Overall Rating 86%Very Good
Pricing
95%Excellent
Features
90%Excellent
Server Locations
70%Decent
Speed
90%Excellent
Security
85%Very Good
Privacy Policy
90%Excellent
Support
85%Very Good

VPN Overview

Usually, when I see a VPN service priced significantly below the competition, I get suspicious pretty fast.  Sluggish experiences with cheap or free VPNs (who may or may not have peddled my data) come to mind.  

So when I got to check out the suspiciously affordable Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN service for Cloudwards.net, I  was mentally prepared for the same old song and dance.

What I discovered was how wrong my assumptions were.

True enough, when it comes to looks, PIA doesn’t exactly impress me, unlike ExpressVPN and VyprVPN (who are more expensive).

Convince yourself to look beyond the lackluster design, and you’ll see PIA knows how to do Virtual Private Networks right. PIA is an OpenVPN solution that seems genuinely committed to protecting user privacy.

Not only do they refrain from logging browsing activity and collecting meta-data, but they offer several prizes like DNS-leak protection and a kill switch, to make sure users remain secure.

They also provide subscribers with the use of an SOCKS5 Proxy and a welcome ad-blocking feature called PIA MACE.

All of the pros mentioned above would just make PIA an okay service, worth its modest price tag. What makes PIA a steal, though, is the fact that it’s impressively fast.

In the several speed tests I conducted, it either matched or surpassed the fastest VPNs I’ve tested.

Owing to its combination of:

  • Security
  • Speed
  • Cost

I’m now convinced PIA’s has established itself as one of the best value propositions in the consumer VPN market.

With some extra polish on its desktop apps and a little more server expansion, it could challenge the best of the best for their title.

Pros And Cons

Alternatives for Private Internet Access

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$ 9.99 per month
Torguard Review
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  • Up to 5 simultaneous connections
  • Stealth servers and SHH tunnelling
  • Good android app
  • Good performance
  • 128-bit blowfish encryption on most severs (although 256-bit encryption is available)
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  • SmartDNS and Network Lock
  • Great mobile and desktop apps
  • Great customer service
  • Collects certain meta-data
  • Rather expensive
  • Only connects 3 devices
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  • Supports VPN over Tor for genuine anonymity
  • Blazingly fast and very stable
  • Not a lot
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Mullvad Review
  • Can pay using cash sent in the post!
  • Excellent privacy policy
  • Fully featured desktop software
  • 128-bit blowfish encryption is just not good enough
  • Disappointing performance
  • Servers in only 4 countries
www.mullvad.net

Who is PIA For ?

People use VPN services for different reasons.  

For some, it’s about anonymous torrenting; others use it to get around location-based restrictions that keep them from using video streaming sites like:

Users living or traveling in countries where censorship is common, can establish a VPN tunnel to access content they couldn’t otherwise — anonymously.

A typical use case is China, where traditional services like:

  • Facebook
  • Google
  • Youtube

Are all blocked.  

Many users, like myself, are mainly interested in using a VPN to insulate their connections while on public Wi-Fi networks. Such networks often get monitored by criminals looking to eavesdrop on your communications.

So, how does PIA and other VPN services accomplish these objectives?

When connecting to a VPN server, you spoof a device’s location with the site to the server it’s connected to. That means if you login to a server in Hong Kong, it will appear as though you’re actually in Hong Kong.

The server also assigns you an IP address to mask your own. This IP address is shared among multiple users at once, further masking your tracks.  

By obfuscating identity and location, VPNs prevent an ISP and others from logging a user’s activity, and additionally, VPN services scramble any activity.

They do so by implementing encrypted tunnel protocols like OpenVPN.

That way, even if someone intercepts your data packets, they can’t make any sense of them, without somehow cracking either 128-bit or 256-bit AES encryption.

For all practical purposes, that’s impossible.

What to Watch ?

With only 24 countries to select from, PIA doesn’t provide the global reach that its competitors do. However, 24 is more than enough to significantly broaden your video streaming options.

I maintain a list of streaming services that I have verified as restricting or altering user experience based on location.

Here’s a list of them:


NetflixHuluAmazonHBO NowSky Go
AMC HDAOL TVAdult SwimShowtimeTalkTalk
BBC iPlayerCBSABCMLBBeIN Sports
FXSyFyVuduSky ItaliaT20
Comedy CentralDeezerHistory ChannelTCMMLB TV

Netflix used to only be available in a handful of countries. These days it’s much more widely available, with services in over 190 countries.

Owing to its popularity, though, studios who have contracts with Netflix have pressured the service to block VPN users.

In many cases, Netflix has done as told. As of this writing, though, I had no problems watching Netflix while tunneling through PIA’s USA-East server.   

Also, if you don’t mind the loss of encryption, PIA’s SOCKS5 proxy should still work even if Netflix ends up blocking their VPN tunnels at a later date.

Pricing

95% – Excellent

If there’s one area where PIA beats out most of the competition pretty handily, it’s cost. Their month-to-month subscription is priced on par with what most VPNs charge per month, for an annual subscription.

Sign up for six or twelve months up front, and you can save big time.

Here’s a price-comparison to some of our favorites:


1. PIA:

PlanPrice PlanBandwidthIncluded DevicesBitcoin
Standard
$ 6.95 Monthly
$ 83.40 1 Year
$ 39.95 (-52%)
Unlimited GB5Unlimited


2. ExpressVPN: 

PlanPrice PlanBandwidthIncluded DevicesBitcoin
Monthly
$ 12.95 Monthly
$ 77.70 per 6 month
$ 59.95 (-23%)
$ 155.40 1 Year
$ 99.95 (-36%)
Unlimited GB3Unlimited


3. IPVanish: 

PlanPrice PlanBandwidthIncluded DevicesBitcoin
Standard
$ 10 Monthly
$ 120.00 1 Year
$ 77.99 (-35%)
Unlimited GB2Unlimited


4. VyprVPN: 

PlanPrice PlanBandwidthIncluded DevicesBitcoin
VyprVPN Basic
$ 9.99 Monthly
$ 119.88 1 Year
$ 80.40 (-33%)
Unlimited GB1
VyprVPN Pro
$ 14.99 Monthly
$ 179.88 1 Year
$ 99.96 (-44%)
Unlimited GB2
VyprVPN Premier
$ 19.99 Monthly
$ 239.88 1 Year
$ 120.00 (-50%)
Unlimited GB3


For users who want to try the service out first, PIA doesn’t exactly offer a free trial. What they do give you is a 7-day money-back guarantee, in case you end up feeling buyer’s remorse.

Since I already have a VPN subscription, I requested a refund after completing this review and received it within seven days, no questions asked.

I would have liked to see a referral program to earn some free months (like ExpressVPN), but given that the price tag is already slight, I wasn’t put off.  

Users have several payment options available, including Bitcoin, Paypal and of course, all major credit cards are accepted.

Features

90% – Excellent

Despite its budget friendliness, PIA supports all the features I’d expect to find with a brand name VPN service.  

I’ll detail many of them throughout this review, but here’s a peek for those of you who just want a quick summary:

  • Secure OpenVPN tunnel
  • 126-bit and 256-bit AES encryption
  • PPTP and L2TP/IPSec supported
  • Connect up to five devices simultaneously
  • DD-WRT and Tomato router compatible
  • Over 3,000 servers in 24 countries
  • No traffic logs kept
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Supports P2P including torrenting
  • Automatic connections
  • Kill switch – disconnect protection
  • DNS and IPv6 leak protection
  • SOCKS5 Proxy included
  • PIA MACE – ad and malware blocker
  • 24/7 support

PIA lets you connect up to five devices at once, while supporting multiple operating systems and device types.

Supported Platforms:

Windows (XP and higher)

Mac (10.8 or higher)

Ubuntu (12.04 or higher)

iOS (8 or higher)

Android (2.2 or higher)

In addition, users can configure PIA to protect their entire home network, by installing it on their router.

Router installation lets you extend anonymity to devices that can’t be configured to work with PIA natively, including game consoles and TV-streaming devices.


 

Playstation 4Xbox OneAmazon Fire TVAndroid TV
RokuChromecastApple TVNvidia Shield
BoxeeGEM BoxChromebookNintendo Wii

To conjure PIA with a router, you’ll need a router with DD-WRT, Tomato or PfSense firmware installed.

If you don’t yet have one of these routers firmwares and don’t want to set one up yourself, PIA has partnered with flashrouters.com to provide users the option to purchase an already pre-configured router.

Server Locations

70% – Decent

PIA is currently operating in 24 countries, which is substantially fewer than what many other VPN services provide.


VPN Service:Number of Countries:
ExpressVPN87
VyprVPN64
IPVanish60
NordVPN54
Private Internet Access (PIA)24

However, with over 3,200 servers, PIA offers a much denser network than most VPN services, which leads to generally faster performance (see Speed, next).  

PIA users can also choose between multiple locations in some countries, although they can’t pick a specific server in that location.

Altogether, there are currently 24 different locations, globally:


Country:Servers:Locations:
1. United States160110
2. United Kingdom2332
3. Canada1902
4. Australia1722
5. New Zealand91
6. Netherlands3161
7. Sweden531
8. Norway141
9. Denmark131
10. Finland91
11. Switzerland661
12. France531
13. Germany611
14. Ireland91
15. Italy191
16. Romania161
17. Turkey191
18. Hong Kong191
19. Singapore191
20. Japan191
21. Israel91
22. Mexico241
23. Brazil191
24. India91

PIA claims to still be adding servers, so hopefully this list will grow in the future.

Speed

90% – Excellent

Speed is where a lot of VPN services fail.

This applies especially to free and low cost VPN services, which tend to draw larger crowds, which in turn clog their networks. All of that is to say that I was prepared for skepticism with a budget-friendly pick, like PIA.

What I discovered, instead, is that PIA holds its own with the fastest consumer VPN services I’ve ever tested.

For context, I’m just outside of Boston and performed my tests on a Windows laptop over a private Wi-Fi network.

I tested connections to New York, London, and Hong Kong. Numbers are in megabits per second (Mbps), and I used speedtest.net to get them.

Here are the results:


Server Location:
Download:Upload:
VPN OFF:37.0212.00
New York:30.5511.42
London:18.139.72
Hong Kong:18.459.51

Yes, there is some speed fall off, but that’s normal for a VPN service, because you’re rerouting and encrypting traffic.

Overall, these results are exceptional.

Every user’s experience is going to differ slightly, based on their location, Internet speeds and what server they’re trying to connect to. So understand when I say speeds are exceptional, they’re exceptional for me.

Here’s how they compare to tests I’ve run with a few other popular VPN picks:


 New York:
London:Hong Kong:
ExpressVPN:30.2218.939.83
IPVanish:19.1111.024.24
VyprVPN:32.3922.6110.90

PIA holds its own with blazing fast services like ExpressVPN and VyprVPN when it comes to New York and London and blows them away when connected to Hong Kong.

I suspect this is because even though PIA is in fewer countries than the competition, they operate over 3,200 servers – which is more than any other VPN service that comes to mind.

So instead of location, PIA appears more focused on server density.

With automated user assignments, multiple VPN servers can be used to severely mitigate the impacts of network congestion.

Security

85% – Very Good

One of the most important security components of a VPN service is its tunnel protocol. This is what scrambles activity, allowing you to browse unwatched and pass through firewalls undetected.

Most VPN providers will give you a choice of three or four common protocols. PIA follows suit, allowing users to select OpenVPN, PPTP or LT2P/IPSec to protect their online activities.

Not all protocols are created equal, however, so you’ll want to be very careful about which one to use. OpenVPN is widely considered the safest. It uses open-source, sports peer-reviewed technologies and can be configured to run on any port.

Using different ports, such as TCP port 443, makes your VPN traffic look like ordinary web traffic. This trick, in turn, makes it difficult to block.

PPTP is an older protocol. It’s fast, but only because it offers minimal encryption. These days, most people stay away from it for that reason.

L2TP/IPSec offers more security than PPTP, but you can’t switch ports, like you can with OpenVPN. You’re stuck with UDP 500, which makes it easy for firewalls to identify your connection as a VPN, and shut it out.

PIA is preconfigured to use OpenVPN. In fact, in order to switch to L2TP/IPsec or PPTP, you have to generate and log in with a different password.

That’s different from how most VPNs work, and lets you switch from one protocol to the other from within the application. It’s a hassle, but not a deal-breaker since I would never use anything else.

When using OpenVPN with PIA, users can trade some speed for added protection, by switching between 128-bit AES and 256-bit AES encryption.

PIA uses shared IP addresses to protect user anonymity further.

I would have liked a feature allowing users to switch up IP addresses automatically, based on a timed interval. A few competitors like IPVanish now offer that capability.

Beyond that relatively minor miss, however, PIA has great additional features designed to safeguard your anonymity:







Privacy Policy

90% – Excellent

Many VPNs don’t log browser activity, but will keep session meta-data like source IP address, servers used and login times.

They do this to aid troubleshooting issues and respond to legal requests. PIA, for their part, claims not to retain any such data.

In their own words:

We can unequivocally state that our company has not and still does not maintain meta-data logs regarding when a subscriber accesses the VPN service, how long a subscriber’s use was, and what IP address a subscriber originated from.

I’ll add the usual disclaimer that as users, we’re left to take PIA’s word about this. There’s no third-party verification system in place, so they could easily be logging user data and not tell anybody.

Moreover, some users will take issue with the fact that PIA is headquartered in the United States. Even their parent company, London Trust Media, is based in the United States.

The U.S. has weaker online privacy laws than many countries.

In the past, government entities like the NSA have secretly worked with tech companies to collect user data. If you’re concerned about the potential for breach of trust, consider looking elsewhere.

If you’d rather give PIA the benefit of the doubt, it’s much easier to do so knowing that they sponsor multiple user advocacy groups like:

  1. Electronic Frontier Foundation
  2. Gnome Foundation
  3. Fight for the Future
  4. Freenode.net

Could all of that support be a diabolical smokescreen for a CIA front?

Support

85% – Very Good

PIA maintains a handy support library that will guide users through basic setup and troubleshooting. You can either use the search function to navigate through their library quickly, or browse by topic:

  • General
  • Account Support
  • Payment
  • Technical

The guides are straightforward and well-written, which is crucial for technical documents.

If you’d rather not search PIA’s support site or can’t find what you need, contact PIA support, which is available 24/7 — directly via a web form.

They don’t offer live chat support, but they do promise prompt responses of four-to-six hours. I put that claim to the test, and got a reply back within two hours – not bad.

PIA also has a user forum. I often find user forums to be the best resources for troubleshooting and info gathering.

The PIA blog is also well done.

PIA uses it as a channel to talk about privacy and security stories from around the globe.

How to Use PIA on Your Desktop (Windows)

I performed an evaluation of PIA on my Windows laptop, which is the experience I’ll be walking you through.

The user experience is commensurate on a Mac, so you should still gain some insight, regardless of your preferred platform.

Installation took less than a minute. Once installed, you’ll need to enter your credentials, which PIA sends in an email. Pretty straightforward.

Beyond that though, PIA takes some getting used to.

After having used and reviewed several VPN services, I’ve developed certain expectations about what the experience is going to be like.  PIA threw many of these conventions out the window – and not in a good way.

For starters, you establish a connection from the system tray icon. Right-click on the PIA icon and a bunch of server connections pop-up.

Most VPN services let you manage this process from a desktop control panel. ExpressVPN offers an exceptionally fine-tuned interface that lets you quickly sort and search through VPN servers.

Of course, ExpressVPN is available in over 80 countries.

To get to PIA’s version of a control panel, you’ll need to right-click on the system tray icon and select “Settings.”

The interface could use a graphic designer’s touch, but it’s easy enough to use. Users can switch between a “simple” and “advanced” interface.

The advanced interface better accommodates more feature settings.

One thing that bears repetition, is that the ability to switch up encryption protocols and use PIA’s SOCKS5 Proxy, aren’t built into the interface as options.

This is yet another departure from how most VPNs work. With PIA, you have to log in with a different user-name and password, generated on the website.

Then, you have to setup these connections manually; which isn’t difficult, and PIA supports you through the process:

Another feature missing from PIA’s interface is a speed test.

Many other services let you ping servers in various cities to help find the best connection for you. PIA does do this too, but via a web page, not the user interface.

PIA’s speed test also checks each server, one at a time, and each test opens up a new browser window. There’s no way to run multiple speed tests and compare the results.

At the very least, PIA should have a button linking to that page from their interface.

How to Use PIA on Your Mobile Device (Android)

I tested PIA’s mobile performance on an Android smart phone, and the iOS experience should be similar, from what I understand.

After downloading the app from Google Play, I logged in with the same credentials used for the desktop program.

The main screen displays mostly a lot of white space, with a power switch in the center.

Sliding it right will establish a connection.

PIA’s mobile app uses automatic server selection, but you can pick whichever server you want, by tapping on the “region” box below the power switch.

 

Settings can be accessed by tapping the gear icon placed on the app’s top-right side.

Scrolling through the settings, I was happy to see PIA lets mobile users access most of the same features found on the desktop app.

Many VPNs exclude options like auto-connect and kill switch protection, from the mobile experience.

There’s even a “dark theme” if you find the white background too glaring. Overall, I was much more impressed with the PIA mobile app than I was with the desktop experience.

It’s cleaner, more intuitive and better organized.

Questions and Answers

Q: Does PIA offer a free trial?

A: No, but they do offer a 7-day money-back guarantee.

Q: Can I use PIA in China?

A: The Great Firewall of China is set to block OpenVPN connections. Some VPN services have found ways to get OpenVPN to still connect, but PIA suggests users connect with LT2P/IPSec, instead.

Q: Can PIA be used with P2P and torrenting?

A: Yes and I tested the capability.

Q: Does PIA offer a SOCKS5 Proxy

A: Yes, subscribers get access to a proxy at no added cost.

Q: Can I watch Netflix with PIA?

A: While Netflix blocks many VPN tunnels, I was able to stream videos with PIA active. Should Netflix block out PIA in the future, their SOCKS5 proxy should still provide access.

Q: Does PIA log my browser activity or meta-data?

A: No. PIA tracks nothing.

Final Thoughts

Who’d have thought a budget VPN service like PIA would push packets as fast or faster than ExpressVPN?

While I’m not a fan of the desktop experience at all, PIA has won me over with its low costs, high speeds, and great mobile app.

PIA’s strict no-logging policy and excellent security features, headlined by OpenVPN, should quell most concerns about the fact that it’s headquartered in the USA.

The somewhat limited global reach might turn some users off, particularly those in areas without a good selection of nearby servers.

As a US-based user, with multiple locations supported by over 1600 servers, I have no such qualms.

Final verdict: worth every penny.  

Have thoughts and experiences on PIA to share? Let us know about them in the comments section below!

Private Internet Access Review

PIA offers the perfect combination of speed and price.

A no-log policy, P2P support, DD-WRT router compatibility, a universal ad-blocker and a complimentary SOCKS5 Proxy are just a few additional perks that PIA's users will enjoy. The desktops apps could use a redesign, but budget-conscious consumers won’t find a quicker or cheaper VPN service.
Starts from
$ 6.95 per month
Visit Private Internet Access