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Our latest VPN tests are over and the rankings have changed

Our latest VPN tests are over and the rankings have changed

The most recent round of VPN testing is complete, and after rigorous analysis and comparisons, we have a new top five best VPN services

While ExpressVPN has maintained its number one spot, it’s a closer call than ever seen before—NordVPN continues to close the gap on ExpressVPN thanks to its ever-growing mass of features, budget-friendly pricing, and consistent content unblocking. Plus, it even claimed the crown for the fastest VPN in our speed tests—maxing out our gigabit line.

In a surprise twist, IPVanish jumped up to fifth place, knocking CyberGhost all the way down to ninth. We’ve seen some pretty amazing things from our recent testing, but for now, here’s a quick breakdown of the cream of the crop.

The 5 best VPNs in 2023

1. ExpressVPN: the best VPN service in 2023
ExpressVPN continues to set the bar in the industry. It offers easy-to-use apps, lightning-fast speeds, peerless build quality, and reliable content unblocking—all with 24/7 customer support. It even comes with a built-in password manager, and the Windows app now has Threat Manager to block malicious websites and protect your device. 

On the surface, it’s pricier than competitors like NordVPN, but that’s mostly because ExpressVPN offers a maximum 12-month subscription, whereas other providers will further cut costs on longer plans.

Still, ExpressVPN more than makes up for it by offering 1 year of unlimited cloud storage and 3 months of extra protection for free on a 1-year subscription.

▶ Read more in our full ExpressVPN reviewView Deal

2. NordVPN: the fastest VPN around
NordVPN blew us away with its speed, and the investment in NordLynx is really paying off. Combine that with consistent stream unblocking, and an all-in-one security suite, and you can see why it was such a close call with ExpressVPN. 

Where NordVPN falls down is attention to detail. The build quality is significantly lower than ExpressVPN, and there are lots of minor inconveniences that just make the apps feel unintuitive at times.

Don’t underestimate Nord, though—these gripes are only minor. For the majority of users, Nord is a reliable and highly secure option that is absolutely brimming with great features. If you want super-fast value, NordVPN is an excellent alternative.

▶ Read more in our full NordVPN reviewView Deal

3. Surfshark: the best budget VPN
Once again, Surfshark secures the best cheap VPN title. Much like NordVPN, Surfshark maxed out our speed testing, and despite consistency with  

With servers in over 100 countries, you can stream your favorite shows from almost anywhere. Best of all, Surfshark costs as little as $2.49 per month, and it comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee to try it out.

▶ Read more in our full Surfshark reviewView Deal

4. Private Internet Access: the best Linux VPN
Private Internet Access continues to impress me with the depth of customization available—something even ExpressVPN could learn from.

Despite underperforming in our speed tests, it’s still fast enough for torrenting, gaming online, and streaming in 4K. Plus, PIA is one of the only services to ever prove its no-logs policy in court, twice!

With apps for every major platform, including a Linux VPN GUI, it’s perfect for the more technically savvy. With dedicated streaming servers, it unblocked every service we threw at it. But don’t just take my word for it, make the most of the 30-day money-back guarantee, and see for yourself.

Read more in our full Private Internet Access reviewView Deal

5. IPVanish: an up-and-coming provider
IPVanish stormed up the rankings this time, jumping from ninth to fifth place! I was impressed with the commitment to improving the service and the steps taken to verify the sanctity of its network and no-logs policy.

It was also one of the fastest VPNs in our testing, joining NordVPN and Surfshark in maxing out our speed testing line. If this streak of improvement continues, I’ve no doubt it’ll continue to climb the ranks.

Plus, unlimited simultaneous connections and a 30-day money-back guarantee mean you (and everyone you know) can put it to the test risk-free.

Read more in our full IPVanish reviewView Deal

Our latest test results

This round of testing saw some movement around the top players, but much of our best VPN list remains unchanged. NordVPN and Surfshark still stand strong to round out our top three, while PIA sits nicely in fourth. 

The biggest mover, IPVanish, has some major app updates and new features to thank for the jump. In contrast, CyberGhost dropped to ninth place—decent speeds aren’t enough to stand out in this competition, I’m afraid. Proton VPN also dropped to seventh place while PrivadoVPN climbed to sixth to take our best free VPN title.

Going a step further

It’s not just about which VPN provider has the most to offer, it’s about maintaining a reliable, high-quality service.

Mike Williams, our lead VPN Tester, puts it best: “A great VPN isn’t necessarily about having the longest feature list or the highest possible speeds. What really matters is quality, attention to detail, and the kind of consistency that says not only can you trust this provider with your privacy right now, but you can be confident it’ll stay that way for the foreseeable future.”

I’d definitely agree. It’s one of the key reasons ExpressVPN has held the crown for so long—the difference in quality between ExpressVPN and NordVPN is significant. There’s so much attention to detail, even with the little things, so I know I can trust it with my life.

That said, with the recent Kape layoffs, I’ll be watching ExpressVPN, PIA, and CyberGhost like a hawk, as I’m deeply concerned as to whether this will affect the quality of service on offer.

Stream unblocking results

VPNs regularly claim they unblock all of your favorite shows, but which ones really do? Check out the results from our testing below to see whether a service can access global streaming services:

Malware, tracker, and ad-blocking results

Many VPNs say they have built-in ad, tracker, and malware blocking, and most reviews just take it for granted that these work and deliver useful results. Our lead tester aimed to measure this feature for each provider, and see how they compare to each other.

The tests included the following:

  • A custom tool that attempts to access 156 common trackers (Facebook, Twitter and so on), and records whether it’s still available.
  • A custom tool that tries to access a selection of URLs (300-600-ish) from a daily updated curated list of malicious URLs, like GitHub, and records what happens
  • Running a couple of ad-blocking testers (including AdBlock Tester) and recording the score.

Without further ado, lets see which VPNs give you that little bit extra, and which ones are only offer lip service:

What is the fastest VPN?

It’s a well-trodden sales technique for VPN providers to claim they have the fastest speeds—but they clearly can’t all be the fastest. That’s why we test the speeds on offer from all the top VPNs across different global servers and on a variety of protocols. 

Below are the speed results for the top VPN services, during our latest tests:

TechRadar’s VPN rankings

There are hundreds, if not thousands of VPNs out there, and you’ve likely heard the names of countless services. Check out our rankings below of popular services and see some honorable mentions that can’t currently compete with what’s on offer with our top services.

How we test VPN services — our review methodology

While our experts use the top VPNs every day, we conduct a comprehensive analysis of the top 30 VPN services every 6 months with the help of Mike Williams and Anthony Spadafora. This allows us to keep track of who’s really the best, and for which use cases.

TechRadar’s VPN reviews begin at the provider’s website, where we analyze the claims it makes, its privacy policy, its support options, and any other elements of note. We look for any tracking cookies on the site and if/when they activate to see if the service tracks people using the site.

Next, we ask ourselves the following questions: what security tools does the provider offer? Does it promise the world, or is it more realistic? Does the privacy policy clearly say how your data is handled? Are there any catches in the small print? Is the pricing open and honest? Ultimately, we’re considering not just what the provider says it gives you, but what it really gives, and whether you can trust it with your data.

We don’t take a service at face value

There’s more to a VPN than just what its marketing says. Where possible, we try to go behind the curtains and look at what’s really going on and doing our own testing to see whether the apps really work as claimed.

In order to make sure our reviews are as honest and realistic as possible, we make every effort to sign up for the services anonymously, so our results aren’t skewed by the services knowing they’re being tested by us.

After signing up for a plan, we install and test the Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux VPN apps, as these are the most popular platforms. Then, we move on to testing the features within those apps, like the kill switch, checking for data leaks, and generally confirming everything works as advertised.

As we do this, we play around with the different encryption protocols on offer, connect to different servers, throw malware at it, and generally look for any way we can stress test the service. If anything breaks under any of our tests, we report it back to the provider so they can fix the issue, but we make sure to include both the issue and the provider’s response in our results where appropriate.

We test every VPN provider’s speeds at least 120 times across two sessions, and use both a US home connection and a 1 Gbps UK data center to show us a provider’s potential versus the real-world application. We measure using different encryption protocols, speed test websites, and features and use the average of the best session as the provider’s peak speed. In doing so, you get a better understanding of what you can really expect when you use the service, and not just an arbitrary figure of its fastest speed.

nPerf performance benchmark for VPNs testing a VPN server in London

Our VPN speed testing in progress (Image credit: nPerf)

A good VPN should be able to unblock multiple streaming services. To check this, we try to access geo-exclusive content from Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, and BBC iPlayer, repeating the test from three different locations around the world to get an idea of how the service performs in real life.

In our day-to-day testing, we take a more focused approach depending on the needs of the specific use cases we’re writing about. Such as how easy it is to set up the VPN, how much attention to detail there is in the design, and whether a beginner can pick it up easily. We carry out constant real-world testing to make sure our analysis is always accurate and relevant.

However, I don’t just trust what I see on the surface of a VPN provider’s website. I’ll take a peek behind the curtains of the software—view the contents of its RAM, even decompile and browse its source code (if I can) just to find out what’s going on under the hood. Ultimately, I want to know whether the service gives you genuine protection or just a false sense of security.

Want to know more about how we test VPNs? We have a much more in-depth explanation on our VPN testing methodology page.

Our VPN testing panel

Meet the experts behind our VPN deep dives:

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