November 12, 2020 | More tests
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6 VPN Packages Put to the Test under Windows 10

VPN packages for Windows PCs open up many new opportunities. The options include anonymous surfing, getting around geo-blocking for video services or tuning ping values when gaming. AV-TEST tested 6 packages in terms of their performance and investigated just how well they guard user privacy.

6 VPN packages for consumer users

– quick downloads and a high level of security

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With VPN software, users of a Windows PC have a special tool in their hand to open up new opportunities. Those using a VPN service can thus surf the Web with complete anonymity if desired. One interesting side-effect is that security is improved, as the connection communicates with the VPN server through a data tunnel. Gamers also appreciate VPN, because for special games or videos, they can get around geo-blocking or attain faster ping rates in a game. The test naturally examines VPN packages in terms of their speed or performance in communicating with other servers worldwide. But the focus is also on transparency of the individual providers. After all, you can only be truly anonymous on the Web if the VPN server operator actually deletes user data and the data history immediately or after a brief interval. That is why the test is divided into 5 key topics: usability, security, privacy, speed and transparency.

6 VPN packages put to the test

The laboratory examined 6 VPN packages, evaluated their performance and their ability to keep the connection private. The test includes the following products:

The lab has now evaluated some products for the second time, as the first test of VPN packages already took place in 10/2019. This year, however, the test category of speed has seen an enhancement. Each package was also tested in terms of its "local" and "overseas" performance. "Local" in this sense means: The performance was measured from one server in Europe to another server in Europe. The same procedure was carried out in the United States and Asia. The term "overseas" means: A connection was made from one server on one continent to a server on another continent overseas. Connections were evaluated from Europe to Asia, from Europe to the United States, from USA to Asia and all pairings were repeated in the opposite direction. After these elaborate measurements, the lab awarded up to a maximum of 3 points for each test segment. In each case, performance was clocked for video streaming, torrent download speed, latency, as well as upstream and downstream data speeds.

Besides speed, test categories such as usability, security, privacy, and transparency, naturally have various subtopics which were considered in the test. As this article cannot cover all the individual items, however, those interested can refer to a PDF file with detailed findings. There is another interesting wrinkle. After completing the test, Kaspersky discovered that there was a bug in the software version used in the test. Kaspersky argued that the test findings in the "local" category were actually better if the tests were repeated with an updated version, which we also were able to confirm through subsequent random testing.

This is how fast VPN packages work

The lab measured the performance of the VPN packages in each test task and rated it with a maximum of 3 points

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The major transparency check

Do the providers reveal which data is stored and how long, and who is actually the supplier of the software?

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This is how fast VPN packages work

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The major transparency check

Say good-bye to geo-blocking – say hello to limitless video streaming

Some providers of VPN packages tout the fact that their software allow any user to view videos beyond all national borders, even if access is actually forbidden in the user's location. This occurs, for example, in the case of YouTube, where a video is only intended for users in the United States, but not for Europeans – or vice-versa. This geo-blocking is put in place mostly for legal licensing reasons. The VPN software, however, simply uses a server in the United States as the starting point for a European surfer. It puts the user in the proper country for the platform and plays the video. Circumventing geo-blocking also works with many other services as well. Service providers, however, frequently detect the tricks per VPN and block user access. Which is why there is never a guarantee that geo-blocking can be circumvented per VPN. But if it does work, then the data rate via VPN is important, as otherwise high-resolution videos, e.g. 4k, may be unstable. If a product has an average data throughput, it receives 2.0 points. Depending upon the performance, up to 3.0 points are awarded, or fewer as the case may be.

In terms of clocking the speed of video streaming, there is a wide fluctuation in point scores. When the "local" values are examined, then Kaspersky comes out at 2.0 and Avira at 2.1 points, or somewhat better than average. Bitdefender is the runaway favorite here with 3.0 points. All other packages only receive ratings between 1.6 and 1.7 points. The values for "overseas" are only interesting for Bitdefender with 2.8 and Kaspersky with 2.9 points. All other VPN packages achieve only 1.0 and 1.1 points respectively for "overseas" connections.

Where the ping is the name of the game

For various games, many gamers utilize the servers not only in their country or continent. If the server is relatively close by, then the latency is generally quite low. The latency determines the ping time, and this in turn affects the reaction time of a gaming figure or a device. If a server is far away, the latency increases – the reaction time thus becomes worse. That is why gamers often use VPN, in order to directly connect to a remote service and thus achieve lower latency. The test indicates that the values here tend to vary widely. In the "local" area, the packages from Avast, AVG, Avira and HMA exhibited such formidable results that they were awarded between 2.8 and 3 points. Bitdefender and Kaspersky have a higher latency and received only 1.4 points. In the "overseas" area, it's a different picture entirely. Here, Bitdefender is slightly weaker at 1.8 points; all other packages received 2.0 points. Where there was an additional download requirement in a game, all packages did indeed provide an acceptable download data rate for "local" connections. For "overseas", however, only Bitdefender and Kaspersky managed to download quickly and thus received 3.0 points each. All others were significantly slower and received only 1.0 points.

Anonymous surfing, downloads and uploads

Anyone surfing the Web anonymously wants a stable, fast line, also offering fast downloads where needed. How anonymous the surfing really is, was resolved by the category of "transparency" and the corresponding table. There is indicated, for example, how the providers treat user data, whether and for how long they store it, and whether users can freely find this information. For this, the testers visited the websites of all manufacturers and checked their specifications. Most of the manufacturers in the test reveal quite a lot of information in the category of transparency. Only Avira does not provide any information on how data is secured. For users, it is now clear that their data is secure, but the question is, do the packages deliver rapid uploads and downloads? In the category of downstream data speed, there are two clear recommendations: the packages from Bitdefender and Kaspersky. In total, they have the best ratings for "local" and "overseas" with 2.0 to 3.0 points.

If a user wants to not only download data but also to upload it frequently, the performance comparison in terms of upstream data rates paints a totally different picture. In the "local" comparison, the packages from Bitdefender and Kaspersky are those with the fewest points. Avast, AVG, Avira and HMA demonstrate better values here and for this they received 2.0 to 2.8 points out of a possible total of 3 points. By contrast, in the "overseas" test, Bitdefender and Kaspersky are once again in the top group, along with Avira and HMA. All four range between 2.6 and 2.9 points. AVG and Avast received only 1 point. If we make a side-by-side comparison of the four values of up and downstream per package, the VPN from Bitdefender is the best selection.

Torrent networks as a special service

From a technical standpoint, the use of torrent networks is a good idea. Because in this type of network, each PC user with matching torrent software is also a server. Through torrent, many large files can be split up into many small file blocks and distributed. To balance the load on distributing servers, PC users forward file blocks already received to other persons requesting them. Anyone seeking to stay secure in this type of network can also use VPN. Most of the packages evaluated offer their assistance. Avira and Avast have not yet totally implemented torrent support. On some of their servers, there is still no supported torrent protocol. That is why no test data is available for them. Only Bitdefender and Kaspersky can deliver good data throughputs on the "local" and "overseas" test. As a result, they received between 2.3 and 2.7 points. While AVG and HMA can also manage torrent connections via VPN, their data throughputs are insufficient and only deserve 1.4 to 1.8 points.

HMA – HideMyAss!

With one click, HMA checks the VPN connection with the speed test

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Bitdefender Premium VPN

The VPN tool launches automatically where desired, as soon as the user accesses an unknown network

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Avira Phantom VPN Pro

Where desired, the VPN software, as the only the product in the field, also blocks malware or infected websites

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AVG Secure VPN

In the available server list, AVG also indicates which additional services are available, such as video or torrent

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Avast SecureLine VPN

In addition to a browser enhancement for VPN functions, Avast also offers a secure browser for downloads

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Kaspersky Secure Connection

The Kaspersky VPN tool not only informs the user when the Wi-Fi connection is secure, but also if the connection cannot be protected

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HMA – HideMyAss!

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Bitdefender Premium VPN

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Avira Phantom VPN Pro

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AVG Secure VPN

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Avast SecureLine VPN

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Kaspersky Secure Connection

Using third-party networks

A good use for VPN is also secure use of third-party networks or Wi-Fi connections. This enables users to log onto open networks with a smartphone or notebook at any time, for example, and be assured of being secure. Because the communication occurs in a secured tunnel which is switched through the third-party network. It means concealed attacks are no longer possible. This is prevented by the VPN tunnel protocols, combined with data encryption, typically involving 256-bit AES. That is why VPN is utilized by many users in connection with online banking, for example.

While up and download rates of the packages are interesting, they are usually not the decisive criterion for VPN use in this area. As previously mentioned, Bitdefender had good results in all up and download scenarios. If downloading is the only criterion, then the Kaspersky package is also a partner with solid findings.

The providers promise transparency

As already mentioned in the download category, it is important whether and how a VPN provider stores the connection data of its customers. Most of the providers explain this on their websites in such clear terms that it is logical to everyone. But the company also needs to reveal some information about its own identity. For instance, what is the corporate entity behind the service, and where is it located? Or additional information, such as management, the company address, the legal jurisdiction, along with many details on the EU General Data Protection Regulation, or EU GDPR for short. That regulation specifies how user data is to be handled. And this is information that all providers in the test make freely accessible to users. Public disclosure of a transparency report, however, is offered only by Avast, Avira and HMA.

If a provider has been forced by a government entity to hand over data, it is generally not permitted to publicly disclose this fact. That is why the providers utilize a trick. They publish a "warrant canary" with a constantly revised date next to it. If the company has been ordered to hand over data, the date is suddenly no longer included there, and it is clear to everyone what has happened. The "warrant canary" information is offered by all packages except Bitdefender and Kaspersky.

The right VPN for every use

A direct test winner cannot be determined among VPN packages, as it depends on what the VPN is to be used for. Anyone performing lots of uploads and downloads and also using torrent networks can easily find a personal favorite in the performance table. The packages from Bitdefender or Kaspersky would seem to be the natural choice. A similar picture emerges if a user streams quite a lot of videos and, in doing so, also wants to defeat geo-blocking. Bitdefender and Kaspersky have an edge here as well.

On the other hand, a gamer seeking to achieve excellent ping times, won't find joy with Bitdefender or Kaspersky. Their ping times are too high. Here, the packages from Avast, AVG, Avira and HMA are significantly better. For surfing in third-party networks, all packages are recommended in terms of security. Here, the user can concentrate on the best values for their individual use case, e.g. the download values.

VPN – private package or industrial technology

David Walkiewicz
David Walkiewicz
Head of Test Research

VPN packages for consumer users are often mistaken for VPN solutions for corporate users, although they are as different as night and day.

The abbreviation VPN stands for virtual private network and is only a technical term. It describes the creation of a private network over a public network on the Web by means of a data tunnel. That is the bare-bones technology behind it.

The VPN packages for consumer users work in the following way: the VPN software on the PC or on the user's mobile device creates a data tunnel via the Internet to a server of a VPN provider, which can be located in almost any country in the world. From there, the queries of the remote VPN user are launched. This makes it appear as if users are going online in the country of the VPN provider, although they are located perhaps thousands of miles away.

VPN solutions for corporate users work differently. With the help of client software, an employee PC is connected to a corporate server and, in the process, often has access to data servers. Many Internet queries run securely through the corporate system and thus professionally defuse many threats. Because the data tunnel is protected and the communication is encrypted, no one can hack into the connection or intercept it. In the corporate solution, users also cannot select any special services or servers in various countries. It is a different application entirely. Perhaps in the future, the software industry may someday decide to give the packages different names. The terms "private VPN" and "corporate VPN" would probably be slightly helpful.

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