Several factors affect VPN speeds, including which servers you select and how many other people are using your VPN service. We created this article to help demystify these factors and help you get the best VPN speeds while using Proton VPN.
If you would like to learn more in depth about internet speed and the various factors that can slow you down or speed you up, please see our article on latency, bandwidth, and throughput.
To establish some basic background:
Using a VPN means your data is encrypted and decrypted at both the client and server end, which takes processing power. It also means that your data has to travel an extra distance to the VPN server, which can cause delays (as described in the article mentioned above).
Using a VPN, therefore, has an impact on your internet speed, but how much of an impact depends on factors such as how far away you are from the VPN server, how busy the VPN server is, how far the VPN server is from the website target or other destination, and which VPN protocol you use. Proton VPN also implements a performance-enhancing proxy (PEP) to greatly improve internet speeds when using our service.
We discuss all these factors below.
Factors that affect VPN speeds
The distance your data has to travel is the single biggest factor to impact your raw internet connection speed. This is true whether or not you use a VPN, but a VPN adds to the distance your data must travel because of the extra journey to the VPN server.
The reason distance affects internet speed is because the internet is made up of countless inter-connected individual networks. So the further your data must travel, the more complex its routing is, which increases the risk of encountering obstacles along the way.
These obstacles include, but are not limited to:
- More routers, switches, and networks that your data packets need to travel through
- Congestion when encountering routers that can even lead to loss of data packets
- The type of cables your data packets need to travel through. Old copper-based infrastructure, for example, can greatly reduce the speed at which data travels
- The extra physical distance to the destination
Obstacles that slow down your data on its way to destination increase latency (the time it takes for your data to reach its destination), irrespective of how much bandwidth you have available.
When using a VPN, the distance your data travels is increased because it must travel to the VPN server before being forwarded to its intended destination. When using our Secure Core feature, the data is routed through two VPN servers (the first of which is located in Switzerland, Iceland or Sweden), resulting in a further increase in latency.
VPN Server load
Although distance is the biggest factor affecting VPN performance, VPN server load is also important. Server load is simply how busy a given VPN server is. That is, how many people are using it.
The more people using a given server, the higher the likelihood of network congestion at its switches. A large number of users can also put strain on a server’s resources (processing power, memory, disk throughput, etc.), which can impact overall speed performance.
As we discuss later in the article, our apps display a server load indicator to clearly show you how loaded each server is.
VPN protocols and the encryption they use to secure your data involve complex math, which it takes computer processors’ time to perform.
Even most low-end mobile phones these days (let alone desktop systems) can handle the extra processing required to encrypt and decrypt VPN-secured data client-side with no noticeable performance loss, but on VPN servers that are potentially handling hundreds of connections at a time, the VPN protocol you use can affect how fast they processes your data.
Properly implemented OpenVPN is extremely secure, but it is also a little “clunky” and slow compared with some other VPN protocols . That is, it requires greater processing power to implement.
IKEv2 is widely considered to be very secure, while also being a much more modern and efficient protocol than OpenVPN. Using IKEv2 therefore tends to result in better speed performance than OpenVPN.
VPN Accelerator is unique to Proton VPN and comprises a set of technologies thatcan increase your VPN speeds by over 400% in certain situations. Thanks to this new technology, you can always enjoy the best possible VPN speeds when using our service.
Key aspects of VPN Accelerator are a re-engineered OpenVPN that reduces server load by evenly distributing sessions between multiple CPU threads, a TCP delay-controlled TCP flow control algorithm called BBR that dramatically reduces latency, plus various other improvements, such as offloading interprocess communications to custom-written “companion” processes in order to improve forwarding efficiency.
Learn more about VPN Accelerator
How to improve VPN speed performance
Our Quick Connect feature takes all key factors into account when automatically selecting the best server for you, but if you prefer to take manual control, then you should take the following factors into account:
In general, connecting to a server as geographically close to you as possible will result in the best speed performance. And as noted earlier, this is the single most important factor affecting your VPN speed.
If you need to connect to a website or other internet resource in a particular country, connect to the closest one possible that fulfills your needs. For example, if you live in Europe and want to watch the US version of Netflix, connecting to one of our New York servers is a good option.
It should be noted, however, that VPN Accelerator should heavily mitigate performance loss due to distance, anyway.
Where possible, you should connect to a VPN server which is not busy. Proton VPN apps display the server load next for each of our servers in order to help you manually select a fast server for your needs.
When server load is light, this circle is green, changing to yellow if server load is moderate, or red if the server is overloaded. Click on the icon to find out more details.
Change VPN protocol
WireGuard is usually faster than OpenVPN, although if your WireGuard connection is slow then it’s worth seeing if switching to OpenVPN helps. Our Stealth protocol is great for evading censorship, but is also slower than the other protocols we support.
WireGuard and OpenVPN in TCP mode can be effective at defeating VPN blocks, but UDP mode is faster because TCP performs error correction, while UDP does not (please see What is the difference between UDP and TCP? for more details).
Learn how to change VPN protocols on your platform
Don’t use Secure Core or Tor
Our Secure Core and Tor through VPN features can greatly improve your online privacy and security, but for best speed performance you might want to disable them.
As discussed above, Secure Core routes your VPN connection through two VPN servers, which increases distance and the likelihood of congestion. There are also only three Secure Core server locations, which is likely to increase the distance you data must travel.
The Tor network routes your data through random three nodes, which can be located anywhere in the world, re-encrypting it each time. So Tor is slow at the best of times.
Upgrade your Proton VPN plan
Proton VPN offers a 100% free VPN plan with no data limits and access to servers around the world (specifically, in the US, the Netherlands and Japan). We enforce no artificial speed limits, but our free servers tend to be slower than our Plus servers simply because more people use them. Which increases server load.
It’s also very likely that our free servers won’t be located very close to you geographically, therefore increasing distance.
By upgrading to our VPN Plus or Proton Unlimited plans you can access servers that are likely to be much less busy than our free servers, and also much closer to your geographic location.
Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts
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Regarding the concepts mentioned in this article, let's discuss each one in detail:
Factors that Affect VPN Speeds
Distance: The distance your data has to travel is the most significant factor that impacts your internet connection speed. This is true whether or not you use a VPN. When using a VPN, your data must travel to the VPN server before being forwarded to its intended destination, which increases the distance it needs to travel. The further your data must travel, the more complex its routing becomes, increasing the risk of encountering obstacles along the way. These obstacles can include more routers, switches, and networks that your data packets need to travel through, congestion when encountering routers, and the type of cables your data packets need to travel through. All of these factors can increase latency, which is the time it takes for your data to reach its destination [].
VPN Server Load: While distance is the biggest factor affecting VPN performance, the load on the VPN server is also important. Server load refers to how busy a given VPN server is and how many people are using it. A large number of users can put strain on a server's resources, such as processing power, memory, and disk throughput, which can impact overall speed performance [].
VPN Protocol: The VPN protocol you use can affect how fast your data is processed. Different VPN protocols use different encryption methods, and the complexity of these encryption methods can impact the processing power required. OpenVPN, while secure, can be slower compared to some other VPN protocols. IKEv2 is considered secure and more efficient, resulting in better speed performance than OpenVPN [].
VPN Accelerator: Proton VPN offers a unique technology called VPN Accelerator, which can increase VPN speeds by over 400% in certain situations. VPN Accelerator includes a re-engineered OpenVPN that reduces server load by evenly distributing sessions between multiple CPU threads, a TCP delay-controlled TCP flow control algorithm called BBR that reduces latency, and other improvements to improve forwarding efficiency [].
How to Improve VPN Speed Performance
Change Server: Connecting to a server that is geographically close to you can result in better speed performance. The distance between your location and the VPN server is the most important factor affecting VPN speed. If you need to access a website or resource in a specific country, connect to the closest server that fulfills your needs. Proton VPN's Quick Connect feature automatically selects the best server for you based on key factors. Additionally, Proton VPN apps display a server load indicator to help you manually select a fast server [].
Change VPN Protocol: Switching to a different VPN protocol can sometimes improve speed performance. WireGuard is usually faster than OpenVPN, but if your WireGuard connection is slow, you can try switching to OpenVPN. Proton VPN also offers a Stealth protocol for evading censorship, but it may be slower than other protocols. WireGuard and OpenVPN in UDP mode are generally faster than OpenVPN in TCP mode because UDP does not perform error correction like TCP does [].
Don't Use Secure Core or Tor: Proton VPN offers additional features like Secure Core and Tor through VPN, which enhance privacy and security but can impact speed performance. Secure Core routes your VPN connection through two VPN servers, increasing distance and the likelihood of congestion. The Tor network routes your data through random nodes, which can be located anywhere in the world, resulting in slower speeds. If speed is your priority, you may want to disable these features [].
Upgrade Your Proton VPN Plan: Proton VPN offers a free VPN plan with no data limits, but the free servers tend to be slower due to higher usage. By upgrading to the VPN Plus or Proton Unlimited plans, you can access servers that are likely to be less busy and closer to your geographic location, potentially improving speed performance [].
I hope this information helps you understand the factors that affect VPN speeds and how to improve your VPN speed performance. Let me know if you have any further questions!