Private Internet Access offers surprising price-performance benefits to users. It comes in a neat package and has a lot of bells and whistles attached to it. While it may not be perfect, I would say that it’s a good match for discerning bargain hunters. Learn more.
April 16, 2021•
Private Internet Access (PIA) is a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service owned by Kape Technologies. This ownership makes it a part of the same group that also operates many other web properties such as CyberGhost, another VPN service.
PIA itself was launched in 2010 and has grown significantly. Today, it claims to offer close to 30,000 VPN servers in 77 countries. Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of using this provider in our Private Internet Access review.
Pros of PIA
Cons of PIA
VPN service providers mostly tend to force users to run at fixed encryption rates. While this can be an idiot-proof method for keeping users safe, it takes a lot of flexibility out of your hands.
The higher the encryption rate used, the safer your data will be. This safety, unfortunately, comes at the expense of a potential sacrifice in speed. While those of you who run modern, powerful devices will mostly be fine, the extra overhead can sometimes be crippling on slower devices.
We don’t always need to run our VPNs at full encryption. The flexibility to adjust encryption rates will let you tune your PIA client to benefit in some scenarios – for example, if you’re looking to download some large files.
Aside from the benefit of adjustable encryption, PIA offers users a choice of other extra security options. These are not unique to PIA, even though they have their implementation of some standard features.
Some of the security features you’ll find include:
For performance testing on VPN, there is a typical process Bitcatcha follows. The first thing done is to conduct a baseline test to establish the quality of the connection at the time of testing.
The test line is a 500Mbps up and downstream line for which we are typically able to get full speed.
The performance for PIA varies widely across different countries and even servers. This characteristic isn’t unique and will be true for all VPNs service providers.
To give you an example of how fast PIA is, we run sets of speed tests (with and without PIA active) for 5 locations. While the dataset isn’t definitive, it can help serve as a general indicator of their overall quality of service.
PIA speed test – North America
PIA speed test – Europe (Germany)
PIA speed test – South Africa
PIA speed test – Singapore
PIA speed test – Australia
Honestly, PIA offers speed test results that are a bit mixed. One surprising aspect is their generally higher upstream speeds as compared to downstream. This discrepancy is indicative that servers may be under heavier than expected loads.
Overall though, the speeds obtained are generally fast across the board and very usable. Besides South Africa (which is typically slow for most VPN service providers), the other locations offer sufficient bandwidth for streaming and gaming.
If you are concerned that using a VPN may increase lag, the test results above also indicate that this won’t be too much of a problem if you use PIA. The overhead added only tacks on around 20ms or so in most cases.
This extra isn’t an issue for most users, although gamers will begrudge every additional millisecond added. Oh, and despite some claims to the contrary, using any VPN (not just PIA) won’t remove your game lag in most cases.
WireGuard is Available on PIA
The availability of WireGuard on PIA deserves a special mention. Today, more VPN providers are hopping on with this protocol. It’s lightweight and fast – albeit still relatively new. It’s slightly under-tested for the Windows platform, but the performance is simply irresistible.
While mainstream users may be sticking to OpenVPN due to security concerns, those willing can take advantage of WireGuard now. To put things into perspective, I ran a sample speed test on Wireguard to the Singapore server.
The sample speed test above isn’t a unicorn but indicates how much faster WireGuard is over the more established OpenVPN protocol. For general use, the speed boost isn’t something that most users can ignore.
However, do note that there are some caveats to using WireGuard:
Some VPN services will restrict torrenting to specific servers, but PIA isn’t one of them. It also isn’t one that just pays lip service to support torrent downloads either. I hopped on to the best server for my region and ran BitTorrent at full blast.
The speed I managed to get wasn’t blindingly fast, but it was pretty good nonetheless. Far better than I imagined it would be. Torrenting on PIA is one of the best experiences I’ve had on a VPN to date.
If you’re someone who torrents a lot, this is something that you won’t easily find on another VPN service provider. Even VPN services I’ve tested that claim to specialize in torrent performance have so far not beaten PIA in this regard.
PIA advertises a vast network of servers – close to 30,000 of them – located in 77 countries. While not wholly indicative of quality, this coverage offers far greater accessibility. In comparison, even some other top-tier providers fall short. Surfshark, for example, offers 3,200 servers in 65 countries.
The importance of availability isn’t something that comes up until you find out you need to do something specific. If you’re looking to overcome geo-blocks for particular regions, make sure you sign up with a provider with coverage as good as PIA offers.
While you may be surprised at the inclusion of this as something I like, not all services are easy to use. This fact is especially true for more technical services like VPNs. Despite offering flexibility in choice, PIA is user-friendly.
The app is highly navigable once you’ve installed it. The intuitive interface won’t have you wandering around searching for the things you need to do. The only exception to this is right-clicking on the PIA notification icon and changing the server from there.
Installation on Linux is a Breeze
The devil is in the detail. For installation on Windows and Android, things went well. However, as is typical, I dreaded the Linux experience. Most VPNs seem to treat Linux users as an afterthought.
Installing PIA on Ubuntu took me less than a minute, thanks to the availability of a simple .sh file from them. All I had to do was run it, and Ubuntu processed everything for me in a blink. Even more impressive is the availability of a Linux client, so you don’t have to handle connections manually.
Available in 19 Languages
The PIA app is available in 19 different languages. Many VPN developers tend to overlook this small but vital point. The service is available worldwide – not all of which has English as a primary language.
While it’s impractical for them to cover all known languages, it is clear that the PIA team has put thought into who might need the translated services. Some languages available are German, French, Italian, Chinese, and Japanese.
PIA allows you to connect up to 10 devices simultaneously to their service. Having a high device-count allowance is more critical than you may think. When I first started using VPNs, I had one laptop and a smartphone. Today I run more than eight devices in my home alone.
Don’t think of the VPN as simply personal protection, but as protection for your entire family. That means your PIA subscription can cover all the devices at home – for one, single price.
If you’re thinking of being smart and working around this by installing PIA on your router, I’ll disillusion you right now. While it is possible, your speeds will crawl. Most routers can handle some encryption, but they weren’t built with that in mind.
Large volumes of VPN encryption will simply overwhelm the majority of consumer routers.
PIA is available for a wide range of platforms. These include:
It is also possible to use browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.
The heading I’m adding about customer support may be confusing to some of you. To understand this, we need to take it from the top. If you need help and try to access their customer support via the PIA homepage, it can be a bit annoying.
You will need to enter many details, including the type of connection you’re using, the app version, what you need help with, and so on. While this can help with troubleshooting – it is irritating to enter all of that and have the agent asking what you need once they come online.
That said, their customer support agents respond quickly. I estimated no more than a minute of wait time. The agent was also polite, knowledgeable, and able to direct me adequately to where I needed to go.
Some Slightly Misleading Info
The problem I had was actually with one knowledge base article I found, which could be a bit misleading. Unless you read the article carefully, the quick takeaway would be that you need to flash a custom firmware on your router to use PIA on it – which isn’t accurate.
Unlike some VPN providers that try to lock you in for really long terms, PIA is available for maximum discount on their 2-year plan. That sums up to around $2.69/mo, a low rate for a VPN service.
To put this in better context, a month’s worth of PIA would cost you less than what a Mocha Frappuccino would in Starbucks. Sure, you will be able to find lower prices, but not many at this combination of price, features, and performance.
Aside from the low cost of the 2-year plan, you also get an additional two months for free, making your account valid for 26 months. PLUS, you also get a free subscription to Boxcryptor, an encryption service for cloud storage.
However, do keep in mind that signing up for shorter durations is typically prohibitively expensive – like for all other VPNs.
Under most circumstances, we will not usually care about the company that offers a service, especially when it is good. However, when it comes to VPNs, the parent companies tend to come under a bit more scrutiny.
What I found when doing the background work on PIA was a little disturbing. PIA today has fallen under the ownership of Kape Technologies – a kind of investment company that’s been going around buying web-based services.
Under normal circumstances, there isn’t a problem with this. However, Kape has also recently bought Webselenese, which is itself a little odd. Webselenese claims to be “an online platform specializing in consumer-focused privacy and security content.” It works with other websites to publish reviews and such in this industry.
Having Webselenese under the same corporate ownership as services like PIA seems to be a conflict of interest. It certainly isn’t indicative of anything good for consumers like you and me. For all we know, they could be flooding the market with biased reviews.
Although PIA is pretty fast and usable, there still seems some way to go before it can compare against many top-tier competitors. Speeds tend to lag a little behind brands like NordVPN or ExpressVPN, with even newer upstarts having a slight edge.
While this isn’t a primary concern for VPN service providers (compared to the security factors), it is a bit sad when considering their sheer volume of servers.
The excellent news about PIA and Netflix is that it works, at least for Netflix US content. After all, that’s where the bulk of the content is. If you plan on logging in, selecting a show, then sitting back to watch – everything is fine.
If you decide to skip ahead or back, then you may face the annoying issue of buffering. To be fair, it’s terrible but not terrible. I’m very impatient, especially since I pay for a 500Mbps internet line. Waiting for streaming to buffer isn’t my idea of fun.
One missing feature I couldn’t help but notice is the ability to route some apps around the PIA VPN tunnel. While this may not be a good idea security-wise, it can be helpful to many users.
Some apps are very selective (like Microsoft products) and may refuse to work correctly with a VPN active. In cases like this, it helps to simply bypass the VPN instead of struggling to get them to work.
If you face an app like that on PIA, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. Be prepared to spend time working with customer support on resolving the issue. While I haven’t yet found an app that gives such a problem with PIA, it is inevitable.
VPN service providers use app whitelisting to allow users a “quick out” of the loop for essential apps while resolving issues that come to light. The lack of availability of this on PIA either shows supreme confidence in their service or lack of care.
While I know that PIA is a legitimate service, it is still uncomfortable having an installer that shows an error message from Windows. Although I simply clicked “Allow” and moved on, it’s just so disturbing.
I can imagine the number of people, especially new users, who reach out to PIA about this issue. To have something like this for a product that’s been around for so long is sad.
When looking for a particular service, it can be tempting to seek the best of the best. For VPN users, the best can be a little subjective. Since features cost money, what you should be looking for is the VPN that fits your usage style.
In this sense, PIA is somewhat unique in its profile. The excellent flexibility of this service couples well with fantastic prices. This fact is made even more attractive given how well it performed in specific scenarios like torrenting.
If you want something very usable and well worth the cost, PIA is one of the top recommendations in my book right now.