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NordVPN vs. Surfshark: How to choose your VPN

We subject VPN providers NordVPN and Surfshark to the unyielding eye of our intrepid review team. If you're trying to decide between these two popular services, we have some suggestions.
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Written by David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer on

When choosing a VPN, you've got a lot of choices. In our best of guide and speed test guide, we've narrowed down the list from the 50+ branded commercial options out there to about 10. But once you narrow the list down even more, how do you choose? In this article, we've taken two of our top choices -- NordVPN and Surfshark -- and compared them.

About the Nord/Surfshark merger

In early February 2022, Nord Security and Surfshark announced they were merging. According to their merger blog post, the companies say they will continue to operate as separate companies, with separate VPN infrastructures. We have no doubt this is true... for now. Merging large infrastructures takes time, and neither player wants to cede performance or position to their competitors due to a botched operational merger.

That said, we don't expect this to be the case in the long term. They'd be foolish not to consolidate infrastructures, teams, and technologies -- and these are not foolish players.

But for now, you're still choosing between the various players, and our overview content below remains relevant.

And with that, let's dive in.

Surfshark

Less expensive option

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  • Servers: 3200 
  • Countries: 65
  • Simultaneous connections: unlimited
  • Kill switch: yes
  • Logging: no
  • Best Price: $59.76 for 24 months ($2.49 per month)
  • Trial: 30-day refund guarantee
  • Supported platforms: iOS, Android, MacOS, Windows, Linux, FireTV

NordVPN

Consistently fast performance

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  • Servers: 5242
  • Countries: 60
  • Simultaneous connections: 6
  • Kill switch: yes
  • Logging: Email address and billing information only
  • Price: $11.95 per month
  • Best Price: $89 for two years ($3.30/mo)
  • Trial: 30-day refund guarantee
  • Supported platforms: iOS, Android, MacOS, Windows, Linux, game consoles, smart TVs, mor

Pricing

Surfshark wins

VPN providers are always tinkering with their pricing, so these numbers are bound to change. That said, Surfshark is less expensive. Surfshark's best deal is what it touts as a $2.49 a month plan (you'll really be paying $59.76 now for two years of service). Nord is asking for $3.71 (or a wallet hit of $89 on signup for two years of service).

Surfshark definitively wins this round by allowing you to run an unlimited number of devices with its Surfshark VPN service, while Nord permits a relatively generous six simultaneous connections which is far less than the unlimited device amount.

Both offer a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Speed

NordVPN wins

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Image: ZDNet/David Gewirtz

In our fastest VPN guide, we took a look at both our own in-house tests and how the Internet overall rated open VPNs. We compared VPN rankings in speed tests from 10 sites besides ZDNet. Of potentially more interest, we compared the standard deviation of those rankings, which helps us determine whether a given VPN has a consistent ranking all across the internet, or different reviewers got wildly different numbers.

As the above slide shows, NordVPN not only had a better aggregate average ranking but a considerably lower standard deviation. This means that pretty much wherever you are, your NordVPN performance should be pretty good. By contrast, how Surfshark will perform is likely to be considerably less predictable.

Platform clients

Tie between NordVPN and Surfshark

Both NordVPN and Surfshark support the big four: iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows. Surfshark also supports Linux, FireTV, Apple TV/iphone, and what it calls "other TVs." It supports Xbox and Playstation as well as browsers Chrome and Firefox.

NordVPN lists Android TV, Linux, and Chrome and Firefox extensions on its download page, but has a support page for installing NordVPN on other platforms, including routers, Raspberry Pi, and NAS boxes including Synology, Western Digital My Cloud, and QNAP.

The fact is, both products support a reasonably wide range of devices. If you're a NAS user, you probably want NordVPN. If you're a console gamer, you probably want Surfshark. As we always recommend, do your research before buying.

Security profile

Tie between NordVPN and Surfshark

Let's get this out of the way upfront: If you're counting on a VPN for your physical freedom or to protect your life, you must do a lot more research than just reading an article like this. With that said, let's look at the overall profile for these two vendors and their Wi-Fi.

NordVPN has gotten a lot of mileage out of its Panamanian corporate registration, claiming that Panama puts its records out of the legal reach of governments and lawyers. I discussed in great depth in my analysis of NordSec that it's possible that countries with Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLAT) may well be able to pierce the corporate veil.

Although I didn't do as deep an in-depth Surfshark VPN review for security, the company has the same claims and limits as Nord. Surfshark lists its registry in the British Virgin Islands but is a company with developers based in many MLAT countries as well. It boasts a private DNS service among its advanced features so you can be protected even while using public Wi-Fi whether you're in Australia, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, the USA, or anywhere in between. Surfshark also says it passed the German company Cure53's security audit and offers uncrackable AES-256 bit encryption alongside its strict no-logs policy, but the German audit was limited to Surfshark's browser extensions.

Both vendors tout a no-logs policy. Both vendors say they don't capture VPN connection time stamps, used bandwidth, traffic logs, IP addresses, or browsing data. Both offer warrant canaries. Both capture email addresses and billing information. NordVPN does capture your billing address and country. Both NordVPN and Surfshark accept cryptocurrencies. This makes it safer to use apps such as Paypal and use your credit card without having fear of security breaches.

Special features

Tie between NordVPN and Surfshark

Both vendors offer a kill switch, which we consider table stakes in terms of VPN special features. Surfshark offers a multi-hop connection, which is similar to NordVPN's feature causing your IP address to change twice before reaching the destination vpn server. Both support P2P, allowing you to torrent your favorite Linux distros (and possibly other digital sharing activities of dubious legality, which we categorically do not recommend).

NordVPN has a few interesting features not provided by Surfshark. NordVPN also provides Onion Over VPN, which allows you to use both the Onion anonymizer and Nord's VPN together. NordVPN also allows you to buy a dedicated IP address, which can help if you're dealing with anonymous servers or gaming connections. NordVPN also offers business plans.

Both providers offer malware and adware filtering, although Surfshark's AdBlock VPN feature appears to be somewhat more comprehensive. Surfshark also offers what it calls Camouflage Mode, which the company says can prevent your local ISP from knowing you're surfing using a VPN. While NordVPN has a blog post on whitelisting, they don't appear to have whitelisting as an actual client feature. By contrast, Suftshark uses its split-tunneling feature as a whitelister.

Both vendors come to the game with most of the features you'd expect. Nord has a few more business-focused features while Surfshark has some features that may afford a limited degree of additional personal privacy -- but this would need in-depth testing to truly validate. As such, we're calling a tie for special features.

Decision tree

So how do you decide? Here are a few options that may make that decision easier.

  • The fastest VPN: NordVPN, Hotspot Shield, and ExpressVPN compared: We don't just test VPN provider performance in this in-depth analysis. We go out onto the internet, gather performance data from all across the web, and let you know which provider is the best overall.

  • If price is your top concern, Surfshark will save you about $30 over two years.

  • If predictably fast download performance is key, then NordVPN is more consistently fast in overall performance.

  • If you need a VPN for a NAS appliance, then NordVPN is your choice.

  • If you want a VPN for your Xbox or PlayStation instead of a mobile device or mobile apps, choose Surfshark.

  • If you want a dedicated IP address or more business-oriented features, choose NordVPN.

There you go. Surfshark vs. NordVPN. It's not a super cut-and-dry answer. One isn't wildly better than the other. But the decision tree above should help you pick the winner given your own needs. How do these choices fit your needs? 

For more about Surfshark VPN, see our video overview:


You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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