VPNs have been gaining traction lately thanks to the seemingly constant erosion of online privacy. A VPN can be described as an encrypted tunnel that moves your data safely between your PC or other devices and a host server before hitting the open internet. There are plenty of VPN providers — many of them free — but that doesn’t mean they all stand on equal ground.
NordVPN is a leading provider in the VPN arena thanks to its promise of keeping no logs, its long list of servers, and a great app that’s easy to use. Here’s our full NordVPN review.
Bottom line: NordVPN is one of the best VPN providers out there. Its balance of features and pricing make it a smart choice for those wanting to protect their privacy with a no-logs VPN.
- Plenty of servers in many locations worldwide
- Absolutely no user logs (Panama jurisdiction)
- Anonymous payment options
- Lots of extra features
- No Windows 10 Mobile app
- Fluctuations in server performance
- Customer service is a little questionable
NordVPN plans and pricing
One of the biggest aspects of a VPN service is its price. You don’t want to pay too much, but you also don’t want to get stuck with a cheap service that doesn’t offer adequate protection.
NordVPN has four plans to choose from:
The three-year plan is the cheapest option at $3.49 per month, billed every three years at $126. If you don’t think you’ll need a VPN for a that length of time — if you’d rather pay annually or you’re traveling for a few months and would like one for hostels and hotels — the yearly plan costs $6.99 per month and the monthly plans costs $11.95 per month.
Compared to other leading services, NordVPN is sits near the middle of the pack when it comes to pricing. For example, Private Internet Access VPN costs $40 per year when billed annually, and ExpressVPN costs $100 per year when billed annually.
NordVPN isn’t the cheapest, but it also isn’t the most expensive option. There is also no lifetime plan available like some other services offer (we’re looking at you, VPN Unlimited). So no matter the plan you choose, you get the same service, and there is a 100 percent money-back guarantee if you find you don’t like NordVPN during the first 30 days you use it.
NordVPN has several payment options, including credit card, PayPal, Bitcoin, and Paymentwall. For extra anonymity, you can use a throwaway email address and pay with Bitcoin, or use gift cards from other major retailers through Openbucks and Paymentwall.
What type of security does NordVPN use?
As far as connection protocols go, NordVPN uses OpenVPN by default in its Windows 10 app. The company uses AES-256-CBC encryption and a 2048-bit Diffie-Hellman key to keep stuff seriously locked down. OpenVPN works fine with Windows 10 PCs but won’t work with Windows 10 Mobile. Instead, you can use L2TP/IPsec with your Windows phone, which is supported along with SSTP and PPTP protocols for legacy devices.
NordVPN more recently implemented IKEv2/IPsec support for strong encryption, better stability, and faster speeds. Phase 1 keys use AES-256-GCM and SHA2-384 for encryption, 3072-bit Diffie-Hellmann keys for Perfect Forward Secrecy, all before being sent through the VPN tunnel encrypted with AES256.
Overall, the included support for legacy protocols such as SSTP and PPTP (although not recommended), the use of OpenVPN by default in the Windows app, the use of L2TP/IPsec for Windows 10 Mobile, and the inclusion of the relatively new IKEv2/IPsec protocol, show that NordVPN is serious about your security.
A note on IPv6 leaks, which NordVPN was notorious for in the past. In February 2017, the company updated its service with IPv6 leak protection that works on all NordVPN apps. Now, if a user tries to connect to the VPN with an IPv6 address, the information coming from the address will be blacked out, and only IPv4 traffic (protected) will get through. We did not test whether IPv6 leaks were still occurring following the update, but it’s good to know that NordVPN acknowledged the problems publicly and strives to fix them.
What features does NordVPN offer?
NordVPN is one of the most feature-laden providers we’ve seen, with a long list of both user-friendly and secure tidbits.
You can have up to six devices using NordVPN simultaneously on one account, which is standard operating procedure for most providers. If you have more devices than this, say in an office or a full household, a router can be configured with the VPN (and will count as one device) to essentially allow as many devices as you want.
NordVPN has over 5,500 servers in 59 countries, meaning you’re likely going to get a solid connection to a server no matter where you are. The company also offers double data encryption, which moves your traffic through two VPN servers instead of just one. I’m not sure when I would personally use it, because it slows down your speed quite a bit. But it is a decent option for anyone whose life could be on the line if their true identity got out.
Some other notable features are a DNS Leak Resolver that keeps DNS servers from sending information outside of the VPN tunnel, a Onion Over VPN that allows users to connect to TOR, dedicated P2P servers for anyone interested in that type of sharing, and a dedicated IP service for those who want to keep a single IP address for accessing servers and networks.
NordVPN’s stance on user activity logs
Perhaps the biggest question that needs to be asked when using a VPN is whether or not logs of user activity are kept. The whole point of a VPN is to remain private while on the internet, so watching your VPN provider give away logs (whether voluntarily or because of a subpoena) is not something you want to experience.
NordVPN is hosted in Panama and operates under that country’s laws. Panama just so happens to have no law that requires keeping logs or data, and NordVPN takes full advantage of that. Even if the company did receive an order to give up its logs, it would have nothing to hand over.
Couple a complete lack of logs with the ability to pay for your subscription with Bitcoin, and you can operate underneath a pretty thick veil of privacy.
Setting up and using the NordVPN app
Setting up the NordVPN app on Windows 10 is easy. Once you create an account and subscribe to a plan, you’re given a download link to an install file that’s about 20MB in size. Once it’s installed, you enter your username and password, and you can immediately choose a VPN server to connect to.
A funky map shows countries where servers are hosted, and double-clicking a country pin automatically connects you to a server that NordVPN deems suited to your location and the overall load of all servers in that country. To connect to the overall fastest server, no matter the country, you click the big power button at the top of the window.
You can use the search tool to quickly find a certain server, and there is also a long list of servers separated by use and country. For example, all servers dedicated to P2P or Onion Over VPN are kept separately from the regular VPN servers that most people connect to. Connecting to any server is as easy as double-clicking, and it only takes a few seconds to set up a connection. The app also lets you add servers to a favorites list that appears at the top of all other servers.
The load on a server at any given time is displayed, and it also shows how far the server is located from you. And you can monitor the speed at which data is being downloaded and uploaded from your PC.
A built-in kill switch allows you to add apps to a list that NordVPN will kill if the VPN connection drops. This means that sensitive information will immediately stop being relayed over the open internet, while non-sensitive apps can still have access.
There are plenty more settings you can tweak, including automatically connecting to a certain server when NordVPN is opened, having NordVPN start when Windows starts, and setting your own DNS.
The NordVPN app is as easy to use as any I’ve tried and is straightforward enough for pretty much anyone to quickly get the hang of. There is, unfortunately, no Windows 10 Mobile app, but the manual setup is the same as with other VPN providers and is relatively painless.
Speed and performance of NordVPN
NordVPN does not have any limits on bandwidth, meaning you won’t be throttled if you happen to stream video all month or download a bunch of games over Steam. Connecting to a server through the Windows app is also very quick, most often taking only a few seconds.
Because your internet traffic is being routed to a VPN server before hitting the open internet, you can usually expect a bit of a slowdown on overall speed. To test just how much of a slowdown, I used Ookla Speedtest on my Windows 10 PC wired with an Ethernet cable with, and then without, NordVPN enabled.
All of the VPN servers tested were below 50 percent workload at the time of testing, except for the double-VPN server.
First test (PM)
|No VPN||19 ms||26.74Mbps||2.26Mbps|
|NordVPN recommended server (Canada)||117 ms||22.45 Mbps||2.09 Mbps|
|NordVPN recommended server (United States)||62 ms||24.13 Mbps||2.13 Mbps|
|NordVPN P2P server (Canada)||196 ms||11.06 Mbps||0.82 Mbps|
|NordVPN P2P server (United States)||130 ms||16.02 Mbps||1.83 Mbps|
|NordVPN Double VPN (Canada – United States)||106 ms||13.05 Mbps||2.06 Mbps|
Second test (AM)
|No VPN||19 ms||26.92 Mbps||2.30 Mbps|
|NordVPN recommended server (Canada)||102 ms||25.74 Mbps||2.17 Mbps|
|NordVPN recommended server (United States)||60 ms||34.63 Mbps||2.26 Mbps|
|NordVPN P2P server (Canada)||155 ms||20.05 Mbps||2.23 Mbps|
|NordVPN P2P server (United States)||144 ms||25.51 Mbps||1.98 Mbps|
|NordVPN Double VPN (Canada – United States)||106 ms||13.30 Mbps||1.74 Mbps|
It’s evident from the tests that performance doesn’t take a huge hit while using NordVPN’s recommended servers, but it does seem to fluctuate depending on the time of day. While connected, I browsed the internet as I normally do and didn’t notice a difference in the time it took for web pages to load. However, you’ll no doubt notice a bit of a difference if you’re gaming online or streaming video. Your ping will no doubt be higher in multiplayer games, and it might take longer for Netflix to kick up to a higher resolution.
Keep in mind that these tests are dependent on location and the location of the servers used for the testing. Your individual results will vary. It’s a little annoying, and ideally you want the app to be able to choose the best server for you, but with all the factors affecting speed, it sometimes takes a little manual selection to get going.
As for customer service, there is a live chat option, a ticket submission form option, and an extensive knowledge base for you to use to fix problems yourself, all located on NordVPN’s website. There is no support option inside the Windows 10 app.
I didn’t run into any problems that needed customer support — which is really a good thing — so I made up a problem to do with streaming and opened a live chat window. It took a couple of minutes to get an answer in live chat, and after receiving an initial response (other than the automated “please keep waiting” messages) I was left alone again. The next time I opened a live chat window, I again waited a few minutes before getting someone who stuck with me to help.
A common complaint with NordVPN seems to be their lack of support, and based on my experience, that issue might not yet be entirely rectified.
Strong encryption, reliable performance.
NordVPN is hands-down one of the best VPN providers out there. The company doesn’t have as many servers as some other providers, and it isn’t the cheapest option. But the number of extra features, the serious security, the complete lack of logs, and the wide range of connection protocols means you can rest easy while you browse the internet in private on a wide number of devices.
For more information about VPNs, check out these articles.
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