When recommending Windows VPNs, we focus specifically on attributes and features that are most relevant to Windows users.
For Windows VPNs we specifically consider:
- How easy-to-use the Windows app is, plus its range of extra features.
- If secure AES-256 encryption and a strong VPN protocol are in use.
- If any personal data is retained and if the logging policy is anonymous.
- How large the impact to download and upload speeds is.
- Can it consistently access streaming libraries, particularly US Netflix.
- If secure and anonymous torrenting is permitted across all servers.
In this section, we’ll go into more detail on how we test all of those categories, and how they affect the overall rating for Windows:
1. Windows App: 30%
Minimum Requirement: Easy to navigate, with essential features like the VPN kill switch.
We Recommend: The above, plus clear labelling, helpful shortcuts, and in-app FAQs.
As a Windows user, you’re lucky – Microsoft’s PC operating system is the number one priority for most VPN services when designing an app.
Ordinarily, Windows VPNs will be the best-designed version of the app, with the best range of features.
Of course, that’s not always the case, which is why we mark harshly here. A kill switch is the bare minimum. Ideally there will also be split tunneling, customizable server lists, auto-connect, and even port forwarding.
We also greatly favor VPN apps which clearly explain the features present, ideally with good labeling and in-app FAQs. Users with absolutely no experience of VPNs should be able to use it with confidence.
2. Encryption & Security: 17.5%
Minimum Requirement: AES-256 encryption combined with the OpenVPN protocol.
We Recommend: The above, plus a choice of protocols and private DNS servers.
A secure, reliable connection is always one of the most important factors for a VPN, but it’s especially important on your PC or laptop.
OpenVPN is a reliable, open-source protocol that has been popular for years. WireGuard is a new protocol which is being used more often – it’s extremely fast, while also maintaining the same security standards as OpenVPN. We test for both of these protocols in every Windows VPN.
AES-256 encryption is also expected from the top VPNs. If you find a VPN which only offers AES-128, it’s still perfectly safe, but it’s not the strongest available.
We consider all of these factors when awarding ratings in this category.
3. Logging Policy: 17.5%
Minimum Requirement: Anonymous or aggregated usage logs briefly retained.
We Recommend: No logs retained whatsoever, audited by a third party.
Equally as important as the encryption used is the logging policy of the VPN itself.
Using a VPN is pointless if the service logs private, revealing information like timestamps and URLs visited.
The ideal VPN won’t log any information whatsoever, with everything deleted as soon as your session ends. These VPNs are rare, but they do exist.
More realistically, the top Windows VPNs maintain anonymous, aggregated usage data. This might be something like the total amount of data you use in a month, how many times you connect, or the total number of users connected to a server at once.
We also place great importance on third-party auditing. This is where an external legal 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.
4. Speed: 15%
Minimum Requirement: Less than 40% speed loss on local connections.
We Recommend: Less than 20% speed loss on local connections or 40% on distant ones.
If you have fast home internet then a bad VPN will noticeably slow down your connection. If you have slow home internet then a bad VPN will make your Windows device practically unusable.
We conduct two different types of speed test to ensure that you can find the fastest possible choice for your PC. Our testing experts perform manual tests on a weekly basis, while our automated global testing tool runs 126 tests every six hours to keep a totally unbiased log of VPN speeds.
The best VPNs are between 5-20% slower on local connections, but anything less than 40% will likely be fine.
If you use international connections regularly, then we typically expect to see greater slowdown. Speed loss of less than 40% on a connection that’s 400-800 miles away from you is very respectable. The further your desired server, the greater the slowdown will be.
5. Streaming: 10%
Minimum Requirement: Can provide reliable access to US and UK Netflix.
We Recommend: Reliable access to various international streaming libraries.
The very least we expect of a VPN is to consistently stream US Netflix (or UK Netflix if you’re based in the US). These two libraries have the most varied and popular content.
A great VPN will also work with BBC iPlayer, Disney+, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, and more.
We have subscriptions to all these streaming services, and perform regular tests to determine which Windows VPNs can unblock them.
Some VPNs offer specialized streaming servers, designed to stream a particular platform more easily. While these servers are useful, we prefer VPNs that give streaming access on any server.
6. Torrenting: 10%
Minimum Requirement: Permits P2P activity on a wide choice of servers.
We Recommend: Permits torrenting on all servers, with good P2P bitrate.
Torrenting is very popular on PC, and it’s crucial you can trust your VPN to hide your torrent IP address.
The trouble is, not every VPN supports torrenting. We test ever VPN for a wide selection of servers compatible with P2P traffic. They should be well-distributed geographically, too.
The top-rated Windows VPNs allow torrenting on every server. We check both marked and unmarked servers don’t throttle or restrict your bandwidth while you torrent.
We test using qBitTorrent, and download a series of large files when testing to make sure that bitrates are good.
While rare, port forwarding is an important bonus for a torrenting VPN. Being able to open specific ports within the VPN can lead to big increases in download speed.