Desktop VPN vs. Browser Add-on (Extension) VPN – 7 Key Differences & Comparison for Beginners


There are many different desktop VPNs on the market, but only some of them offer an extension to a browser. On the other hand, there are a few VPN vendors who provide their service only via an add-on to a browser. In today’s post, we will explain the key differences between each (e.g. desktop vs. browser add-on), so you know which solution is the right one for you.

When it comes to Windows VPN solution there are basically two types of VPN solutions (besides free and paid). The desktop VPN which runs as a standalone application and protects your whole computer, and browser VPN which is installed as add-on/extension to your browser and protects only your browsing session.

Desktop VPN vs. Browser Add-on (Extension) VPN

What is Desktop VPN?

The first one is called desktop VPN and it runs as a standalone application which you need to download, install and run in order to be protected. The main advantage is that once you connect to the VPN server, it encrypts all traffic from your computer to the Internet. That includes any game you play, any program you run or any site you visit.

Desktop-based VPN is also much faster, have better infrastructure and protective no-logging privacy policy (well, at least some of them do).

NordVPN Is One of the Best Desktop VPNs on the Market

NordVPN Is One of the Best Desktop VPNs on the Market

Desktop VPNs are typically paid and will cost you around $10 per month. Our recommended vendors are NordVPN and ExpressVPN. You can also check the current list of the top 5 best VPN solutions for Windows.

There are also free desktop VPNs, but they are less reliable and trustworthy. However, we can still recommend TunnelBear VPN and Hotspot Shield VPN (both are free with some limitation).

What is Browser Add-on VPN?

Browser VPN which is works as add-on or extension to your browser works on the same principles as the desktop VPN, but only encrypts the traffic within the browser.

So for example, if you add a VPN extension to your Google Chrome it will only work for the particular browser. It won’t protect your privacy in games or any other apps.

TunnelBear VPN Extension for Google Chrome

TunnelBear VPN Extension for Google Chrome

The good thing about browser VPNs is they are mostly free. On the other hand, they are typically slower, because of the low-cost high-traffic infrastructure. Also, the level of security is much lower as some of them act as a proxy rather than a full VPN server (read the differences between proxy and VPN). Often they make money by selling your valuable browsing data to third-parties.

The good and proven solutions are again TunnelBear VPN, Hotspot Shield VPN or Hola Free VPN. From the premium ones ZenMate VPN or PureVPN.

Conclusion & The Key Differences

Both desktop VPN and browser VPN are protecting your identity and encrypting your traffic. But each of them on a different level.

  • Desktop VPN is protecting all traffic coming from your computer. It is also much faster and reliable. On the other hand, it is typically paid and will cost you around $10 per month.
  • Browser VPN add-on/extension is protecting only your browsing session, nothing else outside of the browser. Also, the level of protection is much lower as it acts more as a proxy then a real VPN connection.

Major differences are in the table below.

FeatureBrowser VPNDesktop VPN
Hides your real location
Hides your real IP address
Protects your privacy
Unblocks geo-restricted contentOnly some
Doesn't slow down your connection
Works on games and other apps
PriceFree~$9.99 monthly

If you are serious about your privacy and online protection, we definitely recommend going with the desktop VPN. For small monthly payment, you can get a real deal VPN from a reliable and proven vendor. Even the free ones are much better than any browser VPN. If you run desktop VPN, there is no need to use any browser VPN extension.

Browser VPNs can be good in case you need to quickly hide your real location or access any geo-restricted website. But don’t use them regularly as a solid solution.
Another solution may be using Opera browser which has built-in free unlimited VPN. But would you trust a company owned by Chinese capital (Qihoo 360)?

About Author

Craig is a big supporter and believer in freedom on the Internet and that's why he is so interested in VPN products. He doesn't have a favorite VPN vendor, because he keeps constantly switching and testing them. Craig's favorite VPN server location is Bhutan.

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