NordVPN vs PIA: 11 crucial differences

Last updated: October 15 2019 By Sam Chester

NordVPN vs PIAChanges that took place in the VPN market over the past year rendered many VPN reviews and comparisons outdated. NordVPN released patches for all platforms and altered its prices in the fall of 2019. Private Internet Access (PIA) updated its apps earlier in the summer, whereas in October it augmented its streaming support.

So now it’s time for a new and expanded NordVPN and PIA comparison.

In it, I will tell you not only about the most vital 11 differences between the two VPN giants but also about which VPN service I use the most and why (skip to that section).


11 differences between NordVPN and Private Internet Access

To begin with, I will enumerate those attributes that are about the same for both NordVPN and PIA.

  • High speed
  • Low energy consumption
  • Stability
  • Proven no-logs policy
  • Possibility to set a VPN up for chosen apps only

These characteristics present no differences on which it would be possible to select one of the VPNs.

For instance, during my speed tests, I discovered fast and slow servers in both services’ networks. I should mention that my ISP’s speed (100 Mbps) is slower than that of NordVPN’s and PIA’s fastest servers. And it’s great because both services provide fast speeds that are enough to accomplish any task.

So to determine the winner, we will focus on the differences between the two providers.

11 differences between NordVPN and PIA

Category Winner
Number of servers NordVPN
Number of countries NordVPN
App issues NordVPN
NordVPN vs PIA for streaming NordVPN
NordVPN vs PIA for torrenting NordVPN
VPN obfuscation NordVPN
Android TV and DD-WRT support NordVPN
Configurability PIA
Jurisdiction NordVPN
Free trial NordVPN
Prices PIA

1. Number of servers (NordVPN wins)

The number of servers available to its users is one of the main parameters that determine the quality of a VPN service.

First of all, only the best VPNs can afford to maintain a huge server and IP address park;

Second, the more servers there are, the more evenly users are distributed. Therefore, speed and stability grow;

Third, only large VPN services can offer the support of streaming services and, if they have obfuscation, provide their services for the regions where VPNs are blocked by governments. It is only possible to achieve by regularly updating IP addresses.

NordVPN and PIA: Comparison of the number of servers

  NordVPN PIA
Number of servers 5600+ 3375

NordVPN wins in this category by a large margin. It bears mentioning, however, that PIA is also one of the Top 5 VPNs in terms of the number of servers.

2. Number of countries (NordVPN wins)

The number of countries through which a user can access the Internet is another important figure.

While most netizens prefer to hide their IPs by using popular locations such as the United States or European countries, there are cases when one needs an IP based in an “obscure” state. In such a case, the more countries a VPN service supports, the better.

The number of countries supported by NordVPN and PIA

  NordVPN PIA
Number of countries 60 32

Following is the list of countries available on NordVPN but not on Private Internet Access:

  • Albania
  • Argentina
  • Costa Rica
  • Bulgaria
  • Chile
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Georgia
  • Greece
  • Egypt
  • Estonia
  • Iceland
  • Indonesia
  • Latvia
  • Malaysia
  • Moldova
  • North Macedonia
  • Portugal
  • Serbia
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • Turkey
  • Vietnam
  • Slovenia
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina

 

To conclude, NordVPN offers a sizably larger country list.

3. App issues (NordVPN wins)

In this section, I’d like to describe the drawbacks of the Private Internet Access Android app that I found while testing it.

This drawback can be very bothersome if you use a VPN while travelling and your device is connected to different Wi-Fi networks or to a Wi-Fi network and the mobile Internet in turns.

The problem is, the VPN connection has to be reestablished after every change of the real IP of the device. And that happens every time we connect to a different Wi-Fi network or to the mobile Internet.

I discovered not one, but two issues with the way PIA’s Android app reconnects to a VPN server:

  1. On one device I tested, a VPN tunnel couldn’t be reestablished after disconnecting/reconnecting to a Wi-Fi network. It wouldn’t be a problem if it was possible to do reestablish it manually.
  2. On another device (this one had the more recent Android version 9), this problem wasn’t present. However, the kill switch (that blocks all connections for as long as it takes the VPN to reconnect) doesn’t work on it. It leads to the real IP address getting leaked when changing the network.

NordVPN’s app for Android works without an issue.

I found no such problem with PIA’s apps for other platforms. However, PIA allows using up to 5 devices per subscription (this number reaches 6 for NordVPN). So even if you plan to use a VPN on a specific device, it may be worth it to think about its use on other OSs including Android as well.

Because of another PIA’s innovation, the VPN wouldn’t work on Windows. I had to turn this new feature off to be able to connect to a server. The feature in question is the support of DHCP network configuration:

PIA: new DHCP configuration

This option doesn’t work with every network type that makes Internet access possible. Had I not known how the network I was using was organized, I would have never guessed to turn DHCP off and couldn’t have used the VPN.

I can’t call this peculiarity of PIA a serious flaw. However, since the app doesn’t inform you about the reason for a potential connection issue, an average user may not be able to guess to turn this feature off and thus wouldn’t manage to use a VPN.

So, NordVPN wins in this category. It doesn’t have any issues with its main functions on all the platforms I’ve tested.

4. NordVPN vs PIA for streaming (NordVPN wins)

I had tested NordVPN’s and Private Internet Access’s ability to unblock Netflix before, and NordVPN had proved to be much more efficient.

However, on October 5, PIA announced the result of their work on Netflix and other streaming services support for the US, Canada, and the UK:

We are happy to announce that you should now be able to access and stream on some of your favorite platforms, such as Netflix, while connected to our U.S., U.K. and Canada servers…

I decided to see how it works at once. To do that, I tested 3 US servers, 2 Canadian servers, and 2 UK servers that support Netflix. The very first location I chose accomplished the task.

PIA Netflix support

Issues began soon enough, though, as Netflix blocked some of the PIA servers.

You will find the test results and comparison to NordVPN in the table below:

NordVPN and PIA: Netflix support comparison

  NordVPN PIA
US 3/3 2/3
CA 2/2 1/2
UK 2/2 2/2

What does it mean?

Watching Netflix with PIA has indeed become more convenient. Still, it is not as well-suited for streaming as its competitor. NordVPN wins in this category.

5. NordVPN vs PIA for torrenting (NordVPN wins)

To determine this category’s winner, we have to make it clear first what parameters of VPN services are important to compare in regards to torrenting.

Why is it risky to use torrents?

First of all, it’s because there is a risk to violate copyright by sharing files or content illegally. It can happen due to the configuration of P2P/torrenting networks that makes any downloaded file available to other peers of the same network. This way, you go from downloading to sharing.

Second of all, many states ban even the downloading of such content. Internet service providers in these states inform the authorities when they find any torrenting activity going on.

With that in mind, here are some of the factors that make a VPN better for torrenting:

  • more efficient disguise of the user’s activity and their location data from their ISP and other entities in the user’s home country,
  • the availability of torrenting-dedicated servers,
  • no activity logs being kept.

Let’s compare NordVPN and Private Internet Access according to these three parameters. I will grade their level of personal data protection on a scale from 1 to 5.

NordVPN and PIA: Torrenting comparison

  NordVPN PIA
User protection 5 4
Safe servers + ?
Keeps logs No No

Why did I give PIA a 4 for user protection?

The thing is, both services maintain high encryption and transferred data protection standards. However, I cannot give PIA a 5 because I discovered an issue with its Android app. A kill switch, one of the most important features for torrenting, doesn’t work on that platform. It means that any Internet connection loss will almost certainly lead to the real IP being leaked along with the unencrypted torrenting activity.

Besides, PIA doesn’t have a list of torrenting-friendly locations whereas NordVPN provides such a list in its locations menu on all platforms.

All things considered, NordVPN wins in a walkover.

6. VPN obfuscation (NordVPN wins)

More and more countries actively oppose freedom of speech on the Internet. It’s not a secret to anyone that VPNs help to bypass state-imposed censorship and gain access to any blocked resource. That’s why countermeasures to VPN technology have been rapidly developing over a few last years. They consist of technical means of detection and blocking.

How can a VPN be detected?

Every VPN protocol leaves its unique trail. It is a definite string of information bits attached to every data packet transmitted. Such trails make it impossible to understand what information is encrypted and what website the user is visiting. They do, however, allow blocking all the data packets bearing the same trail.

It’s possible to paralyze the functioning of any VPN service without even blocking its servers’ IP addresses.

To battle this, some VPNs started using the so-called obfuscation. Several different methods of altering or hiding the VPN protocol trails are collectively known under this name.

By altering its trail, a VPN connection makes itself “invisible” to the means of detection.

NordVPN has such technology:

NordVPN: turning obfuscation on

When you turn this option on in the Windows app or choose a supported location from the server menu in the apps for other platforms, you can hide the fact that you’re using a VPN.

PIA doesn’t have obfuscation.

It’s worth mentioning that only around a dozen VPN providers worldwide offer this feature. Not all of them actually manage to bypass VPN blocks at that. Even NordVPN sometimes has difficulties making it work. For example, its Chinese customers reported issues with it in the fall of 2019.

Nevertheless, NordVPN wins in this category because Private Internet Access doesn’t have such a function, to begin with.

7. Android TV and DD-WRT support (NordVPN wins)

PIA and NordVPN offer their software for all major platforms: apps for Windows, Android, macOS, iOS, and Linux as well as browser extensions.

However, if you have Android TV or you want to install a VPN on a modern router, NordVPN is going to suit your needs better. It offers apps for Android TV Play Market and for routers with DD-WRT support.

It’s possible to use PIA on those devices as well but you will need to set the system up manually or use third-party software.

8. Configurability (PIA wins)

Where Private Internet Access really shines is in the number of its settings. Users can not only choose between TCP and UDP but also change other VPN settings that can’t be changed in other services.

PIA: the most configurable service

PIA apps’ settings allow configuring:

  • Encryption standard up to fully shutting it down
  • Data authentication
  • Handshake
  • Whether you want a static local IP or DHCP (summer 2019 update)
  • DNS choice

PIA doesn’t have any protocol choice options.

There are fewer connection settings in NordVPN:

  • TCP or UDP
  • DNS choice

PIA wins in this category thanks to its VPN connection being more configurable.

9. Jurisdiction (NordVPN wins)

NordVPN is based in Panama while PIA is located in the United States. Which one would you trust more if your tasks required subtlety?

I always recommend using VPN services that are located under “safe” jurisdictions. Such countries do not participate in intelligence alliances, do not pay too much attention to copyrights and cannot be easily influenced by other states via judicial means. Offshores are considered safe, too.

Panama is a good jurisdiction as well.

The owners of NordVPN are not its citizens, though. I did some research and it appears that NordVPN has Lithuanian origins. It is based in Panama as it is a safe jurisdiction for a VPN service.

Private Internet Access is a fully American VPN. The United States legislation is less privacy-friendly. According to American laws, the authorities can even get access to private data by a court order. Moreover, the US is a member of the FVEY intelligence alliance.

There is no direct evidence to prove that this jurisdiction affects the privacy of VPN users in a bad way. Like NordVPN, PIA was never caught red-handed gathering or sharing its customers’ private data. However, another well-known US-based VPN provider, IPVanish, shared stored activity data of one of its users with the authorities in 2016, despite having proclaimed a no-logs policy (it can be found in a writ).

All facts and risks in mind, I conclude that NordVPN wins in the Jurisdiction category.

10. Free trial (NordVPN wins)

NordVPN offers a free trial to its customers. It lasts for 7 days of free use on Android and iOS. The good news is that you can test all its functions with NordVPN mobile apps as they are almost identical to those of the desktop version.

Another convenient thing about NordVPN is its 30-day money-back guarantee. For PIA this period is only 7 days long.

PIA doesn’t provide a free trial either.

11. Prices (PIA wins)

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, NordVPN had recently changed its pricing.

It became more expensive.

It used to be cheaper than PIA but now the tables have turned.

NordVPN’s prices:

NordVPN: pricing

PIA’s prices:

PIA: pricing

A bit of advice you might find useful: while gathering information about Private Internet Access, I found a link that grants a sizeable discount. It is not a referral link. I think that PIA gives it to those who advertise its service to attract more customers.

PIA’s prices with a discount:

PIA: pricing on a special link

Here’s a table showing all the prices for your convenience:

NordVPN and PIA: Prices comparison

  NordVPN PIA PIA with a discount
Lowest price $3.49 $3.33 $2.42
1 month $11.95 $6.95 $5.45
1 year $6.99 $3.33 $2.42

In 2019, VPN services tend to lower their prices. Opposite to the trend, NordVPN raises its prices when it used to be among the cheapest VPN providers.

To be fair to NordVPN, its prices are still noticeably lower than those of many of its rivals.

So which one is better?

NordVPN wins 9 to 2. However, despite such a score difference, PIA remains one of the most powerful VPN providers. In the next section, I will describe my personal opinion of both services based on my massive experience of using them. Hopefully, it will help you to decide which VPN suits you better.


NordVPN and PIA: My experience

Whether we test VPNs or work in Internet privacy and security, we on cooltechzone.com always use various VPN services. Some of them we use more often than others since they are more powerful, reliable, safe, etc.

NordVPN and PIA are among them.

Despite scoring not as highly as its competitor in this comparison, PIA is a service I like to use. Yes, there’s a kill switch issue on the Android version, but this provider is great for PC and Mac. It always connects fast to the location I choose, offers good speeds and rarely disconnects from VPN servers.

PIA is convenient for casual use when you don’t have to deal with streaming services and torrenting.

PIA is also great if you need to tweak your encryption and authentication settings manually. Sometimes, it’s worthwhile to turn data encryption off entirely to lower the CPU load and maximize its productivity. This ability is also handy when configuring a VPN on low-power routers, allowing you to lighten the load on the CPU and to browse the Internet from more devices at once if you don’t need to encrypt your data.

NordVPN is currently my favourite VPN. It is fast, its number of servers is huge, it is equally efficient on all platforms and is great for torrenting and streaming. It frequently updates its apps, adds new features, and fixes issues quickly.

NordVPN allows choosing not just locations but also specific servers within them. I also use its Dedicated IP servers which let me browse those websites that “don’t appreciate” IP address changes.

To put it shortly, I use both VPNs but prefer NordVPN.

I have studied all the main features of PIA and NordVPN. Each service has its advantages in some aspects of the VPN use. Their functions do not differ as drastically as those of many other VPNs.

NordVPN and PIA: General comparison

  NordVPN PIA
VPN service quality High High
Platform support Top level Great
Media Great Good
Sensitive tasks Great Good

If you have an opinion or a recent experience of using these VPNs to share, leave your comments or questions.

You may also find interesting:

ExpressVPN vs NordVPN 
ExpressVPN vs IPVanish 
NordVPN vs IPVanish


 

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