NordVPN and Private Internet Access (also known as PIA) are two of the most popular VPNs on the market currently. The need for personal VPNs has increased as cybersecurity threats and online surveillance has also become more prevalent.
Choosing a VPN can be difficult because there are so many options. VPN software is worth investing in, but users need to choose a provider with caution. While there are many excellent VPN services available, some are not so good.
If you like the sound of both NordVPN and PIA, but can’t decide which would better suit your needs, worry no more. We’ve devised a clear guide comparing NordVPN and PIA on all of the most important aspects of a VPN service. Read on to find out which VPN is the better option, in our opinion, and why.
NordVPN is arguably the most well-known VPN provider, but Private Internet Access is also extremely popular with users. Both VPNs have strengths and weaknesses in different areas and will be suitable for users with varying internet needs.
We’ve examined each provider and broken down the most important information about each into relevant sections below.
Security threats on the internet are a real issue, so VPN services need to offer solutions to these potential problems. Both NordVPN and PIA perform well on the security front.
Any VPN worth its weight in gold uses military-grade encryption to protect your browsing data. Private Internet Access and NordVPN both use AES-256 bit military-grade encryption, which is the best option. NordVPN also uses 2096-bit RSA and Perfect Forward Secrecy and Transport Layer Security to securely encrypt data.
PIA users’ default level of encryption is AES-128 with RSA-2048 for handshake methods. While this encryption level is the fastest mode, it offers users less security, so we would recommend adjusting it to AES-256 in the app settings.
Tunneling protocols secure your connection to a VPN server, and there are many different options. Some are better than others in terms of security, while others offer a faster connection. OpenVPN is PIA’s default protocol and can be run over TCP or UDP. However, users can change their protocol to WireGuard, which is considered better than OpenVPN in terms of security and speed.
NordVPN employs OpenVPN, IKEv2, and its very-own open-source protocol NordLynx. NordLynx is built around the WireGuard protocol and so is similar in terms of how it creates a safe connection for users.
We like that both providers have solid tunneling protocol options and avoid default protocols like PPTP, which provides a less secure connection.
DNS and IP leaks can reveal your real IP address, location, and ultimately, identity. NordVPN offers IPv6, WebRTC, and DNS leak protection to ensure you have as much anonymity online as possible. PIA also is IPv6 and DNS leakproof, and both providers own their own DNS to prevent DNS request leaks.
Both VPNs have a kill switch, so the VPN can cut off your internet connection if your VPN server connection ever gets interrupted. A kill switch is, in our eyes, a necessary feature since it ensures that you will never surf the web without VPN encryption. While some providers offer a kill switch tool, not all of them work effectively. Fortunately, PIA and NordVPN each provide customers with a fully-functioning kill switch.
PIA and NordVPN also both have anti-malware features. Nord’s is called CyberSec and blocks malicious websites or those which are known for phishing. PIA has a malware, tracker, and ad-blocker called MACE, which operates similarly to PIA’s CyberSec. Disappointingly, MACE is not available on iOS devices.
Most major VPN providers are making a move over from hard drives to volatile memory RAM servers for a couple of reasons. Firstly, RAM servers are wiped once they are switched off, which is good news for users, as it means browsing data won’t be stored. NordVPN and PIA both use RAM, meaning user data will never write to the hard drive. This is great in terms of security, and we’re pleased to see both providers employing RAM servers.
The winner: Both providers perform equally well when it comes to security. However, we like that NordVPN has developed its own protocol, NordLynx, to give users an exceptional VPN connection.
Regardless, either VPN is a great option for security, and we can’t fault either provider.
Security and privacy features often overlap. However, while security focuses on keeping you safe while using the VPN service, privacy refers to how a VPN can ensure you remain as anonymous as possible online.
Both PIA and NordVPN go to great lengths to reassure users that their personal information and web traffic will remain private while using their services. We’ve examined their privacy policies, amongst other things, to discover which provider goes the extra mile when it comes to user privacy.
Both NordVPN and PIA have strict no-logging policies. While neither VPN stores nor shares browsing data, real IP addresses, or anything that could directly link you to activity on their networks, both do log certain information.
NordVPN logs a timestamp of each user’s last VPN session along with their account username for 15 minutes after it ends. Both PIA and NordVPN store essential information for billing and account creation, such as name, email address, and payment data. However, this is normal practice for a VPN provider and nothing out of the ordinary.
Where a VPN company is based is more important than you may think since it will automatically fall under its jurisdiction’s privacy laws. For example, NordVPN is based in Panama, a super privacy-friendly state. For this reason, NordVPN doesn’t need to follow any strict data retention laws. This is good news for Nord users, who needn’t worry that Nord will hand over their data to Panama’s government.
On the other hand, PIA is based in the United States, a country that isn’t so privacy-friendly. While citizens living in the United States enjoy a lot of freedom online, they are heavily surveilled by the US government. What’s more, the United States is a member of the Five Eyes, an international data surveillance organization.
Fortunately, being US-based isn’t too much of an issue for Private Internet Access. In fact, PIA was subpoenaed by the US government in 2017 and was forced to hand over data from its network. However, PIA had nothing to produce due to its zero-logging policy.
For extra privacy online, many people like to connect to a VPN before running their data through The Onion Network, also known as TOR. Both NordVPN and PIA offer users the option to choose TOR over VPN, which can give you more privacy protection and make your connection run faster.
As well as this, NordVPN also offers users its Double VPN feature. The Double VPN feature routes your data through two servers instead of one, offering an extra layer of privacy. We like this feature since it makes your real IP address harder to find. A few other providers offer a similar service, but unfortunately, PIA does not.
The winner: When it comes to privacy, NordVPN slightly beats PIA. This is due to its Double VPN feature, which we think is a great way for users to gain more privacy on the network and better mask their real IP address. The VPN is also based in Panama, which bodes well for customers since it is extremely privacy-friendly.
While security and privacy are undoubtedly the most important aspects of a VPN service, extra features can make a VPN more appealing to users. Consumer VPNs are popular since they provide people with more freedom online and the ability to access restricted content from across the world. So, how do PIA and NordVPN fare when it comes to extra features? Let’s take a look.
PIA and NordVPN both perform well when it comes to bypassing geo-restrictions, thanks to their large server networks. PIA has one of the largest server networks available and can unblock popular streaming services and social media platforms in foreign countries or on local school and work networks.
NordVPN also can bypass many VPN blocks on websites and networks thanks to its obfuscated servers which hide the fact users are surfing the web with a VPN. Both PIA and NordVPN also work in restrictive regions such as China. While there are limitations when using either one of the VPNs in states like China and access is not always guaranteed, both of these VPNs have successfully gotten past the Great Firewall of China in the past.
This is by no means a small feat, and it indicates the strength of both NordVPN and PIA’s unblocking capabilities.
There is nothing worse than data and bandwidth caps with VPNs since these can drastically reduce speeds and limit your online activity. Fortunately, PIA and NordVPN offer unlimited bandwidth. This bodes well for fans of streaming, gaming, and torrenting since you need a limitless amount of bandwidth and data to carry out these activities online.
Split tunneling is not a necessary feature, but it is a great option to have. Split tunneling allows users to customize their VPN experience, deciding which apps and websites they want to access via the encrypted VPN tunnel and which through their regular internet connection.
You can enjoy split tunneling with NordVPN and PIA. It is a great feature for users who may want to use the VPN for streaming purposes to access Netflix in another country but want to log into their online bank account using their regular IP address. Online banks can often block unknown IP addresses if they aren’t associated with your account, so split tunneling is a great feature to whitelist your banking app from VPN encryption.
Moreover, employing split tunneling can speed up your internet connection since you are diverting certain websites through your home network and not routing all internet activity via the VPN.
When it comes to the average number of devices you can use a VPN on, five is the industry-standard, but both NordVPN and PIA exceed that. NordVPN offers users six simultaneous connections, while you can use Private Internet Access on ten devices simultaneously.
Six device connections may not be enough, but ten definitely is. Fortunately, you can circumvent the number of devices and connect PIA and NordVPN to your router. This counts as one connection for both VPNs and allows you to protect all devices on your home network. It’s a great way to bypass device connection limits, but configuring a VPN to your router is not an easy process.
Extra tools that provide ease of use are necessary to ensure users have an enjoyable user experience. One feature that users can access in the PIA VPN apps is the Snooze button. This feature enables users to pause their VPN protection for a set amount of time and schedule it to restart after the time is up. This is a good feature for people who may forget to reconnect to a server but need to pause it for a few hours.
NordVPN has a feature similar to PIA’s Snooze button, the VPN pause feature. More and more VPN providers have started introducing a pause option, which indicates there is obviously a big need for this feature.
NordVPN offers several extra features, including a Quick Connect tool so that people can easily connect to the best and fastest server possible. There is also Smart DNS, which, while it doesn’t offer VPN encryption, is a great feature for Smart TVs, as it more easily gives you access to blocked streaming site libraries.
Moreover, both VPNs offer dedicated IP addresses if customers don’t want to use shared IPs. A dedicated IP address is a great option for users who have a particular reason for using a VPN and can be purchased as an extra add-on for both providers.
The winner: NordVPN is slightly better at accessing restricted areas and sites due to its obfuscation and has a few extra features accessible on its apps. However, Private Internet Access offers slightly more simultaneous connections that may appeal to certain users. With that being said, NordVPN slightly edges out PIA since it offers many more features.
The number of servers and server locations is important since they indicate what content you’ll be able to access and how fast speeds will be. The larger a network, the better, and fortunately, Private Internet Access and NordVPN have large-sized server networks.
The number of servers is important, and NordVPN has over 5500 servers while PIA has a jaw-dropping 25,000+ servers. PIA is by far the winner when it comes to server options and offers users thousands of IP address options.
To offer customers access to almost 30,000 servers, PIA employs virtual servers on its network. Many people are wary of virtual servers since they are often placed in a different place to where they claim to be, which can cause slower speeds and make it harder for the provider to manage the server. On the flip side, they can actually be safer than physical servers since they can be placed outside of potentially dangerous regions but still provide access to internet content (e.g., Iran).
PIA operates in 99 locations across 77 countries, while NordVPN has servers in 59 countries around the world. That’s a pretty good number of countries, but let’s take a closer look at which continents the providers offer their services in.
PIA has locations in Africa, a continent that is widely ignored by VPN providers. Users can connect to a server in Nigeria or South Africa and some Northern African countries. The majority of the VPN servers are in North America and Europe, with countries like the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and Germany hosting the most.
NordVPN pays less attention to the Middle East and Africa and has more VPN servers in Asia, Europe, and the Americas. It operates across 15 cities in the US, and while it only has 1 location in the UK, it has over 440 British-based servers for users to choose from.
Popular Asian locations include Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong, which is great news for fans of TV dramas and films from these countries. We like that NordVPN has several Central and South American options, although it would be nice to see these added to.
We have briefly mentioned the importance of RAM vs hard drive servers in the security section. The use of volatile RAM is safer than using a hard drive server since these can be more easily wiped.
Both NordVPN and Private Internet Access have moved over to RAM-only servers, which is great news. Not only are these easier to manage, but they are more secure.
The winner: Solely based on size and location choices, PIA is the clear winner by a long stretch. It would be hard for many VPN providers to compete with the mammoth-sized server network that PIA offers.
It’s important to keep in mind that VPN pricing can frequently change, with seasonal offers affecting the cost of subscription plans. However, we’ve gathered the normal cost of NordVPN and Private Internet Access’ plans to see which provider offers a better deal.
Private Internet Access:
Clearly, PIA is cheaper than NordVPN, although not by a lot. NordVPN’s monthly subscription plan is at the expensive end of the spectrum, but the two providers offer similar prices on their yearly and two-year plans.
Both providers come with a 30-day money-back guarantee, and neither one offers a free trial. However, the 30-day money-back guarantee almost acts as a trial period of sorts, allowing customers to test out the VPN services whilst still having the option to back out if they don’t like it.
When it comes to payment options, we think that the two providers are some of the best in terms of what they accept. Nord and PIA accept traditional payment methods such as popular credit cards and PayPal, but they also accept cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, BitPay, and Ethereum to name a few.
The winner: NordVPN is marginally more expensive than PIA, but only by a fraction. Both providers offer decent pricing plans for what is on offer and a no-strings-attached 30-day money-back guarantee.
A VPN provider could have all of the world’s best features, but if it provides a slow service, it isn’t worth using. Nothing is more annoying than buffering when watching YouTube videos or slow page loads.
NordVPN outperforms PIA when it comes to speed. While neither VPN is slow, during our speed tests, we experienced faster download speeds and a lower ping with NordVPN, especially when our VPN connection ran over NordLynx. For example, our download speed before connecting to a NordVPN server was 35Mbps. When we connected to a US-based server, our speed dropped only to 33Mbps.
Comparatively, our Private Internet Access speed test results showed that PIA dropped a little lower, to a speed of 30Mbps. However, this still gave us a fast VPN connection, and we were able to navigate the internet without noticing too much lag. Similar results appeared when we tested servers in Europe and Asia, with NordVPN consistently offering slightly faster speeds.
The winner: Both providers offer good speeds for streaming, torrenting, and gaming if you want to connect your VPN to your console via your router. However, since NordVPN slightly outperformed PIA during our speed tests, we have to say that Nord performs better in this area.
A good VPN provider should offer platform support for various operating systems so that users can enjoy the VPN services on many different platforms.
NordVPN offers support for a wide range of systems. There are clients for Windows, Mac, and Linux users and a dedicated iOS and Android app for cell phones. On top of this, you can use the VPN on iPads and your Android TV. There are also browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox and the option to configure the VPN to your router.
PIA has platform support for a similar number of operating systems. There is an iOS and Android app and support for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Like NordVPN, there are also browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. Users also have the choice to buy a FlashRouter with PIA VPN already configured to it or to set up a VPN connection themselves.
The winner: In terms of device support, it’s pretty 50/50, with both providers allowing users to employ the VPN across multiple platforms. You can configure either VPN to your router, protecting your gaming consoles as well as other IoT (Internet of Things) objects.
Many providers have started to offer dedicated servers for specific activities such as streaming and torrenting. This ensures that you have faster speeds for these activities and an overall better experience.
Users can connect to any NordVPN server for streaming, but P2P networking is only permitted on around 4700 of the provider’s 5500 servers. We say ‘only,’ but 4700 torrenting servers is a large amount and gives users plenty of choices when it comes to choosing a country to torrent in.
Like NordVPN, PIA supports streaming and torrenting. However, P2P networking is supported on every single PIA server, and users can access a whole host of server options depending on which streaming services they want to access. PIA also has a SOCKS5 proxy, which can increase your download speed and is considered by most torrenting fans an essential feature.
Most users want a VPN to access Netflix libraries that are only available in other countries, and NordVPN is a stellar choice if this is your main motive for using a VPN. Not only can NordVPN unblock Netflix, but it bypasses VPN blocks on BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and HBO Max. We enjoyed good quality video and didn’t experience any buffering when accessing these sites.
Private Internet Access also provides access to Netflix catalogs but is limited to a few countries, including the US, the UK, Germany, and Japan, to mention a few. Disney+ was also unblocked with PIA, but we experienced problems with Amazon Prime Video and BBC iPlayer. This isn’t great news for customers, especially those who are fans of the British streaming service.
The winner: Regarding streaming, NordVPN is the clear winner since it can unblock a whole host of streaming platforms. However, PIA is the better VPN service for torrenting. Not only is P2P allowed on every single server, but the inclusion of the SOCKS5 proxy will aid with fast downloads.
Last but not least is customer service. All good VPN services should offer quality customer support. If you’re looking for good customer support, NordVPN is an excellent choice. The provider has a 24/7 live chat on its website and offers support in multiple different languages. There is also a ticketed email system and an extensive help section that is clearly laid out and has many different support guides, FAQs, and tutorials.
PIA also offers 24/7 live chat support and a support portal with specific categories to cater to user needs. There are guides, a knowledgebase, and a community section where you can get helpful tips from other customers. You can also get in touch via a support ticket and receive an email from the support team.
The winner: In terms of customer support, it is a tie. Both providers offer help to users in similar and effective ways, and we particularly like that customers can communicate with a real person via live chat.
Overall, it is an extremely close call as Private Internet Access, and NordVPN are great VPNs. We would recommend either of these services to users but perhaps for different reasons.
PIA is a fantastic VPN for torrenting, and we feel it excels in this area over Nord. However, NordVPN can bypass more streaming service VPN firewalls and would probably suit avid streamers more than PIA.
In terms of security, both VPNs are evenly matched. Still, NordVPN might be better for individuals worried about their privacy since the provider is based in Panama, which is undoubtedly a better jurisdiction than the US regarding data laws. Nord has also undergone independent audits, which PIA has not.
If push came to shove, we would recommend NordVPN over PIA simply due to the slightly better privacy features it offers. However, both VPNs are great choices, and you’ll enjoy a superb VPN experience with either one.