ExpressVPN

5 Best VPNs for laptops

Although the burgeoning tablet market has eaten into the popularity of more traditional laptops, the clam-shelled desktop-replacements remain wildly popular. Unless your work needs serious processing grunt (for example if you work in high-end graphic design), or you are hard-core gamer who absolutely needs to play the latest AAA games with all the settings maxed out, you do not need a bulky desktop PC.

A laptop is portable, easily tidied away, and can do most things a desktop computer can do, and with a physical keyboard and powerful processors, they make excellent productivity and work machines (something content-consumption oriented tablets struggle with).

As fully fledged computers it is important to protect your privacy while surfing the internet on a laptop. In fact, due to their portable nature, and the fact that people commonly use their laptops to connect to the internet using WiFi hotspots when away from home, VPN is more important than ever when using laptop.

At the end of this article we will look at how reasons for using VPN, plus other considerations, should shape your choice of VPN provider, but first we’ll pick our favourite providers for use with laptops.


Summary

Rank Provider Starting Price Grade Link

1

logo $6.95/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

2

logo $9.00/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

3

logo $7.00/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

4

logo $6.99/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

5

logo $4.99/mo Read Review > Visit Site >
Winner

PIA

  • PROS
  • Accepts Bitcoin
  • No logs
  • Fast
  • Up to 256-bit AES OpenVPN encryption
  • Client features port forwarding
  • VPN kill switch and DNS leak protection
  • P2P: yes
  • 3 simultaneous connections
  • CONS
  • No free trial
  • US based company

PIA is a US based company, which in our view means it must be a prime target for NSA interference (which bugs us). However, the fact remains that it is also the most polished, privacy oriented (NSA excepted) VPN service out there.  PIA keeps no logs, uses shared IPs (making individual identification of users with net activity very hard), and accepts anonymous payment via Bitcoins. It also features an excellent Windows and OSX client with DNS leak protection, IPv6 leak protection, port forwarding and an internet kill switch. The Android app is excellent, up to 5 devices can connect at once, encryption can be set to some of the strongest settings available from any provider (up to 256-bit AES OpenVPN, SHA-256 hash authentication and 4096-bit RSA handshake), and it is fast and cheap.

» Visit PIA


2nd place

AirVPN

  • PROS
  • Accepts Bitcoin
  • No logs
  • 256-bit AES encryption
  • Dynamic port forwarding
  • Real-time user and server statistics
  • Support for Tor over VPN and VPN through SSL and SSH tunnels
  • Good speeds
  • 3 day free trial
  • P2P: yes
  • CONS
  • 0 simultaneous connections by default (but more can be purchased)

If NSA interference worries you. then Italian VPN outfit AirVPN is a fantastic choice. Founded by net neutrality activists and hactivists (a fact which shines though in its attention to privacy and security related detail), AirVPN keeps no logs (the DRD does not apply to VPNs in Italy), uses strong 256-bit AES encryption, uses shared IPs, accepts Bitcoins, and offers ‘net transparency’ using detailed real-time server statistics. It also supports unusual technologies such as VPN over Tor, and VPN through SSH and SSL tunnels, which make determining that you are even using VPN very difficult. Although only one simultaneous connection is allowed by default, more can be added for $2 a month.

» Visit AirVPN


3rd place

Mullvad

  • PROS
  • Accepts Bitcoin
  • No logs
  • Good speeds
  • Cheap
  • Client features internet kill switch and DNS leak protection
  • P2P: yes
  • Servers in Sweden and Netherlands
  • 3 simultaneous connections
  • CONS
  • Avoid servers in Germany
  • Encryption could be better

The fact that, in addition to accepting payment in Bitcoins, this small Swedish provider will accept cash sent by post puts it on a very good foot with us, as does its great Windows, OSX and Linux client featuring DNS leak protection, an internet kill switch, port forwarding, and server load information. Mullvad is not perfect – the 128-bit Blowfish encryption is a bit weak by today’s standards, and it has many servers in Germany, which should be avoided (Germany has awful privacy and copyright laws), but keeping no logs and using shared IPs, it gets so many things right that we love it.

» Visit Mullvad


4th place

IronSocket

  • PROS
  • No usage logs
  • 256-bit AES OpenVPN encryption
  • Fast
  • Servers in 36 countries
  • Shared IPs
  • Accepts Bitcoins
  • Based in Hong Kong
  • 7 day money back guarantee
  • Up to 3 simultaneous connections(more can be bought and proxy use is unlimited)
  • P2P: yes
  • CONS
  • Keeps a lot of session logs(typically not kept for more than 72 hours)

Ironsocket is a great choice for laptop users in the Far East, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, as it uses shared IP’s, accepts anonymous payment via Bitcoins, uses 256-bit AES encryption, has servers just about everywhere, and allows 3 simultaneous connections (although BolehVPN is also a good choice, and may be better for users in China as it runs special GFW-busting cloaked servers). It does keep too many connection logs (although no usage logs), but being under Hong Kong (Edward Snowden’s first choice of refuge) jurisdiction offsets this somewhat.

» Visit IronSocket


5th place

CactusVPN

  • PROS
  • No usage logs
  • 256-bit AES OpenVPN and SSTP encryption
  • Blazing fast
  • AutoProxy
  • Neat client with Application Killer
  • P2P: yes
  • Based in Moldova
  • CONS
  • Does not accept Bitcoins
  • Restrictive policy on multiple connections (better than none though!)

One thing we are pretty sure about this Moldova based company is that it’s not compromised by the NSA, and the fact there is very little oversight of internet companies in Moldova is generally a very good point in CactusVPN’s favour in general, in our opinion. It keeps no usage logs (although some connection logs are kept for 3 days), uses strong 256-bit AES encryption, allows P2P downloading, is very quick, and is also very cheap. The Windows and OSX software is very smart, and it is one of the few services we know of to feature a per-application kill switch (for in the event of disconnecting from a VPN server). One of our readers expressed concern over CactusVPN’s long term reliability, but with that caveat, CactusVPN is great.

» Visit CactusVPN

*Regarding logs, please see our policy on how we define usage logs, connection logs etc.


Considerations when choosing VPN for laptops

WiFi hotspots

The factors discussed below apply equally well to all VPN users, but because laptops are portable, the issue of WiFi hotspots is particularly relevant to their users. Public WiFi hotspots are a breeding ground for criminal hackers, so it is unsurprising that most travellers fear using them. Fortunately, using VPN encrypts your entire WiFi connection between your laptop and a VPN server, and so is an easy completely effective way to secure your data when connected to a WiFi hotspot. The other good news is that it doesn’t really matter which VPN service you chose in this regard, as this protection is a side-effect of how VPN works.

Watching geo-restricted content

Our survey showed that accessing online country-restricted content, such as watching TV shows on Hulu or listening to your favourite music via Spotify, is one of the main reasons people use VPN, and laptops are great for this because not only can you watch your favourite TV shows snuggled up in bed, but most modern laptops sport an HDMI output port, so you can connect them to a big screen TV for maximum viewing pleasure.  The US and UK are the most popular countries to access geo-restricted content from, and most VPN providers have servers in these, but if you want to stream online content from other places then make sure the provider has servers there.

Evading Censorship

At the time of writing this article the Twitter ban in Turkey is big news, but all over the world governments try to restrict what we can see on the internet. The Great Firewall of China is a very obvious and unsubtle example of this, but even in so-called ‘free’ counties censorship exists. In Europe (and especially the UK) for example, ever more draconian measures are being taken to block access to torrent sites, and while the UK’s ‘porn filter’ is technically voluntary, it is being introduced as ‘on by default’ and blocks much more that ‘porn’.

VPN is great way to evade such censorship, as it hides your IP address (typically locating it in country without censorship issues), and also hides what you get up to online from your ISP. Again, pretty near any VPN service is good for this, although users in places with sophisticated blocks in place (such as China or Iran) may want to look for providers that run special ‘stealth or ‘cloaked’ servers.

Evading Surveillance

Thanks to all the news about the NSA’s mass snooping on just about everyone’s every phone call, text message, email, web sites visited etc., public awareness of being spied on, not just by government spying organisations, but by the tech companies whose products we use every day (remember that if you are not paying for a product then you must be the product) is at an all-time high.

Using a VPN greatly improves your privacy online, although if you are serious about this issue then you should always choose a provider which keeps no logs of its users’ activities, uses shared IPs (where many individuals use the same IP address, making identifying them very hard), and accepts anonymous payment in Bitcoins.

Strong encryption is also important, and we have revised our old advice that 128-bit encryption is enough, and now recommend using 256-bit encryption (although 128-bit encryption actually has a stronger key schedule). If possible, always use OpenVPN, and never use PPTP unless you have no choice. We hope that the OpenVPN protocol will be expanded to incude the use of Twofish or Threefish (or other strong non-NIST) encryption, but until then AES is generally considered the strongest available.

One further consideration is the legal jurisdiction a VPN provider falls under. Gone are the days when simply using an overseas provider gave you any protection (although we still think it can’t hurt), but the laws a provider operates under affect whether it can keep logs, and whether it can be compelled to compromise its service (for example by National security letters in the US). In most EU countries VPNs have to abide by the Data Retention Directive and keep logs, but this is not always the case.

Simultaneous devices

So you own a laptop. You also likely own a smart phone, and very possibly a tablet and desktop PC as well, and that’s not to mention devices owned by other members of your household! Ideally you would be able to use your VPN service with all your (and your family’s) devices, and some providers are very generous on this front, allowing you to connect at the same time with multiple devices. As a benchmark, 5 is the maximum number of simultaneous connections we’ve seen allowed by a provider.

Performance

One of the big advantages of VPN over privacy alternatives such as Tor is that it is very fast by comparison. It does slow down your internet connection a bit, but this is typically by less than 10 percent, and is often negligible. Our reviews all include the results of our speedtest trials, so be sure to check them out.

BitTorrent

Although P2P downloading using BitTorrent is a popular reason for many to use VPN (without VPN, BitTorrent users are easy to trace) , a surprising number of VPN providers do not permit it, and will threaten (and ultimately carry out the threat) to disconnect  offending users (or even worse, hand their details over to copyright lawyers!) If you want to download using P2P always make sure that P2P is permitted. Some providers only allow downloading from certain servers (usually located in P2P friendly countries such as the Netherlands, Switzerland or Romania), which we think is fair enough, but you should be aware of any such policy.

Summary

Rank Provider Starting Price Grade Link

1

logo $6.95/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

2

logo $9.00/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

3

logo $7.00/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

4

logo $6.99/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

5

logo $4.99/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

Douglas Crawford I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. Find me on Google+

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