PrivateInternetAccess Review 2015: How good is PIA?

Private Internet Access Review 2015
  • Price
  • Reliability
  • Speed
  • Policy
  • Support

Summary

PrivateInternetAccess are a cheap and reliable US based VPN provider. They stand out as a good service with an incredibly low price.

Pros

  •  Customisable encryption settings.
  • Cheap yearly price.
  •  Live help available 24/7.

Cons

  •  Swiss server a little slow.
  •  Support ticket response times long.
4.1

I first took a look at Private Internet Access back in November 2013 and found a very good service overall.

As a few months shy of two years has passed since I last put them through their paces I thought I’d check in again to see what’s new since my previous review and also to see how their service stacks up against the competition in the ever fast moving world of VPN providers. Read on for my 2015 PrivateInternetAccess review.

The Packages:

PrivateInternetAccess follow the same model as the majority of VPN providers these days and offer a standard package that contains all the features with the price only differing dependent on the time period you sign up for.

At a monthly and 6 monthly cost their prices are comparable to other providers at the lower end of the price scale but where they really offer competition is when you take a yearly package bringing the monthly cost down to just US$3.33.

Their package prices are as follows :-

  • 1-Month costs US$6.95
  • 6-Months costs US$35.95
  • 12-Months costs US$39.95

The pricing is such that it is geared up to encourage you to sign up for a yearly package and at just $3.33 per month it is certainly enticing.

The only thing to consider when taking a yearly package at any VPN provider is you’re locked into one provider for 12 months so even though the service may be good now you’re relying on it staying good for the foreseeable future.

Having had no major issues previously it seems like a worthwhile gamble so taking a yearly package should be high on your consideration list especially due to how low it makes the monthly payments.

The Service:

Private Internet Access is a service open to users of all abilities and provides access to the standard range of VPN protocols available at the majority of providers that includes PPTP, L2TP/IPSec, and OpenVPN.

Although there are no additional protocols such as SSTP the price range of the service makes this a fair trade off. There are plenty of more expensive providers that only offer the same range.

Custom Software & Apps

Private Internet Access works with a range of devices and as long as there is a built-in manual set up for any of the available protocols then you shouldn’t have an issue. Their site has extensive set-up guides for the range of protocols over a large device range. Those who wish to use OpenVPN directly can also find a full set of configuration files on site.

If you prefer to get connected in the easiest manner than Private Internet Access do supply custom software for both Windows PC and Mac systems as well as apps for Android and iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad.

As part of my review process I made use of both their Windows and Android solutions.

The Windows software hasn’t really changed all that much since I tested it back in 2013 but it does what it needs to in a quick and easy manner and with a wealth of options the interface is fully packed with features.

PIA Windows

PIA Windows Software

The Windows software works with most Windows editions and has no problem with the recently released Windows 10. Although it is feature rich in areas such as encryption and connection options it only allows access via OpenVPN so if you have a need for PPTP or L2TP then you’re out of luck and you’ll have to set these up manually.

The usual settings such as launch on boot and connect automatically are available but where the software really stands out is the ability to alter the encryption used. This includes None, Blowfish, AES-128 and AES-256 coupled with the option to select the authentication from None, SHA1 and SHA256 and handshaking including RSA-2048, RSA-3072, RSA-4096, ECC-256k1, ECC-256r1 and ECC-521.

Private Internet Access has a nice guide detailing the different types of encryption and the software even advises when the options you’ve selected may “decrease your safety”.

The customisation of encryption types is unique and certainly a bonus feature of the Private Internet Access software and service.

The Android app is rather basic and the GUI uninspiring but it does the job and also contains the advanced features such as encryption setting similar to that of the Windows version that I have never seen before on another providers app so definitely worth a look if you want to stay secure and have customisation while mobile.

PrivateInternetAccess Android

PrivateInternetAccess Android App

Server Locations

When I last reviewed Private Internet Access back in 2013 they had a limited amount of server locations. For the price, it was always going to be a trade-off, if you’re paying peanuts then you can’t expect the expanse of more expensive providers.

For the following year very little changed at PIA but in the last 12 months they have ramped up their server location expansion and now offer servers in 20 countries up from the 10 they had back in 2013. While a 100% increase in locations is great it is even more so considering most of these have popped up only recently, at least within the last 12 months or so.

The additional servers are now in Australia, Ireland, Italy, Russia, Turkey, Singapore, Japan, Israel, Brazil & Mexico. The expansion is a massive boost to the service and now makes it accessible to users travelling or living in most regions around the world.

General Observations

Private Internet Access offer a 7-day money back guarantee so if the service doesn’t meet your expectations then you can, in theory, get your money back.

Their service allows for 5 simultaneous connections allowing you or your family to use the service on a range of devices. Although a few other providers are moving to allow more devices this allowance from PIA is still at the higher end of the scale allowing you to safeguard the privacy of not only your desktops but other mobile devices such as your laptop, tablet, and phone.

Private Internet Access are a US based VPN provider and while having no impact on accessing geo-restricted content, protecting your privacy or many other VPN related activities those who class themselves at high risk of monitoring by government states and who purposely choose to avoid VPN providers located in the US may want to consider this fact.

I used PIA for a range of tasks from everyday browsing to streaming content in HD from services such as BBC iPlayer and suffered no slowdown or buffering. Overall the service appeared reliable and speeds kept high enough to be unobtrusive.

The Speeds:

Strangely enough when you think of a cheap VPN provider you often think of one that will lack in the speed department. As the need to use a VPN more permanently has grown, speed is critical, especially if you’re planning pushing most of your internet use through a VPN service as I do on a regular basis.

If you’re like me you want the privacy of a VPN service to be running but have it exist as a ghost in the back of your system being unobtrusive and not causing slowdowns that get in your way. Private Internet Access has actually been one of the faster VPN providers I’ve used which is surprising when you consider their price.

In our regular monthly UK VPN server speed tests, they are appearing consistently at the top of the table and in July 2015 were the fastest VPN provider out of the 10 that we tested at the time.

Not bad for a service that costs less than the price of a coffee in western countries.

As part of our standard test procedure a random selection of servers was tested from my location in the United Kingdom. A 10GB test file was downloaded with a Download Manager opening as many concurrent connections as the service would allow. All testing was carried out on a Windows 10 system using the PIA custom software set to 256 bit encryption.

My connection speed without VPN at the time of testing was 163.26 mbps.

PIA 2015 Speeds

The servers tested in order were UK, Amsterdam, Switzerland, Sweden, Romania, East Coast USA.

  • UK – 113.92 mbps
  • Netherlands – 116.81 mbps
  • Switzerland – 45.20 mbps
  • Sweden – 74.53 mbps
  • Romania – 105.64 mbps
  • East Coast USA – 72.68 mbps

The Encryption & Policies:

Private Internet Access is somewhat different to all providers on the market in that for OpenVPN they allow a range of encryption types from actual data encryption to authentication.

This is a massive bonus for users because for those with an interest in the actual workings of the service it puts you, the user, in control. Their custom software comes pre-configured so if you’re new to the VPN world their default settings are automatically set to their recommended level.

The following modes are available via Private Internet Access’s custom software and apps.

Data Encryption

  • AES-128-CBC
  • AES-256-CBC
  • BF-128
  • None

Data Authentication

  • SHA1
  • SHA256
  • None

Handshake Encryption

  • RSA-2048
  • RSA-3072
  • RSA-4096
  • ECC-256k1
  • ECC-256r1
  • ECC-521

This highly customisable encryption is unique to Private Internet Access and will benefit those who like to take control. One trade-off for this feature is PIA comes bundled with an older version of the OpenVPN client namely 2.2.2. After clarifying with PIA, this is due to custom features being included however the offset of this will mean that any recent patches won’t be included in the OpenVPN client.

The Support:

Private Internet Access offers support in the way of a live help option that includes Sales, Billing and Tech Support. This is the fastest way to get answers resolved to specific questions and is available 24 hours per day which is great to answer those late night issues that may have to wait until morning with other providers.

If you don’t wish to use the live help then you can contact them directly via support ticket although judging on their expected response times which is 1 day, 2 hours and 46 minutes at the time of writing it may just be quicker to go directly to live help. Live help had an expected wait time of 10 minutes and 41 seconds and when testing earlier I waited around 5 minutes.

PIA Support 2015

With fast live help, support tickets are mostly redundant.

PIA provide a public forum which is answered by support staff although obviously any personal details or private questions should be kept off such forums. While the forum can help in certain circumstances the topics and chat can get a little NSFW and off-topic so if you’re easily offended then you may wish to give them a miss.

The Verdict:

Private Internet Access while similarly priced on a monthly basis is one of the cheapest VPN providers available when taking a yearly package. For the incredibly low price of just US$39.95 you get a full 12 months access which is unbelievably good value.

I first reviewed PIA towards the end of 2013 and found them to offer a very good quality service. In the near two years that have passed since I first reviewed them they have come on leaps and bounds mainly due to their 100% expansion in server locations bringing the total to 20 countries.

If I had any criticism of the service the first time I reviewed them it would of been the limited capacity of server locations for travellers or those who lived outside the available countries range, the expansion that has been carried out at PIA server-location-wise has greatly increased that reach and definitely made the service much more attractive.

Even though PIA have made great headway with expansion the price has stayed the same leading to even more good value for money.

Private Internet Access offer custom software for most major systems and the desktop software is highly customisable allowing both the beginner to get easily connect but also allowing the expert to tinker around with the encryption levels used. This feature alone is excellent and one I haven’t seen with another provider to date. While the Android software isn’t all that inspiring aesthetically it does the job and will enable newcomers to protect their privacy while mobile.

Notable features include a 7 day money back guarantee and the fact that PIA allow you to use the service across 5 devices. Although some other providers are now allowing you to use the service on 5 or more devices it is still rather uncommon for such a high allowance and so is a bonus of the service.

There really aren’t many faults to the service. Some users may be concerned that Private Internet Access is a US based company and so if you’re overly concerned about the location of your VPN provider then this may be the only consideration. For most everyday users who want to protect their privacy or access geo-restricted content then this isn’t likely to be an issue.

Overall Private Internet Access provide a great service at a price when taking a yearly package that is one of the lowest in the industry. The low price does encourage you to take a full 12 month package which as with any provider my only consideration would be if the service continues to keep to the same standard with you being locked into it. However in both my 2013 test of PIA and this recent review I found no real cause for concern.

Definitely a VPN provider I would recommend you should consider if their server locations and available features suit your needs.