NordVPN vs. Private Internet Access Comparison
NordVPN and Private Internet Access (PIA) are two popular VPN services. If you are looking for a new VPN provider to subscribe to, you may wonder which of the two comes out at the top.
In this comparison, we will compare the two VPN services in detail to provide you with the information that you need to select the right provider.
The analysis covers important areas, including price, application support and performance, but also privacy-specific areas such as server infrastructure, supported protocols, features, country of jurisdiction, and no-logging claims.
NordVPN and PIA Comparison table
NordVPN and Private Internet Access are both highly rated and popular services, and while they do share some similarities, like many VPN services do, there are also big differences on closer inspection.
|NordVPN||Private Internet Access|
|Servers||5259 in 60 countries||Unknown number of servers in 78 countries|
|Router/other devices||Router/other devices|
|P2P Servers||Automation Rules|
|Obfuscated Servers||Mace Content Blocker|
|Performance||Very Good||Very Good|
|Support||Email, chat support||Email, chat support|
|Privacy||No IP leaks||No IP leaks|
|No DNS leaks||No DNS leaks|
|Killswitch works||Killswitch works|
|Price||$11.95 per month||$9.95 per month|
|$4.92 for 1 year ($59 in total)||$3.33 per month for 1 year ($39.95 in total)|
|$3.30 per month for 27 months ($89 in total)||$2.19 for 3 years ($79.95 in total)|
|Devices||6 simultaneously||10 simultaneously|
NordVPN and Private Internet Access jurisdiction
NordVPN is headquartered in Panama, which is not a member of the 14-Eyes countries.
Private Internet Access is headquartered in the United States, which is bad news if privacy is a concern. Several laws in the United States may enforce cooperation with the government, even without informing customers about it.
PIA was acquired by KAPE in 2019, a company with a history of generating revenue from adware bundling.
Result: NordVPN wins
Server Infrastructure Comparison between NordVPN and Private Internet Access
NordVPN operates more than 5300 servers in 59 countries. Private Internet Access does not reveal the number of servers, only that it operates them in 78 different countries.
NordVPN announced plans in 2020 to upgrade all of its server infrastructure to a private server network that is fully owned, controlled and operated by the company. The company has not published an update on the progress of the upgrade of its fleet of servers.
NordVPN started to deploy diskless servers in 2019, which run entirely in RAM.
We are preparing a plan to upgrade our entire infrastructure (currently featuring over 5200 servers) to RAM servers. These will allow us to create a centrally controlled network where nothing is stored locally. In fact, they won’t even have an operating system stored locally. Everything they need to run will be provided by NordVPN’s secure central infrastructure. If you seize one of these servers, you’re seizing an empty piece of hardware with no data or configuration files on it.
Private Internet Access announced in 2019 that it had plans to create a “transparent and verifiable infrastructure”. The company did not publish any updates on the plan on the company blog, and we could not find any information on third-party audits of its no-logging claim.
There have been at least two court cases in which PIA could not provide logs of user activities.
Result: NordVPN wins
VPN Apps support
The VPNs have clients for the three major operating systems Windows, Linux and Mac OS, as well as the mobile operating systems Android and iOS. Both may also be set up on devices that support VPNs but don’t allow the installation of software programs, e.g. routers.
Clients offer different features but functionality is good in the VPN applications from both providers.
NordVPN and Private Internet Access support the new WireGuard protocol as well as OpenVPN and other protocols.
Private Internet Access uses OpenVPN as the default protocol, but users may switch to WireGuard in the settings of the service’s applications. WireGuard offers many advantages, including faster connection speeds, and should be preferred.
NordVPN uses its own adaptation of the WireGuard protocol, called NordLynx. Some of the company’s specialized servers require the use of the OpenVPN protocol at the time of writing.
Both providers use state of the art encryption algorithms to protect connections and thus user data.
NordVPN vs. Private Internet Access logging
NordVPN states on its site that it does not log user activity:
We offer a zero-logs VPN service. It means that NordVPN does not store connection timestamps, session information, bandwidth usage, traffic data, IP addresses, or other data. Nothing to store – nothing to share with anyone.
The claim has been verified twice through independent audits, the last one in 2020.
Private Internet Access states on its website that it does not log user activity.
Your IP address and online activity remain private and we never log or store any of your info.
The company started to open source its clients in 2019, but has not had a third-party audit of its services; this is still planned . Private Internet Access could not provide user records in at least two court cases in which the company was involved in.
Result: NordVPN wins.
Streaming and P2P: Private Internet Access vs. NordVPN
Both VPN’s support P2P traffic and the unblocking of regionally restricted content. There are differences between the two offerings though.
NordVPN supports P2P servers which are optimized for the traffic and resulted in better upload and download speeds during tests.
During our tests, NordVPN could be used to watch the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime or Disney+ using the VPN.
The P2P performance of Private Internet Access was equally good in our tests, despite the lack of P2P optimized servers.
Streaming services were not unblocked equally well though. Results varied, likely depending on server IP addresses and whether these were blocked by the streaming providers. Ultimately, it was a hit and miss with PIA, and some services would not work at all while using the provider.
Result: NordVPN wins.
NordVPN vs. Private Internet Access features
NordVPN has the following features:
- CyberSec – protects against known malicious sites and advertising by blocking these outright when enabled.
- Killswitch – blocks Internet traffic if the VPN connection drops.
- Split Tunneling – Use some apps with a VPN connection and others without.
- P2P servers – special servers optimized for torrent traffic.
- Obfuscated servers – designed to access the VPN service in countries that make VPN use difficult, e.g. China.
- Double-VPN servers – option to chain the connection so that it is routed through two VPN servers instead of just one.
- Tor-over-VPN – option to access Tor .onion sites using the VPN.
Private Internet Access offers several features as well that users of the service may use.
- PIA Mace – a blocker component that is designed to block advertisement, malicious domains and trackers on the DNS-level.
- VPN Killswitch – turns off the access to the Internet outside of the VPN.
Split Tunneling – allow some apps and programs to bypass the VPN connection to connect to the Internet directly, or set up some apps to only connect to the Internet through the VPN.
- Automation – configure automatic connection and disconnection rules based on networks, e.g. to always connect to the VPN while at work or traveling, and to always disconnect when at home.
- OpenVPN configuration – customize the OpenVPN connection parameters, e.g. by making the connection more secure.
Result: Tie. Both providers offer several useful features. NordVPN wins when it comes to servers, as it is offering specialized servers, PIA has a few good options as well.
NordVPN vs. Private Internet Access performance
Both VPN providers offered a good performance during tests. Granted, our 100/40 test Internet connection is not particularly fast, but both services managed to max it out almost completely.
NordVPN connections to VPNs were faster, thanks to the default use of the NordLynx protocol, which is based on WireGuard.
Private Internet Access used OpenVPN by default, but users may switch to WireGuard as well to improve the connection speed as well.
NordVPN vs. Private Internet Access price comparison
Both VPN providers list three plans on their sites.
NordVPN customers may subscribe for 1 month, 12 months or 24 months, and pay $11.95, $4.92 or $3.30 for the subscription. Three extra months are added to the 2-year plan free of charge.
Private Internet Access customers may subscribe for 1 month, 1 year or 3 years. The 1-month plan is available for $9.95 per month, the 1-year plan for $3.33 per month or $39.95 per year, and the 3-years plan is available for $2.19 per month or $79 for the entire period.
NordVPN customers may connect up to six devices simultaneously, Private Internet Access customers up to 10 devices simultaneously.
NordVPN customers may pay by Credit Card, Amazon Pay, Google Pay, ACH Transfer and by using cryptocurrencies.
Private Internet Access customers may pay by Credit Card, PayPal, Amazon Pay, cryptocurrencies, or with gift cards.
Both companies have a 30-day refund policy in place.
Result: Private Internet Access is the winner.
Conclusion of NordVPN vs. Private Internet Access
Private Internet Access accounts are a bit cheaper than NordVPN accounts. The company offers good speeds, apps for all major operating systems, and a good level of features. Additionally, it allows customers to connect 10 devices simultaneously to the service, while NordVPN limits connections to 6.
NordVPN is the better choice when it comes to streaming support and server infrastructure. Both companies are not exactly forthcoming with information when it comes to their server infrastructures, but from what little information is available, it is NordVPN that is in control of its server network.
NordVPN has undergone two third-party audits, and it is based in Panama. PIA announced that it would let a third-party audit its services, but the audit has not happened until today.
Private Internet Access biggest drawback is that it is part of KAPE, previously known as Crossrid now, a company with a checkered past.
All in all, if privacy is important to you, you may want to try NordVPN as it is clearly better in that department.
Both companies need to improve, and be more transparent in regards to their server infrastructure. Private Internet Access on top of that needs to get the third-party audit of its service and no-logging feature done to give customers peace of mind.
Ghacks strives to be a trusted and unbiased website. In some specific cases, we may earn an affiliate commission or write a sponsored article, but an explicit disclaimer will always tell our readers when an advertiser or an affiliate partner is supporting one of our articles. If no disclaimer (as in this case), it means that we work with total editorial independence.
There is literally no reason to use any other VPN provider when a beatiful service like Mullvad exists.
Yes, it may not have the highest speeds; yes, it may not have the most server locations, but as long as more people keeps buying Mullvad and funds them, there is no reason that those problems won’t be solved.
Of course I am just a random stranger on the internet so take my words with a grain of salt, but I’ve done a LOT, I mean heck a lot of researches, and Mullvad is the only provider that I can truly feel safe and anonymous. ( as long as you pay with crypto or cash and not with a credit card etc that can identify you)
I had a couple of problems with it but especially with the rise of WireGuard, Mullvad is becoming a perfect solution.
You know as I was skipping much of this article I kept thinking Mullvad . . . Mullvad . . .Mulvad!!!
. . . and your comment appears!
Anyway, I have been Really Looking at Mullvad for a number of years now and must say that if were to ever choose a VPN it would Definitely be said VPN.
It is based out of good ol’ Sweden (and is part of the those “EYES”). However, this service has Many good Features:
First of all, The website http://www.mullvad.net uses a robust encryption system that few sites use AND I use their website as my home page as THERE are no ads hidden or otherwise as per my Ad Blocking system!
I can go on and on but when you read what they are ALL about they give customers (and potential ones) an excellent sense that they DO CARE about Internet Privacy and Security – – and that’s Excellent Customer Service!!!
wow, nord sure is throwing a heap of cash at advertising. This, along with its bloated UI, disconnects and constant nag screens has me seeking alternatives. Wish I hadn’t bought a 3 year membership.
@definitelyNotIronHeart, they still have your IP. And don’t be fooled, even with a vpn you aren’t immune from snoops. Just ask Proton.
Of course they have IP, but I just cant stand the heavy (and false) advertising that is being done by many, many VPN providers, such as ExpressVPN, NordPVN, even ProtonVPN, Private Internet Access and many more. They claim their service provices complete privacy etc. Where as with Mullvad, everything is clear. They do NOT make false claims, they do NOT have affiliate programs, they do not sponsor anyone.
They have a blog post why they do not make big claims and why they dont sponsor influencers etc, its worth a read.
Yep, the advertising machine of NordVPN is strong. Even though many ‘reviews’ were deleted because they were clearly paid for, NordVPN is still continuing.
But honestly, you can ignore all reviews on this site, because they are clearly advertisement (check their ‘review’ of lastpass, etc.)
This is a false claim. Neither this review nor the LastPass review were sponsored or paid.
Hi Martin, been a long time fan of gHacks.
The article is well written and doesn’t seem to contain any referral links so I believe you when you write you aren’t paid for these reviews.
At the same time, I think there are a couple points for improvement:
– The “no logs” can only be partially true, any service which limits to 5 or 10 connections has some form of logging to support this.
– Comparing only two companies makes it seem like these are the main choices, this could have been a good opportunity to introduce your readers to other reputable options.
– You suggest a preference of businesses operating in banana republics like Panama over countries with established democratic laws and codified protections of privacy like the USA, and make a statement that being outside an “14 eyes” country gives some benefit. I, and many others, argue the complete opposite of your suggested benefit from hosting in banana republics, but if you truly feel like placing business headquarters in countries that rank very high in the world corruption index (Panama rates “35”, second worst), it would be nice if you provided the evidence to support this.
I applaud your efforts to bring some light into the dark murky world of VPN’s, but wholly understand why another commentor would read this article as an advertisement.
Enough with these ads.
How about instead the news that ExpressVPN is bought by Israelis? Very concerning.
Never use a VPN that can leave financial records and asks your personal information.
Mullvad and iVPN has great practice for not knowing or asking your name, e-mail address or credit card etc. You can pay with either Bitcoin or Monero or even better via Cash.
The money NordVPN spends on advertisement is suspicious enough.
CIA is known for operating offshore companies in countries considered as safe by majority of the people such as Switzerland. Remember the Crypto AG and ANOM cases.
We clearly have no idea about the privacy laws in Panama. NordVPN can be another honeypot. We cannot trust.
PIA should be avoided in any case because they are incorporated in US. They will not tell you if they handed over your information to USA goverment for at least 2 years.
Remember the Alexandra Elbakyan case. Apple handed over her information and did not tell her about that for 2 years because it is requested by FBI to not to say.
I use NordVpn for torrenting and it works great. Also, if you do not provide serious danger to USA, CIA does not care. FBI may care, buy you have to provide major threat to copyright laws, or run major criminal enterprise (guns, drugs and so on).
If you use vpn for just torrenting and probably netflix then it is still more cheap to rent a vps and setup your own vpn. It is not that hard, some cloud providers already have 1 click vpn install tools. Not to mention you can also use them as seedbox if you ever need.
I’ll just stick with people I trust, who have treated me fairly, easy to contact, and get a response from. . . and that folks would be Firetrust Hideaway VPN
(disclaimer: This is not a compensated endorsement.) Gee
Personally, I could give a rats ass if Martin got paid for the article, the man deserves to make a living. Though I don’t believe he did. He’s a good writer and gave viable information, and if one feels that convinced that the information is not worthy. . . then why are you coming here.
See unlike some apparently here I have an incredible device installed in this meat sack called a brain that can analyze the information and make up my own damn opinion. Accept the information or not it gave me something to research and ponder. . . So, his (Martin) job was well done.
Martin, I think that Surfshark is the much better option.
NordVPn has a not mention leaks for years. Only in 2019 they had to confirm that there where hacked, because journalist discoverer that NordVPN already did now for many years, that they were hacked and NordVPN did not do anything about it.
NordVpn is also crazy expensive and given the fact that the home base is the USA you have to be sure that the American government (Not only the NSA) will now everything you do.
The sole function of a VPN is to keep your ISP from knowing what you do (and that only if you download copyrighted or otherwise illegal material.) That’s it. Period. End of story.
People are jumping on ProtonMail for handing over an IP address that *they were ordered to record by their government*. This is true for *any* service *anywhere*. If the state comes down on any private company, your so-called “privacy” is out the window. As in ProtonMail’s case, even if they don’t initially record your data, they can be compelled to do so.
Get a clue. There is no such thing as “privacy” or “security” on the Internet (unless you are prepared to 1) host your own servers, 2) use end-to-end encryption on *everything* and 3) are prepared to only do Internet access while *mobile*.)
If ISP wants to know what you are doing like torrenting, writing threatening post it can to it by analyzing your traffic, even if you are on VPN. ISP would not do it by default just because it is too much work to track everybody. Bit ISP will do it by FBI or DHS request.
I agree with Richard Steven Hack that only security come from end to end encryption on messengers and Tor.
Totally agree. ISP doesn’t want to know what you’re doing unless it is related to high bandwidth. And if they do care, then its over, coz there is no way to escape except using end-to-end encryption everywhere. So benefits of VPNs are few – Geo unblocking on streaming sites, and P2P which ISP will try to block, but with VPN can be used. For privacy there are much more important things – software, internet accounts, social media profiles, ads profiling if adblocker is not used and more.
This is one of the best comparison reviews I have read in a long time. Well done Martin. It was a very interesting read and I hope to see more comparisons with other VPNs in the future.
i read that nord vpn had its source code stolen/haked some years ago. i stopped using nord. please check thank you ivan.
I have used PIA for several years but when I wanted to watch BBC iPlayer, it was not possible. I had found another small VPN that specifically guarantees support and it did work but then was paying two services. In addition, PIA showed I was in NYC but evidently Amazon and several other sites like LastPass thought I was in the Ukraine which caused lots of problems. After switching to Nord, I can use BBC iplayer without issues and no longer get alerts that I am connecting from foreign countries.
Thank you very much for your comparison. I will add a comment about a minor issue not mentioned above.
Keyboard shortcuts are particularly important for me, because reaching for the mouse hurts my hand. PIA has recently added a number of very useful shortcuts as parameters to the command line, and I have created several buttons within Directory Opus that allow me quick control of everyday things such as choosing the region, disconnecting for a custom time or permanently, restarting, and displaying the present server and IP. I tried Nord for a while, but for me it was clumsier to use.
PIA’s email support has been excellent.
First I though that this post could be advertising… Now I think the comment section is the real advertising wall, LOL…
I am certainly not a marketer. I posted the note about shortcuts because that is a particular concern for me. I know very well that it is irrelevant for most people, but I thought that this particular comparison should be written down for those who are interested, and perhaps to inspire some other VPNs to add useful shortcuts.
Uh, regarding split tunneling….pia has support for split tunneling on all 3 desktop platforms: windows, linux, AND macos (they’re the only vpn to support split tunneling on macos)
NordVPN only supports split tunneling on windows.
Don’t you think that’s an important thing to mention?
1) the larger the company, the more likely that the company will be to financial pressures from western nations like the US
2) companies with servers in jurisdictions that are friendly to the US, but which may not outright engage in information sharing, can still engage in grey-area barely legal physical server access to data centers and exchanges.
3) buying a VPN with your credit card is traceable
Buying a VPN with mixed bitcoins is traceable, albeit very difficult and hard enough that only the most high profile investigations will go that far
Buying a VPN with paper money at a store IRL while wearing a pandemic mask, sunglasses, hood, gloves, and not brining your cell phone or driving to the store is the most anonymous way to purchase VPN access
NordVPN sells physical boxes (like buying software in the old days) in major retailers.
at the very least, this is a good 1st or 2nd step of obfuscation (double-VPN is orders of magnitude better than 1-pass)
4) Be weary of VPN security while using LTE/5g wireless. Wireless internet is far more “owned” and “regulated” (packet analysis + the by-definition device tracking) by the network operators than other forms.
5) at home, never use device-based VPN. Always install VPN services on your router.
Avoid SOHO/Consumer routers. Get an older desktop PC, a 2nd PCIE NIC, and install router software on it (plenty of free router Linux distros)
On the subject of overall VPN security:
ultimately it is likely true that both tech companies, and their ISP customers who buy their SaaS, as well as Western and well financed governments elsewhere (eg China, Russia) can very likely perform some degree of traffic/packet analysis even when the traffic is encrypted.
enough information leaks around the encrypted components typical VPN encryption schemes that a sophisticated algorithm can figure a lot out even with best practices encryption.
That is especially true for ISPs, as they can and do train their algorithms on internet-wide traffic and can correlate encrypted traffic with non encrypted traffic to provide good guesses.
For example, Torrent and Usenet users are very likely identifiable even with full packet encryption, merely by the way that the traffic transits servers in relation to basically all other forms of internet traffic.
Similarly so for video services
these are very obvious examples. IRL I would assume that the algorithms are smart enough to go much farther than this.
So how do you stay anonymous?
The only way is to obfuscate your identity as the end user, and the only way to do that is to purchase all equipment and services anonymously and scrupulously restrict your IRL identity from them
By definition, this means no fixed address ISP service – burner Wireless only – which means any content is restricted to typical ISP monthly data allocation or limitations
the only other way to achieve this is through wifi hacking or public wifi “theft”, possibly through the use of a long range wifi antenna