Hey friend! Do you feel like your VPN is making your internet unbearably slow? Don‘t worry, you‘re not alone. Lots of people run into this frustration.
The good news is there are ways to optimize your VPN for faster speeds. In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll explain exactly why VPNs slow down your internet and provide 11 insider tips to significantly increase VPN speeds on any device.
Why Does a VPN Slow Down the Internet?
Before we dive into speed tips, it helps to understand what exactly causes that VPN lag in the first place.
When you connect to a virtual private network (VPN), all your internet traffic gets routed through an encrypted tunnel to the VPN server. This adds extra steps compared to your normal internet connection.
According to research by VPNpro, users typically see a speed reduction between 10-30% when connecting to a VPN. This can mean the difference between frustrating buffering and smooth HD streaming.
Some key technical factors behind the VPN slowdown include:
Your data gets encrypted by the VPN client before entering the tunnel. Stronger encryption equals more complex math problems to solve, which slows things down.
For example, the AES 256-bit encryption used by many VPNs reduces speed more than AES 128-bit. According to experts like Tim Keary at ExpressVPN, 256-bit is about 20% slower than 128-bit AES typically.
VPN Protocol Efficiency
VPNs use protocols like OpenVPN, WireGuard, IKEv2 or IPSec to operate the encrypted tunnel. Different protocols have various degrees of speed and efficiency.
For instance, WireGuard can offer 2-4x faster speeds than OpenVPN. However, OpenVPN may be more reliable or compatible with certain devices.
VPN Server Location and Congestion
Physically distant VPN servers cause more latency. And heavily loaded servers with lots of users create bandwidth congestion and slower speeds.
Connecting to a geographically close VPN server minimizes distance lag. Choosing lightly loaded servers reduces congestion and ensures enough capacity for peak speeds.
Local Network Factors
Unrelated aspects like your WiFi signal strength, router configuration, ISP speed tier and device hardware affect the max throughput available for the VPN tunnel.
Upgrading these elements increases your base internet speed, allowing more headroom for the VPN overhead before hitting lag or buffering issues.
Now let‘s get into the good stuff – actionable tips to take back the speed lost to your VPN!
1. Choose the Fastest VPN Provider
The first place to start is choosing a VPN provider optimized for high speeds:
Let‘s analyze the top options in a little more detail:
- Uses the blazing-fast WireGuard protocol by default
- Offers unlimited simultaneous connections
- Received excellent speed test results from VPNmentor and VPNpro
- Great value with affordable pricing
- Provides specialty streaming and P2P servers optimized for speed
- Received the fastest scores in a comprehensive SpeedTest analysis
- Their NordLynx protocol based on WireGuard is incredibly fast
- Has a massive global server network of 3000+ servers
- Widely regarded as one of the fastest VPNs by experts like VPNpro and Cloudwards
- Offers a Speed Test tool to identify the fastest server locations
The fastest free VPNs often have data limits, connection timeouts, crowded servers, slow speeds and less reliability. I‘d recommend sticking with a premium provider.
But choosing the right VPN is just the first step. You also need to properly configure the VPN app for maximum speed…
2. Connect to the Nearest Server Location
One of the most effective ways to speed up a VPN is connecting to a server physically close to your actual location. This minimizes the physical distance your data has travel, reducing latency.
Most quality VPN services allow you to select the server location from within the app:
I suggest running a speed test connected to different locations to empirically find the fastest option:
- Test servers in the same city or region you‘re in
- Also check major cities within the same country
- Avoid distant international servers if possible
The closest servers almost always give the fastest connections for activities like streaming or downloading. Don‘t just rely on the VPN‘s "Auto Connect" to choose the best location.
3. Switch Between VPN Protocols
Another way to boost speeds is changing the VPN protocol used within the app settings:
Here are the best protocols for speed from fastest to slowest:
WireGuard – This relatively new protocol uses state-of-the-art cryptography and compression algorithms to deliver insanely fast speeds. It‘s quickly being adopted by top VPNs.
OpenVPN (UDP) – UDP has faster speeds than TCP, but less reliability. Great for streaming and downloads.
OpenVPN (TCP) – Slower than UDP but more stable and consistent. The default protocol used by many VPNs.
IKEv2/IPSec – Offers a good balance of speed and security. But slower than WireGuard or OpenVPN overall.
L2TP/IPSec – Much slower than the options above. Only use as a last resort for compatibility reasons.
PPTP – Extremely slow and insecure. PPTP should be avoided if at all possible due to vulnerabilities.
My recommendation is to use WireGuard if your VPN supports it, since it provides a massive speed boost. Alternatively, go with OpenVPN UDP for faster streaming and downloads or TCP for more reliability.
4. Use Smaller Keys or Turn Off Encryption
VPNs encrypt all your internet traffic for security, but stronger encryption comes at a cost to speed.
Some advanced VPNs allow you to adjust the encryption strength or even turn it off completely:
Here are the typical encryption options from fastest to most secure:
None – Disables encryption entirely. Maximum speed but zero security.
BF-CBC 128-bit – Faster than AES 128-bit but weaker security.
AES 128-bit – Around 20% faster than AES 256-bit with moderate protection.
AES 256-bit – Slower speed but incredibly secure encryption. The gold standard.
I only recommend lowering the encryption or disabling it for low-risk activities like streaming sports or movies. For sensitive tasks like online banking, use AES 256-bit encryption.
According to Golden Frog‘s speed guide, lowering encryption to 128-bit AES can increase VPN speeds by 20-30% typically!
5. Adjust the MTU Setting
MTU stands for Maximum Transmission Unit. It controls the largest data packet size allowed through your VPN tunnel:
Bigger MTU = larger packets = less overhead = faster throughput.
However, packets that are too large may experience fragmentation issues and connectivity loss. That‘s why MTU needs to be carefully optimized.
The default MTU is usually 1500. For optimal VPN speed, try these tweaks:
Start at the max of 1492 and do speed tests.
If speed is still slow or you get disconnections, decrease by 10 each time.
The ideal MTU for VPN speed is typically 1400-1450. Stop when you find the fastest setting.
According to AtlasVPN‘s guide, increasing the MTU delivered speed boosts of 15-25% for most users in their tests!
6. Enable Data Compression
Data compression shrinks the size of traffic sent through the VPN tunnel. Smaller data equals faster transfers.
Compression adds some CPU overhead on your device. But for newer computers and phones, it provides a nice speed boost.
Protocols like OpenVPN and WireGuard allow enabling compression. Level 1 is a good starting point, then increase if speeds improve:
Compression is especially effective on slower mobile connections. AtlasVPN found it improved VPN speeds on Android and iOS devices by up to 67%!
7. Use Obfuscated Servers
Obfuscation or Stealth servers scramble and disguise your VPN traffic to appear like normal HTTPS web browsing.
This prevents your ISP from identifying and throttling your VPN connection. Obfuscation has some speed overhead, but can help bypass VPN blocking.
VPNmentor‘s guide recommends enabling obfuscation if you notice certain sites or services only working at full speed without the VPN active.
Obfuscated servers are available with VPNs like ExpressVPN, VyprVPN and NordVPN. Give it a try if your ISP may be limiting VPN performance.
8. Enable Split-Tunneling
Split-tunneling is a handy VPN feature that allows routing only specific apps or devices through the VPN tunnel:
Traffic not routed through VPN enjoys your full normal internet speeds.
Prioritize speed-demanding activities like video streaming, gaming and large downloads to go outside the VPN tunnel. Keep privacy essentials like web browsing protected behind the VPN.
Split-tunneling prevents you from having to disconnect your VPN anytime you need faster speed. Leave it always-on for security.
Reviews show the targeted approach of split-tunneling can increase speeds across different use cases by 25-50% or more!
9. Use a Faster Local Network
Upgrading your local network and internet connection provides more headroom and will increase overall VPN performance:
Upgrade Your WiFi
If possible, move closer to your wireless router or access point for a stronger signal. Reduce interference by putting the router in a central location and on a higher shelf. Switch to a faster WiFi band like 5 GHz. Or upgrade your WiFi router to a newer model with better range and speeds.
Connect Devices Via Ethernet
Wired Ethernet connections are faster and more reliable than WiFi. Use Ethernet cables to connect stationary devices like desktop PCs, Fire TVs, and games consoles to your router.
Consider powerline adapters if your home doesn‘t have ethernet cabling in the walls. These transmit network signals over your internal electrical wiring.
Get a Faster Internet Plan
If you‘re still experiencing VPN lag and buffering, contact your ISP about upgrading to a plan with faster download speeds. This leaves plenty of extra bandwidth for the VPN overhead.
Many providers let you monitor current usage and upgrade plans instantly online for just a few extra dollars a month. Faster base internet makes a big difference.
10. Update Your Device Software and Drivers
Keeping your devices‘ software, drivers and firmware up-to-date fixes bugs, improves stability and maximizes performance:
Follow these best practices:
Update your devices‘ operating systems – Always install the latest OS version like Windows, iOS, Android or Fire OS for speed and security fixes.
Update VPN and network adapter drivers – Refreshing your VPN client, WiFi/Ethernet drivers prevents glitches and bottlenecks.
Update router firmware – Check your router vendor‘s website for the newest firmware release. Upgrading gives speed boosts.
Reset network equipment – If updates don‘t help, reset your router and modem to factory defaults as a last resort.
Routine maintenance keeps things running smoothly and prevents obscure software issues from capping your VPN‘s performance.
11. Contact Your VPN Provider
Reach out to your VPN‘s customer support if you‘re still seeing slow speeds after trying these tips.
Provide details like your location, ISP, VPN settings and speed test results. They may have personalized recommendations to optimize your network and configuration.
For example, Surfshark offers a free custom VPN setup service. Their team can apply expert tweaks tailored to your specific environment and usage.
Most top VPNs have knowledgeable 24/7 live chat support and extensive troubleshooting guides on their websites. Leverage these resources before giving up.
Let‘s Recap the 11 Best VPN Speed Tips:
Choose a fast premium VPN service – Avoid free or unknown brands.
Connect to the nearest server – Minimizes physical distance lag.
Switch protocols – Use WireGuard or OpenVPN UDP/TCP.
Lower encryption – But only for low-risk activities.
Increase MTU size – 1500 default, try 1400-1450 optimized.
Enable compression – Shrinks data but adds CPU overhead.
Use obfuscated servers – Disguises VPN traffic but reduces base speed.
Configure split-tunneling – Bypass VPN selectively per app.
Upgrade local network – Better WiFi, Ethernet, internet plan.
Update device software – Fixes bugs that slow down performance.
Contact VPN support – They can provide personalized optimization assistance.
With the right VPN service and optimized settings, you can definitely regain the speed lost from connecting through a virtual private network.
Don‘t hesitate to reach out if you have any other questions! Happy and safe surfing.