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Using a VPN Slows Down Internet – True or False? VPN Speed Explained

VPN Slows Down Internet

Ever wondered if a VPN slows down Internet connection speeds? It’s a pretty popular topic – in fact, many people like to claim VPNs either slow down Internet speeds or speed them up.

Well, there are a lot of things you need to consider when thinking about VPN speed – and we’ll discuss all of them in this in-depth guide. We’ll also tell you which VPN speed tests you can use to see how your connections are doing.

Does a VPN Slow Down Internet Speed?

Yes and no – it all depends on your circumstances. You could either run a VPN and notice no drop in online speeds, or you might connect to a VPN only to quickly see how your connection speeds are taking a hit.

Generally, it’s best to expect there to be variations in Internet speeds when using a VPN. However, you shouldn’t expect your speed to tank instantly. Normally, it’s likely going to be a drop in online speeds you might not even notice that easily.

Why Does a VPN Slow Down Internet Connection Speeds?

Overall, there are 7 factors that you should take into consideration when a VPN slows down Internet speeds:

1. The Location of the Server

The physical distance between you and the VPN server tends to have a huge influence on what kind of VPN speed you will get. Why? Because it takes data packets longer to travel between you and the VPN server.

Simply put, the further you are geographically located from the VPN server, the likelier it is your VPN speed will be a bit slower.

2. Server Bandwidth Limitations

If the VPN server you use has bandwidth limitations, your speeds might take a hit either when you go over your allocated bandwidth or when the server is overcrowded.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that the VPN server itself has a direct impact on your VPN speed. The better the quality of the server, the faster it can process things like encryption and web traffic, so the better your speeds will be.

3. The Type of Encryption

Depending on how strong the encryption of the VPN protocol you use is, it can potentially cause your VPN speed to drop a bit. Do keep in mind this only happens sometimes, and – other times – it doesn’t happen at all.

VPN encryption

As a general rule of thumb, the OpenVPN protocol is the one you’re most likely to encounter VPN speed drops with, while PPTP is the fastest one. However, PPTP is also the most risky protocol due to its lack of reliable encryption.

Usually, a good in-between is the IKEv2, L2TP/IPSec or SoftEther protocol.

4. Firewall Interferences

Firewalls don’t normally impact VPN speed but they can get in the way if they are configured to interfere with VPN traffic or your CPU performance.

While we’re on this topic, we should also mention that the power of your CPU can also influence your VPN speed. If you have a particularly old model, your VPN speed might take a hit because the CPU has a harder time working on the encryption/decryption process, as well as handling the VPN application processes.

5. Your Network Setup

According to some online articles and users, there’s a chance you might get better VPN connection speeds if you use a router with a LAN cable and connect directly to it instead of using WiFi. As far as we can tell, the results vary, so consider this a factor that might impact your VPN speed but isn’t guaranteed to do so.

6. VPN Routing Algorithms

How your VPN provider routes your connection between multiple servers, and the way they troute your online data as well can impact your VPN speed.

Usually, free VPNs tend to rely on sub-par algorithms, so you’re likely to get a lower speed with them.

7. Your Own Connection Speed

In the end, if your original ISP connection speed is too slow, it’s pretty much guaranteed you will experience the same thing with a VPN. There’s not much you can do in this case other than just getting a better connection plan from your ISP, or switching ISPs if faster options are available.

How Much Does a VPN Slow You Down?

Pinpointing exactly how much a VPN slows down Internet connection speeds is pretty difficult. The best we can do is approximate based on a simple VPN speed test.

For that, we’ll be using Ookla’s SpeedTest.net platform, CactusVPN VPN servers, a Macbook Pro using a 100 Mbps connection from an ISP in Bucharest, Romania.

Quick note about Ookla’s SpeedTest.net before we begin – you can actually choose which server you want to use for testing VPN speed. Therefore, the results you get can actually vary depending on the server you choose (something which we will also demonstrate with our own tests). For starters, we’ll pick a SpeedTest.net server from Bucharest (so that it’s in the same city as us).

SpeedTest.net Results Without a VPN

SpeedTest.net Results Without a VPN

As you can see, things are pretty smooth. We’re not getting exactly 100 Mbps download/upload, but a small variation is expected.

SpeedTest.net Results with Different VPN Protocols

We’ll start out by testing out what VPN speeds we’ll get when we use various VPN protocols to connect to the web. We’ll be trying out IKEv2 and OpenVPN (TCP and UDP).

IKEv2 | Bucharest VPN Server

IKEv2 | Bucharest VPN Server

Things are pretty okay – we didn’t lost a lot of download and upload speed. Overall, the VPN speed only went down by about 10%.

OpenVPN (UDP) | Bucharest VPN Server

OpenVPN (UDP) | Bucharest VPN Server

Even though OpenVPN features pretty “heavy” encryption, if you use OpenVPN UDP you’re likely to get better speeds than with TCP. We only experienced a drop in connection speeds of approximately 13%.

OpenVPN (TCP) | Bucharest VPN Server

OpenVPN (TCP) | Bucharest VPN Server

With OpenVPN TCP, the drop in VPN speed is more noticeable. We estimate that this protocol caused an approximately 30% decrease in online speed for us.

SpeedTest.net Results with Different VPN Server Locations

Now, we’ll be taking a look at how much a VPN slows down Internet connections depending on geographical distances. We’ll switch to our London and Montreal VPN servers (once again, our location is Bucharest for this test).

IKEv2 | London VPN Server

IKEv2 | London VPN Server

Switching to the London VPN server location causes a pretty noticeable effect. Even though we’re using the IKEv2 protocol which is normally fast, we still experienced an around 40% drop in connection speeds because of the distance.

IKEv2 | Montreal VPN Server

IKEv2 | Montreal VPN Server | Montreal VPN Server

Switching to a VPN server that’s on another continent decreased our speeds even more – by around 60%, to be exact.

SpeedTest.net Results with Different SpeedTest.net Server

IKEv2 | Montreal VPN Server | Different SpeedTest.net Server

IKEv2 | Different SpeedTest.net Server

This time, we’re using the same IKEv2 protocol and Montreal VPN server, but we’re also switching to a Montreal SpeedTest.net server. The difference is immediately obvious – the ping is two times smaller than our IKEv2/Montreal VPN server/Bucharest SpeedTest.net server combination. Also, the upload speed is almost two times faster.

IKEv2 | Without a VPN | Montreal SpeedTest.net Server

IKEv2 | Without a VPN | Montreal SpeedTest.net Server

We also decided to run a test with no VPN connection and a SpeedTest.net server that’s far away from us. As you can see, not a lot has changed compared to the results above – only the download speed took a small hit.

What does this mean? That, sometimes, your VPN speed results might only partially be affected by the VPN itself since they also depend on how far the speed test tool server is from your own location.

VPN Speed Test Conclusion

According to our findings, you could say that it’s possible for a VPN to slow down your connection speeds by anywhere between 10% to 30% if you use a VPN server that’s close to you, and by 40% to 60% if you pick a VPN server location that’s pretty far. Also, depending on the VPN protocol you use, you might see a decrease in speed of anywhere between 10% to 30%.

Obviously, you can see different numbers on your end. Besides that, please keep in mind that not all VPN speed test tools include an option to choose a different server on their end like SpeedTest.Net does. And – most importantly of all – sometimes the results you get can be heavily influenced by the server used by the speed test you’re using.

How to Test VPN Speed the Right Way

The best way to test VPN speeds is to use speed test tools to record your ping, download, and upload speeds with and without a VPN connection. We recommend running multiple tests since the speeds can vary both when you’re using a VPN and when you aren’t, and checking the VPN speed with different protocols, server locations, and speed test tool servers (if possible).

Here is a list of VPN speed test websites you can use for this task:

Overall, if you see a huge drop in download speeds, you should try switching servers (or some of the advice provided below).

Is There Any Way You Can Increase VPN Speed?

Yes, there is.

In fact, you won’t need to worry about when a VPN slows down Internet speeds if you follow these tips:

Increase VPN Speed
  • Choose a VPN provider that has no bandwidth limitations, like CactusVPN.
  • Always try to connect to the VPN server that’s closest to you (if it’s in your own country, the better).
  • Make sure your firewall or antivirus / anti-malware program doesn’t interfere with the VPN. Alternatively, just turn off the firewall.
  • Try to use a VPN protocol with less powerful encryption (like PPTP) if you’re adamant about improving VPN speed.

    WARNING: Only do that if you know for certain your data won’t be at risk – PPTP isn’t as secure as other protocols. If you can’t afford to take a risk, use L2TP/IPSec or SoftEther.

  • Play around with VPN protocol settings. For example, use OpenVPN UDP instead of OpenVPN TCP since it’s faster.
  • Pause or turn off applications or devices that are using your router and you don’t need right then (like a smart kettle).
  • If possible, try using a wired connection instead of a wireless one. You’re likely to get better VPN speed because there’s less contention for bandwidth this way.
  • Try restarting your modem or router. Sometimes, memory leaks can cause slow online speeds, and a quick restart fixes that.

    Also, if you run a VPN on a router, try using the VPN directly on your device (if it’s possible, of course). You can also try restarting your devices as well to see if it gives you a VPN speed boost.

Overall, if you see a huge drop in download speeds, you should try switching servers (or some of the advice provided below).

Can a VPN Offer You Better Internet Connection Speed?

While a VPN service isn’t really intended to offer you better online connection speeds, there are two situations when using a VPN can improve your Internet speed:

1. Bandwidth Throttling

If you’re not familiar with bandwidth throttling, it’s when ISPs intentionally limit user bandwidth – essentially lowering their connection speeds.

ISPs claim they need to do this to combat network congestion at peak times to offer all users a smooth experience. While that may be true in some situations, a lot of times ISPs throttle user bandwidth to pressure them into upgrading to a pricier subscription or data plan.

Bandwidth throttling doesn’t normally happen daily, but it might happen weekly or monthly, so it’s still noticeable. You’re likely to become a victim of bandwidth throttling if you stream videos constantly, game online a lot, or download large files very often.

Don’t forget – your ISP can see everything you do online, so they can keep tabs on your activities, and decide when they need to throttle your bandwidth based on them.

Well, if you use a VPN, your traffic is encrypted, so your ISP can’t monitor what you do online. As a result, they can’t throttle your bandwidth.

So, in this situation, you are likely to get better online speeds if you use a VPN.

2. Sloppy ISP Routing

If your ISP doesn’t properly route your traffic, you might experience slower online speeds. Basically, the longer and more inefficient the traffic routing, the more noticeable the drop in speed.

Poor traffic routing can happen for all sorts of reasons, but the end result is the same – you end up having to settle for a subpar online experience.

Luckily, if this is the situation, a VPN can help you by hiding the origin point of your online traffic and its destination.

Since your ISP can’t see where your traffic is coming from and where it’s going, they could be likely to use a different routing path that might be more efficient.

Of course, this is more of a speculation – not a guarantee. Nevertheless, it’s the kind of situation when you can definitely say you could enjoy better Internet speeds if you use a VPN.

Looking for a Provider with Decent, Stable VPN Speed?

We’ve got you covered – we here at CactusVPN only offer access to high-speed VPN servers that are located in reputable, safe, and reliable data centers from around the world. All our servers offer unlimited bandwidth, so you don’t need to worry about any bandwidth caps ruining your online experience.

Also, we configured all our servers properly to ensure they route your traffic correctly, and we give you the option to switch between 6 VPN protocols (including OpenVPN, SoftEther, IKEv2, SSTP, L2TP/IPSec and PPTP), so you can tweak your VPN speed as you see fit.

What’s more, our user-friendly, cross-platform compatible apps even let you sort our VPN servers by speed if you want to quickly find the server with the best VPN speed for you.

CactusVPN app

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Conclusion – A VPN Slows Down Internet Speeds, But Only Sometimes

Depending on various factors (like how far the VPN server is from you, what VPN protocol you use, how powerful your CPU is, how the VPN routes your traffic – just to name a few), it’s possible that a VPN slows Internet connection speeds for some users.

However, there are luckily some things you can do (like choosing a server that’s closer to you, using a wired connection, disabling your firewall, etc.) to increase your VPN speed. You can even use various VPN speed test tools to check to see if you’re getting a VPN speed boost or not.

Overall, as long as you follow some of the advice mentioned in this guide, and pick a reliable VPN provider too, you won’t need to keep asking yourself “Will a VPN slow down Internet speeds whenever I’m online?”

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Posted on in Good to know, VPN
Tim has been writing content and copy for a living for over 4 years, and has been covering VPN, Internet privacy, and cybersecurity topics for more than 2 years. He enjoys staying up-to-date with the latest in Internet privacy news, and helping people find new ways to secure their online rights.