NordVPN vs PIA in 2021: Which should you choose?

Last updated: September 28, 2021

There are so many different VPNs on the market that it can be tough to pick between them. NordVPN and PIA are two of the most popular, and for good reason. They both excel at what they do, but how do you decide between them?

Deciding which is better for your needs is challenging. Their respective websites are full of jargon that can make it hard to figure out what they actually do differently.

In this article, we’ll break down the pros and cons of each VPN service without the jargon so that you can make an informed decision.

Privacy: Do NordVPN and PIA have no-logs policies?

Many people look into VPNs as a way to increase their privacy online. With the news of corporations like Facebook tracking your every move without your consent, it’s understandable. Nothing feels worse than feeling as though you’re being watched.

In fact, 92% of people have at least one concern related to online privacy. This is why VPNs have exploded in popularity over the past couple of years.

Most VPNs have what are called no-log policies, including NordVPN and PIA. At its most simple, this means that these services don’t record any information pertaining to your online activity. For example, your IP address and traffic data won’t be stored on any server, so they can’t be shared.

But let’s take a look at how NordVPN and PIA VPN’s policies stack up.

NordVP

NordVPN is one of the most secure VPNs on the market. It’s a zero-logs VPN that doesn’t record your IP address or traffic data. However, it goes one step further and doesn’t record timestamps or bandwidth usage — something other VPNs do record.

NordVPN keeps no logs of your activity

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As soon as you connect to NordVPN, your data becomes encrypted. What this means is that the moment you hit connect, cybercriminals and nosy governments are prevented from accessing your data.

PIA

PIA, or Private Internet Access VPN, also has a strict no-logging policy. It takes the same precautions as Nord VPN, recording no information regarding your ISP address, browsing history, timestamps, or any similar information.

Logging policy for PIA

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Nobody will be able to monitor the websites you visit, as it should be.

PIA also takes things one step further with its anonymous purchasing route. This added step ensures your billing information is not recorded on any server.

PIA also gives users the option to pay using cryptocurrency or gift cards, so you never have to put your credit card information in.

Security: Do NordVPN and PIA keep your connection secure?

Both NordVPN and PIA offer multiple encryption protocols. For everyday use, the default protocol is generally what you’ll want, but let’s take a look at the different protocols each offers to secure the VPN tunnel.

vpn tunneling diagram

OpenVPN is a protocol that is offered by both services. It is an industry-standard open-source protocol that is hailed globally for stellar security. NordVPN uses AES-256 by default for encryption, while PIA defaults to AES-128.

AES-256 (Advanced Encryption Standard, 256-bit) encryption is often marketed as “military-grade encryption” because it’s literally the encryption standard used by many government agencies, including the United States military. The number in these encryptions refers to the length of the secret key created for each connection. So, if your priority is security, you’ll want AES-256.

Cybercriminals will not be able to get through this encryption. Even with the most advanced supercomputers on the planet, it would take millions of years to bypass.

NordVPN also has IKEv2/IPSec, as well as its proprietary NordLynx protocol. It uses the IPSec VPN protocol as the default for iOS and macOS. NordLynx is the fastest of the three protocols and is the default option for the rest of NordVPN’s apps.

DNS leak protection

When you use a VPN, all of your online traffic is supposed to be routed through the VPNs DNS server. Your DNS queries should go through the encrypted VPN tunnel, and everything stays secure.

But when there’s a DNS leak, your queries travel through the default servers provided by your Internet provider. That means third-party snoops could intercept this data.

You pay for a VPN to keep your session secure, so this is a crucial flaw.

Thankfully, both NordVPN and PIA passed our tests by successfully combating DNS leaks. For our test, we connected to a French VPN server using NordVPN.

As expected, our IP address was masked, and it appeared as if we were in France.

But if that’s not enough, NordVPN also supports Double VPN, meaning your connection is routed through two servers rather than just one. This provides double the protection.

NordVPN DNS leak test results

Private Internet Access gave us similar results, successfully keeping our IP address secure.

Streaming: Can I bypass geoblocks with NordVPN and PIA?

One of the main reasons most people get a VPN is to access geo-restricted content. VPN usage shot to a high of 27.1% in 2020, while many of us were stuck at home with nothing to do but stream content.

Whether you’re traveling abroad and are missing your home country’s streaming services or you just want to access another country’s Netflix catalog, a VPN is the tool for you.

Streaming services like Netflix have different libraries depending on where you’re accessing it from. Other streaming services like BBC iPlayer and HBO Max are only available to users in their supported countries.

Unfortunately, not every VPN is made equally. Streaming services actively work to block VPNs from bypassing their geoblocks. Do NordVPN and PIA pass the test?

Do NordVPN and PIA unblock streaming services like Netflix and BBC iPlayer?

In our tests, NordVPN successfully unblocked Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and HBO Max.

NordVPN’s SmartPlay feature is designed to unblock just about any streaming service you could ever need. It uses its VPN and Smart DNS technology to spoof your location while keeping you secure. It’s also built directly into the app, so there’s no fussing around. Simply connect and enjoy.

BBC iPlayer only available to play in the UK

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PIA, on the other hand, wasn’t as effective as NordVPN at unblocking geo-restricted content. While we were able to unblock Netflix in Canada and the U.S., it struggled to unblock European content like BBC iPlayer.

PIA has thousands of servers, so you may be able to unblock anything if you have the patience to go through a large number of them.

Nord takes care of everything automatically, so it gets our vote.

Speed test: Which is faster, NordVPN or PIA?

Many people want to know which VPN is faster. Does NordVPN come out on top, or is PIA superior?

NordVPN speeds

NordVPN is known as a premium VPN service for a reason. It has over 5,000 servers and each that we tested performed better than expected.

It’s normal for VPNs to slow your connection down a bit. When we tested our connection without a VPN, we saw 64.4 Mbps in download speeds and 25 Mbps in upload speeds. With Nord connected to a U.S. server, we saw 48.5 Mbps down and 17.7 Mbps up.

When connecting to servers in Asia, we noticed that it took a while to connect. But once it did, the connection was strong.

NordVPN speed test results

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PIA speeds

When testing PIA with the same base connection, we experienced speeds that were pretty impressive but not as strong as NordVPN.

We tested PIA using both Windows and Mac. For Windows, we averaged around 25 Mbps down and 50 Mbps up. When we used Mac, speeds were a bit slower than that.

Connections: How many simultaneous connections do I get with NordVPN and PIA?

One thing many people care a lot about is how many simultaneous connections they get. If you have a large family, this could be very important.

NordVPN simultaneous connections

With NordVPN, you can connect up to six devices at the same time. If you want to connect to the same server, you’ll need to use different protocols. But there are so many servers that this should never be a problem.

PIA simultaneous connections

PIA comes out on top in this category, allowing up to 10 simultaneous device connections under one subscription. Large households will appreciate this.

Features: Comparing NordVPN and PIA’s features

We’ve discussed privacy, security, and speed — now let’s look at features. Does NordVPN or PIA VPN offer the most? Let’s take a look.

NordVPN vs PIA features graphic

In the feature table below, you’ll see how they compare in some of the most important fields.

Features PIA NordVPN
Speed Test Results (Download) 25/50 Mbps 48/64 Mbps
Encryption Type 128-bit AES 256-bit AES
Allows Torrenting
Customer Support 24/7 live chat support 24/7 live chat support
No Log Policy (Private Surfing)
Kill Switch
Split Tunneling ✓ (Android and Windows)
Unblock Netflix X (Unreliable, sometimes works)
Unblock Amazon Prime
Unblock Hulu X
Unblock BBC iPlayer X (Unreliable, sometimes works)
Android App
iOS App
Lowest monthly cost $2.69 per month (With a two-year plan) $4.13 per month (With a two-year plan)
Money-back guarantee 30 days 30 days
Overall Rating 9.5 9.3

As you can see, NordVPN and PIA have similar overall ratings.

If you’re looking to unblock geo-restricted content, NordVPN is the better choice. It reliably unblocked every streaming service we tested, thanks to its SmartPlay feature.

Both support split tunneling and have automatic kill switches. However, it should be noted that the budget-minded might find PIA more appealing.

Plans and pricing: Which is more affordable?

Now that we know how the two stack up in terms of features, what about pricing? Which is more affordable? Let’s take a look.

NordVPN pricing

NordVPN seems to always have some sort of deal going on pushing you toward a long-term subscription. There are no hidden fees, and every subscription term comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Its two-year plan is $4.13 per month, with its one-year plan coming in at $4.92 per month. However, keep in mind that your rate will go up when your subscription renews under these yearly plans.

NordVPN annual plans

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PIA VPN pricing

When it comes to pricing, PIA is the clear winner. Its two-year plan is $2.69 per month, and its one-year plan costs $3.33 per month. Like NordVPN, the plans renew at a higher rate, but it’s still the cheaper option.

PIA annual plans

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Neither VPN has a free option. We don’t consider this a downside, as free VPNs tend to be less secure and very slow. However, both have 30-day money-back guarantees, letting you try them risk-free.

Customer support: Which is more helpful?

Customer support is an often overlooked aspect of any service. You hope never to need it, but you want support from a real human who can help when you do.

NordVPN offers some top-notch customer service in the form of 24/7 live chat. The agents are responsive and connect to the chat quickly. They were able to help explain some VPN features to us and help with getting set up.

There’s also the option to email them. Plus, they have a very helpful knowledge base where you can find answers to most issues you’ll encounter.

PIA’s customer service is also decent, with 24/7 live chat support. However, it’s slower to connect, and the agents take their time responding.

But there’s also a helpful support section with FAQs, installation guides, and walkthroughs that you need to solve problems on your own.

NordVPN customer support page

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Alternatives to NordVPN and PIA

While NordVPN and PIA are both excellent options, there are a few other VPN providers worth mentioning. These are all VPNs with features that may suit you better, and we recommend you check them out.

ExpressVPN is our top choice for many good reasons. It’s widely known as the fastest and most secure VPN provider in the world. It has impressive features, reliably unblocks streaming services, and doesn’t reduce your connection speeds as much as other VPNs.

What’s really impressive is its wide range of native apps. Aside from the standard Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS support, ExpressVPN also has native apps for Amazon Kindle, Roku, Chromecast, and more.

ExpressVPN homepage

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SurfShark and CyberGhost are two other widely-used VPN providers.

SurfShark is a great VPN provider as it offers unlimited simultaneous device connections. If you’re a super-user or have a large household, you won’t need multiple VPN subscriptions. Plus, it’s very affordable, with a two-year subscription only costing $2.49 per month.

CyberGhost is also worth mentioning. It has over 6,000 servers worldwide and offers an industry-leading 45-day money-back guarantee. If you were looking for a VPN that natively supports gaming consoles, this is the one for you.

Choosing between NordVPN and PIA

We’ve given you a lot of information about both NordVPN and PIA. Now you’ve got to make a decision.

When we look at privacy and security, NordVPN comes out on top. Its no-logs policy is similar to PIA, but it’s the more secure VPN. It offers more security protocols to choose from, and a more secure default configuration, which is important as many users never change these settings.

NordVPN also impressed us with its streaming and speed test results. It had consistently higher speeds on every server we tested, and it never failed to unblock streaming services. That could be thanks to its SmartPlay technology.

Both VPNs are feature-packed, but again, NordVPN has some bonuses that could make it a better choice. It offers Double VPN and the abovementioned SmartPlay, to name a few.

But PIA is a VPN provider that performs well enough for most general users and comes at a lower price. If you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of speed and aren’t too concerned about unblocking streaming services outside of North America, it is an excellent choice.

With that said, NordVPN is well worth its premium price. It’s faster, more secure, comes packed with advanced features, and can unblock everything.

For more on these and other quality VPN services, be sure to check out our VPN reviews page.

Published on: September 27, 2021