Surfshark vs. NordVPN

By
&
Aliza VigdermanGabe TurnerChief Editor
Last Updated on Oct 5, 2020
By
&
Aliza VigdermanGabe TurnerChief Editor
Last Updated on Oct 5, 2020

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
Editor's Rating
9.4
/10

Surfshark

  • No-logs VPN company based in the Virgin Islands
  • Allows unlimited connections, double VPN and split tunneling
  • Choice of OpenVPN, IKEv2, L2P2, Shadowsocks & more
Editor's Rating
9.2
/10

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.

NordVPN connected
NordVPN connected

Servers

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.

Privacy

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?

Privacy Jurisdiction

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.

Privacy Policies

We also read each VPN’s privacy policy to see what information of ours the VPN kept. Here’s what we found:

  • 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
NordVPN No log policy
NordVPN No log policy

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?

Features

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.

Encryption Methods

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.

IP Addresses

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.

Surfshark Kill switch
Surfshark Kill switch

Kill Switch

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.

Split Tunneling

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.

Speed Tests

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?

NordVPN Speed Test Brussles
NordVPN Speed Test Brussles

Mac

Neither VPN slowed us down too much on Macs, but Surfshark had less of an effect by 12 percent.

NordVPNSurfshark
Total loss of speed as a percentage on Mac54%42%

Windows

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.

NordVPNSurfshark
Total loss of speed as a percentage on Windows3175%2815%

Security Tests

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 Leaks

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.

WebRTC Leaks

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.

Subscriptions

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 MonthsSimultaneous Connections per Subscription- NordVPNSimultaneous Connections per Subscription- SursharkTotal Number of Devices per Subscription- NordVPNTotal Number of Devices per Subscription- SurfsharkNordVPN Monthly CostSurfshark Monthly Cost
16*Unlimited6Unlimited$11.95$11.95
66*Unlimited6Unlimited$9.00n/a
126*Unlimited6Unlimitedn/a$5.99
246*Unlimited6Unlimited$3.71$1.99

* 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?

Apps

Surfshark App Settings
Surfshark App Settings

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.

NordVPNSurfshark
Android
Android TV
ChromeX
Fire TV StickX
FirefoxX
iOS
LinuxX
macOS
NASX
ProxyX
RouterX
Windows

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.

Recap

It’s clear that Surfshark has a few areas that are objectively better than NordVPN, from its lower pricing to its more strict privacy policy to its split tunneling. That being said, for most people, NordVPN will make more sense. It has over three times the amount of servers, meaning more people will be able to connect to their VPN without a hitch. It’s also a better choice for users that want dedicated IP addresses (and are willing to pay a fee). Finally, if you want to encrypt routers and thus encrypt all of the devices on that router, NordVPN is for you.

Citations
  1. Pew Research Center. (2020). Key takeaways on Americans’ views about privacy, surveillance and data-sharing.
    pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/11/15/key-takeaways-on-americans-views-about-privacy-surveillance-and-data-sharing/

  2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020). American Time Use Survey Summary.
    bls.gov/news.release/atus.nr0.htm

  3. BitTorrent. (2020). About BitTorrent.
    bittorrent.com/company/about-us/