Editors' Note: Since this review was published, NordVPN has reported a server breach that took place in 2018. We'll factor that into our evaluation the next time we update our review of NordVPN for Linux.
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With NordVPN's initial $11.95 pricing plan, you'll get the ability to connect to more than 5,133 servers, and the ability to connect six devices at a time. As with most services of this kind, the longer the term you pay for, the deeper your overall discount will be. For those willing to pay annually, the price comes down to just $6.99 per month. Note that NordVPN has discontinued its free trial, stating that it was being abused by scammers.
If you happen to be little extra cautious, NordVPN even offers Bitcoin payment options, which would add an extra layer to your anonymity.
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Setup and Configuration
Like many Linux VPN services, NordVPN supports all of the most popular VPN protocols including OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPsec, and L2TP/IPsec. For the most part, you'll want to stick with OpenVPN due to its near-ubiquitous support, but it's handy to have the others for situations where you have special requirements. NordVPN also includes DNS leak protection, which helps to combat issues where your computer asks for the IP address of a URL without tunneling through the VPN first. Because NordVPN operates its own DNS servers, you'll want to pay attention to your setup to make sure that your system is using those as opposed to your defaults. This is actually a little easier for Linux users because they typically have no other option than to set up things manually. But that also means it's a critical thing to check. Fortunately, NordVPN provides links to a quick and easy DNS leak test to verify that you have things set up correctly, a key differentiator since you won't find that feature in every competitor, notably Hide My Ass VPN ($4.99/Month at Hide My Ass!)(Opens in a new window) .
If you're after the ability to bypass hosting restrictions or access a streaming service that's actively blocking NordVPN, you might be interested in a dedicated IP. You lose anonymity, but for those pesky Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that block web hosting ports, this is an excellent way to get around those restrictions. Expect to pay $70.00 a year for this service, so do check to make sure you really need it before asking NordVPN to supply you with one.
If you investigate NordVPN's other VPN offerings, you'll see the company offers sever cool and additional features for customers using more mainstream operating systems, like Microsoft Windows 10 or Apple macOS as well as Android and iOS. However, Linux users are going to be disappointed, as most of them won't be supported under Linux, where users will usually have to create a manual connection. This is unfortunate, since there are several excellent entries depicted in their features list such as a malicious ad and threat blocker. However, Linux users will be able to take advantage of NordVPN's support capabilities, which are excellent with a 24/7 support center available via email and live chat in case you get stuck.
Running NordVPN on Linux
As expected, there is a bit of a hump to get over when setting up NordVPN for Linux. That's because while NordVPN does provide some directions to help get you started using the aforementioned OpenVPN stack, you'll still need to spend some time in the command line terminal to make everything work. At the end, you'll download a zip file of a few hundred VPN templates that you'll need to import into Network Manager. A few clicks later, you can supply a username and password, and after that you should be able to toggle the VPN on or off as needed.
While this all works fairly well, the downside is that you're missing out on the graphical clients that Nord VPN offers for other operating system platforms. While this might not alienate most fans of Linux, it does leave a functionality gap for determining the fastest VPN server you can connect to at any given time unless you take a seperate trip to the NordVPN website. This is ultimately a small complaint, but it does illustrate how the entire Linux experience simply doesn't feel as put together as those OSes that rated a graphical application. You can get a feel for how different the experience is by using the Linux graphical apps included with the other Editors' Choice winners Private Internet Access VPN and TorGuard VPN .
Also noteworthy are the UDP versus TCP templates, which you won't find differentiated in all of NordVPN's competitors. For gamers out there that need to minimize lag, UDP is the way to go. For typical browsing and streaming websites, you'll need TCP for the most part. While the choice remains yours, this above is the general rule of thumb.
Netflix performed quite well over NordVPN. I was able to catch up on a few episodes of my favorite shows without so much as a hiccup. I did notice that there was a slight lag before the video began playing, but after that, there were no issues. That's impressive as there are few VPNs that work with Netflix, as the company does its best to block them. The problems I did have were more likely an issue with Netflix under Linux as opposed to the VPN itself. BitTorrent performed decently as well, with little to no differences in speed, but this will, of course, depend on which server you are connected to and your location.
Speed and Performance
The host platform for my VPN testing was a hardware system carrying a 3.2GHz Intel Core i5 processor and 32 gigabytes (GB) of total RAM. From this, I built a virtual machine (VM) based on the VMWare ESXi 6.0 hypervisor configured with 8 GB of RAM, 10 GB of alloted disk space, and two virtual processor cores all running the Ubuntu Linux distro. Note that I used Ubuntu version 17 in my testing. To eliminate other factors that could affect network performance, I assigned a dedicated 1GB wired network connection to my cable modem. No other VMs were active at the time of testing.
For your own testing, remember that speed is going to be determined largely by the server to which you connect. That means it's important to be familiar with your VPN providers recommendations, which you'll usually find posted on their website.
I tested three metrics that typically define a user's experience over a network connection. First, I measured latency, which is the time it takes for packets of data to travel to a remote server and back to your computer in milliseconds. In this category, lower is always better. The other two metrics are upload and download speed. For those two, higher is always better. However, since everyone's internet connection is different, and these values tend to fluctuate over time, I represent these as a percentage changed against a baseline measurement of my connection without the VPN. Each data point is tested domestically with a VPN server in the United States, and internationally with a VPN server in Australia. In addition, I cite the highest speed recorded. All metrics are gathered using Ookla speed test tool(Opens in a new window), which is owned by PCMag's parent company, j2 Global. NordVPN's domestic latency increased by only 127.27 percent from my baseline measurement, however, international latency took a larger hit with a 495-percent increase. The lowest ping time recorded domestically was 8 milliseconds (ms) while the highest was 132 ms. For comparison, the lowest international ping time was 234 ms while the highest was 240 ms.
NordVPN's domestic latency increased by only 127.27 percent from my baseline measurement, however, international latency took a larger hit with a 495-percent increase. The lowest ping time recorded domestically was 8 milliseconds (ms) while the highest was 132 ms. For comparison, the lowest international ping time was 234 ms while the highest was 240 ms.
When I tested download speed, there was only an 11.02-percent decrease domestically and a 90.91-percent decrease in speed internationally. Upload speed, however, was a slightly strange case. The domestic upload speed actually increased on average by 8.58 percent, which I eventually attributed to normal changes in network load, though I didn't see much of that in my other tests. International upload speed had a significant but expected speed decrease of 85.54 percent, on average. The fastest recorded download speed for NordVPN was 328 Megabits per second (Mbps) and the fastest upload speed was 29.77 Mbps. This is comparable to the limits of my internet connection. It's very possible that NordVPN could take far more bandwidth before slowing down significantly, which probably makes it our fastest overall performer in the Linux VPN Apps category.
Logging and Privacy
On the privacy front, NordVPN has the advantage of being operated out of Panama. In that country, there are no laws requiring log collection, so you don't have to worry about your browsing history being stored on some mystery box for government officials to pry open later. NordVPN does log some minimal information related to app crashes and any voluntary information provided for troubleshooting, but that's not data most folks need to worry about. While this isn't an invitation to do anything illegal, it does provide some peace of mind.
For those looking for a good VPN for China, NordVPN has implemented a new solution called "obfuscated servers" that let you bypass the Great Firewall. This is a welcome addition since the majority of what westerners are used to browsing is simply not available without a VPN. In addition, this can provide some additional protection for reporters or other individuals in sensitive situations who need to avoid data monitoring.
In November, 2018, NordVPN announced that it had completed a review of its no-log policy(Opens in a new window) by one of the "big four audit firms." It joins a handful of other VPN services, including TunnelBear VPN, that have tried to validate their customer security and privacy efforts by undergoing third-party audits. This is a welcome step.
A Strong Choice for Linux
NordVPN (for Linux)
(Opens in a new window)
Well-written setup instructions.
No graphical user interface for Linux users.
The Bottom Line
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