Private Internet Access VPN Service Review

PIA is one of the leading VPN services, and perhaps the most popular. Here's our reader-based assessment of PIA, and results of our own hands-on testing.

Private Internet Access Review And Reader Ratings

We asked readers to rate and provide commentary on 30 VPN services. PIA received, by far, the most reader ratings (170) from the Tom's Hardware audience. Its overall average rating was 4.39, which put it in second place. Given its popularity among our readers, and the fact that it scored less than .2 lower than TorGuard, it's probably a pretty good choice. In fact, the best choice.

Because we had so much reader feedback, however, we took careful pains to select the commentary that we deemed most helpful (see bottom of page). Readers really offered some good insights and some cautions. Verbatim reader ratings and comments appear at the bottom of this page.

Overall readers seemed to collectively think PIA was easy to use, had phenomenal speed, and a good price. Many readers commented on the breadth of client support, and the company's stance on privacy. On the down side, many readers commented on connectivity issues -- that it sometimes failed to connect, that it doesn't connect on reboot, that it randomly disconnects (and ungracefully at that). Also there were a few pleas for more countries supported, a complaint we didn't hear about the other services.

Features And Specifications

Supported Encryption

OpenVPNAES-128 and -256 in CBC mode, Blowfish in CBC mode, RSA-2048/3072/4096, ECC-256k1/256r1/521, data authentication with SHA1 and SHA256

Interface And Setup

PIA might instantly grab your attention with its payment methods advertised on its home page. Unlike most other services, PIA accepts anonymous gift cards. Did somebody give you a Best Buy or Walmart card for your birthday? Psshhh! You don’t need more junk from them! Give yourself the gift of privacy -- anonymously -- from card sources ranging from Adidas to Williams-Sonoma. You can also procure a PIA “gift card” for someone, who then obtains PIA subscription time upon entering the card’s code.

Like other services, PIA offers Windows, Mac OS X, Android, iOS, Ubuntu and other device installers. We installed the Windows client, but it is not the pretty, many-tabbed toy that HMA! or IPVanish provides. Rather, it’s just a stripped-down settings window you can view in either Simple or Advanced modes. The former merely prompts for your username, password, start-up options and which of PIA’s 21 server regions you wish to connect with. The Advanced view adds pull-down menus for encryption, authentication and handshake methods, along with the note that PIA recommends you use the default settings (AES-128 / SHA1 / RSA-2048). It’s completely bare. No maps, nada. You have to check the system tray just to see if the PIA icon is green or red (active or not), although this icon also gives you a quick way to select from the full list of regional server locations.

PIA advertises a “massive network with 2091+ gateways” across “13+ countries.” It also claims to have “the most anonymous VPN service,” presumably thanks to its numerous encryption options and lack of logging. Like HMA!, PIA also supports port forwarding and disconnect protection, although we did not see a way to have PIA automatically and periodically change IP addresses. We do appreciate that PIA allows for five simultaneous devices. Especially at PIA’s prices, that’s pretty generous.

Test Results

While testing PIA's London location and selecting our usual London server, hosted by TreudlerGroup U.K., that server vanished from's options for a few minutes. In that time, we selected a different London server, hosted by Namesco. This yielded a bizarre 180ms ping, 4.02 Mb/s download and 6.70 Mb/s upload. Aside from the strangeness of this exceeding our home ISP’s 5 Mb/s upload limit, the download number is half of what TreudlerGroup's server delivered minutes later — more proof that being able to select your server matters. If your VPN provider won't let you choose your server, at least make sure that they’ve got the performance to indicate that their auto-sensing processes are doing the job you want.

Seattle, WA (West Coast)
Portland, OR (West Coast)
US West/Phoenix (West Coast)
Hood River, OR (West Coast)
London, UK
Miami, FL
Tel Aviv, Isreal (Middle East)
London, UK
Tripoli, Libya (Middle East)

We got lucky in that PIA offers a Seattle location. The rest of the West Coast is a bit less specific. It turned out that our selection of "US California" actually pegged to San Jose, and "US West" mapped to Phoenix. Bingo -- a match for comparison to IPVanish. We scored again with PIA's Israel region, although our IP indicated a Haifa location rather than Tel Aviv, but that's close enough.

As for performance, the numbers speak for themselves. PIA blows HMA! and IPVanish out of the water. In particular, we remain baffled by how the Phoenix region can deliver downloads over twice as fast as our FiOS performance ceiling through that FiOS connection. That is some serious VPN wizardry right there. Overall, PIA about doubles the overseas performance of IPVanish, which, combined with PIA's pricing, lays IPVanish's claims of being the best deal around to rest. IPVanish is good, but not PIA good. For this, we can live without a snazzy client interface.

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Five-Star Reader Ratings

☆ Rating:

✓ Pros:
I have never had an issue with speeds, even when remote accessing my home computer at 1920x1200 with low compression and both ends being run through their service.  Latency is good, especially considering I am connecting from rural Alaska. I actually regularly get better latency through it, due to bad routing in my location.  Their wide variety of payment methods was initially a factor in what brought me here after trying quite a few others.  Well made apps are available for smartphones, never had an issue with them.  Good price.  Lots of servers to choose from around the world.  Good privacy policy, as close to anonymous purchasing as you can get.

Cons: In two years of service, I can't think of anything.
☁ Comments: PIA provides flawless service at a good price, they support all major platforms well, and have a number of payment methods, including bitcoin.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros: Consistent speed, multiple regions (hope they add more EU countries!), and ease of use on multiple devices.

Cons: No iOS client (as of March 2015), but I hear they're in the process of releasing one.. can't wait!

☁ Comments: PIA has consistently shown itself to value privacy, freedom of speech, and affordability. They don't have the most fancy client software, but their service rocks.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros: Lots of locations, most of the time can do 50+ mbps, they seem to care about privacy.

Cons: Some IPs get banned from some services (due to other users?), but can switch to a different server to get around the issue.

☁ Comments: Good speeds and lots of servers/locations.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros: I like that there are lots access points to connect to.

Cons: The popular hubs are crowded at peak times. e.g. East coast servers. Also, the higher encryption bit rates slow down the connection quite a bit. Lastly, I wish the VPN app would run without having to be installed on the computer.

☁ Comments: It's best value for this type of VPN service.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros: PIA's price of $7/mo or $40/yr is excellent. I like the privacy reassurances given by shared IP and their no logging policy. On my 100mbps (advertised rate) internet I get 117mbps down and 11mbps up at 27ms ping on PIA's east cost server. Needless to say I am very impressed with the speed delivered by their servers. And finally a VPN is no good if it doesnt work on every platform you want to use it on so it's great that PIA supports Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, various flavors of Linux, even custom firmware such as DD-WRT for routers. They also allow multiple connection methods such as OpenVPN, L2TP and even SOCKS proxy. They have a wide variety of gateways in different countries. Their Windows and Mac clients offer killswitch and IPv6 leak protection which are always great features to have. In short, PIA is an excellent VPN service with little to no disadvantages.

Cons: They do limit to only 5 devices simultaneously but this can be worked around by either buying or configuring a router on your own that has PIA access built-in and then your whole household can share. Then the only separate access you'll need is for your mobile devices. I'd like to see the option to maybe pay a little more to have more than 5 devices on one account although I guess you could just sign up for 2 accounts (hassle with multiple usernames and passwords) I've used PIA for at least a year now and there are very little disadvantages and tons of advantages.

☁ Comments: Price, performance, privacy via shared IP and compatibility with various platforms make PIA a standout service.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros: The client apps are automatically configured, so I don't have to be a network expert to set anything up. I just pick a destination server from a drop-down list and Presto! I'm connected from any location I choose, and fully anonymized. They have dozens of servers, a massive bandwidth, and no usage limitations. I get a fast, reliable connection 95% of the time. If there is anything laggy about the connection, I can just switch to another server and I'm back on track.

Cons: The service drops from time to time. I have to utilize an additional layer of security to shut down my processes in case PIA drops my IP address. I also have my firewall set up to try and block traffic through my regular IP. Most days, it's not a problem, but I'm still scared that one of these service breaks could compromise my privacy, even if just for 30-60 seconds.

☁ Comments: PIA is inexpensive, secure, and hassle-free.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros: Android (and iOS) app, Windows 7 app. Good price for the year. Their attitude toward user privacy.

Cons: Occasionally I seem to route from US to Canada even though I select a US server. (Google will ask if I want to use Google.Ca instead of Some servers can be slow at times, but I would just disconnect and choose another server. On rare occasions, I do find several servers close to me to be slow at times. I would give a ridiculously slow failure rate (very slow for more than 10 minutes on most servers) of 4 times in 3 years, with almost daily usage.

☁ Comments: Good service, policies and price with multiple servers to connect through on the PC and Android devices.

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Four-Star Reader Ratings

☆ Rating:

✓ Pros: The speed and anonymity.

✗ Cons: The windows client itself can be a little clunky to use at times, particularly if running in a sandbox VM. You often have to close and reopen the client to get it to connect when starting up your VM.

☁ Comments:PIA works as advertised. With a little bit of setup, you can even use a bit torrent client and use about 90% of your available bandwidth.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros: It worked every time I used it. The torrent download speeds are good. Offers multiple locations within US, UK and other countries to choose from.

✗ Cons: Doesn't work with Hulu as they are able to identify PIA servers and prevent streaming services. But in PIA's defense this is an issue with HULU preventing access.

☁ Comments: PIA offers OpenVPN, PPTP and IPSEC/L2TP. The prices are reasonable and cheaper than the competition.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros: Works smoothly.

✗ Cons: Some configuration options are restricted to the official application. Those options, like AES-256, RSA-4096 cannot be configured through pfsense, for example. There is also a lack of support for non-nist certified encryption for openvpn, e.g CAMELLIA-256-CBC.

☁ Comments: Great service and price. Minus one star for lack of advanced configuration options for pfsense/router vpn setup.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros: PIA's price is very competitive when compared to similarly featured VPNs. One subscription allows for as many as 5 simultaneous connections across many OSes. Nodes are available throughout the world and don't increase latency too severely.

✗ Cons: Speed is reduced no matter how you slice it. This isn't the biggest problem, nor is it unexpected, but it is a drawback. This is a little frustrating when downloading *ahem* large files, but isn't a issue for most streaming or online games.

☁ Comments: Good anonymity for a reasonable price, but speed leaves something to be desired.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros: Many dispersed geographic locations plus locations in my area. Supports multiple clients (don't have to put it on a dedicated server or router)  Reasonable cost  No transfer limits.

✗ Cons: The 'native' client seems to have overhead issues (activity on the link when no traffic is flowing).  I use the OPENVPN access to move my GitHub traffic (pulls, syncs etc.) for my firmware projects.

☁ Comments: This is an easy-to-use VPN service with many possible end-points.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros: Price is great in my book.  I like the number of locations they have in the US.

✗ Cons: My main complaint is that they do not have an API where you can stop some applications from running if the link is down. They will stop all traffic but I would like more control.  The other issue is that they do not auto connect all the time. Wish the software would auto reset to try to start the session again.

☁ Comments: I have been very pleased with this service. Have used it for a couple of years and find the price to be very reasonable.

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Three-Star Reader Ratings

☆ Rating:

✓ Pros:
The actual VPN service, the fact that you can customize (regions etc) and the and don't notice a speed penalty.

Cons: The software is buggy. Turning the service on and off, for instance often required a reboot of the system. Also working with the build-in VPN tools of windows didn't work. Customer service did not respond to repeated inquiries.

Comments: The service itself is good, but software and customer service leave things to be desired.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros:
It works, simple to set up, simple to use. Gives locations all over the world.

Cons: The application that runs it can often cause problems with my local network, crashing the adapter the virtual adapter leeches off.

Comments: It works, have no qualms one way or another.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros:
Ease of use and price.

Cons: Does suffer some connection issues in peak times and slower access.

Comments: I feel the service offered is simple to use and access is generally good. Speed is noticeably slower than without the VPN.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros:
Ease of use. Ability to install on all my devices.

Cons: It just isn't nearly as fast as my internet is without it on.

Comments: I love everything but the speed, can't always stream video on the service as it will be slowed down.
☆ Rating:

✓ Pros:
Simple to use, not much lag.

Cons: Bit glitchy at start, client would turn off automatically.

Comments: Not a 100% sold on anonymity.

Two-Star Reader Ratings

☆ Rating:

✓ Pros:
It's fast (I notice no loss speed on my fiber connection), the price is right and it was fairly easy to setup/use.

Cons: Customer service is BAD, connections just drop. What was going through the VPN, would suddenly stop. Hover over the system tray icon and it would say I was connected and secure. Go to any website that lists your IP address and I would OFTEN find otherwise.

Comments: It isn't consistant, as I constantly lose my vpn connection and end up with it no longer protecting me despite the program running and telling me otherwise.

One-Star Reader Ratings

☆ Rating:

✓ Pros:

Cons: Unreliability, poor speeds.

Comments: Their Windows client is extremely buggy, requires constant user intervention to fix and many servers are either too slow or frequently go down.

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William Van Winkle is a Senior Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware. Follow him on Twitter.

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  • xstrike9999
    Review VPN Unlimited please!
  • Marko Milic
    PIA gets good once setup. The default settings caused me slow speeds.
  • dbaps22
    Being a Verizon Fios customer, over the last six - nine months I have noticed, at times,significant drops in bandwidth. It got so bad that I started testing privateinternetaccess on and off. The results are laughable. Im paying for160Kbps up and down. Now if I look at those speedtests Verizon gives you, that I am getting what I paid for...But I did large download and upload file transfers and the speed would drop down to 5 or 10 Kbps. I'm not joking either. I wrote two letters to the FCC. The first was about VerizonWireless capping my unlimited monthly service. The second was about this with Fios. We pay a lot of money for Fios.

    This doesn't happen all the time. It's in the evenings as you would expect. I will run 5-10 tests in a row and they are all the same, appearing to be throttled. I'm not changing anything except turning on and off the VPN connection.
  • greenmr
    One more comment. PIA allows payment by gift card for improved anonymity, but only US gift cards work. Apparently SOME foreign gift cards will work if they are issued by a US-based company, but the only way to find out if a foreign card works is to buy it and try to use it for payment to PIA. If it doesn't work you are SOL. Also note that due to transaction costs, using a gift card for payment means your subscription will cost extra.
  • greenmr
    I've been using PIA for a couple of weeks and I am mostly pleased with it, but a few things should be noted...

    1. While PIA advertises port forwarding, you are only allowed on forwarded port, which is a problem if you like to run, say, eMule and a bittorrent client at the same time. Luckily eMule allows you to put the TCP and UDP listeners on the same port, but if you try to tell your torrent client to use the same port then eMule will be unable to get a high ID or use KAD.

    2. Even if you can get away with a single forwarded port, port forwarding with PIA is very spotty. Only some of the endpoints support it, and no matter how I try, even many of the listed ones absolutely refuse to forward for me. I find myself always using one Canadian endpoint that has a higher success rate, but even then I often have to reconnect three or four times before PIA forwards a port for me. PIA support told me to turn off forwarding and connect to a different endpoint, then disconnect again, turn on forwarding, then reconnect to the desired endpoint. This does improve chances of getting a forwarded port, but it is cumbersome, to say the least. I have read other users reporting that the list of forwarding endpoints is not up to date, and that in fact some of the other endpoints support it, while some of the listed ones actually don't.

    3. If, like me, you do your torrenting in a VM to protect your main files against malicious sites, you should know that PIA does not provide support for its service when used in a VM.

    4. I am unable to use the highest encryption level for authentication with PIA, I am forced to use SHA1 for authentication and AES-128 for data encryption. PIS support told me that some older processors are unable to manage higher encryption levels, but I'm running a quad-core i7 Haswell. On hearing this PIA support fell back on the "Virtual machines are unsupport" argument.

    5. Connectivity sometimes just goes away with no obvious notification. My P2P clients will suddenly drop to zero throughput and web browsers are then unable to resolve DNS or transfer any packets. The PIA icon in the taskbar will still be reporting a good connection, but the only solution is to disconnect and reconnect again.

  • Jetpil0t
    As other users have reported, the client is a major problem for PIA. Often the client will reduce your throughput to nothing, despite being connected, requiring a service/client restart as the application or Virtual Adapter has clearly failed. The client will also push extreme resource utilization and present with poor performance before failing to work at all, requiring a system restart in some cases. Very annoying.

    I also find in Windows 7 and 8 the client is really unreliable, especially if you use the Kill Switch and DNS Leak protection features. When you exit the application, it will "sometimes" remove the DNS Leak protection and Kill Switch settings, often however it won't, forcing you to revert your physical adapter settings manually, a real chore if you are using a static IP. The implementation of either of these features within the PIA client is poor and I believe just forces system registry edits to do it, so if you use Tea Timer or a registry control application, these features won't work at all.

    Also the client fails to work correctly on a laptop when coming in and out of standby mode, it will attempt to reconnect on wake, but will never connect, requiring user intervention to manually reestablish connection.

    Local server performance in AU can vary wildly, especially during peak periods.

    When it works, it works great, but it's just a very unreliable application if you wish to use it consistently. If you can configure another application to manage your VPN connection, I would recommend that.

    The OSX client appears to significantly more stable.