Every VPN we test goes through the unique Top10VPN.com methodology – no exceptions. This is what happens when we review a VPN:
1Purchasing the VPN
No press samples and no freebies (‘test accounts’ provided by VPN providers) – we want to make sure we get the exact same experience as the average user at home.
The only way to guarantee that we’re receiving an official retail version of a VPN is to buy one ourselves – so that’s exactly what we do for every VPN we test.
We have a running subscription for every paid VPN currently listed on our website. Last year alone we spent over $5,000 in VPN subscriptions. We have constant access to the VPN software we review, so that we can update our reviews at the drop of a hat.
Purchasing and maintaining our own subscriptions means that we can keep track of which VPNs represent good value for you in today’s market – and which ones are ripping you off.
2Installing and testing on multiple devices
We have a dedicated test laptop with virtual machines installed, ready and waiting to run the latest VPN on test. We also have a 2017 Apple MacBook Pro, Apple iPhone 7, Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy S8 and Amazon Fire TV Stick set aside especially for VPN testing, each one wiped clean after each test.
We highlight how widely-available each VPN is, and whether or not it has dedicated apps for a variety of popular devices. No native support for your phone, computer or streaming device of choice means you could risk less-than-total protection.
3Can we quickly find what we want?
Are the menus all clearly labelled? Does each button do what you’d expect it to do? Does it help you find a server for the specific service you’re after, like Netflix? Is there a walkthrough to installing it on your router?
We leave no stone unturned, making sure there are no surprises when you fire up your new VPN for the first time.
4Does it have all the necessary features?
In this day and age there are certain features that we consider essential to a top VPN – features like a kill switch, automatic public WiFi protection and AES-256 encryption.
Beyond that, though, we also look for any useful extras that may be included like split-tunneling or browser extensions.
Some will provide dedicated servers for specific streaming services, like Netflix or BBC iPlayer, while others will give you servers optimized for torrenting and P2P.
5Does it protect your privacy and security?
Your privacy and security is of the utmost importance. We wouldn’t be doing our job properly if we didn’t ensure that every recommended VPN keeps you safe and private online.
We carry out advanced encryption tests to verify that a VPN is properly encrypting your connection.
We also check for DNS leaks, IP leaks, and WebRTC leaks to confirm that your true location is hidden when connected to a VPN.
In order to achieve the most reliable results, we use network traffic analysis software called Wireshark, a highly-regarded, open-source tool used by security professionals the world over.
We’ve also created a custom testing environment that ensures no misleading data can pollute the packet data that we capture and analyze for potential leaks and failures in encryption.
6How fast is it?
Speed and connection reliability are the backbone of any good VPN, so we knew that we had to find a way to test them as rigorously as possible.
To do so, we developed two different testing methods:
Method #1 (Manual)
This testing technique allows us to measure the speed of every single VPN service you see reviewed on our website.
To begin with, we record our internet speed without the VPN running.
We then launch the VPN, connecting to servers in the US (East Coast), UK, Australia, Central Europe (usually Germany, or France), and Singapore. If one of these locations is not available, we’ll test a nearby country or region instead.
Testing locations around the world gives a good overview of how VPN speed performance over short, medium and long distances.
We test each location several times, and we compare the average for each location to our speeds without the VPN active, calculating the percentage of speed lost.
For each region, the amount of speed lost is assigned a specific score. This applies to download and upload speeds lost, as well as latency gained. Below is how much each of these three factors affects the overall speed score:
- Download speed: 70%
- Upload speed: 20%
- Ping: 5%
N.B. Local connection speed (for example, from London to London) is prioritized.
The majority of speed data you see is from testing using the OpenVPN protocol, in order to keep results between VPN providers comparable.
We’ll also run tests on other available protocols (WireGuard, IKEv2, etc.), as certain VPN services prioritise other security protocols (including proprietary protocols), so it’s important to test these too. If speed data relates to a speed test on a protocol other than OpenVPN, we’ll make sure it’s clearly stated.
We record all speed measurements using Ookla’s internet speed checker.
Method #2 (Automated)
We have developed a global testing tool that tests VPN speeds throughout each day, in order to deliver accurate and up-to-date figures. The locations we currently test are:
- Amsterdam, NL
- Frankfurt, DE
- London, UK
- New York, US
- Paris, FR
- San Francisco, US
- Sydney, AU
- Tokyo, JP
- Toronto, CA
- Vancouver, CA
Our testing infrastructure, made in-house by our engineering team, runs automated tests both between and within every city listed above, to give you great insights into how a VPN will perform for you all around the world.
Currently, we use our tool to automatically test the following VPNs:
We strongly believe that the data from our automated tool is the most reliable out there.
Not every VPN provider has configuration files compatible with our tool, but we are looking to add more VPNs to it in the very near future.
7Does it work with popular web services?
With the technical analysis complete, we then test the VPN to see how well it unblocks popular web services. Does it let you access US Netflix from any location? Can you watch BBC iPlayer from anywhere? How about torrenting – is it permitted on all servers?
If the answer to all of these questions is ‘no’ then you’re looking at a very limited VPN that may not be right for you.
8Can it bypass censorship?
VPNs are vital tools in combating government online censorship. Whether you live under a digitally-oppressive government or are just passing through, a VPN is crucial to regain access to a free and open internet.
We thoroughly check to see if every VPN we test can be relied upon to beat geo-restrictions in heavily censored countries like China and the UAE.
9What is its privacy and logging policy like?
If a VPN isn’t protecting your privacy then you may as well not be using one at all – but we’ve found some privacy and logging policies that left us speechless.
The very best VPN services enforce no-logs or minimal-logs policies which, if implemented correctly, will store zero identifiable data on the user. However, there have been cases when a no-logs provider has been caught lying, so make sure you do your research before trusting a VPN provider at face value.
While it can be very hard to know for sure if a provider is logging or not, we go over every privacy and logging policy with a magnifying glass. We also grill every VPN provider to find out exactly how private each VPN really is.
And it doesn’t stop there. We do our due diligence and carry out thorough research into who owns and operates each VPN company. For example, we look into where they’re headquartered – in fact, we’ve seen plenty VPN companies set in privacy-unfriendly jurisdictions, which can be a serious issue if a provider’s logging practices aren’t watertight.
Last but not least, we stay on top of the latest news and developments in the VPN industry, so that we’re always fully informed and well-equipped to give valuable advice to our readers.
10How good is the customer support?
Now that we’ve seen everything the VPN has to offer, and know exactly what its shortcomings are, we get in touch with their customer support to see if it can help us fill in the blanks.
We test the quality of a VPN provider’s customer support on live chat (if available) and email.
We ask a mixture of simple and technical queries to see how well its support agents really know their product – and whether or not they’ll be able to help you in the event of a problem.