NordVPN vs. Private Internet Access

NordVPN vs. Private Internet Access (PIA) [Comparison]

These two VPNs have been vetted by users, reviewers, security firms and even courts. They’ve earned countless accolades and scores of loyal followers. And they’ve established themselves as leaders in the VPN industry.

But now it’s time for NordVPN and Private Internet Access (PIA) to face a new test: each other.

Will NordVPN’s dashing good looks and dazzling security options give it the upper hand? Or will PIA’s best-in-class flexibility and hugely appealing price point win out? This is NordVPN vs. Private Internet Access – let the match begin!

Usability

NordVPN

  • App Support: Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux (CLI), Android TV, routers (DD-WRT)
  • Browser Extensions: Chrome, Firefox
  • Open-Source: No
  • Favorite Servers: Yes
  • Server Stats: None

NordVPN’s platform support goes above and beyond the norm. Apps are available for all the main OSes and a command-line interface is available for eight Linux distros. The Android app is remote-optimized, so you can use it hassle-free on your Android TV. There’s also a full DD-WRT router applet if you don’t want to manually configure your router. Proxy browser extensions are available for Chrome and Firefox.

Though the apps aren’t open-source, they’re attractive and intuitive. Server selection can be done via a map or a traditional list interface. A Favorites function allows for easy access to your most-used servers. You can also apply a Specialty filter to view servers that support P2P, Double VPN and other NordVPN features. Unfortunately, no server stats, like latency or load, are shown.

Private Internet Access

  • App Support: Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux (GUI), routers (manual config for DD-WRT, Tomato, Merlin, AsusWRT, LEDE, pfSense, LibreCMC)
  • Browser Extensions: Chrome, Firefox, Opera
  • Open-Source: Yes (desktop apps)
  • Favorite Servers: Yes
  • Server Stats: Latency

PIA’s apps run on the four main OSes as well. Though the Linux app only runs on four distros, it’s got a full GUI and all the features of the other apps. Routers must be manually configured, but PIA provides guides for many different brands and firmwares. PIA’s proxy browser extensions work on Chrome, Firefox and Opera.

The desktop apps are open-source, so you’re free to take a look under the hood if you wish. You can customize your app’s home screen with your most-used settings, useful stats and easy-access functions. Server selection is done via a list, where you can view countries, cities and ping times. The Favorites list lets you view only your preferred servers for quick and simple selection.

Winner: Private Internet Access

Though NordVPN’s router applet, Android TV support and beautiful apps are truly stellar, PIA has the edge here. As one of the few VPN providers to offer a full Linux GUI, it’s got seriously widespread appeal. Extensive router support only adds to the versatility factor.

PIA’s ultra-customizable UI, always-available latency stats and open-source codebase also win it major points. It’s got something for everyone, whether you’re a speed demon, hobby programmer or average user.

Server Coverage

NordVPN

  • Number of Servers: 5,500+
  • Number of Locations: 60 countries
  • Strongest Coverage: Europe, North America, Oceania, Asia
  • Weakest Coverage: Africa, Middle East
  • Virtual Servers: No

Private Internet Access

  • Number of Servers: 3,300+
  • Number of Locations: 52 locations in 32 countries
  • Strongest Coverage: North America, Western Europe, Oceania
  • Weakest Coverage: South America, Africa
  • Virtual Servers: No

Not many providers can even come close to NordVPN’s server count. With over 5,500 servers strewn throughout the world, you’re never too far from a fast connection. The vast majority of servers, though, are found in Europe and North America. If you’re in Africa or the Middle East, your choices are more limited. But that’s hardly unusual – many providers fall behind in these regions.

PIA clocks in with 3,300 servers. It may pale in comparison to NordVPN’s 5,500, but it’s still a very respectable figure. Nearly half of PIA’s servers are located in the USA, with Canada, Australia and Western Europe housing most of the rest. Africa and South America each have just one server location; the Middle East has two. Asia’s four locations are split fairly between East, Southeast and South Asia.

Neither provider uses virtual servers. All servers are bare-metal and located exactly where they claim to be.

Winner: NordVPN

NordVPN’s massive server count gives it the upper hand in this contest. Distribution is a little lopsided, with most servers concentrated in Europe and North America. But even in other regions, like Asia, there are more than enough servers to please everyone.

PIA performs admirably in terms of sheer numbers but falls behind when it comes to distribution. Users outside of North America and Western Europe may struggle to find a nearby server.

Speeds

NordVPN

  • Local Speed Reduction: 1-10%
  • USA-Europe Speed Reduction: 10-40%
  • Long-Distance Speed Reduction: 40-80%

Private Internet Access

  • Local Speed Reduction: 5-10%
  • USA-Europe Speed Reduction: 10-40%
  • Long-Distance Speed Reduction: 40-80%

NordVPN and PIA perform very similarly in speed tests. What’s more, they both hit all the right numbers, with local speed reductions of no more than 10%. If your base connection is halfway decent, you shouldn’t even notice any speed loss. However, NordVPN hits slightly higher highs – in some cases, local connection speeds drop just 1%.

Some longer-distance connections, like USA-Europe, are staggeringly fast as well. Both providers are able to hop the pond without losing more than 40% of your base speed. But speeds in Asia are unpredictable for both VPNs, sometimes dropping up to 80%.

Winner: NordVPN

NordVPN wins this race by a hair, thanks to its occasional 1% local speed reductions. Otherwise, speeds are nearly identical between the two providers. Each has its weak points – NordVPN, Southeast Asia; PIA, South Asia and Africa – but both perform solidly overall. If you stick to the most popular VPN locations, you can’t go wrong with either VPN.

Streaming

NordVPN

  • Netflix: USA, UK, Canada, Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Japan, France
  • BBC iPlayer: Yes
  • Hulu: Yes
  • Amazon Prime Video: USA, UK, France
  • Other Sites: HBO Go, YouTube, ABC

Streaming is a source of pride for NordVPN, which credits its SmartPlay DNS with much of its success. SmartPlay ensures more consistent access to streaming sites and unlocks certain services regardless of your current server. You can reliably stream content from eight different Netflix sites and three different Amazon Prime Video sites. Also unblocked: BBC iPlayer, Hulu, HBO Go, YouTube and many regional TV networks.

Private Internet Access

  • Netflix: Sporadic in USA, UK, Canada
  • BBC iPlayer: Rarely
  • Hulu: Sporadic
  • Amazon Prime Video: No
  • Other Sites: YouTube

PIA, on the other hand, barely mentions streaming on its website. The word “streaming” is only ever used to state that the company doesn’t support or guarantee streaming access. Users report occasional success with accessing Netflix in the USA, the UK and Canada, but mostly failure. Access to Hulu is also sporadic at best. Once in a blue moon, PIA’s UK servers can unblock BBC iPlayer, but it’s a rare occurrence.

Winner: NordVPN

There’s a clear winner here, and it’s NordVPN. The provider’s SmartPlay DNS works wonders at fooling streaming sites, including the biggest beast of all: Netflix. And the ability to access geo-blocked streaming content regardless of your chosen server is a huge productivity boon. Even if PIA could reliably unblock US Netflix, it simply wouldn’t hold a candle to NordVPN’s massive streaming roster.

Security

NordVPN

  • VPN Protocols: OpenVPN UDP/TCP, IKEv2/IPsec
  • Encryption: AES-256-GCM with 2048-bit DH key (OpenVPN); AES-256-GCM with SHA2-384 hash and 3072-bit DH key (IKEv2/IPsec)
  • Ad and Malware Blocker: Yes
  • Kill Switch: Yes (Windows, macOS, iOS, Linux)
  • Other Security Features: Onion over VPN, Double VPN, Obfuscated servers

Security is (almost) airtight with NordVPN. It offers the two most secure VPN protocols – OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPsec – and the latest, most efficient encryption – AES-256-GCM. This cipher combines encryption and authentication into one, which slashes processing times without sacrificing security.

The CyberSec ad and malware blocker seamlessly supplements your standalone antivirus and ad-blocking programs. Some servers support the Double VPN feature, which routes your traffic through two different servers. Onion over VPN lets you access the deep web without using Tor. Special obfuscated servers mask your VPN usage, helping you elude network admins and firewalls. The only security hole here is in the Android app, which lacks the kill switch that’s present on other platforms.

Private Internet Access

  • VPN Protocols: OpenVPN UDP/TCP, IKEv2/IPsec, L2TP/IPsec, PPTP
  • Encryption: AES-128-CBC with HMAC-SHA1 hash and 2048-bit RSA key (default); adjustable up to AES-256-CBC with HMAC-SHA-256 hash and 4096-bit RSA key
  • Ad and Malware Blocker: Yes
  • Kill Switch: Yes (Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux)
  • Other Security Features: SOCKS5 Proxy

PIA offers OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPsec as well, but L2TP/IPsec and PPTP are also available. The catch is that you can’t change your protocol in the app, except on iOS. All of PIA’s apps use OpenVPN except for iOS, which also offers IKEv2/IPsec as an option. To use L2TP/IPsec or PPTP, you’ll need to manually configure the VPN.

Encryption, authentication and handshake are all customizable. You can turn them off if you’d rather have top speeds. Or you can boost your configuration up to a maximum of AES-256-CBC, HMAC-SHA-256 and RSA-4096 – the choice is yours.

MACE, PIA’s ad and malware blocker, works much like NordVPN’s CyberSec. By running at the DNS level, it prevents any additional strain on your personal hardware. A SOCKS5 proxy is available for users who want to mask their IP but don’t need any extra security safeguards. Finally, a kill switch is available for all platforms, including the oft-neglected Android app.

Winner: NordVPN

This was a tough call – each provider has many huge strengths and a couple of glaring weaknesses. For NordVPN, the unique Double VPN and Onion over VPN features are big pluses. The speedy and modern AES-256-GCM encryption is another selling point. But its DH keys could be larger and all aspects of encryption could benefit from customizable options. And the Android app could really use a kill switch, which is only built into the OS on the latest versions.

On the other hand, we love PIA’s user-adjustable encryption settings and Android kill switch. But we’d like to see an upgrade from AES-CBC to AES-GCM. PIA also lacks the more specialized security features that make NordVPN the champion of this category.

Privacy and Policies

NordVPN

  • Jurisdiction: Panama
  • Five/Nine/Fourteen Eyes: No
  • Signup Info: Email address
  • Logging: Last session timestamp only
  • Torrent Policy: Allowed, with server restrictions
  • Independently Audited: Yes

Panama, home of NordVPN, keeps a low profile in the international intelligence world. It stays out of data-sharing alliances and doesn’t enforce any mandatory data retention laws. This enables NordVPN to keep its customers’ data nice and private. Such data is minimal: an email address and the timestamp of your last session. The latter is used to enforce connection limits and is deleted after just 15 minutes. An independent audit has confirmed these practices, along with the rest of NordVPN’s security promises.

NordVPN allows torrenting on some of its servers. 46 out of 60 countries on the server list have P2P-enabled servers. The biggest gaps are in Eastern Europe, Asia, the Middle East and South America. No bandwidth or speed restrictions are placed on P2P users.

Private Internet Access

  • Jurisdiction: USA
  • Five/Nine/Fourteen Eyes: Yes
  • Signup Info: Email address
  • Logging: None
  • Torrent Policy: Allowed, no restrictions
  • Independently Audited: No, but policies verified in court

PIA, in contrast, is based in the USA. Notorious for its NSA-masterminded privacy invasions and data hoarding, it’s not our top pick for a VPN jurisdiction. But there aren’t any mandatory data retention laws in place, so PIA’s zero-log policy is fully valid. Though PIA hasn’t been audited, it has gone to court several times regarding user activity. Each time, it’s sworn under oath that it has no user data whatsoever to hand over to authorities. It’s solid proof that not even a court of law can get to you through PIA.

Although PIA doesn’t make a big deal about its free-for-all torrenting policy, that’s essentially what it is. There are no server, bandwidth or speed restrictions for P2P applications.

Winner: Private Internet Access

Panama may have a better privacy reputation than the USA, but we’ve got to give this round to PIA. While NordVPN’s logs are minimal, PIA’s are completely nonexistent. Restriction-free torrenting works in its favor as well. And though an independent audit is always reassuring, PIA’s court history is even more so. It proves how far PIA will go for its users – and how little data it has to give away.

Customer Service

NordVPN

  • Live Chat: Yes, 24/7
  • Email Support: Yes
  • Phone Support: No

NordVPN’s 24/7 live chat reps are well-trained, welcoming and easy to understand. Though they’re always available, you also have the option of getting more detailed help via email. Email support reps are equally friendly and knowledgeable.

Private Internet Access

  • Live Chat: No
  • Email Support: Yes
  • Phone Support: No

PIA doesn’t offer a live chat, only email support. You’re able to attach files, like screenshots and debug logs, to your message. However, you won’t get an immediate response to urgent problems.

Winner: NordVPN

Both providers have excellent customer support, but NordVPN’s 24/7 live chat gives it the edge over PIA.

Pricing

NordVPN

  • One Month: $11.95
  • One Year: $83.88 ($6.99/mo)
  • Two Years: $95.75 ($3.99/mo)
  • Three Years: $107.55 ($2.99/mo)
  • Dedicated IP: Available (+$5.83/mo)
  • Simultaneous Connections: 6 (non-adjustable)
  • Money-Back Guarantee: 30 days
  • Free Trial: No
  • Payment Methods: Credit Card, Amazon Pay, UnionPay, Alipay, Bitcoin, Ripple, Ethereum

NordVPN is definitely a premium VPN – with premium prices to match. One month will run you $11.95. However, things get substantially cheaper when you prepay. Prices can drop as low as $2.99 a month with the three-year plan. Dedicated IPs are available for an additional $5.83 a month. All plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee and six simultaneous connections. Many payment options are available, including credit cards, Amazon Pay, Bitcoin, Ethereum and Ripple.

Private Internet Access

  • One Month: $9.95
  • One Year: $71.88 ($5.99/mo)
  • Two Years: $83.87 ($3.11/mo)
  • Three Years: N/A
  • Dedicated IP: N/A
  • Simultaneous Connections: 10 (non-adjustable)
  • Money-Back Guarantee: 7 days
  • Free Trial: No
  • Payment Methods: Credit card, PayPal, Amazon Pay, Mint, Zcash, Bitpay, Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, Litecoin, retailer gift cards

PIA is the more budget-friendly choice if you don’t want to pay too far in advance. One month costs $9.95 ($2 cheaper than NordVPN) and one year equates to $5.99 a month ($1/mo cheaper than NordVPN). The two-year plan, at the equivalent of $3.11 a month, is 88 cents cheaper than NordVPN’s. There’s no three-year plan and no dedicated IPs are available. All plans come with ten simultaneous connections and a seven-day refund period. PIA offers more cryptocurrency payment options than NordVPN, as well as the option to pay anonymously with gift cards.

Winner: Private Internet Access

PIA is easier on the wallet and more lax on the device limit than NordVPN. The ten-device limit is one of the highest in the entire industry. The ability to pay with retailer gift cards earns PIA even more brownie points.

Overall Winner: NordVPN

It’s amazing how much more you can get for just a couple of extra bucks. With amazing streaming capabilities, highly-efficient encryption and exclusive security features, NordVPN wins this match. Plus you get thousands more servers, 24/7 customer support and a little extra speed where it counts.

But PIA is a very worthy competitor as well. Depending on your specific needs, it may even be perfect for you. It’s got gorgeous Linux apps, tons of customization options and a budget-friendly price point. And who could say no to a court-proven zero-logs policy and ten simultaneous connections?

Either way you slice it, both of these VPNs are formidable fighters in the war against online censorship and surveillance.

Summary: While NordVPN’s top-of-the-line security and awe-inspiring streaming capabilities impress, so do PIA’s stunning open-source apps and affordable prices. It’s a close race, but who will be the ultimate winner?

Privacy Angel Comment Policy

We welcome relevant, respectful comments.
Scroll to Top