Virtual private networks are useful tools for different purposes like boosting your online security or surfing the Internet anonymously. But while they perform well for these purposes, VPNs have one major drawback: they slow down your Internet connection. To help you deal with the issue, we prepared a guide on how to speed it up again.
What causes VPNs to slow down
One thing to remember early on when using VPNs is that they will always be slower than your regular connection due to how they work. Since VPNs pass your traffic through an intermediary server first, it takes longer to reach a target site than directly connecting with it.
The protocol used by your VPN to transmit your data is one of the major factors that affect its overall speed. There are a variety of protocols used today, including:
- PPTP: One of the oldest VPN protocols. Provides fast connection speeds but has fewer security features.
- L2TP/IPSec: A successor to PPTP. Has good speeds but is easily blocked.
- SSTP: A VPN protocol that is fully integrated into Microsoft Windows and offers strong security features.
- IKEv2: A VPN protocol that is compatible with mobile devices and delivers fast speeds.
- OpenVPN: An open source VPN that has stronger security features than other protocols but is a bit slower.
These protocols vary in the level of security they provide and, conversely, the speeds they deliver. This makes each protocol ideal for specific purposes.
The cipher preferences you use in each protocol also play a role in determining a VPN’s connection base speed. Ciphers are the methods by which the protocol encrypts your Internet traffic before transmitting on the Internet. Using complex ciphers like AES-128 provides stronger encryption and security but also takes longer to process and send out.
Other factors affecting VPN speed
There are also external factors that affect the overall speed your VPN has, including:
- Distance to servers: The farther you are from a VPN server, the longer it takes for you to connect and send traffic to it.
- Weather: Storms will cause interference that can lead to connection slowdown or total loss.
- Your computer: Older devices might not be fully compatible with advanced VPN features, causing some connection lag.
- Your Internet service provider: Running a VPN on an already slow Internet connection will just compound the VPN’s natural impact on your connection speed.
These external factors vary from case to case. To better understand how all the factors affect your VPN speeds, do a thorough test of your connection. This helps you plan how to boost its speed.
Setting up your VPN connection the right way is the first step to boost its speed. Most VPN clients let you customize the different connection settings, including the protocols to use. This lets you fine-tune everything to meet your needs.
Some VPN providers let you use multiple protocols through different user profiles. You can also tweak the settings for the specific protocol. Take advantage of the feature to switch easily to a different protocol if you want faster speeds.
Selecting the right server
In most cases, the rule to follow when selecting a VPN server to use is that the closer it is, the faster your connection is. Many VPN clients list their servers according to their relative location to you. Some will even let you automatically connect to the server closest to your location, making it easy to establish a fast connection.
Note that proximity is not the only consideration when selecting a server. You also need to take the quality of each server into account. Providers might sometimes place the higher quality ones in locations that are not always near your area. To determine which options to go for, do a ping test on all the accessible server locations and pick the one that produces the fastest result.
Some VPN services also provide dedicated servers, such as torrenting/P2P or streaming servers, which have faster speeds for their intended purpose. Connecting to these specialized servers will let you ride those speeds. Be aware that they might have restrictions, such as the sites you can visit while connected to them.
Adjust your security settings
Tweaking your security features is another strategy you can try to squeeze more speed out of your VPN connection. One word of warning about this strategy: you will be making your connection more vulnerable when using this method. Assess whether your intended VPN use will benefit more from the increased speed or whether you are better off with a more secure session.
One way to tweak your security settings is to switch to a different encryption method. If you are using 256-bit AES encryption, you can select lower encryption keys like a 128-bit one for general use. This will still give you a sufficient amount of security while freeing up processing power and is a common compromise if your computer is not optimized to run higher encryption levels.
Analyze your VPN server connection
Studying how your computer connects to the VPN will help determine why and where the connection is slowing down. A traceroute tool like the one shown here is useful for this purpose. These tools determine the number of jumps it takes your signal to connect to the VPN, with more hops resulting in slower speeds.
When reviewing the information you get from the traceroute tool, also take note of the ping time for each jump. The spots with the higher ping times are the ones that are causing the most slowdown and should be avoided.
Once you have mapped out your VPN traffic, resolve the slowdown by switching to a different server. Run the traceroute test again to see whether the new connection path has better performance. You might want to perform the process several times to further refine your connection.
Use split tunneling
Another useful technique to manage your VPN traffic and improve connection speeds is split tunneling. This involves you designating which traffic goes through the VPN connection and which ones will use your regular Internet connection. By using this configuration, you lessen the load on your VPN connection.
Some providers have split tunneling features included in their packages. You just need to select which devices or applications to course through the VPN using the provider’s management app, as demonstrated here by Express VPN:
You can modify the list of included apps or devices anytime, giving you room to experiment with different tunneling configurations.
Troubleshooting your devices
In certain cases, a slow VPN connection may be due more to your computer than the network connection. A quick way to test and resolve this is by simply turning off and restarting your router or modem. This fixes any possible router memory leaks that might be interfering with your connection.
Test your devices further by shuffling their connections. Move your computer’s Internet cable to a different port on your modem to see if it improves the speed. If you are connecting through Wi-Fi, switch to a wired connection whenever possible.
You can also bypass your router and connect your computer directly to the modem. Since the router adds another node that your traffic has to go through, it can contribute to any slowdown. Note that this is easier done with networks that use separate modems and routers, but you can still do this with combined router/modem boxes.
Change your DNS settings
Depending on how they are set up, your current Domain Name System (DNS) settings might not always be compatible with your VPN. Switching to a different server other than those used by your Internet service provider (ISP) will help optimize VPN connection and increase speed. Some of the alternative DNS services you can utilize are:
- Google Public DNS: IP address 18.104.22.168
- OpenDNS: IP address 22.214.171.124
- Level3: IP address 126.96.36.199
- DNS Advantage: IP address 188.8.131.52
Aside from these public DNS services, certain VPN providers have their own DNS servers that you can use. These are configured specifically to their respective networks, guaranteeing better performance.
To connect to any of these alternative servers, follow these tutorials and use the specified IP addresses.
For Mac OS:
These alternative DNS settings can also be programmed into your router if you want every device automatically connected to the server.
Optimizing your other computer settings
Having too many applications using your VPN connection can result in decreased speeds. The common culprits here are those apps that run in the background like torrent clients or automatic updates. Use your computer’s Task Manager tool to identify these apps and see how much bandwidth they are using. Close any programs that you are not currently using.
Turning off your computer’s security software such as the antivirus and firewall may also help in boosting your speed. Note that there are some risks involved here since you are leaving yourself vulnerable. Test your connection first to see if there would be a noticeable increase in VPN speeds with your security software off. If there isn’t, adjust individual security settings instead to improve speeds.
Boost your VPN speeds with these tips
There are many reasons why your VPN connection might be slower than usual, but there are also ways you can improve it, like:
- Tweaking your VPN settings: Look at the different protocols your provider supports and test which of them will deliver the best speeds.
- Selecting the right server: Take advantage of the multiple locations that your VPN offers to find the fastest servers for a given task.
- Adjust your computer settings: Use alternative DNS servers and play around with your network and security settings to find a good balance between protection and speed.
- Troubleshoot your devices: Switch around your network’s physical connections and reboot everything to see if speeds improve.
The tips here are just a small portion of the ways you can improve your connection. Follow our blog to learn other techniques on how you can get the most out of your VPN.