IPVanish sells itself short. This VPN service offers a lot more capability than it promotes on its home page. If you visit the IPVanish website, you'll see all the usual stuff that you'd expect from a VPN provider. There's the claim that it's "the world's best VPN;" information about the advantages of secure browsing; a list of testimonials from media outlets and customers; pricing and a list of apps. In other words, the same stuff you're going to see when you visit the websites of most other VPN providers.
What IPVanish doesn't tell you is that it's rich with options and information. While its app certainly makes it easy to just click-and-go, if you want to make an informed server choice, choose protocols, protections, and options, IPVanish gives you that capability.
The thing is, you only discover this wealth of options and browsing controls once you've created an account and downloaded and installed the app. For users new to VPNs, it makes sense to hide the power behind a bunch of tabs. But IPVanish might attract more informed users (and influencers who recommend software to others) by providing a tab on its website about the options and power it provides to users who dig a little deeper.
IPVanish at a glance
- IP Addresses: 40,000
- Servers: 1,100
- Countries: 60+
- Simultaneous connections: 10
- Kill switch: yes
- Logging: no
- Price: $11.00/month, or $77.99/year
- Best deal: $77.99 for one full year
- Trial: 7-day refund guarantee
- Supported platforms: iOS, Android, MacOS, Windows, Linux, routers, Amazon Fire devices, any Android-based media device
- See latest IPVanish plans and deals
Server selection options
I like how IPVanish provides the opportunity for VPN geeks to dig deeper into its connection settings. At the basic level, there's a Quick Connect option that allows you to just push a Connect button and be up and running.
But if you want to explore more deeply, you can hit the Server List tab. I like the Map tab the best, because it shows both the cities where servers are located and the number of servers in each city.
The list view allows you to search for a location, and then sort by a variety of criteria.
Filter combines both country specification and required latency. I chose <50ms in the image below. Interestingly enough, I got the same list whether or not I was connected to a VPN server at the time.
There's another promising feature in IPVanish that's almost great. IPVanish offers a server status page (actually 48 pages), which allows you to look at each server, see how much of the server's resources are in use, and whether performance is in the green.
Unfortunately (and this is why we almost really like it, rather than just really like it), you can't search the list. If you want to find out the status of the two New Delhi servers, you have to hit page numbers randomly until you find the right servers.
IPVanish also gives you a number of connection options. You can choose between OpenVPN UDP, OpenVPN TCP, IKEv2, L2TP, and PPTP as the active protocol you want to use when connecting. Here's a hint: don't ever choose PPTP. Even as far back as 2004, we were warning that PPTP was susceptible to attack.
Beyond protocol choice, you can enable leak protection -- sort of (we'll talk about that below). You can also enable a kill switch should your connection to the VPN server be broken. This comes with an important option to block the traffic on your local network, which might otherwise leak out from the suddenly open connection.
If you're using OpenVPN, you can choose the port you want to use. For those worried about whether or not your use of a VPN can be detected, you can -- sort of (again, more on that below) -- hide your OpenVPN traffic, so it doesn't look like it's coming from a VPN. Finally, you can install or repair an OpenVPN driver if you so need to do so.
The other settings tabs allow you to choose whether IPVanish starts when Windows starts, as well as set whether you want to automatically connect to the last server you were connected to, or a server in a specific country.
I installed the IPVanish app on a fresh, fully-updated Windows 10 install. To do this kind of testing, I always use a fresh install so some other company's VPN leftovers aren't clogging up the system and possibly influencing results. I have a 1 gig fiber feed, so my baseline network speed is quite fast.
To provide a fair US performance comparison, rather than comparing to my local fiber broadband provider, I use speedtest.net and picked a Comcast server in Chicago to test download speed. Weirdly enough, while I was able to establish a speedtest.net connection to the Comcast server when connected through my ISP, I was unable to do so using IPVanish. The results below show connections to a Dallas server operated by CCleaner instead.
For the purpose of testing, I used the Quick Connect option and, for each country tested, chose the Best City and Best Server options in order to use the most optimal VPN connection.
Beyond the US, I tested connections to Sweden, Australia, and India. For each test, I connected to each server three times. The number shown below is the average result of all three connections. I wanted to connect to servers in Russia and Taiwan, as I've done in other tests, but IPVanish doesn't operate servers in those countries.
While I was connected, I also ran DNS and WebRTC leak tests (to make sure that DNS and IP are secure) using DNSLeak.com, ipleak.net, and dnsleaktest.com. These tests are basic security tests and not much more. If you're planning on using IPVanish (or any VPN service) to hide your identity for life and death reasons, be sure to do far more extensive testing.
And with that caveat, here are the results:
Speed Test Server
Baseline download speed without VPN (higher is better)
Ping speed without VPN (lower is better)
Time to connect to VPN
Download speed with VPN (higher is better)
Ping speed with VPN (lower is better)
Dallas - CCleaner
Stockholm, Sweden - Datacom
Moscow, Russia - Rostelecom
Taipei, Taiwan - NCIC Telecom
Perth, Australia - Telstra
Hyderabad, India - Excitel
Right off the bat, there were two things I noticed. First, VPN connection speed was crazy fast. Many VPN services take nearly half a minute to connect. When connecting to a US-based server, I barely had time to start recording the time before the connection was complete.
Second, all connections semi-failed the leak tests. All the servers I tested did report possible DNS leakage using DNSLeak.com.
While they didn't reveal my home DNS server, they did reveal that I was using an IPVanish host. That means that organizations that want to block VPN traffic can easily do so. Far worse is the implication that if you're trying to hide the fact that you're using a VPN from government authorities, IPVanish doesn't do so. This could be catastrophic, for example, if you use the service from the UAE, which sentences jail time and excessive fines for VPN usage.
In looking at these numbers, it's possible to get carried away by the difference in the baseline speed compared to the VPN speed. That's not the best measurement, because these tests were done using broadband over fiber, so my connection speed is extremely high.
When you use a VPN service, it's natural for performance to drop. After all, you're running all your packets through an entirely artificial infrastructure designed to hide your path. The real numbers you should look at are the download speed and the ping speed. Are they high enough to do the work you need to do?
Ping speed is an indication of how quickly a response gets back after a network request is sent from your computer. Some of the limitations here are due to actual physics. If you're sending a packet across the planet, it will take longer to hear back than if you're sending a packet across town.
For the countries I tested, with the exception of India, IPVanish download performance was quite good. Since you don't really need more than about 6-8 Mbps to stream HD video from sites like YouTube, the IPVanish connections were certainly fast enough.
India's an interesting case. In some other VPN tests I've done, performance through a VPN was essentially unusable. With IPVanish, I got nearly 6 Mbps, which is tolerable, but certainly not great, especially considering how fast my native connection was to the Indian test server.
IPVanish also operates only two servers in India. At the time of testing, they were both only barely utilized.
My experience of the performance tests won't reflect your needs. You have to try it yourself. First, make sure the country you want to connect to is made available by IPVanish. It has 60 countries represented now. Second, with only a 7-day money-back guarantee, don't dawdle. Connect using IPVanish as soon as you sign up and test it out fully to be sure it will meet your needs before the short refund period runs out.
Privacy and security features
Without external auditing by an independent and trusted verification entity, it's impossible to tell whether or not any VPN company is truly hiding your tracks from government authorities. That said, the company told us, "We have internal and external counsel that we use to verify our privacy policies match our privacy practices."
Due to the gag laws inherent in many national security regulations across the world, even with external auditing, it might not be possible to ascertain whether a VPN provider is truly hiding your information from governments. Is this a problem? That depends on your reasons for using a VPN.
If you're using a VPN to protect your Wi-Fi traffic while surfing in a coffee shop, most VPN providers will meet your needs. They're encrypting and tunneling your traffic from your computer, through the open Wi-Fi network, and out to a server somewhere on the internet. Some reviewers say that because IPVanish is a US-based company, and therefore subject to US law, it has limited security. The fact is, in serious cases, it doesn't really matter what country a VPN provider calls its headquarters. Governments will always have the resources to defeat a small private company's practices.
If you're using a VPN to hide in any way from nation state scrutiny, no VPN is immune from aggressive government intervention. That's why we were cautious about the leakage discussion above. But some VPN services do hide the fact that their users are using a VPN better than IPVanish. If you just want to make sure none of your local coffee shop patrons can find out where you live, VPNs can help. But if you're hiding from a major spy agency, well, you're taking your life into your own hands.
As we discussed above, IPVanish offers a variety of encryption protocols, a kill switch feature, and the ability to shut down network traffic on connection failure. These are all great. IPVanish also says, "We don't host any data or files, and don't keep connection or activity logs of our customers. This makes it rather easy for us to respond to DMCA takedown requests."
The bottom line
IPVanish is an interesting offering. On one hand, it's ideal for the consumer who just wants to be safe while surfing, but less than ideal for the dissident who wants to pass information to activists while not being caught by a government.
On the other hand, IPVanish offers deep configuration options, so if you're looking for certain types of encryption, want to specify active features, or get involved in the specific server you're routing through, you can. We also like how the company allows you to have 10 simultaneous connections, which means you can have a whole bunch of devices route through the service without having to interrupt connections.
In terms of price, the product is neither the most or the least expensive of the products we've already looked at. Speaking subjectively and personally, I found the application a pleasure to use. What I didn't like was the short 7-day money-back guarantee period. While it's certainly possible to get a basic feel for the product in a few days, 30 days allows for someone who's actively traveling to take a few trips and test the product from different locations.
We're impressed with how the company is approaching its infrastructure. They told us, "We own and operate our own network, including the servers, racks, cables, and even some point to point fiber connections. We put our gear in some of the best data centers throughout the world, to ensure first class speed and redundancy."
It's a nice product with lots of options and a great user experience. If you need services in every country or you're some kind of spy, this might not be for you. But if you want to protect your network communication for everyday use, IPVanish is a winner.
Disclosure: ZDNet may earn a commission on services featured on this page. Neither the author nor ZDNet were compensated by IPVanish for this independent, unbiased review.
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