
- : No
- : 24,382+ servers in 77 countries
- : Windows, MacOS, Linux
- : Android, iOS
- : Chrome, Firefox, Opera
- : No
- : No
- : No
- : 128-AES, 256-AES
- : OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP, WireGuard, SOCKS5 proxy
- : 24/7
- : No
- : No
PIA is one of the cheapest VPNs around, putting even CyberGhost to shame (read our CyberGhost review). Compared to services like Astrill and Hide.me, the difference is clear. Private Internet Access is one of the cheapest VPNs around, and although its prices aren’t as low as Windscribe, you’d be hard pressed to find a better deal elsewhere.
We don’t say that based on the monthly price, though; for around $10 per month, PIA is cheaper than ExpressVPN and NordVPN, though only by a few dollars. That said, the monthly plan still wins the pricing game compared to other top-tier VPN providers with 10 simultaneous connections.
The savings is most clearly showcased with the yearly plan, which provides protection for less than $40. Furthermore, PIA often offers promotions on its annual plan (right now, new customers get 14 months of service for the price of 12). If you’re interested in Private Internet Access, the annual plan is the way to go.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the six-month plan. At only $4 less than the annual plan, this option doesn’t make sense. The annual option is clearly a better choice, and it seems PIA knows that. We’d much prefer this plan done away with in favor of a two-year plan that offers a steeper discount.
In the past, PIA’s bargain-bin pricing always came with a big caveat: a short refund period. Thankfully, this issue has been solved. Private Internet Access now offers a full, fat 30 days to receive a refund, no matter what plan you choose.
For payment, PIA accepts credit cards and PayPal, as well as bitcoin. There are multiple other crypto options, and even Amazon Pay, so no matter how you want to send your money, there’s an option for you.
PIA has a strange relationship with user-friendliness. On one hand, the app is very accessible, detailing complex information with ease and allowing you to connect quickly. However, it’s tied to the tray in Windows, meaning a misclick outside of the app will close it.
Let’s start at the top, though. PIA’s website, although a little dated, is easy to get around. All you need to do to sign up is click the “join now” button. It requires very little information of you, and once you’re done, you can click the “download” tab to find an installer. We like that the download page is accessible from the homepage, leaving no questions about how to get started.
The Windows Client
As we mentioned earlier, the PIA client is tied to the tray in Windows, and that’s where it’ll start once the installer has finished. The interface is minimal, showing a recommended location and a large “on” button. Clicking that, you’ll get connected to the closest server, which is usually the best.
If you want to see a little more information, you can expand the interface to show quick connection options, your speed, some quick settings, your usage and even a VPN snooze feature. Furthermore, you can drag any of these elements up to the main screen so they’ll display without having to expand the interface.
We love the modular approach, but it doesn’t make sense to customize an interface that’s tied to your tray. With how PIA designed its app, it’ll be closed far more often than it’ll be open, making the extra information you can add to the home screen obsolete. Thankfully, you can undock the app in the settings, making it far more useful.
Speaking of settings, you can access them by clicking the three dots in the top-right corner of the app. The settings window is easy to get around and smartly laid out. It stands apart with excellent tooltips, though. Complex settings are fully explained, all without sacrificing the ease of use.
PIA isn’t perfect when it comes to ease of use, as you have to adjust a few settings to get it working properly. However, once you get it set how you like, there’s nothing quite like it. PIA manages to offer the detail and flexibility of a VPN service like TorGuard with the same accessibility of a service like ExpressVPN (read our TorGuard review).
PIA on Android
On Android, PIA is more of the same. Like ExpressVPN, the Windows app already feels like a mobile app, so the experience is mirrored on your phone. You don’t have to deal with the tray on Android, though, which is why PIA made our list of the top VPNs for Android.
PIA can be a fast VPN service, so long as you choose the correct location. We tried out five locations and compared them to our baseline speed using the default settings in the app (OpenVPN UDP with AES-128-GCM and RSA-2048). You can find those results in the table below.
|New York City|
This out-of-the-box performance is what we’ve come to expect from PIA. Speeds close to home are pretty good, media hubs like Japan and London perform ever better, and underdeveloped areas like India perform pretty horribly, though they are growing quickly.
In short, PIA is fast in the vast majority of use cases, though your mileage may vary if you’re trying to connect outside of a media hub.
We usually test with AES-256-GCM and RSA-4096 when given the option, so we reran our critical locations using that setup with OpenVPN. Given how fast modern systems are, the larger key size shouldn’t impact the speed much. However, it did, just not in the way we expected.
|Location:||Ping (ms||Download (Mbps)||Upload (Mbps)|
|Unprotected (St. Louis)||8||438.45||21.38|
|New York City||32||123.3||18.42|
With AES-256-GCM and RSA-4096, we actually saw a performance improvement: as much as 50 percent in some locations.
AES can take advantage of many cores, and we assume that’s what’s going on here. Still, both are based on a 128-bit block size, so there shouldn’t be such a stark performance improvement. Regardless, this is the setup we recommend for security, and it just so happens to be the fastest, too.
Finally, we ran the same batch of locations using the WireGuard protocol, which PIA — along with services like NordVPN and TorGuard — supports. According to the in-app tooltip, this is a “newer, more efficient protocol” compared to OpenVPN. Unfortunately, our test results don’t back that up.
|Location:||Ping (ms)||Download (Mbps)||Upload (Mbps)|
|Unprotected (St. Louis)||8||438.45||21.38|
|New York City||33||114.26||20.66|
Our results are mostly the same as OpenVPN with AES-128, with some slight differences. We gained download speed in New York City while losing some in London, but latency and upload speeds were almost identical. It’s worth noting that PIA is still testing WireGuard, though. It’s available in the application, but it’s still a “preview” feature, so keep that in mind.
Considering all of the data, we have more questions than answers. Its out-of-the-box performance is good, though not the fastest we’ve seen, while the higher key sizes for RSA and AES boost performance significantly, at least with multiple CPU threads.
As long as you have a modern machine, we recommend OpenVPN UDP with AES-256-GCM and RSA-4096 for speed and security. That said, it’s worthwhile experimenting with other setups.
In the case of Private Internet Access, our speed tests provide a perfect segway into security. There’s a lot to unpack here, despite the fact that PIA doesn’t support the slew of protocols of a service like VyprVPN (read our VyprVPN review). Before getting to that, though, let’s talk about encryption.
AES-128-GCM is what you get out of the box, with RSA-2048 as the handshake algorithm. For most situations, the lower key sizes are fine and should increase performance (though our speed test data doesn’t back up that claim). You can bump up the key sizes if you’re worried, though (read our description of encryption to learn about the effect that’ll have).
VPN Protocol Support
These encryption options are available for OpenVPN alone, which is the default VPN protocol. You have the choice between UDP and TCP, with UDP being the default option. TCP is a good choice in some situations, which we’ll get into in the next section. OpenVPN is usually the best choice, as you can see in our VPN protocol breakdown.
Additionally, PIA offers the newer WireGuard protocol, which a number of VPNs have already implemented (NordVPN, TorGuard and Mullvad, to name a few). WireGuard uses a single encryption suite, unlike OpenVPN. In practice, that means it can’t change between transport protocols and encryption algorithms like OpenVPN can.
That may seem like a downside, but as long as the encryption is up to snuff, it’s a benefit. By using a single encryption suite, WireGuard has less overhead, which should make it faster, more efficient and even safer. WireGuard is the long-awaited answer to OpenVPN that actually improves on the gold standard that VPN services have been using for decades.
It’s the answer, but not one that’s fully realized yet. The official WireGuard website makes no bones about the fact that the protocol is a work in progress that’s still experiencing “heavy development.” We like that PIA is being forward thinking in its protocol implementation. For the end user, though, we recommend sticking with OpenVPN until WireGuard improves more.
OpenVPN and WireGuard are the only protocol options you’ll find in the application, though PIA supports more. Legacy support comes in the form of L2TP/IPSec, PPTP and a straight-up SOCKS5 proxy (read our VPN vs proxy vs Tor guide to learn about that last one). These options are only available through a manual setup, though.
PIA in China
Now that we’ve gone over the technical aspects of PIA’s security system, it’s time to put it into practice. In high-risk countries, like China, PIA is a solid choice as long as you’re using OpenVPN with TCP. TCP provides packet confirmation, meaning you’ll know if a censor has caught wind of your connection before it can get you into trouble.
Still, we didn’t include Private Internet Access in our best VPN for China guide. Although it should keep you safe, PIA doesn’t include any sort of encapsulated OpenVPN option, like Astrill and VyprVPN do. With OpenVPN, you should be fine. That said, packet obfuscation is a nice feature to have in China and other high-risk countries.
However, PIA does include the option to configure a Shadowsocks proxy with your VPN connection, which was designed specifically to bypass censorship in China.
Torrenting With PIA
If you’re not traveling and you live in a country with decent privacy laws, the riskiest thing you’ll likely do with your VPN is torrent. PIA is a fine choice for the task, earning a spot alongside our top VPNs for torrenting. We should remind you, though, that torrenting copyrighted content is illegal in most countries.
Private Internet Access isn’t doing anything special. There aren’t any dedicated peer-to-peer servers or special security features for torrenters. You can establish a P2P on any server in PIA’s network, so torrenting is fair game, no matter where in the world you are or where you want to connect. Combined with the speed and security of PIA, it’s one of the better options for digital pirates.
Starting at the top, PIA lays out what information it collects. As far as the VPN application is concerned, PIA keeps your email address and payment information on record. Both are required to keep the service running, though PIA takes steps to reduce the potential security risk of storing this data. For example, your payment information isn’t kept on record in full.
That’s where the collection ends, though. Private Internet Access makes it clear that it “does not collect or log any traffic or use of its virtual private network.” When using the VPN service, your source IP address, destination IP address, browsing history and geographic location are protected.
The problem is that PIA is based in the U.S., with its headquarters in Colorado. Unfortunately, the U.S. has few laws that protect online privacy. With PIA’s no-logging track record, though, that’s not an issue.
In fact, PIA was required to produce logs under a subpoena in 2016. Its parent company, London Trust Media, received a notice from the FBI that a user on PIA had threatened to use a bomb.
PIA had nothing to hand over, thankfully. This isn’t a case of London Trust simply saying it keeps no logs; handing nothing over when there are records could get PIA is serious trouble. In short, your information is safe with PIA.
Private Internet Access is truly a no-logs service, as shown in the 2016 case. It also maintains a transparency report, which it publishes twice a year and updates periodically. The current report, which was last updated in March 2020, shows six subpoenas to produce logs, and in all six cases, PIA handed over nothing.
Streaming performance wasn’t great for PIA during our testing. Although it earned a spot in our top VPNs for streaming guide, it can’t access all online services. That said, Private Internet Access works great with Netflix, so if that’s what you’re after, it’s a fine choice.
We tested a handful of locations with Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, and we were blocked in most cases. Hulu was more forgiving, letting three of the 10 servers we tested through. Prime Video, on the other hand, only let in one. Read our Hulu VPN and Prime Video VPN guides if you’re interested in those platforms. Thankfully, we encountered no issues with BBC iPlayer.
Streaming Netflix With PIA
Netflix is the top dog of the streaming space, and for PIA, that’s a good thing. From our first location, we were able to access Netflix without any proxy errors. If you’re looking for a Netflix VPN, Private Internet Access does the trick. However, there are better options when it comes to speed.
Private Internet Access has a massive server network, with nearly 3,400 servers spread across 64 locations in 44 countries. Of course, the number of servers fluctuates, so take the 3,400 mark with a grain of salt.
PIA’s network is impressive, but it’s not the largest we’ve seen, with options like HideMyAss and NordVPN offering nearly twice the server count (read our HideMyAss review and NordVPN review).
Those extra servers from HMA and NordVPN come from virtual locations. Essentially, you’ll tunnel through a country like the UK or the Netherlands and spoof a more remote location. This practice not only bolsters the server count, but also provides access to locations where existing infrastructure may not exist.
It also comes with security risks, though. Thankfully, PIA doesn’t meddle in any of that. Every server in its network is a real, bare-metal server in the location listed in the application. No matter if you’re tunneling to the Netherlands or South Africa, you’re connecting a physical server in that location.
The fact that PIA has such a massive network of bare-metal servers is impressive. That said, virtual servers have the benefit of accessing more remote locations, which PIA’s approach can’t contend with. As long as you don’t need an IP address from a small village in Alaska, though, you should be fine.
PIA has solid support when it works. During our testing, we encountered a few 503 errors when trying to access the knowledgebase, signifying that the service it’s hosted on was down. Unfortunately, we were unable to confirm this. The server status page only shows the VPN servers in PIA’s network, and the PIA support Twitter was of little help.
Still, PIA has some solid contact options. On the website, you can fill out a ticket form to contact PIA about issues relating to your account, payment or technical problems. The contact page is excellent, providing additional self-help resources while also letting you skip the hoopla and submit a ticket right away.
PIA offers live chat, too, as well as bustling social pages. There’s a subreddit with nearly 10,000 members, as well as an active support Twitter. Between the two, you can get answers to questions within minutes, sometimes speaking directly to developers or QA testers.
Although live chat support is nice to have, it isn’t usually all too helpful. In most cases, a live chat rep will simply point you toward the knowledgebase or contact page. PIA’s approach provides the same instantaneous response while letting you to talk to people who know what’s what.
Digging through the replies, we found PIA responding to not only support requests, but also to general praise surrounding the VPN service.
We’d like to see more VPN providers embrace the flexibility that social support offers. As we’ve seen with other aspects of PIA — such as the inclusion of WireGuard — it’s a very forward-thinking service, and that’s a good thing when it comes to customer service.
PIA is a VPN that gets a lot right, from the exceptional ease of use to the long list of features. It’s not perfect, though, with mediocre streaming performance and some inconsistent speed. Thankfully, those issues are easy to look past, considering how inexpensive PIA is and how much the VPN has to offer.
Are you going to give Private Internet Access a shot? Let us know about your experience in the comments below and, as always, thanks for reading.
Private Internet Access FAQ
Is Private Internet Access a Good VPN?
Yes, Private Internet Access is one of the best VPNs on the market. It offers excellent features and usability, and is cheaper than most other VPN options. That said, its speed is a little inconsistent and it has trouble accessing streaming platforms.
Does Private Internet Access Keep Logs?
No, Private Internet Access does not keep logs. Although it’s based in the U.S., PIA has proven time and again that it doesn’t log user data. To demonstrate this, PIA maintains a transparency report that shows how many times it has received a subpoena, as well as how many times it has responded with no logs.
What Is Private Internet Access Used For?
Private Internet Access is a VPN service that encrypts your internet traffic and spoofs your IP address. It can be used for a variety of purposes, though VPNs are most commonly used for torrenting and accessing streaming platforms in different parts of the world.