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Surfshark vs. Private Internet Access: Which VPN Wins?

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Surfshark and Private Internet Access are top-tier VPNs competing for center stage. But which one outshines?

Launched in 2010, PIA has had more time to mature than Surfshark, born recently in 2018. However, the latter proves more evolved in some departments, speed and reliable unblocking included.

Similarities like RAM-only servers and affordable subscriptions also defy age, leaving the VPNs to butt heads in multiple categories.

Continue reading to determine which one gets your greater applause.

Surfshark vs. Private VPN (Overview Table)

  Surfshark Private Internet Access
Servers: 3,200+ servers Unknown
Speed: 1.5 Mbps drop 9.38 Mbps drop
Protocols: WireGuard, OpenVPN (TCP), OpenVPN (UDP), IKEv2 (iOS & Android) WireGuard, OpenVPN (TCP), OpenVPN (UDP), IKEv2 (iOS)
Streaming: Hulu, Netflix, NRK, France.tv, BBC iPlayer Netflix, BBC iPlayer
Torrenting: On all servers On all servers + seeding
Gaming: 194 ms ping + 0% packet loss 11 ms ping + 0% packet loss
Logs: Verified no-logs policy Verified no-logs policy
Security: Multi-Hop, obfuscation, automatic WiFi protection Obfuscation, WiFi Protection, two kill switches
Devices: Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Chromebook, Smart TVs, routers Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Chromebook, Smart TVs, routers
Simultaneous Connections: Unlimited Unlimited
Customer Support: 24/7 live chat 24/7 live chat
Best Deal: Surfshark PIA
Winner
Surfshark logo
GET DISCOUNT NOW

Server Locations

Surfshark openly boasts 3200+ servers spanning 100 countries and 150+ locations.

But PIA needs to be more specific, and a chat with customer support yielded no confirmation of an actual server count.

My PIA agent responded, “As we keep acquiring new servers and retiring old ones, we do not have the number of current active servers currently running for our system.”

PIA VPN service does confirm servers in 84 countries, and the agent I spoke to disclosed an estimated 157 server locations.

While both VPNs lean toward large server fleets, at least 56 of Surfshark’s server countries are virtual, hinting that lag might be an issue. 

Hence, PIA has the upper hand with a more extensive physical server count.

Moving on, both VPNs run on audited server infrastructures and RAM-only technology, ensuring VPN activity is wiped clean whenever a server’s turned off. 

The catch is that all PIA’s RAM-only servers are co-located, meaning there can be unwarranted downtime and opportunities for sharing information with third parties.

Does Surfshark or PIA Work in China?

Both VPNs work in China to a degree.

PIA has a server in China, allowing users to unblock some restricted content, like Chinese streaming sites, in the region. You can also use PIA to bypass the Great Firewall. But! PIA admits this functionality is unstable:

pia customer support on their china server

Surfshark doesn’t have a server in China, although it has servers nearby – Hong Kong and Taiwan. It also has a virtual server in a Chinese administration region, Macau.

Alternatively, you can configure a manual connection to China using both VPNs’ OpenVPN setups.

EXPERT SUMMARY

PIA has more physical servers across a competing number of locations, but Surfshark’s regard for transparency and privacy can’t be ignored. I call a draw.

Winner
Draw

Is Surfshark Faster Than PIA?

I ran speed tests on each VPN’s Windows protocols using three physical server locations, and Surfshark remains superiorly faster than PIA!

This is a surprise since both VPNs use the same protocols: OpenVPN, WireGuard, and IKEv2.

Surfshark protocols:

PIA protocols:

private internet access protocols

Speeds were compared to my average download speed at the time, 51.28 Mbps.

base download speed test

Rounding up my results, the Surfshark VPN averaged a 20.33% speed drop, and PIA averaged a 26.39% speed drop.

Let’s take a closer look at speed performance.

Speed & Performance

The table below shows the speed drops for each VPN across the different protocols and servers in the US, UK, and South Africa:

  US Server UK Server South Africa Server
Surfshark (WireGuard) 3.74 Mbps drop 5.66 Mbps drop 1.5 Mbps drop
PIA (WireGuard) 27.75 Mbps drop 13.1 Mbps 9.38 Mbps drop
Surfshark (OpenVPN UDP) 34.45 Mbps drop 34.6 Mbps drop 3.14 Mbps drop
PIA (OpenVPN UDP) 11.78 Mbps drop 30.91 Mbps drop 21.18 Mbps drop
Surfshark (OpenVPN TCP) 40.95 Mbps drop 34.46 Mbp drop 24.52 Mbps drop
PIA (OpenVPN TCP) 39.89 Mbps drop 39.57 Mbps drop 43.96 Mbps drop

South Africa is where I tested from, so it makes sense that the speed drop’s minimal there. However, a significant gap was noted between Surfshark and PIA on WireGuard and OpenVPN (UDP), with the former making no real impact on my connection.

speed test on surfshark connected to south africa

PIA’s download speed drop wasn’t felt when using WireGuard, but OpenVPN protocols battled to keep up with my local speed demand.

EXPERT SUMMARY

Surfshark is faster than PIA, even though they use the same protocols.

Winner
Surfshark logo
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Streaming

Another category where Surfshark takes most of the limelight is streaming.

I tested the unblocking performance of both VPNs on multiple streaming platforms, including Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, NRK, and France.TV

This table summarizes my results:

Streaming Service Surfshark Access? PIA Access?
Hulu Yes No
BBC iPlayer Yes Yes (UK streaming server)
Disney+ Yes No
NRK Yes No
France.TV Yes No

Surfshark’s US Seattle server granted me immediate access to Hulu. 

The same goes for the four other US servers and streaming sites I tested; I had no unblocking issues.

As for PIA, I tried five servers, including PIA’s US streaming server, but none allowed me to bypass Hulu geo-restrictions. I even tried Incognito Mode and my mobile network connection – nothing.

I had the same experiences with the other streaming sites I tested, barring BBC iPlayer, which was a smooth unblock using PIA’s UK London streaming server.

I also tried Surfshark’s and PIA’s SmartDNS features to binge the US Netflix’s Borgia on my SmartTV, which isn’t compatible with VPN app installations. 

Without any hiccups, both setups fulfilled their purpose!

I continued to explore Netflix with Surfshark and PIA. See my findings below.

Netflix Tests

I tested Surfshark and PIA over six Netflix libraries: the US, UK, Germany, Australia, France, and Japan. This table draws a pretty picture:

Unblocks: Netflix US? Netflix UK? Other Netflix Libraries?
Surfshark Yes - Buffalo Yes (UK - London) Netflix DE, AU, FR, JP
PIA Yes (US-Streaming) Yes (UK-Streaming) Netflix AU, JP

It was connect-and-play with both providers. Only PIA’s optimized streaming servers worked, as the streaming connections failed on the standard PIA regional servers.

streaming downtown abbey on netflix using pia server

Surfshark was smooth sailing, and its fast speeds allowed 4K streaming on UK Netflix, where Downton Abbey was the name of the game (I’m a sucker for period dramas).

streaming netflix using surfshark on uk server
EXPERT SUMMARY

Surfshark is more consistent than PIA, allowing me to unblock and stream without troubleshooting.

Winner
Surfshark logo
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Torrenting

While both VPNs can be used for torrenting, PIA offers port forwarding for torrent seeding, giving it the advantage. I ran a quick seeding test to back this claim.

pia torrent seeding test

I also reached out to PIA to ask about P2P support. The response was disappointing:

pia customer support on p2p

But Surfshark raises spirits. It offers P2P support on all 3,200+ servers and P2P optimization on a select few. You can view Surfshark’s P2P-optimized servers by searching for “P2P” in the search bar.

If you simply want to download files, you’ll be interested in my P2P tests below.

P2P Tests

I compared the torrent download speeds on Surfshark and PIA servers with a 7.01 MiB copyright-free version of The House of the Rising Sun.

I used uTorrent, but both VPNs are compatible with qBitTorrent, and Deluge.

Likewise, to be fair, I disconnected port forwarding on PIA and connected both VPNs to a P2P server in South Africa for comparable results. 

The WireGuard protocol was another constant.

  Average Download Speed Max Download Speed Download Completion Time
Surfshark 121.8 KB/s 334 KB/s 1 minute, 06 seconds
PIA 82 KB/s 319 KB/s 1 minute, 29 seconds

Surfshark was 23 seconds faster, although PIA followed closely!

surfshark p2p test

PIA’s close follow-up:

pia p2p test
EXPERT SUMMARY

PIA’s port forwarding makes it a fit for seed torrenting. However, Surfshark’s P2P-optimized servers and faster speeds prompt smoother downloads.

Winner
Draw

Gaming

I ran a ping and packet loss test using the faster WireGuard protocol to see if Surfshark and PIA suit gaming.

This table summarizes my results:

  Server Protocol Ping Packet Loss
Surfshark South Africa WireGuard 194 ms 0%
PIA South Africa WireGuard 11ms 0%

The ping discrepancy between the two VPNs was so large that I ran each test twice to ensure connection disturbances didn’t affect the results.

But the figures remained the same, and PIA’s ping rate is a force to be reckoned with!

I performed real-life gameplay tests on Among Us and GTA 5 across both VPNs.

gaming with surfshark

Despite latency differences, Surfshark’s lag was noticeable but minimal – not enough to frustrate me.

PIA, on the other hand, was smooth sailing.

gaming with private internet access
EXPERT SUMMARY

PIA’s ping was significantly lower than Surfshark’s, prompting smoother gameplay.

Winner
PIA logo
GET DISCOUNT NOW

Privacy

Surfshark is based in the Netherlands, and PIA has its headquarters in Colorado, the US.  

The Netherlands has no obligatory data retention laws, but it does form part of the 9/14 eye alliance. On the other hand, the US is riddled with grey areas where privacy’s concerned – and it’s also a member of the 5/9/14 alliance.

The alliances mean that either provider may be obligated to share information with allied countries.

The good news is that both VPNs retain minimal data; all you need for a subscription is an email address. PIA even auto-generates a username, so you don’t have to continue logging in with your email, although it’s still an option.

Another surety is both VPN providers accept cryptocurrency if you don’t want to share your credit card or PayPal details, further securing your anonymity.

Additionally, both VPNs have competing ad-blockers to block ads, trackers, and malicious websites, leaving no room for privacy leaks. Surfshark’s ad-blocker is called CleanWeb, and PIA has MACE; each can be activated via the VPN apps at no extra cost.

I tested the efficiency of these ad blockers using the Adblock-Tester.

Surfshark:

surfshark contextual advertising test

PIA:

pia contextual advertising test

Surfshark rounds off with the advantage of Rotating IPs, a feature activated via app settings. This privacy addition rotates your IPs while keeping your VPN location the same.

However, it’s the providers logging policies that sharpen the service.

Logging Policies

I studied the privacy and logging policies of Surfshark and PIA and discovered the following:

  Traffic Logs? Connection Logs? IP Address? Server Location?
Surfshark No No No No
PIA No No No No

The VPNs do store basic information such as:

  • VPN server IP addresses you connect to
  • Your username/email address
  • Payment information
  • Connection time stamps when you connect to a particular VPN server

Peace of mind is granted knowing that the VPNs’ RAM-only servers automatically encrypt and delete activity (not subscription information) within a few seconds of ending your session.

And there are no-logging policies. Both VPNs had their no-logs policies audited in 2022 by Deloitte, one of the world’s most prestigious auditing firms.

Surfshark goes a step ahead and shares its entire Deloitte report

I appreciate this level of transparency! I asked PIA’s agents if I could view their report from Deloitte. They said “no,” – which contradicts the following statement on their website:

pia transparency on reports

To give PIA the benefit of the doubt, it does announce the following:

pia on logging audit report

It’s also one of few VPNs to prove their no-logs claim in court

PIA’s been subpoenaed numerous times for logs, and they had no data to share each time.

Last, PIA offers 100% open-source VPN apps, unlike Surfshark, allowing anyone to view and analyze their code.

EXPERT SUMMARY

Surfshark’s solid data retention laws, transparent Deloitte report, fewer alliances, and clean subpoena record provide more surety than PIA.

Winner
Surfshark logo
GET DISCOUNT NOW

Security

Surfshark and PIA use AES 256-bit encryption and offer IP/DNS leak prevention, a kill switch, and DDoS protection. On kill switches, PIA offers an advanced setup where you can activate leak protection by blocking traffic going outside the VPN even when it’s turned off.

I tested the encryption on both providers using the WireGuard protocol and I’m happy with the results, as confirmed by Wireshark:

I also wanted to ensure leak prevention is stable, so I ran multiple IP and DNS leak tests. Again, Surfshark and PIA are on par:

Surfshark leak test on the US Las Vegas server:

surfshark leak test result

PIA leak test on the US Las Vegas server:

pia leak test result

Interestingly, Surfshark doesn’t support the IPv6 protocol due to connection complexities that may arise. PIA takes a different stance and states:

pia on ipv6 support

Obfuscation

Both VPNs offer obfuscation in the form of Camouflage Mode for Surfshark and Multi-Hop for PIA.

Camouflage Mode operates automatically when connected to Surfshark’s OpenVPN (UDP or TCP) protocols. In contrast, Multi-Hop on PIA is enabled by switching to OpenVPN (UDP or TCP) and toggling the feature.

Automatic Public WiFi Protection

You can also use Surfshark and PIA for protection against sketchy WiFi networks at restaurants and hotels.

Both VPNs offer WiFi protection by manually connecting to a VPN server

Surfshark considers “forgetful” personalities and provides an “Auto-connect feature” on PC and mobile devices that connect you to a VPN when your device finds a WiFi connection.

PIA offers similar automated WiFi protection, although the setup’s more complex and, like the provider says, “experimental.”

pia wifi protection

Extra Security Features

Surfshark takes security a step further and offers its own Dynamic MultiHop feature, not to be confused with PIA’s obfuscation.

Dynamic MultiHop takes shape in a double VPN, allowing you to connect via two different VPN servers for an extra layer of privacy and encryption.

PIA currently lacks this option.

surfshark multihop feature
EXPERT SUMMARY

Surfshark and PIA share excellent security features like obfuscation and WiFi protection. But considering Surfshark offers more features, Surfshark wins this round.

Winner
Surfshark logo
GET DISCOUNT NOW

Devices & Connections

Surfshark and PIA are economic VPNs that offer unlimited simultaneous connections. Your entire household and office can have a piece of the VPN pie!

These endless connections extend to native Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, Chromebook, and iOS apps.

Surfshark and PIA also cater to SmartTVs, FireTV sticks, and gaming stations

If you’re up for it, they also have browser extensions and setups for routers.

Here are some of the routers you can install Surfshark on:

  • InvizBox 2 VPN router (Surfshark-ready)
  • Synology RT2600AC
  • Vilfo
  • GLiNet GL-MT300N-V2 Mini Smart Router “Mango”
  • Asus RT-AC86U AC2900 Dual Band Gigabit WiFi Gaming Router
  • DD-WRT
  • OpenWRT
  • Tomato

And you can install PIA on these routers:

  • ASUS-WRT-Merlin 384.16
  • DD-WRT
  • LEDE 21.02.3
  • ASUS-WRT
  • pfSense 2.6.0

Both providers offer router setup guides on their websites.

  Surfshark PIA
Compatible OS? Windows, macOS, iOS, Linux, Android, Chromebook Windows, macOS, iOS, Linux, Android
Smart TVs? Android TV, FireTV, + SmartDNS Android TV, FireTV, + SmartDNS
Router Support? Yes (manual) Yes (manual)
Browser Extensions? Chrome, Firefox, Brave Chrome, Firefox, Opera

Smart DNS

Surfshark and PIA offer SmartDNS so you can change your location for streaming content on Smart TVs, gaming consoles, and other devices that aren’t compatible with apps. A catch is that you can only use Surfshark SmartDNS in the US, whereas PIA extends this service to the US, UK, Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands.

Hence, you can use Surfshark’s SmartDNS to unblock the following streaming services:

  • Netflix (US)
  • Amazon Prime (US)
  • Disney+ (US)
  • Hulu (US)

While PIA’s SmartDNS unblocks the following streaming services:

  • Netflix US
  • Hulu
  • Amazon Prime US
  • Crunchyroll US
  • Eurosport
  • HBO Max
  • YouTube TV US
  • Disney+ US
  • ITV
  • Netflix UK
  • BBC iPlayer
  • Netflix Japan
  • Amazon Prime JP
  • Netflix Germany

Here are guides to:

Setup Surfshark’s SmartDNS on a Smart TV

Setup Surfshark’s SmartDNS on a gaming console

Setting up Smart DNS using PIA is easy! Simply navigate to the Client Control Panel on the website and select your preferred device from the list.

private internet access smartdns
EXPERT SUMMARY

Surfshark supports more routers than PIA; we can’t deny this convenience. However, PIA’s SmartDNS unblocks more streaming platforms, making router setups unnecessary – it’s also easier to enable!

Winner
PIA logo
GET DISCOUNT NOW

Split Tunneling

Surfshark and PIA support split tunneling. This feature connects only the selected apps to a VPN connection while leaving other apps connected to your local network. 

Surfshark brands the feature as Bypasser, while the PIA VPN keeps things simple with Split Tunnel.

Bypasser’s a little stingy and is only available on Windows and Android devices. 

On the other hand, PIA’s Split Tunnel covers Windows, Android, macOS, and Linux.

Bypasser:

surfshark bypasser feature

Split Tunnel:

private internet access split tunnel
EXPERT SUMMARY

PIA gets thumbs up for extending split tunneling to more devices.

Winner
PIA logo
GET DISCOUNT NOW

Dedicated IPs

PIA has offered dedicated IPs for some time, but this feature’s new to Surfshark!

Surfshark offers dedicated IPs in four locations only: the US, the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands. On the other hand, PIA boasts dedicated IP locations on a larger server network, including Australia, Canada, Switzerland, the UK, Japan, Singapore, and the US.

PIA’s dedicated IP service is also more affordable at $2.50 monthly

Surfshark bills a heftier monthly fee of $3.75.

EXPERT SUMMARY

PIA’s experience, broad dedicated IP location range, and affordable subscription give it the upper hand in this department.

Winner
PIA logo
GET DISCOUNT NOW

Customer Support

Surfshark and PIA don’t leave customers hanging and provide multiple channels for support, including robust 24/7 live chat features that link to customer agents in real time.

On Surfshark, connecting to a rep took less than 20 seconds and less than 30 seconds with PIA! You’ll also appreciate that accessing live chat channels doesn’t require logging into your account.

Alternatively, you can reach Surfshark via email (support@surfshark.com) and an online form. PIA also offers the form, but a support email address is nowhere to be found.

Both VPNs have support centers where you can source information for everyday inquiries. However, Surfshark is the only one to offer handy video tutorials that answer many questions.

surfshark video tutorials on their youtube channel
EXPERT SUMMARY

Both VPNs have jumped on the 24/7 live chat bandwagon, but Surfshark’s response time is better and offers in-house video tutorials.

Winner
Surfshark logo
GET DISCOUNT NOW

Usability

I tested Surfshark and PIA on my Windows and Android devices and found them both beginner-friendly across the interfaces. Depending on your preference, you can also choose between dark and light modes.

Here’s what my Surfshark app looks like on Windows:

surfshark app on windows

Similarly, the PIA app is organized, paying brief attention to detail:

pia app on windows

I like how both Android apps are similar to the Windows versions, allowing quick setups for all VPN tasks.

surfshark and private internet access servers
Surfshark servers (Left), PIA servers (Right)

Out of curiosity, I tested to see which VPN connected to a server first. 

Surfshark connected to a server within 4 seconds, but PIA took 8 seconds.

One thing I find convenient with Surfshark is its neatly organized presets on all its apps (Fastest Locations, Nearest Locations, MultiHop, etc.). These help you quickly sift to the type of server you need. PIA requires more scrutinizing to find the perfect server.

A notable difference is the VPN’s kill switches. PIA doesn’t have a kill switch on Android but redirects you to Always-ON VPN, which functions like the kill switch.

Surfshark’s neatly organized presets, faster connection time, simple kill switch, and automatic WiFi setup make it easier to use than PIA.

surfshark and pia kill switch

Moving on, all the apps provide “Quick Connect” buttons and icons to connect you to the fastest server automatically. The Windows apps even offer shortcut menus, providing smooth navigation to server options.

EXPERT SUMMARY

Surfshark’s neatly organized presets, faster connection time, simple kill switch, and automatic WiFi setup make it easier to use than PIA.

Winner
Surfshark logo
GET DISCOUNT NOW

Price & Value

Surfshark isn’t as affordable as Private Internet Access.

Screenshot MS 1 1
Image for illustration only. Design, deals, and details may differ. Click on the image for current info.

A quick comparison of the monthly subscription plan confirms this.

Private Internet Access Plans & Price
Image for illustration only. Design, deals, and details may differ. Click on the image for current info.

Even PIA’s yearly deals are easier to swallow, with a three years plus three months subscription being the easiest pill to swallow.

Regarding payment, both VPNs accept credit/debit cards, PayPal, Apple Pay, Amazon Pay, or cryptocurrency. Surfshark also accepts Google Pay and US ACH payments.

Furthermore, both VPN services offer a 30-day money-back guarantee.

So, if you’re not keen on either service, you can request a cancellation within the first 30 days of subscribing. Surfshark and PIA will then refund your money.

EXPERT SUMMARY

PIA’s prices are hard to beat with affordable subscriptions on top of the benefit of 3 free months when choosing the 3-year plan.

Winner
PIA logo
GET DISCOUNT NOW

Surfshark vs. Private Internet Access (Overview Table)

  Surfshark PIA Winner
Servers: 3,200+ servers Unknown Tie
Speed: 1.5 Mbps drop 9.38 Mbps drop Surfshark
Protocols: WireGuard, OpenVPN (TCP), OpenVPN (UDP), IKEv2 (iOS & Android) WireGuard, OpenVPN (TCP), OpenVPN (UDP), IKEv2 (iOS) Tie
Streaming: Hulu, Netflix, NRK, France.tv, BBC iPlayer Netflix, BBC iPlayer Surfshark
Torrenting: On all servers On all servers + seeding Tie
Gaming: 194 ms ping + 0% packet loss 11 ms ping + 0% packet loss PIA
Logs: Verified no-logs policy Verified no-logs policy Surfshark
Security: Multihop, obfuscation, automatic WiFi protection Obfuscation, WiFi Protection, two kill switches Surfshark
Devices: Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Chromebook, Smart TVs, routers Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Chromebook, Linux, Smart TVs, routers PIA
Simultaneous Connections: Unlimited Unlimited Tie
Customer Support: 24/7 live chat 24/7 live chat Surfshark
Best Deal: Surfshark PIA  
More Comparisons:

So Who Takes the Limelight?

It was a close call, but Surfshark walks away with a standing ovation.

But that doesn’t mean Private Internet Access is a lowly choice, as it’s excellent if you’re on a budget or an avid torrent seeder.

However, where connection speeds and security are your most significant concerns, choose Surfshark as the top performer.

THE WINNER IS SURFSHARK

Protect private web traffic from snooping, interference, and censorship. All plans are covered by a no-hassle 100% money-back guarantee for your first 30 days of service.

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