Best VPN for Windows – CNET
If you’re a Windows user, a solid, well-tested virtual private network should be an essential part of your security arsenal. And the good news is that if you’re looking for the best VPN for a Windows device, you have a lot of options. Windows’ dominance as a desktop OS and its comparatively customizable operating environment give you access to a wide range of compatible VPN services. Nearly every major VPN provider offers an app on both desktop and mobile environments for Microsoft. While MacOS users need to factor in Apple-specific requirements, finding the best VPN for Windows — and getting the widest range of protocol options to work with your device — is a lot easier.
To find the fastest and most secure VPNs for Windows 10 and Windows 11, we tested a range of services across both Windows and MacOS platforms. All the recommendations on our main list of the best VPN providers are compatible with all currently maintained Windows versions, and CNET has tested them for use in the latest available operating system. (That means they’ll work seamlessly on Windows 11, which is available for download now on your laptop or desktop.) All of them also offer a stand-alone VPN client that will work without a hitch on your desktop. Our CNET team has specifically tackled some core factors in our testing, including security strength, browsing and streaming speeds, ease of remote access and value for the money.
Here you’ll find our top picks for the best VPN for Windows, ranked for their performance across all categories. Once you choose the right VPN service for you, be sure to read our guide on how to set up a VPN on Windows 10.
- Latest tests: No leaks detected, 2% speed loss in spring 2022 tests
- Network: 3,000-plus servers in 160 locations across 94 countries
- Jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
- Price: 5 simultaneous connections for $13 per month, $60 for six months or $100 for a year (current discount: 3 months free). 2-year subscriptions available.
Despite battling major upheavals through the end of 2021, ExpressVPN clenched our Editor’s Choice Award for best VPN in 2022. One of the two largest providers globally, the VPN titan has been in business since 2009 and once again aggressively raised the industry bar for service transparency this year.
In the past year, ExpressVPN increased its independent third-party audit count, published details about its TrustedServer deployment process, joined the i2Coalition to call for improved VPN industry ethics, and released an open source Lightway encryption protocol.
After a set-back in 2020, ExpressVPN is again currently in first place as the fastest VPN we’ve tested. While most VPNs will cause you to lose half or more of your normal internet speeds, ExpressVPN caused us to lose just 2% of speeds in our 2022 speed tests. It also unblocks Netflix and other streaming services more reliably than most other VPNs, and seamlessly surpasses geo-blocking for access to international gaming servers and torrenting sites.
All of our top-rated VPN’s have wide compatibility across platforms and operating systems, but ExpressVPN’s collection of setup guides, detailed FAQs and troubleshooting articles give it a clear advantage for users. So does its 24/7 customer support, and its no-questions-asked, 30-day money back guarantee.
While you can get a better month-to-dollar bargain with ExpressVPN’s two-year subscription, we don’t recommend anyone purchase any two-year VPN subscriptions at this time due to overall market volatility. ExpressVPN’s best plan offers five simultaneous connections for $100 a year (which includes three extra months, for a limited-time deal totalling 15 months of service). You can also opt for a $13 per-month plan, or pay $60 for six months.
Read our ExpressVPN review.
- Latest tests: Zero data leaks and 19% internet speed loss in fall 2022 tests
- Network: 3,200-plus in 99 countries
- Jurisdiction: Netherlands
- Price: Unlimited connections for $48 for the first year (then $60 annually) or $13 per month. 2-year subscriptions available.
Surfshark boasts an impressive suite of privacy and security features, unlimited simultaneous connections, easy-to-use interface and expansive global network. And it’s still significantly cheaper than most of its competitors. That’s what helped Surfshark earn CNET’s Editors’ Choice for Best Value VPN in 2022.
Along with standard VPN features such as a kill switch and DNS leak protection, some of the more notable Surfshark features include camouflage mode (which hides the fact you’re using a VPN), split-tunneling, NoBorders mode (which lets you use Surfshark in regions where VPNs are restricted) and multihop VPN connections. You’ll also get access to Surfshark’s CleanWeb technology, which blocks ads and malware and helps you avoid phishing attacks.
One innovation we’re excited to see Surfshark roll out over the next year is its Nexus network, which connects the VPN’s entire network of servers together and allows you to choose multiple servers to route your connection through. The functionality is somewhat similar to Tor, but Surfshark says it’s faster. With its Dynamic MultiHop, IP Randomizer and IP Rotator functions, the Nexus network can give you a few extra layers of protection while you use the VPN — which can be particularly beneficial to users with critical privacy needs.
Surfshark says it doesn’t log any user activity. And although no-logging claims are virtually impossible to prove with 100% certainty, German cybersecurity firm Cure53 declared Surfshark’s security to be “solid” in its 2021 security audit of the VPN. Surfshark says a new audit is forthcoming by the end of this year.
Surfshark rates consistently as one of the fastest VPNs available. Which is why we were surprised that one of the only issues we had with Surfshark came in our speed test. While it still ranks as one of the fastest VPNs we’ve tested — with an internet speed loss of just 19% — we were disappointed with the inconsistent speed results we got to certain locations. Speeds to Europe and Singapore were erratic (dipping as low as 9Mbps to Singapore), while speeds to New York were slower than speeds to the UK and even Australia. Surfhark is in the process of significantly expanding its server network, now offering more than 3,200 servers in 99 countries. The continued expansion of its server network could potentially help bring some more consistency to the VPN’s speeds.
In our tests, Surfshark had no problems unblocking Netflix and Amazon Prime Video content, but we did run into a fair bit of trouble accessing Disney Plus. After testing various servers in the US and other countries where Disney Plus is available, we were finally able to access the content when we connected to a server in Boston. You may need to test a few servers yourself before gaining access to Disney Plus content with Surfshark.
Surfshark offers cheaper introductory prices that jump after the first billing cycle. Even so, Surfshark manages to keep its prices lower than most other VPNs — helping it earn CNET’s Editors’ Choice for Best Value. The yearly plan starts out at $48 for the first year, then jumps to $60 for any additional years of service. If you opt for the two-year plan, you’ll pay $60 up front for the initial two years combined, then $60 per year for any additional years. Surfshark’s monthly plan stays constant at $13 a month. If you’re not satisfied with the service for any reason, Surfshark offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our Surfshark VPN review.
- Latest tests: No leaks detected, 13% speed loss in summer 2022 tests
- Network: 5,600-plus servers in 84 locations across 59 countries
- Jurisdiction: Panama
- Price: 6 simultaneous connections for $12 per month or $60 for a year (current discount: 3 months free). 2-year subscriptions available.
NordVPN is one of the most recognized brands in the VPN field. It offers a generous simultaneous connection count, with six simultaneous connections through its network, where nearly all other providers offer five or fewer. NordVPN also offers a dedicated IP option for those looking for a different level of VPN connection, and the ability to VPN into Tor. More than half of Nord’s 5,000-plus server fleet is optimized for peer-to-peer sharing, though Nord has blocked torrenting in 14 countries.
In our latest test rounds we noticed a few hiccups in Nord’s killswitch when using its iOS app, which could be a concern for torrenters. However, Nord has a sideloaded iOS available on its website that it recommends to users. In our most recent speed tests, NordVPN’s performance recovered from middling speed scores of 2021 and zoomed back into the ranks of the fastest VPNs we’ve tested, causing us to lose just 13% of base internet speeds.
NordVPN doesn’t accept PayPal payments, but you can purchase a subscription with any major credit or debit card, AmazonPay, Google Pay or ACH transfer. If you’d rather pay anonymously, you can pay with a variety of cryptocurrencies including bitcoin, ethereum, tether and dogecoin. NordVPN has also partnered with a handful of retail stores like Staples, Best Buy and Walmart — where you can even purchase your VPN with cash.
Read more: NordVPN Review 2022: Feature-Rich and Speedy, but Privacy and Transparency Issues Need Attention
Read our NordVPN review.
Windows VPN FAQs
What’s the best VPN for Windows?
ExpressVPN is CNET’s current top pick for the best Windows VPN. The industry veteran has an impressive network of servers worldwide and provides a solid balance of speed, security and unblocking power.
Can you get a free VPN for Windows?
We don’t recommend free VPNs for a couple of reasons. First, free VPNs need to make money somehow — which most of the time involves selling your data to third parties. Some have even been found to be infected with malware. Besides being risky to use, free VPNs also generally lack the features and performance you’d want from your VPN service. You’ll typically have to contend with slow speeds, data caps, weak security, limited server locations and erratic unblocking capabilities with free VPNs. The best way to try a VPN for free is to take advantage of free trials and money-back guarantees offered by premium VPN providers. If you’re on a budget, you can also check out CNET’s list of the best cheap VPN services.
What’s the most secure VPN for Windows?
ExpressVPN, Surfshark and NordVPN all offer excellent security for Windows users. Each one offers the same AES 256-bit encryption, operates a RAM-only server infrastructure and has been independently audited. Along with crucial security features like a kill switch and DNS leak protection, each of the three VPNs offers additional features that can help enhance your online security and privacy. Surfshark’s CleanWeb feature will help you automatically block malware and phishing attempts. NordVPN offers Tor over VPN, double VPN and dark web monitoring features. In addition to ensuring data is never stored on its servers, ExpressVPN says its TrustedServer technology helps improve security and minimizes vulnerabilities and misconfiguration by loading the most up-to-date software every time a server starts up.
Can you get in trouble for using a VPN?
You typically won’t have to worry about getting into any sort of legal trouble for using a VPN in most parts of the world. However, you could potentially get in legal trouble for using a VPN if you’re in a country like China, Iran or any other country where VPNs are banned or outlawed. If you’re traveling, check the local laws regarding VPN use in the country you’re traveling to. Even if the country you’re in or traveling to does have restrictions on VPNs, you can hide your VPN use by connecting to an obfuscated server. Doing so disguises your VPN traffic as regular HTTPS traffic.
What does my ISP see when I’m connected to my VPN?
When you connect to a VPN, your ISP will be able to see that you’re connected to a VPN, but it won’t be able to see what websites you visit or your browsing history. Your ISP will see timestamps of when you connected to the VPN, the IP address of the VPN server you’re connected to and the amount of data you’re transmitting. But since the actual traffic is encrypted, your ISP will only be able to see that traffic as a random string of gibberish. If you don’t want your ISP to know you’re using a VPN, you’ll need to connect to an obfuscated server, if offered by your VPN provider.
For more, check out our picks for the best cheap VPN and the fastest VPN. And here’s why we recommend avoiding a free VPN and using a paid VPN whenever possible.