Surfshark vs. NordVPN
- Torrenting available through uTorrent
- Based in Panama, which has no mandatory data retention law
- One of the most popular VPNs with over eight million users
- No-logs VPN company based in the Virgin Islands
- Allows unlimited connections, double VPN and split tunneling
- Choice of OpenVPN, IKEv2, L2P2, Shadowsocks & more
There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and the same is true of VPNs. In this page, we’re comparing two VPNs we’ve tested pretty extensively, NordVPN, currently our second highest-rated option, versus Surfshark, another top contender. We’ll be looking at the two VPNs’ performance, their features and their pricing to determine which one really comes out on top, and the answer may surprise you.
Let’s start with a general overview. Not surprisingly, NordVPN is a much larger VPN than Surfshark, with 5,246 servers as opposed to just over 1,7000. However, the servers are available in nearly the same amount of countries, 62 with NordVPN and 63 with Surfshark. Why do we care, exactly? Well, our distance to the server could affect our Internet speeds, which we’ll discuss below. That being said, looking at the number of servers alone, we initially expected faster speeds from NordVPN as opposed to Surfshark. You’ll have to read further to find out if these expectations were met!
Tip: Before you buy any VPN, be sure to check out its list of servers and make sure it’s available in your country, with servers close to where you’ll be using the VPN.
Given the ubiquity of security breaches and hackings, it’s no surprise that nearly 80 percent of Americans say they are concerned about how much personal data companies collect from them.1 If data collection is a bug, then VPNs are the bug spray meant to eradicate online tracking, allowing users to stay private online. How do Surfshark and NordVPN stack up in terms of privacy?
Both Surfshark and NordVPN are based in countries that aren’t members of the international surveillance alliances Five Eyes, Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes (the British Virgin Islands and Panama, to be specific). That means that the companies will never be legally obligated to give the government user data, which is ideal for a service that exists to give users privacy.
- What NordVPN and SurfShark both log: Email address, payment data, application diagnostics such as crash error reports
- What NordVPN logs that Surfshark doesn’t: IP address of the device used for payment, server load information, username, timestamp of last session status, whether or not the user has connected in the past 30 days, information about in-app events, device model, operating system version, device identifiers
- What Surfshark logs that NordVPN doesn’t: Encrypted password
- What neither logs: Web activity, IP address when connected to VPN
As you can see just by skimming, NordVPN collects a pretty significant amount of user information compared to Surfshark. While neither VPN kept track of the websites we visited while connected, nor our devices’ private IP addresses, NordVPN kept some information about when we connected to their app as well as some device information that wasn’t completely necessary. Surfshark logged the bare minimum, so in terms of privacy, it actually beats NordVPN. Who’d have thunk?
Now it’s time to see how Surfshark and NordVPN compare in terms of what we got with their VPN service. While our Surfshark review and our NordVPN review go into more detail, here’s a general overview.
Both VPNs used AES-256, the industry standard for encryption. On top of that, both services encrypted our web traffic multiple times through different servers, a process called multi-hop. This is really above and beyond when it comes to encryption, making NordVPN and Surfshark two of our safest options for the privacy-concerned.
On the other hand, every time we connected to either VPN, we’d get the same IP address to replacing our originating IP addresses every time. Now, with NordVPN, this address was shared with other NordVPN users, making us more difficult to trace; they also offered dedicated IP addresses for websites like Gmail, PayPal and eBay, sold for the price of $70 per year, as detailed on our NordVPN pricing page. This wasn’t an option with Surfshark, however, free or paid, so Nord takes the cake when it comes to their shared IP addresses.
Both VPNs had kill switches, meaning when they inevitably got disconnected, our web browsers quit automatically. We like to think of kill switches as safety nets that hide our web traffic from our Internet Service Provider (ISP) even if the VPN fails.
Another area where Surfshark surpasses NordVPN is with split tunneling. With Surfshark, we got to decide which traffic we wanted to connect to their VPN and which traffic we wanted to leave connected directly to the public Wi-Fi network. This lowered our bandwidth so our speeds weren’t as affected. NordVPN, on the other hand, took an all-or-nothing approach, routing all of our traffic through their encrypted tunnel. Score one more point for Surfshark!
Torrenting and Netflix
Did you know that the average American spends nearly three hours a day watching television?2 We’ll be honest: that number sounded kind of low to us, especially with all of the streaming and torrenting options available. When we wanted to hide our torrenting and Netflix activity by connecting to a VPN, Surfshark and NordVPN pulled through. That being said, Netflix may not always work on all servers, as the streaming giant works pretty hard to block VPN servers’ IP addresses. Still, torrenting should be fine on either VPN, although with NordVPN, we had to use uTorrent specifically. All in all, both Surfshark and NordVPN are ideal for (private) home entertainment.
Did You Know: UTorrent, otherwise known as BitTorrent, is the most popular torrent client in the world with more than 100 million people using the service per month.3 They have apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, and other popular operating systems.
If you have a need for speed, this section is for you. While we use Macbooks in our day to day operations, we test all of our VPNs out on a Windows Vivobook as well. How much did NordVPN and Surfshark affect our speeds on both types of devices?
Neither VPN slowed us down too much on Macs, but Surfshark had less of an effect by 12 percent.
|Total loss of speed as a percentage on Mac||54%||42%|
As you can see below, the differences in speeds with our VPNs connected and not connected on Windows were pretty staggering, but again, Surfshark fared better than NordVPN by 360 percent. Especially if you’re using a VPN for gaming, these numbers will be an important factor in your ultimate buying decision. When it comes to speed, it’s safe to say that Surfshark beats NordVPN, although these numbers will vary based on factors such as distance to the server, operating system, etc.
|Total loss of speed as a percentage on Windows||3175%||2815%|
Another essential feature of our VPN tests regards security. Sure, we want our VPNs to hinder our browsing speeds as little as possible, but if they’re not really hiding our originating IP addresses, what good are they, anyway?
DNS, which stands for domain name server, is the actual names of websites that stand for IP addresses; we like to think of them as a house’s physical address versus saying something like “the red house on the corner”. Both NordVPN and Surfshark passed our DNS leak test, meaning that they weren’t aware of our web activity or private IP addresses.
As avid-Chrome users, WebRTC leaks are of huge concern. WebRTC is the default on Chrome, along with Microsoft Edge, Opera and Firefox, and it’s used to create faster speeds for video chatting, file sharing and live streaming footage. Basically, browsers connect directly to each other, reducing bandwidth and requiring each other’s private IP address; no thank you. Fortunately, neither Surfshark and NordVPN leaked this information, making them both secure VPN options.
If you pay month-to-month like us, NordVPN and Surfshark cost the exact same amount, $11.95. However, as the term length gets longer, Surfshark becomes cheaper, especially if you sign up for two years.
|Term Length in Months||Simultaneous Connections per Subscription- NordVPN||Simultaneous Connections per Subscription- Surshark||Total Number of Devices per Subscription- NordVPN||Total Number of Devices per Subscription- Surfshark||NordVPN Monthly Cost||Surfshark Monthly Cost|
* but must choose different protocols for devices on the same server, no more than three devices connected to the same server at once.
Another advantage of Surfshark is that we could connect as many devices as we wanted to their servers at the same time, while NordVPN limited us to six. So in terms of pricing and what you get, Surfshark actually takes the cake…or does it?
Another thing to keep in mind before hitting purchase is device, operating system and browser compatibility. Both NordVPN and Surfshark work with the most popular operating systems that we’ve become to expect like Android, iOS, macOS and Windows, but only NordVPN works with routers.
|Fire TV Stick||X||✓|
Now, if we had to choose one type of device to use a VPN on for the rest of our lives, we’d choose routers. They’re sort of like umbrellas that cover all devices on the same Wi-Fi network. Connect a VPN to a router, and we’ve encrypted the web activity and IP addresses of the network’s devices. So while Surfshark may work with a few more types of browsers and operating systems, NordVPN’s compatibility with routers speaks volumes.
Pew Research Center. (2020). Key takeaways on Americans’ views about privacy, surveillance and data-sharing.
US Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020). American Time Use Survey Summary.
BitTorrent. (2020). About BitTorrent.