Private Internet Access VPN Review: is it really that good?
PIA is a virtual private network that has plenty of features and a fairly robust offering compared to many other VPNs on the market. It offers users two free months, which is unique among its competitors. It also advertises itself as having the most extensive server network in the world. But if you’re looking for a VPN, how does it really fare? We’ve collected a range of information below so that you can make a decision on whether PIA is the right VPN for your purposes.
Read our “What is a VPN?” page to learn more about what virtual private networks do, how they work, and why you need one.
A VPN is a network of servers spread across lots of different countries around the world. By using a VPN, online users can hide browsing history, internet activity, IP addresses, and personal data. That extra level of security is important to many users. Additionally, VPNs are often used for streaming and torrenting (or sharing files between groups of users). The main goal of a VPN is to increase a user’s privacy and anonymity in pursuit of a truly free internet.
PIA is good at all these factors and more. It provides a wide range of features, including unblocking for all the major streaming sites, multiple gateways for the VPN tunnel, a simple interface for users, encryption, and the WireGuard protocol.
Pros & Cons
It’s important to weigh the positives and negatives of any VPN before deciding which one to choose. We’ve collected our thoughts on PIA for quick reference.
- Incredibly large and expansive server network
- Runs a variety of protocols, including WireGuard
- Highly effective at unblocking geo-locked streaming services
- Military-grade 256-bit encryption
- Pricey, but great for the number of features you get
- 30-day money-back guarantee on top of two months free
- Offers Boxcryptor add-on for additional cloud-based security
- RAM-disk mode
- Works with:
- No live chat support
- Not always effective at unblocking BBC iPlayer
- Has not been audited by external security agencies
- Speeds can vary depending on location
Paying month-to-month costs you $9.95. A year’s subscription is only $3.33 per month, though.
Also, the two-year plan has the best value at $2.65 per month for the first term with the added bonus of the first two months free and a year’s subscription to cloud-based Boxcryptor. You can pay with a range of options, including your normal credit cards as well as Bitcoin, gift cards, and more.
Given that this VPN is quite possibly the largest in the world as far as numbers of servers go, it uses high-level security and privacy measures, and doesn’t have any significant problems, we think the pricing structure is very reasonable and it provides you with excellent value.
2 Years$269Per Month
Best Value. Billed $69.95 per two years + 2 months freeSave 72%
Unfortunately, VPN networks can often have spotty speeds or rates that are difficult to predict, since the speed may depend on the location you connect to.
PIA’s speeds vary based on the location of the server you connect to and your own IP address. However, even though it’s slow in some areas, its connection speeds are typically good. That’s especially true if you use WireGuard rather than OpenVPN, as the former can reach speeds in excess of 300 Mbps in comparison with some locations that use OpenVPN and comparatively crawl at less than 70 Mbps.
When you use the internet, you don’t want to be bogged down by slow speeds.
Simply put, PIA has an industry-leading “next generation” server network that contains nearly 25,000 servers. That’s astonishingly large, but that’s not even the best part. Its servers use RAM-disk mode, which is among the cutting-edge offerings of VPNs and means that any user data stored on the server is automatically lost when the server is rebooted or loses power.
We can’t stress enough how impressive this is. It provides users with a mind-boggling array of servers from which to choose, so veterans with specific needs will enjoy that flexibility.
|Generous connection limits||connect up to 10 devices under the same account|
|Simple installation||one-click instant set up|
|No logs||PIA provides users with a no-log guarantee|
|Apps||iOS, Android, Windows, MacOS, Linux, plus browser extensions|
|Security measures||uses 256-bit encryption|
|Many protocols||OpenVPN, WireGuard, L2TP, IPSec, and PPTP|
|Extraordinarily large server network||has the largest network we’ve seen, at over 24,800 worldwide|
|Highly robust||plenty of customizability for veteran users|
|Subscription packages||monthly, yearly, and two-year intervals|
|Free trial||first two months free|
|24/7 site support||round-the-clock availability through email and phone, but no live chat|
However, its user interface is simple enough and allows for automatic connection, so new users won’t feel overwhelmed.
PIA provides extensive assistance with installation and set up, and its user experience is great. The company provides both 32-bit and 64-bit download options, catalogs all updates so that you can revert to a previous version if you have issues, and has open-sourced all its code so that community members and other developers can help spot any bugs or problems.
The actual interface is simple and easy to use. It has a Connect button prominently displayed so that you can connect to the nearest VPN server. But it also allows you to change up preferences and protocols, switch locations, and configure your set up as needed. This means it’s perfect for both experienced and new users.
PIA continues to shine in the mobile device arena. Its apps retain the features of the desktop and laptop clients, including the kill switch (which many other VPNs drop for mobile apps). Simple installation, one-click connection to the nearest server, and a list of easy-to-understand locations and server names are available. The iOS and Android versions are virtually identical and allow for supreme customization, including various encryption methods, protocols, and packet sizes.
Also, the actual user interface retains the simplicity of the desktop client. For example, it displays a list of server locations, but there is a giant connect button that will automatically take users to the nearest server. In short, it’s as simple or in-depth as users want to make it, and we like that a lot.
- English (US)
- English (UK)
- English (AU)
PIA has a no-logs policy that it refers to as “verified” even though it has not undergone an outside audit. The reason for this is that the company has actually been tested in court. Ordered to provide user log data, the only information it has been able to hand over in court cases has been the general location of its servers. Plus, it publishes a transparent report that catalogs the subpoenas the company receives and any data that is given to authorities.
Coupled with its RAM-only storage on its servers and its open-sourcing of its code, we’re fairly confident that it lives up to its promises. Still, it should probably get an external audit for added user confidence.
Split tunneling is a feature many VPNs offer that allows you to hand-select which apps or websites will go through the VPN’s services and which will use your usual ISP. Often, many veteran VPN users like this feature as it provides a measure of control over data and speeds.
PIA provides split-tunneling options on desktop as well as mobile versions, allowing you to select which apps or websites use its protected server and which go through your usual connection. This can help you improve speed and gives you added control over your internet usage.
PIA defaults to 128-bit encryption, but you can switch that to the much better AES 256-bit encryption. We’re not sure why it defaults to the lower option when the better version is available, but chalk that up to increased configurability. Mostly, the apps use the best protocols out there, including OpenVPN and the more recent WireGuard. There are DNS and IP leak protection measures, data authentication, and handshake method flexibility. In short, the encryption and security measures at work here are the real deal. You should never fear for exposure when using PIA.
For ease of use, PIA offers browser extensions for Google Chrome, Opera, and Mozilla Firefox. These browsers are protected via the above-listed encryption and protocols, as well as IP leak prevention and even port forwarding, which can help performance and get you into apps or websites that usually block VPNs.
A kill switch cuts you off from the internet if you lose connection to a VPN server. It’s a standard feature among most VPNs, as it prevents your computer from reconnecting to the internet via your ISP when you think you’re still protected by the VPN’s server’s security measures. Thus, it keeps you from being exposed to outside threats without being aware.
PIA has an effective kill switch that, surprisingly, is available on mobile devices as well as the desktop client. It stands up to rigorous testing and usually reconnects the user quickly to a secure server.
PIA is among the few cutting edge VPNs that have moved to RAM-disk storage. Any information that is logged by the server regarding user data is stored as Random Access Memory, which is totally and completely wiped whenever the server is rebooted or goes down. That means there should be no chance for any outside influence to snag hold of your usage data. It means you’re much safer with PIA than many other VPNs.
PIA is based in Colorado, in the United States. While the company touts this as a good thing due to the US’ lack of data retention laws, it’s still somewhat at issue. That’s because the United States is one of the prominent members of the 14 Eyes surveillance alliance and shares information with a host of other countries.
Regardless, the good news is that PIA can point to its track record of court subpoenas that have led to no user data being supplied. Even though it exists in the US and not some offshore, privacy-friendly location, it has not succumbed to authorities’ requests for user data.
As we’ve stated above, the firmware you use for your router needs to be able to support WireGuard, OpenVPN, L2TP and some additional protocols. Other than that, you’ll need to speak with a member of the company’s customer service team for more information.
PIA has not been audited by external entities for its privacy or security measures. That isn’t rare among VPNs, as only a handful of the most popular companies have done so. External audits mean that an outside entity comes in and evaluates whether or not the company abides by its promised no-logs policy and other security and privacy policies.
Still, though we’d like to see an external audit here, PIA has serious clout. Its courtroom documents show that it has never provided user data even when requested (which means that it didn’t have that data on hand to provide). It also regularly pushes out a report for transparency regarding information requests and the data it provides.
ExpressVPN is a competitor of PIA that has developed a new protocol called Lightwave. It is reportedly more secure than OpenVPN or WireGuard, but some users have suggested that it tends to be slower on average than VPNs that use the older protocol. Regardless, only ExpressVPN is using Lightway at this time.
How to install
PIA is easy to install and simply requires you to download the program and click through the set up wizard. Once you’ve got it installed, however, you can format and customize it however you see fit. For new users, the default is best, as it is super user-friendly and has a nice, big Connect button for you to get started.
Veterans will enjoy the customizability of this VPN, as you can configure different protocols, encryption levels, use split-tunneling to decide which apps and sites go through the VPN and which don’t, adjust location settings, and more. You can even alter its inherent data authentication procedures and encryption handshake protocols.
Customer support is available around the clock by phone or email. However, one area that PIA lags behind its competitors is that it lacks an online chat option. This could cause frustration, as you won’t necessarily get quick answers for your issues by emailing or calling.
That said, there is a wealth of information available through PIA’s site. Sometimes, the search function takes you to some hardly relevant pages, but the information is there and the company seems dedicated to helping customers understand and use its product.
Streaming and Torrenting
Streaming is one of the major reasons users are flocking to VPNs. Services like Hulu, Netflix, Disney+, and others block specific shows and features depending on where you live, and that can be annoying and unfair. By using a VPN, you can trick these services into thinking you’re in a different location and effectively unblock those features.
PIA is very good at unblocking and has been shown to consistently work for Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and more of the top streaming sites.
However, one minor issue is that it doesn’t always unblock BBC’s iPlayer effectively.
Torrenting is another popular reason for purchasing subscriptions to VPNs. It’s a way of sharing files and downloads between users anonymously and safely. PIA’s servers are extremely torrent-friendly, and they all use RAM-only storage that erases user data whenever the servers are rebooted.
Gaming and Consoles
PIA doesn’t advertise itself for gaming explicitly, but its encryption protocols and anti-ISP-throttling measures can be a boon for gamers. The company’s online resources are quick to bend over backwards about promising speed, however, as they say “a VPN is for security” and “won’t magically increase your speed.”
As far as security goes though, the company can protect online gamers from cyberattacks through its anti-malware programs and IP leakage tests. Its encryption defaults to 128-bit, but can be configured to the high-level, military-grade 256-bit as well. So it’s a passable VPN for gaming but isn’t geared toward that audience as a business.
Desktop and Laptops
You can configure the desktop and laptop versions of PIA as much as you desire. It starts out simple and easy to use for beginners, but its intricate inner workings are also available to the more technically minded. You can change protocols from OpenVPN to WireGuard, L2TP, PPTP, and others, increase or decrease encryption methods, and even use the VPN via a unique Command Line client that allows you to alter its code.
In short, this is one of the most feature-packed VPNs out there, and we love it. But it can also be used simply and efficiently by new users and has an easily understandable interface. Unlike some other VPNs, it seems that PIA has mastered the best of both worlds.
PIA offers extensions for the usual Chrome and Firefox browsers offered by other VPNs, but also includes Opera. You can use the split tunneling feature to decide which websites go through the VPN and which use your regular connection, ensuring that you never have to sacrifice performance. There are also plenty of privacy features that prevent IP address links, keep websites from accessing your computer’s microphone or video equipment, and more.
Regardless of what browser you use, you can expect high levels of security and privacy with PIA. You can also expect decent speeds (depending on your location), especially if you enable the WireGuard protocol rather than the OpenVPN.
Mobile and Tablets
As we mentioned above, virtually no functionality is lost on mobile apps versus the desktop or laptop versions. Change your protocols at will, select different servers to use, rely on the app’s effective kill switch, and even exert control over the length of your encryption key. We were super impressed with the flexibility and configurability of mobile apps, especially because most VPNs suffer in this area.
Since most of us connect to the internet via our mobile devices more often than desktops, this is a huge bonus.
PIA is compatible with a wide range of routers, since it uses protocols that range from WireGuard to the outdated PPTP. Even better, the company has a wide range of support articles online. Some of these are not particularly helpful, but many can PIA also have 24/7 support available if you need help installing your client on the router.
Also of note, routers are a good way of taking advantage of the company’s generous 10-connection limit. With that many available connections, you should have no problem using the VPN on all your mobile devices.
CyberGhost is the real deal. It boasts an impressively large network of available servers, takes security seriously, has strong language in its policies regarding privacy measures, is headquartered outside of a 14 Eyes surveillance state, and offers a complete array of features. While its month-to-month pricing structure is at the high end for VPNs, it’s worth the money. Plus, it clearly incentivizes long-term subscriptions, with its year-long and three-year subscription packages prices at extremely low monthly rates.
PIA is the real deal among VPNs. It provides an extremely large network system, high configurability, loads of features, effective streaming site unblocking capabilities, torrent-friendly RAM-only storage, and much more. It’s also got a proven track record of not giving up user data, which really boosts our confidence in its privacy measures. Better yet, it doesn’t seem to sacrifice usability for these matters.
The two areas that are a bit behind include customer support and gaming. While there is plenty of available information to help customers on the company’s website, the lack of live chat can be frustrating and the information can be difficult for some new users to understand. And while it is great for streaming, torrenting, and web browsing, it seems to hedge its promises when it comes to online gamers.
The final note is that, while PIA isn’t flawless, it is one of the best out there in the VPN industry. It is certainly worth the money and is accessible to both new VPN users and old hands.
Does PIA help unblock Netflix?
A: PIA effectively unblocks most streaming services, including Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and others. However, it has trouble in some cases, especially BBC’s iPlayer.
Is PIA free?
PIA is not free. You pay for a subscription on a monthly, yearly, or two-year basis. However, it does allow users a 30-day money-back guarantee that renews after a few months, so you can test it out in its current form to decide whether you want to pay for it.
Is PIA good for torrenting?
PIA’s RAM-only servers make it excellent for torrenting, coupled with the fact that it has a long history of not providing user data when requested by governments.
Is PIA legal?
VPN services like PIA operate legally and are legal services. However, some countries restrict or ban the use of VPNs, so its legality for you is largely based on where you live. You’ll need to check your local laws regarding the use of VPNs and internet privacy to be sure, but PIA as a company is doing nothing illegal.