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ExpressVPN Vs. Private Internet Access: Face-off

Marc DahanExpressVPN Vs. Private Internet Access: Face-off

Are you concerned with your digital privacy

If so, you’re probably already using a VPN. And if you’re not, you’re probably looking to subscribe to one. But how do you know which VPN provider is right for you? 

There are a lot of “big name” VPNs now, and you’ve probably seen them all over the Internet. But how do they compare to one another? 

In this post, we put two well-known VPN providers in a face-off to see if one of them comes out on top.

ExpressVPN vs Private Internet Access

[vpn vpn_1="ExpressVPN" vpn_2="PIA"]

Can't choose between ExpressVPN or PIA?

A These are both well-known VPN providers with good reputations in the VPN space. So they’ll both have the basics covered. 

This means they both offer industry-standard encryption. They both adhere to a strict no-logging policy. They both provide native applications for all major operating systems and supply a VPN Kill Switch in their apps. 

ExpressVPN distinguishes itself by its use of diskless infrastructure. This means that everything runs in volatile memory (RAM). And this greatly reduces the potential attack surface. 

Whereas PIA proved their commitment to their no-logging policy, by not sharing customer data with law enforcement - even when subpoenaed. Spoiler: they had no data to share to begin with. 

I'm expecting a tie between these two providers, as they both tick many of the same boxes (good boxes). So two strong contenders here. Let’s go through their respective offerings to see if we can’t set them apart.


1. Speed

Speed is important – with or without a VPN

However, when shopping for a commercial VPN, you want to find one that won’t bog down the bandwidth you’re paying for. 

A VPN will inevitably cause some slowdown, due to the encryption’s overhead. But it shouldn’t be dramatic, especially if connecting to a server that is geographically close to your actual location. 

Let’s see how ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access compare on speed

ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN Speed Tests

Tested on a 60Mbps (Download) and 30Mbps (Upload) network

Server: U.S.A., New York

Average Download Speed: 60.76Mbps

Average Upload Speed: 26.91Mbps

Private Internet Access

PIA Speed Tests

Tested on a 100Mbps (Download) and 30Mbps (Upload) network

Server: U.S.A., New York

Average Download Speed: 94.35Mbps

Average Upload Speed: 25.05Mbps

Now, these tests were performed on two different networks. But what we’re looking for is the difference between the ISP speed and the VPN speed. 

And on that metric, they both perform extremely well. 

And while we see a small speed dip in Private Internet Access’ download speed, it’s pretty negligible. In terms of upload speed, they both perform equally well.

Winner: Tie

I find this one to be too close to call. Both speed tests demonstrate extremely solid performance, speed-wise, for both providers.


2. User-Friendliness

Native client apps are a very convenient way of connecting to your VPN provider’s network. 

They are particularly useful to new users, who probably wouldn’t have the technical knowledge to manually set up a client connection. 

And native apps have the benefit of protecting greener VPN users from misconfiguration errors.

Of course, both ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access supply official client apps to their customers.

ExpressVPN App
ExpressVPN's native macOS client app.
PIA App
Private Internet Access' native macOS client app.

They also both provide Chrome and Firefox browser extensions – and PIA also provides an Opera browser extension. 

They both provide unlimited bandwidth

ExpressVPN allows up to 5 simultaneous connections, while PIA allows for 10 simultaneous connections. 

Are an Opera browser extension and more simultaneous connections enough to put Private Internet Access on top?

Winner: ExpressVPN

The answer is no. While 10 simultaneous connections are better than 5, I don’t feel it’s enough to give them the edge (and an Opera browser extension won’t do much to change that). 

I find that PIA’s app is not very clearly laid-out. And that makes it more difficult to navigate. 

ExpressVPN’s app, on the other hand, is straightforward, clearly laid-out and it’s easy to find what you’re looking for. We’re giving the point to ExpressVPN here. 

But this doesn’t mean that PIA isn’t user-friendly, by any measure. They’re just losing points for the design of their app.


3. Streaming

With geo-restrictions on digital content and with certain streaming services banning VPNs (yes, we’re looking at you, Netflix…) streaming support has become a major feature for VPN providers. 

And that tendency will only become stronger with more and more people turning to streaming services to consume video content.

This will be an easy one. While both ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access are streaming-friendly, only ExpressVPN is able to bypass the Netflix VPN ban. PIA does not.

With ExpressVPN it was as simple as connecting to a VPN server in the location I wanted, logging in to Netflix, and clicking Play. No special instructions, no special servers.

Easy as pie.

Winner: ExpressVPN

I doubt there’s any controversy here. ExpressVPN take the point for streaming.


4. Security and Encryption

The supported ciphers are a big deal to VPN users – and with reason. The ciphers used to provide encryption determine the security of the encryption. 

A VPN provider who takes privacy and security seriously should only support strong ciphers.

AES-256 is the industry-standard. 

Both ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access support AES-256.

Both ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access support the robust IKEv2 and OpenVPN protocols. 

PIA also supports WireGuard, a new, highly secure VPN protocol, which is slated to become the next gold standard in VPN tech. However, for now, it’s still considered somewhat experimental. Use with caution. 

Another positive for Private Internet Access on encryption is that their native app enables you to select your cipher from a limited list and select your encryption level. 

This can be useful in situations in which you still want to use a VPN, but where speed is more important than high security.

But both providers also support the weak and obsolete L2TP/IPSec and PPTP protocols.

To their credit, these weaker options are either labeled as insecure inside the app or hidden and require manual configuration.

We’re happy to see that there are hoops to jump through, with both providers, in order to use weaker protocols. This is an indirect security measure.

OK, so who wins here?

Winner: Private Internet Access

We’re giving this one to PIA. Their support for WireGuard and the flexibility they provide over encryption put PIA on top in this category.


5. Logs and Privacy

Both ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access commit to a strong no-loggingpolicy. But how well do they communicate this in their privacy policies?

Here’s an excerpt of ExpressVPN’s privacy policy:

"ExpressVPN is committed to protecting your privacy. We want you to understand what information we collect, what we don’t collect, and how we collect, use, and store information. We do not collect logs of your activity, including no logging of browsing history, traffic destination, data content, or DNS queries. We also never store connection logs, meaning no logs of your IP address, your outgoing VPN IP address, connection timestamp, or session duration.” 

And here’s an excerpt from Private Internet Access’ privacy policy:

"USES OF PERSONAL INFORMATION COLLECTED BY US E-mail address is used to send subscription information, payment confirmations, customer correspondence, and Private Internet Access promotional offers only, Payment data is used to manage client signups, payments, and cancellations, Google analytics data is used to improve our website and delivery of our content, Compliance with valid legal process, Contact submissions and e-mails will be used for correspondence, and Temporary cookies are used to handle control panel logins. The data controller does not collect or log any traffic or use of its Virtual Private Network ("VPN") or Proxy." 

So that last sentence that mentions the “data controller” is all we get. 

The rest of the privacy policy is written in Legalese and very much feels like the boilerplate privacy policies you find on just about every website out there.

ExpressVPN’s privacy policy, on the other hand, is very clear, reads easily, and goes into more detail where necessary.

Winner: ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN take the point here. Their privacy policy is more focused on what matters while being transparent and detailed when needed.


6. Pricing

Let’s now take a look at pricing

Below, you’ll find the different packages, prices and accepted payment methods for ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access:

ExpressVPN

Visit ExpressVPN (save 35%)

Subscriptions

  • 12.95 USD for one month of service
  • 59.95 USD for six months of service (works out to 9.99 USD per month)
  • 99.95 USD for one year of service (works out to 8.32 USD per month)

Payment Methods

  • Credit Card
  • PayPal
  • Bitcoin
  • Interac
  • UnionPay
  • Alipay
  • WebMoney
  • giropay
  • iDEAL
  • Klarna
  • And more (which aren’t listed)

Private Internet Access

Visit Private Internet Access (save 73%)

Subscriptions

  • 9.95 USD for one month of service
  • 35.95 USD for six months of service (works out to 5.99 USD per month)
  • 39.95 USD for one year of service (works out to 2.85 USD per month)

Payment Methods

  • Credit Card
  • PayPal
  • Amazon Pay
  • CryptoCurrencies
  • Zcash
  • BEAM
  • bitpay
  • mint
  • Interac

And both providers offer a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Winner: Private Internet Access

PIA is much less expensive than ExpressVPN, on any term. I also feel that PIA’s payment options make more sense and will probably be more useful to most users. 

PIA also support multiple cryptocurrencies, whereas ExpressVPN only accepts Bitcoin. 

PIA is the winner on pricing & payment.


7. Torrenting

Neither ExpressVPN or Private Internet Access make a big splash about torrenting in their marketing materials. 

But I tested them both and can safely say that they both support torrenting without issues. On both services, I was getting fast download speeds, no disconnects, no problems.

Nothing to distinguish them here. 

Whether on ExpressVPN or on Private Internet Access, just connect and torrent. No special servers to connect to. Nothing to check. It’s as simple as that.

Winner: Tie

There’s just nothing to differentiate them on the torrenting front.


8. Other Features

There are also other areas in which these two providers differ:

  • PIA provides an ads & trackers blocker
  • PIA supports different ciphers/encryption levels
  • PIA has proven they commit to their no-logging policy
  • ExpressVPN support split tunneling
  • ExpressVPN operate diskless servers

Outstanding Features

ExpressVPN

  • Split Tunnelling: Split tunneling is a feature that enables policy-based routing. Policy-based routing enables you to route certain traffic through the VPN while routing other traffic outside the VPN. This is useful to enable local LAN access while connected to the VPN network. Or to access certain services that block VPNs while torrenting over VPN. It’s very flexible and can be configured to fit your situation.
  • Diskless Infrastructure: ExpressVPN rent their infrastructure just like NordVPN does. However, they run all of their infrastructure from volatile memory (RAM), booted from read-only disks. This is huge security-wise. It’s a hardened configuration that can be rebooted in the event a vulnerability is introduced. And, once rebooted, the server is back to factory spec. No more vulnerability. We hope more VPN providers go down this road moving forward.

Private Internet Access

  • MACE: When using Private Internet Access, you can enable a feature called MACE. MACE is an ads & tracker blocker. When enabled MACE references your DNS requests against a blacklist. If your DNS request is to a host on the blacklist, that connection is blocked. This results in ad-free Web browsing and also adds a layer of security, as ads and trackers are a major source of malware.
  • Proven Privacy Record: I told you I would tell you about this… So, in 2016, the FBI handed Private Internet Access a subpoena requesting identifying information on a PIA user, who was a suspect in a case the FBI was investigating. Private Internet Access responded to the subpoena by stating that they had nothing to hand over because of they do not log customer data. And so, despite being based in the U.S., PIA shared nothing with the FBI. You can read more about this case here.

Winner: Private Internet Access

As much as I love diskless infrastructure (I really love diskless infrastructure…), I’m still going to give the point to PIA. 

The failed FBI subpoena holds more weight than any feature a VPN provider could put forth. 

Just remember that diskless infrastructure is VERY cool.


Conclusion: ExpressVPN vs Private Internet Access

We had eight categories:

One point is awarded to the winner in each category. In the event of a tie, both providers get a point.

So the breakdown is as follows:

  • Speed – (Tie)
  • User-friendliness – (ExpressVPN)
  • Streaming – (ExpressVPN)
  • Security & Encryption – (PIA)
  • Logs and Privacy –  (ExpressVPN)
  • Pricing – (PIA)
  • Torrenting – (Tie)
  • Features – (PIA)

So that’s 5 points for ExpressVPN and 5 points for Private Internet Access. It’s a tie

And I think that tie reflects reality. These are both high-quality VPN providers. And I feel I can recommend them both in good conscience.

Private Internet Access

Go With PIA if:

  • You want to save a few bucks while still getting a high-quality VPN service
  • You want an easy way to block ads & trackers
  • You don’t need to use a VPN with Netflix
Visit Private Internet Access (save 73%)

ExpressVPN

Go With ExpressVPN if:

  • You want the high level of security provided by diskless servers
  • You want to use split tunnelling
  • You want to unblock Netflix
Visit ExpressVPN (save 35%)

For more information on these two VPN providers, check out our ExpressVPN review and our PIA review.

Further Reading

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