Here’s a full list of the categories we test for when identifying the best VPNs for Windows, along with how much of the overall rating they account for:
1. Windows App: 30%
Minimum Requirement: A native client for Windows, with basic customization options and a working kill switch.
We Recommend: An easy-to-use app optimized for Windows and equipped with multiple advanced feature.
The Windows app is normally the best-designed and fully-featured of a VPN service.
As such, we expect to see the widest array of protocols, the largest server network, and the most advanced features on Windows.
This shouldn’t come at the cost of usability, though. We reward VPNs with simple installation processes and intuitive apps that can be used at any ability level. This includes options to adjust the size of the Windows app, pin and unpin to your system tray, and alternate between light and dark modes.
We also want the VPN to balance performance and functionality on Windows. A well-developed Windows VPN should be optimized for the operating system, only consuming a minimal amount of CPU and memory.
Lastly, we take into consideration the VPN’s compatibility with Windows. VPNs that provide a native Windows app and a browser extension for Microsoft Edge, rank higher.
2. Privacy & Logging Policy: 20%
Minimum Requirement: Anonymized or aggregated connection logs.
We Recommend: No logs retained, audited by a third party.
A private, no-logs policy is essential for preventing your online activity from becoming identifiable.
Using a VPN is pointless if the service logs private, revealing information like timestamps and URLs visited.
Any VPNs that log identifiable or unnecessary amounts of data have been excluded from this lift by default.
As part of this process, we also reward VPNs that make an effort to outline their logging policy clearly and succinctly.
We also value VPN services that have partaken in third-party auditing. This is where an external agency verifies the claims of a VPN’s logging policy. Conducting these on a regular basis is a huge sign of trustworthiness for a VPN.
We only recommend Windows VPNs that log minimal, anonymized usage data or, even better, no logs whatsoever.
3. Speed: 20%
Minimum Requirement: Less than 40% speed loss on local connections.
We Recommend: Less than 20% speed loss on local connections and 40% on distant ones.
Using a VPN will always slow down your connection speeds, the best Windows VPNs minimize this impact as much as possible.
To identify the fastest VPNs for Windows, we perform manual speed tests on a weekly basis while connected to a dedicated 100Mbps connection.
All testing is carried out on our Lenovo T480s running Windows 10.
We test each and every VPN while connected to servers in five regions: local (UK), the US, Central Europe, Australia, and Singapore.
From these results we calculate an average speed loss and assign the VPN a rating out of 10.
From a top-rated Windows VPN, you should not expect a greater speed loss than 20% on local connections and 40% on international ones.
4. Streaming: 20%
Minimum Requirement: Works with US and UK Netflix.
We Recommend: Works with US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu.
As the most popular platform, Windows VPNs often have multiple users connected to them at once.
This allows streaming services to easily identify and block IP addresses associated with the VPN’s server.
To determine which Windows VPNs work with streaming platforms, we test every VPN weekly on our Lenovo T480s.
This includes connecting to a variety of servers within a single location to identify the best one for unblocking geo-restrictions.
Once a VPN has successfully accessed a streaming service for four consecutive weeks, we update our review accordingly. This is to avoid any false positives or anomalous results.
We also take into account the streaming quality, any buffering issues, and if the VPN service offers streaming-optimized servers.
The best Windows VPNs will unblock several Netflix libraries, HBO Max, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+. The worst won’t access a single streaming service.
5. Torrenting: 10%
Minimum Requirement: Permits P2P activity on some servers and a minimal-logs policy.
We Recommend: Permits torrenting on all servers, with a working kill switch, fast bitrate, and a no-logs policy.
We apply the same in-house methodology to every Windows VPN we review to calculate its torrenting score.
First we measure the VPN’s P2P speed by torrenting a 1GB file while connected to a local VPN server. This provides us with an average bitrate for the VPN.
All P2P speed testing is conducted using the qBittorent client on our Lenovo T480s.
Throughout the process, our testing device is connected to a dedicated 100Mbps connection to eliminate possible speed fluctuations.
We also take into consideration the VPN’s data collection practices and its policy towards P2P activity generally.
Furthermore, VPNs are rewarded for their spread of P2P-optimized servers as well as any advanced torrenting features such as port forwarding support.
Torrenting by itself can use upwards of 10% of your Windows’ CPU. The best Windows VPNs mitigate this by optimizing its Windows performance.
Data Cap Penalty: Up to 50% Reduction
Freemium VPNs almost always impose a data cap on its free users. As with most restrictions on free VPNs, this is intended to encourage customers to upgrade to a paid subscription.
A generous data allowance is vital for accommodating data-intensive activities, such as 4K Streaming, torrenting, and online gaming.
If you use up your data cap, your online activity will be left unencrypted and visible to third-parties, including your ISP.
We apply a penalty to the VPN’s final overall rating for Windows based on its data cap:
- 10GB per month: -20% to the overall rating
- 500MB per day: -25% to the overall rating
- 5GB per month: -30% to the overall rating
- 1GB per month: -35% to the overall rating
- 200MB per day: -40% to the overall rating
- 500MB per month: -50% to the overall rating
Additional Testing Criteria
Alongside our six key testing categories, we take into consideration several other factors when determining the best Windows VPN.
All the VPNs we recommend on this list are secure, using robust levels of encryption. We automatically exclude any VPNs that don’t use reliable forms of encryption or have been known to leak personal data.
As a minimum, we expect every VPN to tunnel traffic using AES-256 encryption and OpenVPN protocols. The top Windows VPNs also come with IP and DNS leak protection, a kill switch, and their own DNS servers. All of these measures ensure you remain anonymous and secure online.
We also look for VPNs that ensure a smooth user experience. VPNs that use ads or pop-ups and paywall key features are all penalized. This is not only a hindrance to usability but also presents a risk to your privacy as VPN services can sell your personal data to third-party advertisers.
All of the Windows VPNs on this list do not use ads, sell your data, or log identifiable information.
Lastly, we take into account the quality and availability of a VPN’s customer support. As a minimum, we expect a VPN to provide access to a support agent whether that’s through an email, ticket system, or live chat feature.
We also evaluate how quickly the service responds, whether the information provided is correct, and how adequately our query is answered. All of our recommended Windows VPNs provide multiple avenues of support with an excellent track record of solving user issues.