Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are the ideal way to protect your privacy or hide your location from snooping eyes. But as you might have noticed, this can come at the cost of a slower internet connection.
The good news is that there's quite a lot you can do to fix this, and below you'll find seven ways to speed up your VPN when it starts to drag.
Before you do anything, disconnect from your VPN and run a broadband speed test to check what speed you're currently getting. Then run it again when connected to the VPN to see if there's a big difference.
Pick the fastest server
A VPN will route your data through one or more servers in order to hide your location to any outside observers. Some of these will perform better than others, so if you're experiencing problems then it's worth manually selecting an alternative.
In your control panel, there will usually be a list telling you which server you’re currently using. If you’re playing an online game then you’ll want to keep latency to a minimum, and this is best achieved by using one that is geographically near to you. If displayed, look for the lowest ping and choose that server.
If you’re in the UK and the selected server is in Australia, then any game data will travel to there and back again before being displayed on your screen. This can cause lag, and therefore have a detrimental effect on response times.
Those using a VPN for watching Netflix, or general browsing, shouldn’t find distance to be an issue as ping time is more important for time-critical applications. But if you're getting stuttering or buffering problems, try a different server, as the one you’re connected to could be overloaded with other users or have other technical issues.
Remember if you're using the VPN to circumvent regionally locked content then you'll need to choose the country in which the service you're viewing is based. So, for access to the American version of Netflix you'll need a server in the US.
Try a wired connection
A simple solution that’s always worth trying is to plug your laptop or PC directly into the router. This can bypass any performance issues that your Wi-Fi might be experiencing.
Choose a different protocol
When using a VPN, data is protected by encryption software. This keeps you safe, but does put extra load on your PC as it has to encode and decode everything it uses.
If you’re not using a VPN as a security measure, but instead for watching region-locked content, then reducing your encryption levels might help alleviate any bottlenecks in the system. Commonly used protocols are the OpenVPN or IKEv2/IPsec, but you could try other options such as L2TP/IPsec instead.
This can be a somewhat involved process, so it’s best to Google your VPN software and OS to see what steps you’ll need to take and which protocols are supported on your operating system. As always, make sure you know what you’re doing, and the kind of vulnerabilities to which you may be leaving yourself open.
Change the port
Alongside adjusting the protocol and security settings there's also port selection to consider. When a VPN connects to the web it does so through a predetermined port. While this is usually fine, some networks can throttle or restrict the use of said port, which will in-turn cause you problems.
Take a look at the control panel on your VPN and see if there is an option to alter the port it uses. If so, try opting for the one numbered 443, as this is a common fix for VPN speed issues linked to port selection.
Turn off your firewall and antivirus software
In much the same way as encryption can overload the amount of work your PC has to do to process data, antivirus and firewall settings can be a burden. If you’re really struggling with performance then you could try turning them off temporarily, and seeing if that improves your situation.
We don’t recommend doing this long term as you’re presenting your system as an open target to the world, and it’s a nasty place at times.
Reset your device
Finally, have you tried turning it off and on again? There’s a reason why that catchphrase from the IT Crowd has stuck around – because it’s often the easiest solution to many problems!
Try this on both your PC and router, or your phone or tablet, then hopefully you’ll see your bits run free across the digital Serengeti once more.
Replace your device
We admit this is an extreme solution. But, if the device you're using is old then there is a possibility that it simply can't handle running a VPN in a way that makes it usable in day to day operation.
In these cases it might be time to retire the faithful handset or laptop and upgrade to a newer model. The best part is that you can justify the purchase by saying it's to improve your online security! We've rounded up the best phones and best laptops for your convenience.