Private internet access review

Private Internet Access review: This is a VPN that gets a lot of things right. It’s affordable – costing less than a coffee every month – and has verified itself as a secure and fast Virtual Private Network.

With unlimited device protection, servers in 84 countries, compatibility with streaming services like Netflix and Hulu and a number of additional features that come with a subscription, like an effective ad blocker, dedicated IP address options and email breach protection, PIA delivers a well-rounded package.

While it isn’t the best VPN we’ve tested, it’s not quite as fast as the best-of-the-best and relies on a significant number of virtual servers, PIA gets the job done and offers a lot of bang for your buck.

Price

The value of a VPN is hard to determine as you need to consider many factors. The main ones are the subscription length, how many devices are covered, how many servers the VPN has, and any additional features included in the subscription.

PIA has three subscription options: a 1-month option costing $11.95/month, a 1-year option costing $3.33/month and a 3-year option costing $2.03/month. The 1-year option has an upfront cost of $39.95, while the 3-year option has an upfront fee of $79. Here at ReviewsFire we also have a special offer of $2.03 per month for the 2-year plan with 2 months free.

Based on our research, the average cost of a top VPN is $4.33/month for a 24-month subscription. This makes PIA’s 3-year subscription good value, while the 1-year option is a bit pricey.

We also found that the average price of a one-month subscription for a top 20 VPN is $12.06, so PIA is well-priced in this regard.

You can pay for a PIA subscription via various means, including Amazon payments, cryptocurrencies, PayPal and credit cards.

Pros

  • Affordable pricing plans
  • Unlimited simultaneous devices
  • Extra Features like an ad blocker and email protection
  • Verified no-log policy

Cons

  • High use of virtual servers
  • Not as fast as top-tier VPNs
  • Lacks proprietary protocol options
Private Internet Access review

Devices/Availability

A PIA subscription allows you to install the VPN software on unlimited devices simultaneously. This excellent offering is up there with Surfshark, Windscribe and IPVanish. 

PIA also can be installed on a router to ensure all your devices are protected while only having to install the VPN once. To do this, you will need a VPN-compatible router and installing it wasn’t as straightforward as other VPNs like ExpressVPN. However, it’s nice to have the ability to do this.

PIA is available on several devices, including Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, Apple, Chrome, Firefox and Opera. You can also install it on select routers.

Streaming

Most streaming services these days try to prevent VPNs from accessing their platforms. They do this because using a VPN to watch a streaming service in a location where it doesn’t have the rights to broadcast its content could result in the streaming service facing severe financial fines.

These prevention methods, or blocks, can be difficult for VPNs to get around. Often, VPNs won’t work with the leading streaming services.

To test this, we tried connecting to four streaming services over a month with PIA to see if we encountered any issues. We chose Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu and HBO Max.

We had no problem connecting to Netflix libraries based in different countries here in New Zealand using PIA. We also encountered no problems when trying to watch Max and Hulu with the VPN.

PIA didn’t work with BBC iPlayer on a couple of occasions. But after a few fixes, we could watch the streaming service reliably with PIA.

How secure is PIA?

We tested to see how secure PIA is. We conducted Domain Name Systems (DNS) leak tests to figure this out. 

A DNS is a database of internet addresses categorised by domain names. It recognises a domain like ReviewsFire.com and maps that name to the website’s IP address. A DNS is responsible for translating a domain name into its extended, complex code and vice versa.

If you search for a website like ReviewsFire.com, your device sends a query to a DNS server where it asks for the unique IP address of that site. You can access the website only once that DNS server has provided you with the IP address.

When you connect to a VPN, all your online traffic is rerouted through the VPN network. This includes DNS inquiries. If a VPN is secure, the DNS leak tests will show all DNS inquiries going through the VPN DNS servers. If it isn’t secure, the tests will show some DNS requests going via your local internet service provider (ISP) DNS servers.

Conducting our tests using third-party software DNSleaktest.com, we found no issues when using PIA. The tests showed that PIA fully encrypts your data so you can surf the web anonymously and safely.

Private Internet Access review

Privacy Policy

PIA’s app is an open-source code, which means it’s open to third-party scrutiny and verification. You can access the code here.

The VPN has repeatedly affirmed that it abides by a no-log policy in which no data or information transmitted through the PIA network is collected or “logged.” To test this, PIA underwent an independent audit to review the policy, performed by Deloitte, one of the Big Four auditing companies.

Deloitte’s findings showed that PIA does what it claims to do and keeps no logs.

Servers

PIA claims it has over 35,000 servers around the world. This isn’t a great metric to rate a VPN, as hundreds or thousands of servers could be in the same location. A better way to assess how good a VPN’s server range is is to look at how many countries the VPN has servers in. Multiple server locations give you more choice and variety as there’s more opportunity to spoof your location and a higher chance there’s a server near your location to reduce latency.

PIA is available in 84 countries. That’s well above the average at 71 and is a decent offering. 50% of these are virtual servers, though.

There are two types of VPN servers: physical and virtual. We consider physical servers the gold standard as they’re dedicated hardware setups in the country where you want your IP address to be based. This means the registered IP your VPN gives you and the server providing it are physically located in the same country. They’re usually faster than virtual servers, are more reliable and are also customisable as the hardware is dedicated to that server. This means if a server is having problems, a VPN can quickly fix it.

Virtual servers act like physical servers, but they don’t have hardware solely dedicated to them. They’re on existing hardware, often shared and rented by VPNs. In other words, it’s not a server built and maintained by the VPN.

They’re often a bit slower than physical servers as they share resources with other servers, and because they’re rented, it can be difficult to fix issues and errors as the VPN relies on the owner. With that said, they work fine, and most of the time, you won’t be able to tell the difference. They are very good at allowing a VPN to provide IP addresses in countries where it isn’t possible to install or build a physical server.

For example, PIA can give you an IP address based in China. However, the server won’t be in China. It will be in a location where VPN servers are easier to build or rent.

Over 50% of PIA’s servers are virtual, which is a lot. In comparison, less than 3% of ExpressVPN networks are virtual servers. This means it has a much larger network of dedicated physical servers and, is generally quicker and more reliable.

Speed

To test the speed of PIA, we connected to multiple servers and conducted download and upload speed tests.

This can be affected by numerous other factors, such as internet speed and latency (we’re located in New Zealand). We compared it to the speeds produced when the VPN was turned off to accommodate this.

We also tested the speeds with the two main protocols PIA uses. OpenVPN is a slower but more secure protocol, while WireGuard is a faster protocol.

OpenVPN Download Speeds (Mbps)OpenVPN Upload Speeds (Mbps)WireGuard Download Speeds (Mbps)WireGuard Download Speeds (Mbps)
VPN off930516
PIA US server238.527.17300.658.65
PIA UK server2453.77315.787.23
PIA Vietnam server4456.554898.24

These results aren’t great. We see a massive drop in download speeds when connecting to all three servers on PIA. As a comparison, ExpressVPN boasted much faster speeds. You can see them here.

Private Internet Access review

Protocols

On most devices, PIA supports two protocols, OpenVPN and WireGuard. On the iOS app, it also supports IKEv2. These protocols are the set of rules that determine how your data is rerouted through the VPN servers. They contribute to determining how fast and how secure the VPN is.

PIA has a good range of options.

OpenVPN is an incredibly secure protocol that sets the gold standard for a secure VPN connection. It’s open-source, so it’s available for critique by third parties, and it has been tested thoroughly over time since it was first released over twenty years ago. It’s compatible with many encryption cyphers (the unreadable code your VPN turns your data into) and comes in TCP and UDP. The one downside is that the protocol is a bit slower than others, but it’s one of the most secure. You can read more about OpenVPN here.

WireGuard is a newer protocol that prioritises speed. It’s also open source, so it is available for third-party scrutiny and has a very light code base at only 4,000 lines of code. Releasing in 2019, WireGuard is becoming increasingly popular thanks to its increased speed, performing 3x faster than OpenVPN. It also doesn’t use much bandwidth. But it’s not as secure as OpenVPN. You can find out more about WireGuard here.

Other VPNs like ExpressVPN and NordVPN have their own proprietary VPN protocols that they developed and maintain. PIA doesn’t have one of these. However, OpenVPN and WireGuard are still solid options.

Customer Support

Private Internet Access (PIA) offers several customer support options to assist their users. They have a comprehensive self-service Help Center, which includes a knowledge base with a wide array of articles covering various topics. This resource allows users to independently find answers to common questions and guidance on various tasks related to the VPN service.

For more direct assistance, PIA also provides a support ticket system. Users can submit their inquiries or issues through this system if they can’t find answers in the knowledge base. This option is especially useful for more complex issues or detailed queries that may not be addressed in the self-service materials.

Additionally, PIA has recently added a 24/7 live chat option, which is a significant enhancement to their customer support. This allows users to get immediate assistance at any time, making for a more streamlined and efficient support experience.

Add-ons

With a PIA subscription, you get many extra add-ons and features.

With a full subscription, you get PIA’s very good Ad and tracker blocker, MACE, for free. It works a little differently from more typical ad blockers like AdBlock. MACE works at the DNS level to prevent unwanted ads or scripts from loading or making tracking requests. Typical adblockers check each site against a list of known tracking pages. This makes MACE a very fast and very good ad blocker. It isn’t available on the Android version of PIA.

PIA also offers an email breach protection system in which you can see if your email addresses have ever been part of a data breach. This system is called Identity Guard.

For more advanced users, PIA supports port forwarding, and you can purchase a dedicated IP address so you don’t have to share it with other customers. It makes it look like you have a single IP instead of constantly changing between them.

PIA also offers its own antivirus called Antivirus by PIA. This will cost an extra $1.49 a month and offers malware protection and extra privacy features.

Verdict

Private Internet Access (PIA) is a privacy-focused VPN with strong security features and a generous device limit.

It’s a solid choice for users who prioritise privacy and don’t mind sacrificing some speed. However, the best VPN on the market, ExpressVPN ($6.67/month), is a bit faster and has significantly more dedicated servers.

PIA is reliant on virtual servers that can be a little more unreliable than dedicated hardware; however, for streaming services like Netflix, Max and Hulu, we didn’t come across any issues.

Overall, this is a reliable, secure VPN that has good speeds and security. It will allow you to surf the web anonymously and spoof your location so you can watch streaming services outside their usual broadcast zones. And with unlimited device coverage, you can install it on all your devices, including friends and family. All for an affordable price.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Price
Security
Speed
Streaming
Servers
Addons
Patch Bowen
Patch Bowen is an accomplished technology journalist with a solid academic foundation, holding a degree from Auckland University. His expertise spans across a range of tech topics, with a notable focus on product reviews, industry trends, and the impact of technology on society. With his work featured on major New Zealand websites like Stuff.co.nz, thebit.nz, and The Press, Patch has established himself as a credible voice in technology media. His articles are known for their detailed analysis and practical insights, particularly in making complex technological concepts understandable for a broad audience. At ReviewsFire, Patch is renowned for his thorough evaluations and clear, informative writing style. He has a knack for identifying and explaining the nuances of the latest gadgets and digital trends, earning him a reputation as a trusted source for tech advice and information.
private-internet-access-review-2 Private Internet Access review: This is a VPN that gets a lot of things right. It's affordable - costing less than a coffee every month - and has verified itself as a secure and fast Virtual Private Network. With unlimited device protection, servers in 84...

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