The best paid VPN for Windows

Virtual private networks offer a number of advantages: secure Internet access, greater privacy when you're Web browsing, and access to geo-restricted content. We've tested paid VPN services to find out which one is worth your money.

Best paid Windows VPN: IVPN

Price: $100 per year or $15 per month

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IVPN is not the cheapest choice, but it's the one that inspires the most confidence. You can spend a lot less (or nothing) for a virtual private network, but you may end up getting what you pay for. We like IVPN for its privacy protection, cross-platform compatibility, client and payment options, and helpful, transparent guides to what VPNs can and can't do to shield you online.

Privacy: IVPN has two big plusses on the privacy front. First, the company is based in Gibraltar, a part of Europe that doesn't have to contend with looming EU data-retention laws that could force service providers to log customer activity. Second, IVPN provides several multihop connections, meaning your activity routes through two or more servers, making it more difficult for someone to snoop on you. IVPN does have one tracker used on its website, Pikwik Analytics, but the data it gathers is kept solely within IVPN's domain (whereas info collected by Google Analytics, for example, is automatically shared with Google by default).

Client and platform options: You get two choices for downloading IVPN: you can use the IVPN client, or the service supports the OpenVPN client. As its name implies, OpenVPN is open-source, which means that the programming code is available for public inspection, which reduces the possibility of malicious activity. If you want access on an Android or iOS device, IVPN offers that, too.

Payment options: Not sure you want to shell out $100 for a subscription? Sign up for a seven-day trial to see if the service is what you're looking for. You can pay with PayPal or BitPay, both of which allow anonymous transactions.

A wealth of helpful info: IVPN's website provides a large amount of actionable information about privacy and anonymity on the Internet, including telling you when and why a VPN alone might not be sufficient for your needs. The sheer amount of material indicates a substantial interest in customers' security and privacy.

IVPN is our top pick for VPNs, but we selected it after testing a number of likely candidates, looking at features, reputation, pricing, and performance. We skipped free VPNs for this roundup, because they tend to display unblockable ads or to restrict speed or features. In our experience, it's worth plunking down money for unrestricted, ad-free access. If your Internet connection is faster than 50Mbps, you will probably see lower speeds when using a VPN, because VPNs typically don't provide as much total bandwidth as a national ISP like Comcast or Time Warner Cable does. However, during our testing, the connection was almost always fast enough to stream an HD video. When congestion was low, we could even hit 25Mbps, which is sufficient for a 4K stream.

For more information on what to look for, visit our buyer's guide to VPNs. And for more VPN options, read on to see what we thought of the other ones that we tested.

More paid Windows VPNs

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VPN Unlimited

Price: $25 per year or $2 for 10 days

Pros: The service is inexpensive, the client is easy to use, and the servers have a good geographic spread.

Cons: OpenVPN access requires a one-year subscription, torrent traffic is blocked, and the parent company is based in the US. The price seems too good to be true. The service's marketing language frequently overstates the degree of security offered by a VPN.

Bottom Line: VPNs that aren't subject to US or EU regulation tend to be legally hardened against snooping, whereas VPN Unlimited is New York-based, making it difficult to recommend despite its low cost.

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Hotspot Shield Elite

Price: $30 per year

Pros: Inexpensive and easy to use.

Cons: No short-term subscription options; overstated claims about your privacy and anonymity; subject to both US and EU laws; website contains ad trackers and social plug-in trackers.

Bottom Line: Hotspot Shield makes some the boldest claims about VPNs that we've seen, which makes us wary.

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CyberGhost

Price: $70 per year or $11 per month

Pros: Uses OpenVPN and provides a variety of server locations around the world. Website has lots of support info and no trackers. Claims are relatively muted.

Cons: This OpenVPN setup is pretty tricky for an entry-level user.

Bottom Line: A respectable alternative to our winner, if you don't mind fiddling with OpenVPN.

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NordVPN

Price: $48 per year or $8 per month

Pros: Supports OpenVPN. Proprietary client has detailed server info. Wide variety of servers to connect to.

Cons: We experienced some connection errors and driver errors that couldn't be easily resolved.

Bottom Line: NordVPN looks promising, but it was a little glitchy during our testing.

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Private Tunnel

Price: Multiple metered plans, such as $50 for 500GB

Pros: Uses OpenVPN exclusively. Allotted gigabytes never expire, and the referral system awards more gigabytes.

Cons: Limited number of available countries. No unmetered plans available.

Bottom Line: Metered plans don't create the paper trail of a subscription, but the service could use a few more server locations.

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Unblock-Us

Price: $49.90 per year or $5 per month

Pros: Unblock-Us focuses on the content-viewing advantages of using a VPN. Its website is a virtual TV Guide of Internet content.

Cons: Laser focus on content consumption, to the detriment of conventional VPN usage; does not support OpenVPN or Linux.

Bottom Line: Its brazen promotion of intellectual property law violation makes one wonder how much longer it will stick around.

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Freedome

Price: $36 to $48 per year, depending on number of connected devices

Pros: Backed by F-Secure, a reputable antivirus vendor.

Cons: Overblown security claims. Website filtering can't be customized (though it can be disabled). No OpenVPN support. Needs more descriptive presale information.

Bottom Line: Freedome is probably trustworthy, but there are better options.

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Proxy.sh

Price: From $2 for 72 hours to $90 per year

Pros: Supports OpenVPN and provides a variety of pricing and payment options. Based in the Seychelles, outside of US and EU control. Premium-grade encryption.

Cons: Must pay for the most expensive tier to get access to the full list of countries, such as the UK and Canada. Uses a variety of tools to monitor its traffic.

Bottom Line: Some users may not be comfortable with the degree to which Proxy.sh tracks user activity, which can include Wireshark packet analysis.

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About Tom McNamara

Tom is the senior editor covering Windows at Download.com.