Private Internet Access VPN is a great product for a very good price – the monthly license start at $6.95 only. We like their protection of privacy and the fact they aren't really storing logs. Chrome extension is a great add-on and will make your life easier.
Probably the biggest downside is basically the absence of the proper user interface and low amount of server locations (only 28 countries).
- Cheap price
- Strict no log policy
- Minimum impact on Internet speed
- Great browser extension
- Low amount of server locations
- Basically no user interface
- Legally based in the United States
- Basic customer support
Private Internet Access, or PIA VPN, is the only virtual private network (VPN) provider on the market that offers complete transparency to its customers. Not only with their log policy, which is strictly zero data collection, but also with their open-source code.
According to PIA, they established this policy to show everyone they have nothing to hide. Existing and potential clients can check the code for themselves as it’s publicly available. Furthermore, the community behind it can contribute to the code’s improvement.
This is one of the reasons PIA is up there with NordVPN and ExpressVPN when it comes to quality. With servers in 90 countries, users can access servers across the globe through a simple user interface.
Like many other VPN products, PIA is also available on multiple platforms including Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, or as an extension to the Chrome Browser. It also supports simultaneous connection for up to 5 devices, which means you can be connected to 5 devices using the same account.
In terms of advanced features, Private Internet Access VPN offers Kill Switch, AdBlocker (called PIA MACE), DNS leak protection, and Firewall Netfilter Project (using). You can also adjust a lot of advanced settings like connection type (UDP/TCP), remote port, packet size, data encryption (AES-128/AES-256), data authentication (SHA1/SHA256), and handshake. Surprisingly the default data encryption standard is “only” AES-128, while most other VPNs use stronger AES-256.
Overall, Private Internet Access is a solid VPN with a good level of security and privacy. Unfortunately, it doesn't offer many server locations – only 28 countries which is the lowest number by far out of all the vendors we have reviewed. Also, the user interface is quite confusing (in fact there isn't one), but the price is very reasonable (only $6.95 per month). See the detailed features overview at the end of our review.
The Usefulness of Private Internet Access
Thanks to its strong security presence, PIA is useful for several tasks that go beyond simple personal or business use.
- Work Projects: Small and medium-sized businesses can safely work on projects away from the prying “eyes” of others. This means employees can utilize applications like Zoom and Microsoft Teams to collaborate on tasks when people work outside of the office.
- Streaming: As long as you have the proper permissions, you can securely view videos from legacy sites like Netflix and new ones like Disney+. However, as we mentioned above, this is somewhat sluggish.
- Travel: PIA makes it easier for individuals and groups to perform their usual activities when outside normal environments. With servers in several dozen countries, there’s a local one that can help you digitally travel back home to access what’s needed.
- Gaming: Your ISP may throttle your data connection speeds based on your online activity — like if you have long gaming sessions. PIA VPN encrypts your traffic so nobody can detect online activity or throttle your speeds. You can change your location to access a new game, features, or exclusive in-game content. The use of PIA also allows you to take advantage of cheaper game prices in other regions.
- High-Risk Business: Companies that sell items internationally can be considered high-risk. Particularly if they see a large volume of chargebacks. One of the ways these businesses receive additional funding is to set up a secure connection. Private Internet Access makes this happen through its large number of international servers.
Pricing & Discounts – How much does Private Internet Access VPN cost?
As already mentioned above the PIA VPN is actually pretty cheap. The shortest monthly subscription costs $6.95 per month. The yearly one costs $39.95 (e.g. $3.33 per month). The best deal you can get is with the 2-year subscription which costs $69.95 (e.g. $2.91) and represents 58% savings compared to the monthly subscription.
Subscription plans for PIA are fairly reasonable. Even the monthly plan at around $10 is the industry average.
Their annual plan, which normally goes for $120, was more than half off at the time of this review. At about $40 it averages to a little more than $3 a month.
The top tier plan, the two-year program, originally goes for $260. At the time of this writing, it was cut to $70, or around less than $3 a month. PIA offers the most deals for this subscription level. For instance, an extra two months of service.
Additionally, those who purchase the 24-month plan receive a Boxcryptor cloud security license. This is an application that encrypts data to secure cloud files.
PIA doesn’t offer a free version of their product or a trial period for computers. However, there is a 7-day trial for mobile devices. They provide a 30-day money-back guarantee with no restrictions for both computers and smart devices.
PIA accepts numerous forms of payment. This includes Visa, Mastercard, American Express, PayPal, and Bitcoin.
A Short History With A Sole Focus On Private Networks
With a decade of experience in the market, the U.S.-based PIA is well established in the industry. It currently secures and privatizes the access of over 20 million users across the globe. Their stated goal is to create an uncensored internet culture without data throttling.
Data and Devices
PIA permits a maximum of seven consecutive devices on one account. This means you can connect a computer, smart device, wireless router, and streaming device to the VPN without being blocked or have your data throttled. While this is good for personal use it might not work for a small business.
PIA goes beyond the device compatibility of other VPN vendors.
Windows Desktops, Laptops, and Surface Tablets default to the OpenVPN UDP/TCP protocol. This legacy environment has a proven method for encryption and data security. The platform is also supported through IKEv2 and WireGuard.
macOS Desktops and Laptops default to IKEv2 but WireGuard is also available. Mac computing devices aren’t supported by the OpenVPN protocol.
Linux is only supported through the OpenVPN protocol.
Android phones and tablets use IKEv2 by default. OpenVPN and WireGuard are also available.
iPhones and Tablets With iOS should use IKEv2 to access VPN sources. Like the company’s computing devices, OpenVPN isn’t available.
Wireless Routers are supported if they accept the OpenVPN protocol. Firmware versions that can utilize the application are:
- DD-WRT firmware version 3.0-r40559
- LEDE firmware version 19.07.2
- ASUS firmware version 126.96.36.199.385_20633 from configuration files we provide
- Asuswrt-Merlin firmware version 384.16 from configuration files we provide
- pfSense firmware version 2.4.5
Additionally, customers have the option of purchasing wireless routers with PIA software already installed. This helps simplify installation for quick VPN access.
PIA offers subscribers an option to use browser extensions for quicker VPN access. They’re currently available for Google Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.
Protocols and Gaming Consoles
At this time, PIA doesn’t support VPN on current gaming consoles. The only way to open a secure path is to access these devices through a wireless router that supports OpenVPN and has the necessary software installed.
Protocols and Streaming Devices
Similar to gaming consoles, PIA doesn’t directly support streaming devices or smart TVs. In some cases, they can be utilized via access to a wireless router With PIA and OpenVPN. For devices like Amazon’s FireStick, a pair of third-party applications is required to make a secure connection happen.
User Interface – Is Avast Private Internet Access VPN easy to use?
User interface and user experience are two of the biggest downsides of the Private Internet Access VPN product. The installation process is pretty simple and straightforward. The first obstacle is the application login since your username is randomly generated as a mix of random characters and numbers. It can't even be changed in the client control panel, you just have to remember (or store) it.
The second issue is the absence of a user interface. When you try to click the PIA icon on your desktop it will show a warning saying a file can be harmful because it is from an unknown publisher. That's super weird as the file binary is really not signed. Even if you decide to continue nothing will happen; no user interface will open.
The only way to access a user interface is by going to systray, right-clicking on the PIA icon and selecting settings. Then you will get a setting screen (see below).
The only way to connect to a VPN server is again through the systray menu which is really inconvenient and complicated for a basic user.
On the other hand, the Chrome extension is pretty simple (besides the username) and straightforward. It would be great if there were any simple UI like that for the Windows application.
PIA Server Locations & Countries – Where can you connect?
Not long ago, PIA expanded its global presence. Today, it serves 90 countries and 113 locations. Within those areas are a whopping 7000 servers.
Many of these devices are optimized for heightened performance in the U.S. Within the 13 cities supported there are several thousand servers. Of the countries PIA works with, Europe has the most at 46. This includes rare VPN locations in the Isle of Man, Estonia, and Malta.
Asia contains the next largest group of countries at 20. These are nations like Cambodia, Macau, and Mongolia. Africa has an impressive five locations in places like Egypt, South Africa, and Morocco.
The full list of locations includes:
- Africa – None
- Asia Pacific – Australia (Sydney, Melbourne); New Zealand; Singapore; Hong Kong; Japan
- Europe – United Kingdom (London, Manchester, Southampton); Netherlands; Sweden; Norway; Denmark; Finland; Switzerland; France; Germany; Belgium; Austria; Czech Republic; Ireland; Italy; Spain; Romania
- India – India
- Middle East – Turkey; Israel
- North America – United States (Atlanta, New York City, Silicon Valley, Seattle, Florida, Texas, Chicago, California, East, West, Midwest); Canada (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver); Mexico
- South America – Brazil;
As you can see it's not many, and in general other vendors typically offer 50+ server locations in different countries.
In fact, PIA VPN was available in Russia but terminated its operations in July 2016 due to a law which has been passed by the government and orders any provider to log all traffic information for a year.
The implementation of virtual (geo-location) servers by PIA provides an opportunity for customers to access VPN in countries where service wasn’t previously available. This might have been due to restrictions, government regulations, or the lack of secure server providers.
With their increase in locations, PIA also adopted a next-generation VPN network. Known as Gen4, it features an upgraded infrastructure with better speed and encryption. It also increases the speed of network cards from 1GB to 10GB.
PIA’s Gen4 network also swapped out their old server infrastructure. These were replaced with verifiable zero-access devices. These are RAM-only. In simpler terms, They don’t store any data in their hard drives. Everything is kept within random access memory. Thus, when a user logs out of a server, their information is completely wiped clean.
Unfortunately, PIA has difficulties with streaming services, even the most common ones like Netflix and Hulu. Furthermore, the company only supports the ability to stream through a web browser instead of a specific application. So, a user can get to Netflix.com but not their Netflix app.
Unlike other companies such as IPVanish, IPA doesn’t have dedicated servers for services like Disney+, Amazon Prime, or HBO Max. So, access to these can be sluggish at the best and non-existent at the worst. We had trouble getting into these streaming services while accessing servers inside and outside of the U.S.
The exception to this is access to the elusive BBC iPlayer. PIA has a dedicated server location based in London that’s exclusive for bypassing the blocks placed on users outside of the United Kingdom. Optimized for Android devices, it allows customers to access the iPlayer and the titles it offers.
Does PIA VPN Support YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO, Amazon Prime & BBC iPlayer?
During our testing, Private Internet Access VPN worked well with YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO, Amazon Prime, Google, and Facebook. We have used various US server locations.
Surprisingly it is also one of the few VPNs which worked with BBC iPlayer! We set the location to United Kingdom, Southampton and the shows were loaded and streamed without any issues. Big up for the PIA VPN.
Performance & Internet Connection Speed Test
Private Internet Access VPN is pretty good when it comes to Internet connections speeds and its impact when connecting to various servers. This is quite rare, and in fact we have seen many other VPNs having a great negative impact on download or upload speeds.
As you can see in the table below the benchmark speeds with no VPN used were ping 14 ms, download 21 Mbps, and upload 9 Mbps. in Germany there was hardly any slowdown at all, whereas in other territories the slowdown was around 50% (especially on the download speed) which is OK.
For testing, we have used free web service by Ookla.
PIA VPN also features a “slow speed complaint” which you can easily send with one-click from the Windows systray menu. We are not sure how it works or what actions are taken when you send a complaint.
Private Internet Access offers a pretty basic level of customer support. There is no phone number, no live chat, just a simple form for submitting a ticket or direct e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
But there is quite a good level of self-service support, you can use:
- Best practices
- Forum which seems to be pretty active and you can get there a great free support by the PIA community
Private Internet Access claims to strictly follow the no logging policy (e.g. they don't store logs of any kind of activity of their users). Like all VPN providers they store your e-mail and payment data.
They comply with all valid subpoena (court, government) requests since they are based in the United States. They also comply with DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and will assist copyright owners and their agents that report a copyright infringement by a user of PIA VPN.
Private Internet Access even released an actual court record which shows they do not store any information which could lead to identification of users. The court record says “the only information they could provide is that the cluster of IP addresses being used was from the east coast of the United States”.
The company has also closed its Russian operations due to the law which orders VPN vendors to “spy” on all their users and store the data for at least a year.
So although they are based in the United States, they seem to be true ambassadors and defenders of their users' privacy.
Conclusion – Is Private Internet Access VPN worth $6.95 per month?
PIA VPN is a solid product which will give you a great level of privacy and security while only minimally impacting your connection speeds. On the other hand, the user experience needs to be improved and there aren't many server locations. Although it's one of the only VPNs which supports BBC iPlayer from abroad.
If you don't mind the lack of server locations and slightly more complex control, you will be very happy with the product. The price is also very reasonable (maybe even cheap) as the monthly license starts at just $6.95.
It's a perfect product for someone whose priority is privacy and for whom using the Chrome extension VPN is enough. We would even say it's a perfect product for North American users who are using a browser for online shopping/banking.
If you are not sure whether Private Internet Access is the right VPN product for you, take advantage of their 7-day money-back guarantee and try the product.