Subscribing to a VPN can enhance your online privacy and security. But choosing the right VPN service can be tricky.
They all seem to offer the same plethora of features and it can be difficult to see how one VPN provider differs from another.
In this post, we put NordVPN and ProtonVPN head to head to see which one comes out on top.
[vpn vpn_1="NordVPN" vpn_2="ProtonVPN"]
Can't choose between NordVPN or ProtonVPN?
Both NordVPN and ProtonVPN are well-known in the commercial VPN industry. And they both have a strong feature set in regards to privacy and ease of use:
They both commit to a strong no-logging policy. They both support secure protocols with industry-standard encryption. And they both provide native client apps, that include a kill switch, for all major operating systems.
NordVPN does support a few more convenience features, like an ads & tracker blocker and Tor Over VPN. But will that be enough to put them on top? Maybe, but this will definitely be a close one.
Speed will always be important for VPN providers. People want the benefit of privacy, but they also want to get the bandwidth they’re paying for.
I performed speed tests over both networks. Let’s take a look at the results.
Tested on a 60Mbps (Download) and 30Mbps (Upload) network
Server: U.S.A., New York
Average Download Speed: 65.77Mbps
Average Upload Speed: 22.89Mbps
Tested on a 100Mbps (Download) and 30Mbps (Upload) network
Server: U.S.A., New York
Average Download Speed: 90.42Mbps
Average Upload Speed: 35.60Mbps
So what we want to see is the difference between the official ISP speed and the speed we’re getting over the VPN. And both of them perform extremely well on that front.
And though it’s like due to network volatility, NordVPN’s download speed even goes beyond the rated speed I’m getting from my ISP.
And on the other hand, we see that ProtonVPN does better on upload.
This one is too close to call, in my opinion. Speed is not an issue for either NordVPN or ProtonVPN. At these speeds, I don’t think anyone would notice the VPN’s overhead on their connection.
As VPNs go mainstream, user-friendliness and ease of use are quickly becoming some of the biggest differentiating factors between providers.
Both NordVPN and ProtonVPN supply native client applications, that all include a kill switch, and that is compatible with many platforms. And they both, of course, provide unlimited bandwidth.
But NordVPN supports AndroidTV, which ProtonVPN does not. And NordVPN also provides Chrome and Firefox browser extensions.
They both provide comprehensive customer support, with NordVPN also supporting live chat. I didn’t need to contact customer support from either provider.
As far as simultaneous connections are concerned, NordVPN allows up to 6 simultaneous connections on any plan.
While with ProtonVPN, the number of simultaneous connections depends on the plan you signed up for. It looks like this:
- Free – 1 device
- Basic – 2 devices
- Plus – 5 devices
- Visionary – 10 devices
We’ll get into the pricing details later, but NordVPN offers more value on this front.
Both providers supply good client apps to their users. But NordVPN gives you more while asking for less. NordVPN takes it on user-friendliness and ease of use.
Streaming over a VPN has a few benefits, aside form a secure connection. It allows you to bypass geo-restrictions and to bypass ISP throttling issues.
And with the dominance of streaming services, this is quickly becoming a major feature for VPN providers.
And we also have certain streaming services, such as Netflix, banning VPNs from their platform. Hence circumventing the VPN ban has also been in growing demand from VPN users.
Both NordVPN and ProtonVPN are streaming-friendly providers and they both claim to unblock Netflix. And both NordVPN and ProtonVPN provide a support document explaining how to unblock Netflix.
And they both deliver, as I wrote in my Netflix reviews of NordVPN and ProtonVPN.
However, ProtonVPN can only unblock Netflix U.S. over U.S. servers, obviously, while NordVPN can unblock Netflix in most regions.
While both NordVPN and ProtonVPN perform very well when streaming Netflix, NordVPN gets the point for streaming as they support many more regions than ProtonVPN.
4. Security & Encryption
Both NordVPN and ProtonVPN only support secure VPN protocols.
- WireGuard (called NordLynx with NordVPN)
Both providers support AES-256, which is the industry standard. AES-256 is considered a robust cipher with no known vulnerabilities. WireGuard uses different, more modern ciphers that are deemed very secure as well.
We’re happy to see that both providers only support secure protocols, unlike other providers who support weak and obsolete protocols, like L2TP/IPSec, or worse, PPTP.
Supporting weak protocols may put greener users at risk.
We’re again going to give the point to NordVPN, simply because of their support for WireGuard, which is arguably the future of VPNs.
To their credit, ProtonVPN is working on implementing WireGuard on their network.
5. Logs & Privacy
Both providers commit to a strong no-logging policy. Let’s see how this is communicated in their privacy policies?
“NordVPN guarantees a strict no-logs policy for NordVPN services, meaning that your activities using NordVPN Services are provided by automated technical process, are not monitored, recorded, logged, stored or passed to any third party. We do not store connection time stamps, session information, used bandwidth, traffic logs, IP addresses or other data. From the moment a NordVPN.com user turns on the NordVPN.com software, their Internet data becomes encrypted. Any online traffic coming from user’s device is no longer visible to ISP, third-party snoopers or cyber criminals. Further, NordVPN have a strict no logs policy when it comes to seeing user activity online: NordVPN is based in Panama, which does not require data storage.”
Very clear. Detailed. And ticks all the boxes for a no-logging VPN provider.
“When you use the Service, we do NOT do any of the following: Log users’ traffic or the content of any communications; Discriminate against devices, protocols, or applications; Throttle your Internet connection.”
That’s a bit vague. So, turning to TorrentFreak’s Which VPN Providers Really Take Anonymity Seriously in 2020? guide, we find the following:
"Each time a user connects to the service, we only obtain a timestamp of the last successful login attempt. This gets overwritten each time a user successfully logs in. This does not contain any identifying information, such as IP addresses or locations. We retain this limited information to protect user accounts from password brute force attacks. However, we do not share any of this data with third parties.”
So ProtonVPN keeps a timestamp of your latest connection. NordVPN does not. And that proves that it’s not necessary to log that information – there are other ways of mitigating abuse.
Let’s now turn to pricing. I’ve listed the different packages, prices, and accepted payment methods for both NordVPN and ProtonVPN below:
NordVPNVisit NordVPN (save 70%)
NordVPN offers four different subscriptions:
- 11.95 USD for one month of service
- 83.88 USD for one year of service (works out to 6.99 USD per month)
- 119.76 USD for two years of service (works out to 4.99 USD per month) ***This subscription is currently on sale at 83.76 USD for two years, making it the same price as the three-year plan, below.
- 125.64 USD for three years of service (works out to 3.49 USD per month)
- Credit Card
- Apple Pay
- Google Pay
- Amazon Pay
- Union Pay
ProtonVPNVisit ProtonVPN (save 34%)
ProtonVPN offers three subscription terms along with a free plan:
- Free – 1 device, throttled speed, no other features included.
- Basic – 2 devices, full speed, access to P2P, no other features included.
- Plus – 5 devices, full speed, all services except ProtonMail included.
- Visionary – 10 devices, full speed, all services including ProtonMail.
Each subscription can be purchased on a monthly, yearly, or bi-yearly basis. And the prices modulate according to the length of the terms.
- 5 USD/month – monthly
- 4 USD/month – yearly
- 3.29 USD/month – bi-yearly
- 10 USD/month – monthly
- 8 USD/month – yearly
- 6.63 USD/month – bi-yearly
- 30 USD/month – monthly
- 24 USD/month – yearly
- 19.96 USD/month – bi-yearly
- Credit card
- Debit card
Both providers offer a 30-day money-back guarantee.
NordVPN and ProtonVPN offer different payment methods, but on the whole, they’re just as good. And we commend ProtonVPN for accepting cash.
Where things really differ is on price. And NordVPN has to take it here again. They’re cheaper all around, while still offering as many or more features than ProtonVPN.
The only place they compete is between NordVPN’s 2 and 3-year plans (3.49 USD / month) and ProtonVPN’s bi-yearly Basic subscription (3.29 USD/month).
But at that price, ProtonVPN will only allow 2 simultaneous connections, whereas NordVPN will allow up to 6. Plus ProtonVPN’s pricing is somewhat convoluted…
Torrenting is an area in which it will be difficult to set either of these VPN providers apart.
They both essentially offer the same thing here: dedicated P2P servers which are clearly marked within their respective apps and on their websites.
I tested both providers in my Torrenting reviews of NordVPN and ProtonVPN and I had no complaints on either network.
I was getting fast download speeds and no lag with either.
Nothing to differentiate them here. Move along, folks. Excellent performance for both providers.
8. Other Features
Let’s look at other aspects that differentiate these two providers.
- NordVPN provides Tor over VPN servers
- NordVPN supports WireGuard
- NordVPN was hacked in 2018
- ProtonVPN supports Secure Core
- ProtonVPN comes from the same folks behind ProtonMail
- Onion Over VPN: NordVPN supports Tor Over VPN (called Onion Over VPN). What this feature does is route your VPN traffic over the Tor network, giving you an additional layer of security and anonymity. They achieve this by making certain servers available for specifically this purpose. So as soon as you connect to the VPN server, your connection will automatically be re-routed over the Tor network. Very cool.
- WireGuard Support: WireGuard is a new VPN protocol, which after having been in beta for years, was just merged into the Linux kernel, so I think it’s ready for prime time. The benefits of WireGuard are its speed, its use of modern secure ciphers, its low overhead, and its small code base, which makes auditing the code much easier. We hope to see more providers support WireGuard in the near future.
- Secure Core: Secure Core is ProtonVPN’s secure approach (hence the name) to double VPNs or multi-hop servers. When you enable Secure Core, then regardless of the server you chose to connect to, you will first connect to the Secure Core servers. These servers are hardened servers that ProtonVPN owns and controls. From the Secure Core servers, your connection is bounced over to the VPN server you selected when you initiated the connection. This gives you enhanced security because if the VPN server you ultimately connected to is ever compromised, your connection will only lead back to the Secure Core servers and you won’t be exposed.
- ProtonMail: While it may seem strange to list an email service as a standout feature for a VPN provider, that’s nonetheless what I’m doing. ProtonVPN was created by the same people who founded ProtonMail – probably the most secure email service available to the masses today. ProtonMail simplifies PGP encryption, which can sometimes be difficult to set up properly. With ProtonMail, PGP encryption is handled automatically by the ProtonMail app/site.ProtonMail is a standout feature for ProtonVPN for two reasons: 1- It is reassuring from a privacy & security perspective when a company with such a good reputation builds another privacy product. 2- ProtonMail is included in the Visionary ProtonVPN subscription.
I’m giving this one to ProtonVPN, folks. Not because NordVPN’s offer is lacking here. But simply because Secure Core and ProtonMail are truly standout features that are unique. And also because WireGuard support is in the works at ProtonVPN.
Conclusion: NordVPN vs ProtonVPN
So who wins?
We had eight categories:
The winner in each category is awarded one point. And both providers get a point in the event of a tie.
So the breakdown is as follows:
- Speed – (Tie)
- User-Friendliness – (NordVPN)
- Streaming – (NordVPN)
- Security & Encryption – (NordVPN)
- Logs and Privacy – (NordVPN)
- Pricing – (NordVPN)
- Torrenting – (Tie)
- Other Features – (ProtonVPN)
So the result in our NordVPN Vs. ProtonVPN shootout comes to 7 points for NordVPN and 3 points for ProtonVPN. So it’s not as close as I had called it initially.
But this is because in almost every category in which NordVPN takes the point, ProtonVPN is just behind, meaning in almost every instance (except pricing) it’s dangerously close to being a tie.
So the score is deceptively high in regards to NordVPN.
Bottom line: These are two very good choices if you’re looking for a VPN provider.
Go With NordVPN if:
- You want a VPN provider located outside of the 14 Eyes
- You want to use Tor with your VPN
- You want to use a VPN with Netflix internationally
Go With ProtonVPN if:
- You want the enhanced security provided by their Secure Core servers
- The idea of a secure email solution appeals to you
- You’re only interested in Netflix U.S.
For more information on these two VPN providers, check out our NordVPN review and our ProtonVPN review.
Thanks for reading!
VPN > VPN Comparisons > VPN Services
NordVPN Vs. ProtonVPN - Face-off
By Marc Dahan
Last updated: July 30, 2020