'ZDNET Recommends': What exactly does it mean?
ZDNET's recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.
When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNET nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.
ZDNET's editorial team writes on behalf of you, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form.
When choosing a VPN, you've got a lot of choices to make. In our best VPNs guide and speed test guide, we've narrowed down the list from the 50+ branded commercial options out there to our top 10. But once you narrow the list down even more, how do you choose? In this article we've compared our top two choices: NordVPN and Surfshark.
Before we get into it, let's discuss the Nord/Surfshark merger. In early February 2022, Nord Security and Surfshark announced they were merging, making Nord Security the owner of both companies. According to SurfShark's 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. The merger was not unexpected given the upward trend of VPN mergers. Plus, these VPN powerhouses would be foolish not to consolidate infrastructures, teams, and technologies -- and these players are anything but foolish.
But for now, you're here choosing between the two separate VPN options, and our overview content below remains relevant.
Now, let's dive in.
Both VPNs offer similar support and almost identical services. The key differences, as we'll discuss, revolve around price and extended feature set.
Email address and billing info
$59.76 for 24 months ($2.49/month)
$89 for two years ($3.30/mo)
30-day refund guarantee
30-day refund guarantee
iOS, Android, MacOS, Windows, Linux
iOS, Android, MacOS, Windows, Linux
Additional support for
FireTV, Smart TVs (Apple TV, Android TV, Roku, Chromecast), Router, Xbox, PlayStation
Router, FireStick, Xbox, PlayStation, Oculus Quest, Kindle Fire, Nintendo Switch, Raspberry Pi, Chromebook, Chromecast, Android TV
Surfshark is less expensive than NordVPN. Prices do change regularly, but at the time of writing, Surfshark is about $30 less over two years, or about a buck less a month. There are some performance differences for this price savings, though. Read on to our discussion of why you might want to buy NordVPN if that's important to you.
NordVPN allows you to connect six devices at once to its VPN service. Surfshark sets no limits at all. If you're traveling with just a few devices, that won't matter much. But if you're at home or in the office, the device count can add up.
Now, I'll admit I'm a bit of an outlier, but I switch between four main computers, a few spare machines, three iPads, my phone, and a bunch of console games and smart TVs. With unlimited simultaneous connections, I just wouldn't have to worry how many machines were going out to the internet. Surfshark just lets you do what you need to do.
Surfshark has a $1.49/mo upsell (because of course it does) called Surfshark One. This adds what the company calls an "ad-free lightweight search engine" that doesn't keep any search records. Also in Surfshark One is an antivirus engine and breach alerts, but both of those are also available from NordVPN.
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.
To help us determine whether a VPN has a consistent ranking, or simply if different reviewers got distinctly different numbers, we compared the standard deviation of the 10 other sites.
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.
Surfshark starts off less expensive, but if you want malware protection and adware blocking, you have to upgrade to the Surfshark One program. But those features are included in the basic NordVPN plan. So, while you're saving a buck a month on Surfshark, you're paying a buck fifty a month more for those added features. For the full set, NordVPN is actually less expensive.
But wait, there's more...to buy. Because, of course, NordVPN also has upsells. You can spend another buck a month and get Nord's password manager and breach-alert tracker. And if you add yet another buck a month, you can get a terabyte of encrypted cloud storage.
NordVPN offers full business plans with team management, admin consoles, and everything you'd need to deploy a VPN for a full company or department. If you don't want all the business and team management features of an enterprise VPN, but you just want a fixed IP to run a server or for remote access, that's available for an additional $4.19/month. Just be aware that it's not available at all locations, so check the available locations before signing up.
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.
Yes, in most countries. Some countries (and you should read my guide for more in-depth info) have made VPN use illegal. And even in countries where it's legal, it's likely to be illegal to use a VPN to spoof a streaming service into giving you content that otherwise wouldn't be accessible.
Logging is the recording of data about your usage, and it occurs everywhere. Every website, at minimum, records an IP address, time, and data accessed so they can track traffic.
All VPN providers have to check credentials against recorded personal data to make sure you paid, but a few let you sign up with Bitcoin, allowing you to completely hide your identity.
When we say a VPN doesn't log data, we mean they don't track what sites you visit and for how long, but they may track how much of their own infrastructure you use.
I'll give you a personal example. When I travel, I often take my laptop and my tablet. I use the laptop to write, and I use the tablet as a second screen to look stuff up. I have two connections I'm using at once and I want my VPN to protect both. If my wife is also doing the same thing, that's four connections. Add our phones, and you have six connections. If we're using all those devices at once, that's simultaneous connections. The more, the better.
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.