Custom DNS vs. VPN vs. Smart DNS: Differences, Similarities, and Winner

We are reader supported and may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Learn more.

You can improve internet connection speeds and online security with a VPN, Smart DNS, or custom DNS service. However, you can only bypass content censorships and defeat geo-blocking with Smart DNS and VPNs.

Furthermore, only VPNs encrypt your internet connection over security, speed, and unblocking provisions, making it stand out on all counts.

Still, Smart DNS services have an ace up their sleeve, while DNS providers may be the best bet in some cases.

So, continue reading to find out how these three compare and which is the best.

Quick Knowledge Box

  VPN Custom DNS Smart DNS
Pros
  • DDoS attack protection
  • Web traffic encryption
  • Content Unblocking
  • Multiple protocols for network/device compatibility
  • Bypasses harsh censorship
  • A single subscription can be used on multiple devices
  • Thousands of remote server locations
  • Hide DNS from attackers
  • Get faster speeds (sometimes)
  • Protect your devices against cache poisoning
  • Faster for streaming content
  • Compatible with multiple devices
  • Cheaper than VPNs
  • Unblocks content and streaming services
Cons
  • Not supported on all devices and operating systems
  • Slower speed to Smart DNS
  • Zero traffic encryption
  • Doesn’t hide your IP address
  • Can’t unblock content
  • Doesn’t prevent DDoS attacks
  • A single account can (usually) only be used on one device
  • No DDoS protection
  • No encryption
  • No torrenting/P2P file-sharing support
  • Doesn’t hide your IP address
  • Uses fewer servers
  • Can’t bypass harsh censorship

Similarities Between VPN, DNS, and Smart DNS

Smart DNS, VPNs, and DNS are similar because they can get you better security and speed. However, they differ slightly in how they offer these services, so it’s worth discussing.

Find out below.

Security

A VPN and Smart DNS service can spoof your location, DNS, and IP address.

That protects you against doxing attacks, getting deanonymized on the internet, and all the ills that come with that.

Likewise, you can avoid DDoS attacks with a VPN since you get the VPN provider’s IP addresses and robust security systems to resist such attacks.

tweet about vpns getting ddos attacks
Reliable VPN providers take on DDoS attacks and repel them with their secure systems

This isn’t possible with a Smart DNS service or DNS provider, so they’re limited in how secure they can make your internet experience.

Regardless, they all contribute to security in some aspects.

Speed

VPNs get you better download and upload speeds when connecting to faster VPN server locations. This is why some gamers prefer VPNs to get lower ping and latency when playing online.

tweet about dns overload causing internet speed to throttle via isp
DNS overload can sometimes cause your ISP to throttle your internet speeds

However, due to the encryption across VPN tunneling protocols, you get a considerable speed drop compared to Smart DNS and DNS connections.

Despite that, you can bypass ISP throttling to get better bandwidth and speeds with these three than if you weren’t using them.

Differences Between Smart DNS, DNS, and VPN

The core differences between Smart DNS, custom DNS, and VPNs come from how they provide security, speed, encryption, unblock content, pricing, and other important considerations.

So, I distilled the criteria for evaluating their differences in the table below and explained them further in the following sections.

Criteria VPN DNS Smart DNS Winner
Servers Most Least Average VPN
Speed Fast Fast Faster Smart DNS
Encryption Yes No No VPN
Geo-spoofing Yes No Yes VPN & SmartDNS
P2P File Sharing Yes No Depends VPN
Content Unblocking Yes No Yes VPN & Smart DNS
Bypass Harsh Censorship Yes No No VPN
Bypass Firewalls Yes No No VPN
Device Compatibility Native app support All devices All devices DNS & Smart DNS
Gaming Support Great None Good VPN
Setup Difficulty Easy Medium to High Medium VPN
Customer Support Yes No Sometimes VPN
IP Leak Prevention Yes No No VPN
Price Paid Free Paid DNS
Extra Value Higher High Low VPN

What Is a VPN?

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is software that tunnels and transmits your internet traffic through secure packets. Thus:

  • Your ISP can’t see what you’re doing on the internet.
  • You’re anonymous to any server/anyone you’re communicating with (unless you revealed your identity yourself).

How Does a VPN Work?

how vpns work vpnalert infographics

A VPN assigns you a new IP address in a preferred server location whenever you connect to the internet. Doing so protects you from DDoS attacks, ensures further anonymity on the web, and unblocks content available in the new region you’re connected to.

For example, CNN Go is only available in the USA. So, you can connect to a US server location (from Spain, the Netherlands, Armenia, or anywhere else), and CNN’s servers will think you’re in the US.

On top of that, reliable VPN providers use robust security, often resulting from military-grade AES 256-bit encryption. This encryption is layered over protocols such as OpenVPN (TCP & UDP), IKEv2, WireGuard/NordLynx/Lightway, and IPSec.

Thus, you can get around VPN traffic blocks and prevent live VPN traffic decryption by your internet service provider (ISP), the government, hackers, or other concerned parties.

Pros of a VPN

Cons of a VPN

Which Devices Are VPNs Recommended For?

VPNs are recommended for devices that can download the native app.

Thus, mobile phones (iOS, Android, and Amazon Fire Tablets), Android TVs, and PCs (Windows, Linux, Chromebook, and Mac).

expressvpn compatible devices 1
Cross section of devices ExpressVPN is supported on

However, VPNs can also be used on devices without native app support by installing a VPN router software on a compatible router.

Thus, you can broadcast a secure connection on other devices such as:

  • Gaming consoles (PlayStation and Xbox)
  • Streaming devices (such as Roku)
  • Smart home devices (smart cameras, doorbells, lights, etc.)
  • Local home connections (such as printers)
  • Non-Android smart TVs

Why Do You Need a VPN?

Here are a few reasons to pick a VPN over Smart DNS and custom DNS services:

  • Bypass firewalls. Reliable VPN providers bypass strict firewalls where Smart DNS/custom DNS doesn’t stand a chance.
  • Torrent securely. A VPN hides your actual IP address and encrypts your connection, so you’re never caught torrenting. You can get port forwarding and P2P servers for faster torrent downloads without sacrificing security.
  • Boost online security. Thanks to AES 256-bit military-grade protection, DDoS protection, and IP/DNS/WebRTC leak prevention, you get better security with a VPN.
  • Secure Wi-Fi connection. Browsing on public Wi-Fi is safer over a VPN than with custom DNS or Smart DNS. Otherwise, you risk falling victim to malware attacks, session hijacking, man-in-the-middle attacks, data snooping, and other common public Wi-Fi hacks.
  • Bypass tough censorship. When standard VPN and Smart DNS protocols don’t work, VPNs use obfuscation protocols to bypass the toughest censorships.
  • Access specific locations. For example, online betting is legal in New Jersey but not in all of the US. So, you can use a VPN to access such specific locations rather than a Smart DNS/custom DNS which only unblocks a broad location.
  • Change your IP address. Although Smart DNS may also spoof your location at the DNS level, it doesn’t change your IP address to prevent detection.
  • Includes Smart DNS. Most reliable VPN providers also offer Smart DNS at no extra cost. So, you get all of the above and Smart DNS without paying two subscription fees.

How to Choose a VPN Provider?

9 criteria in choosing vpn provider vpnalert graphics

When choosing a VPN provider, consider the following:

  • No-logs. An audited no-logs VPN like ExpressVPN doesn’t store your connection data, IP address, VPN-assigned IP address, or anything you do online. So, it can’t hand over the data to the government, sell it to third parties or lose it to hackers.
  • Numerous servers. Your choice VPN should own and maintain thousands of servers. It’s also great to have multiple servers in the same location (such as the US), cities, and regions.
  • Wide coverage. Besides having a lot of servers, choose a VPN that covers many countries. That way, you can unblock local content from any country and get a wider internet reach from wherever you are.
  • Encryption. Don’t choose a VPN that doesn’t offer 256-bit encryption on all servers and across all its protocols.
  • Speed-optimizations. A VPN will always cause a connection drop. However, providers like ExpressVPN are optimized for speed so much that you don’t notice the speed drop.
  • Multiple protocols. You can get better mobile support over IKEv2 protocols, use OpenVPN for obfuscation on some providers, and get the fastest speeds over WireGuard/NordLynx/Lightway. Thus, you need multiple protocols to get the best out of your VPN.
  • Customer care. A reliable VPN also has excellent customer care to troubleshoot all your issues as they happen. I prefer the 24/7 live chat option for faster access to professionals.
  • Security. Your VPN provider should offer DDoS protection on all servers, public Wi-Fi security, and prevent IP/DNS leaks.
  • File-sharing support. P2P servers provide file sharing support, allowing you to download and upload files (even torrents) without interception or getting caught.

How to Setup a VPN?

A VPN is easier to set up than Smart DNS or custom DNS services.

Below, I show you how to set up a VPN on your mobile devices or PC.

How to Setup a VPN on Mobile?

Here’s how to get a VPN working on your mobile device.

I’ll use an iOS device for this example, but the setup is the same for Android devices.

  1. Buy a VPN subscription. I recommend ExpressVPN for mobile devices.
  2. Download and install the VPN app from your Google Play Store/iOS App Store.
  3. Login with your account credentials.
  4. Choose the suggested “Smart Location” to quickly connect to the fastest server using the best protocol. OR
  1. Tap the three horizontal icons near the suggested server location.
  1. Search and select a country.
  1. Wait for connection confirmation.

How to Setup a VPN on a PC?

The steps below detail how to set up a VPN on your Windows PC.

The steps are similar for Mac.

  1. Buy a VPN subscription. I recommend ExpressVPN for PC.
  2. Download and install the VPN app. You can get it from your Microsoft Store or the VPN provider’s official website.
  3. Login with your account credentials.
expressvpn app with server options while connected to kazakhstan server via pc
  1. Follow steps 4-8 in the previous section.

What Is Smart DNS?

Smart DNS services rely on changing your DNS details so your devices send online requests to web servers like they’re in another location.

Thus, Smart DNS can unblock access to certain content and ensure faster streaming when your requests are routed through faster servers.

However, Smart DNS doesn’t encrypt your internet connection or hide your IP address.

How Does Smart DNS Work?

how smart dns works vpnalert graphics

A Smart DNS works by forcing web servers to check your DNS address before looking at your IP address. Since these web servers only need to know where you’re from, it takes the location data from your Smart DNS and runs with it.

A Domain Name System (DNS) is usually associated with a country of origin, which can help web servers determine where you’re browsing/streaming from.

connection with or without smart dns vpnalert graphics

However, most web servers check your IP address before your DNS since that’s a faster way to determine where you’re browsing from. With the Smart DNS, that process is reversed.

In other words, your IP address remains the sameSo, the service will know where you’re genuinely browsing from if it bypasses the DNS checks and goes for the IP check instead.

Still, this lack of encryption makes Smart DNS services faster since they don’t have to tunnel your data before presenting it to the servers you’re communicating with.

Pros of Smart DNS

Cons of Smart DNS

Which Devices Are Smart DNS Services Recommended For?

Smart DNS can be used on any internet-enabled device.

Devices that interact directly with the internet usually have a DNS setting that can be tweaked into the Smart DNS. Thus, this remains a great way to unblock content on gaming consoles and smart TVs that can’t download a VPN app.

smart dns compatible devices graphics
Devices you can enable Smart DNS on

In fact, Smart DNS is supported on a broader range of routers than most VPN providers manage. Thus, you can protect the entire network of units connected to that single router.

Also, note that this is usually the only way to use your Smart DNS subscription with multiple devices. Otherwise, you’ll have to buy a new account per device from which you want to unblock content.

Why Do You Need a Smart DNS Service?

Here are a few reasons Smart DNS is the better option over VPNs and custom DNS services:

  • Get faster speeds. Since the Smart DNS doesn’t encrypt your internet connection, you get the full blast of the network speed. However, speed drops over fast VPNs like ExpressVPN are negligible, so you might not even notice.
  • Price. Smart DNS may be a better option if you’re concerned about the price. But recall that VPNs now offer Smart DNS as a free add-on to your subscription.
  • Connecting devices with non-native VPN apps. For example, your gaming consoles and non-Android smart TVs can’t download a VPN app.
  • No privacy/security concerns. Suppose you’re only interested in unblocking content and don’t care about online privacy/security. In that case, you’ll find Smart DNS just fine.

How to Choose a Smart DNS Provider?

5 criteria in choosing smart dns providers vpnalert graphics

Consider the following when using a Smart DNS provider:

  • Server coverage. Always check the coverage of the Smart DNS provider to ensure it has servers in multiple countries. Also, check that the top desired locations (such as the US, UK, and Canada) are available too.
  • Supported devices. A Smart DNS provider should support all internet-enabled devices.
  • Unblocking ability. Your preferred Smart DNS provider should unblock Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, and other web platforms.
  • Unlimited bandwidth. You’ll bypass speed throttling with unlimited bandwidth and get faster streaming/unblocking speeds.
  • Customer service. Excellent customer service ensures you can always report and resolve issues fast. You’ll get better customer service from paid options like (Smart DNS Proxy).

How to Setup Smart DNS?

You can set up Smart DNS on smart TVs, gaming consoles, or other devices. Follow the instructions below to get and configure Smart DNS for your devices.

How to Get a Smart DNS?

Follow the steps below to get your Smart DNS details.

  1. Subscribe to a Smart DNS service provider. I recommended ExpressVPN’s MediaStreamer, which comes free with every ExpressVPN subscription.
  2. Log in to your ExpressVPN online account.
  3. Click “DNS Settings” from the left menu bar.
locating dns setting on expressvpn homepage
  1. Under “IP Address Registration,” click “Register my IP address.”
register ip address using dns setting on expressvpn
  1. Toggle “Automatically register my IP address.”
  2. Click “Setup” at the top of the page.
  3. You’ll find your MediaStreamer Smart DNS details on the lower right.
smart dns details using mediastreamer

How to Setup Smart DNS on PlayStation?

Here’s how to use your Smart DNS details on PlayStation 4 and 5 consoles.

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Select Network.
  3. Select “Set Up Internet Connection.”
  4. Choose “Use Wi-Fi.”
  5. Click “Yes” if you have existing Wi-Fi connections you’ll like to use.
  6. Under “How do you want to set up the internet connection,” choose “Custom.”
  7. Under “IP Address settings,” choose “Automatic.”
  8. For “DCHP Host Name,” select “Do Not Specify.”
  9. For “DNS Settings,” select “Manual.”
  10. Enter your Primary DNS as seen on MediaStreamer here. Leave the secondary DNS.
  11. Save the settings.
  12. Restart your PS4 or PS5 console.

How to Setup Smart DNS on Apple TV?

expressvpn for apple tv minimalist graphics

These steps help spoof your geo-location with Smart DNS on Apple TV devices.

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Under “General,” select “Network” then “Wi-Fi.”
  3. Choose Your Network.
  4. Select “Configure DNS” and choose “Manual.”
  5. Enter your Smart DNS obtained from MediaStreamer here.
  6. Restart your Apple TV.

What Is Custom DNS?

As the name implies, DNS and Smart DNS are close in their work but with a fundamental difference.

Custom DNS addresses can be set up to spoof the location seen by web servers when you access content on them. However, they’re unreliable enough to unblock content, nor do they encrypt your internet traffic.

How Does a Custom DNS Server Work?

how custom dns server works vpnalert graphics

Setting up a custom DNS in place of your actual DNS throws off web servers or other online platforms on your DNS traffic origin.

Thus, you get better security against DNS attacks/poisoning.

Likewise, you can enjoy better speeds if your custom DNS routes traffic via a faster location.

The significant difference between Smart DNS and custom DNS is how Smart DNS traffic travels through many proxy servers. In contrast, custom DNS is usually configured to use one server.

Thus, Smart DNS can unblock services by accurately detecting which regions those services are available in and routing your web traffic through relevant servers. However, custom DNS will only route your traffic through ONE location and won’t unblock content there.

Pros of a Custom DNS

Cons of a Custom DNS

Which Devices Are Custom DNS Recommended For?

You can set up a custom DNS address on any device that can use Smart DNS, including mobile devices, PCs, gaming consoles, smart TV sets, and routers.

Since both require manually tweaking the primary and secondary DNS settings, you can apply custom DNS on units VPNs don’t cover.

However, you get better protection with Smart DNS and even better protection if you choose a VPN.

Why Do You Need Custom DNS?

The only times it makes sense to use a custom DNS over Smart DNS or VPN is when the price is a huge decider. After all, you can get private custom DNS addresses from Google and Cloudflare for free.

tweet about using custom dns to bypass blocks

Likewise, you must not care about traffic encryption but want the added benefits of DNS spoofing to prevent hijacking.

However, know that your IP address isn’t protected (as only a VPN can do that), and you’re still exposed to DDoS attacks.

How to Choose a Custom DNS Provider?

tips on choosing custom dns providers vpnalert graphics

Before settling on a custom DNS provider, check for the following:

  • Privacy. A DNS provider that tracks and logs your information can also sell it to a third party. Even when it collects some data, the good ones will state the kind of information it records.
  • Speed. Don’t choose a custom DNS provider that doesn’t guarantee speed. This is particularly important if you set up the custom DNS to bypass throttling and access better connection speeds.
  • Stable infrastructure. If you choose a reliable provider, you most likely don’t have to do this check independently. You need a stable infrastructure to avoid connection drops and ensure a reliable connection.
  • Protection. There’s little a custom DNS can protect you against since the connection isn’t encrypted. Regardless, ensure the custom DNS provider can secure you against DNS hijacking, DNS poisoning, and other related attacks.

How to Setup Custom DNS?

Follow these steps to use custom DNS on supported devices.

  1. Find a preferred custom DNS address supplier. Google and Cloudflare own DNS servers you can use for free.
  2. Go to your device’s network settings.
  3. Choose a network you want to modify. You can select Wi-Fi or Ethernet.
  4. Update your DNS settings with the custom DNS details.
  5. Restart your device/app or clear your browser cache

Which Should You Get: Custom DNS, DNS, or VPN?

Custom DNS, Smart DNS, and VPNs excel in their rights, monopolize certain features, and draw on others.

So, if you’re hard-pressed for which to choose, I compared all three on 14 vital criteria and came up with the winner in each category.

In the end, you’ll know which to choose.

Let’s discuss!

Servers

VPN providers often provide thousands of servers in multiple countries.

Besides Smart DNS services using fewer servers (to ensure speed), they also don’t let you choose preferred servers in most instances and only connect you to the assumed-best server.

region server options on expressvpn while connected to canada server
An overview of locations where ExpressVPN has thousands of servers

However, you can tweak this if your Smart DNS provider offers different proxy addresses in multiple locations. Still, it doesn’t provide as much as you get with VPN servers.

Custom DNS, on the other hand, can only use one proxy server per time.

Winner: VPN (1/1)

Speed

VPNs cause a connection drop, but providers like ExpressVPN and NordVPN are fast enough to stream content securely in 4K. Nevertheless, Smart DNS and custom DNS services are relatively quicker.

Note that the extra speed you get from Smart DNS/Custom DNS is due to a lack of encryption. Thus, you’re exposed to IP hijacking/hacks while enjoying those fast speeds.

Winner: Smart DNS (1/2)

Encryption

Connections over reliable VPN servers are encrypted with industry-standard AES 256-bit technology. Thus, your IP/DNS details don’t leak to your web servers, government, or ISP.

Sadly, Smart DNS and custom DNS services don’t offer any encryption.

encryption on expressvpn while connected to spain server
ExpressVPN encryption prevents against IP and DNS leaks

Thus, you can’t surf the web privately or anonymously with Smart DNS and custom DNS. Again, this lack of encryption is what makes the other duo faster.

So, they sacrifice your security for speed.

Winner: VPN (2/3)

Geo-Spoofing

Reliable VPNs and Smart DNS providers can change the location where online platforms see your data coming from. That’s important to protect your identity and access geo-blocked content.

On the other hand, custom DNS alone is shaky, reveals your IP address, and fails in spoofing your location correctly.

Winner: VPN (3/4) and Smart DNS (2/4)

P2P File Sharing & Torrenting

You can’t torrent securely over a DNS and Smart DNS since they don’t encrypt your data securely enough to prevent ISP and copyright tracking.

Thus, you need a VPN with P2P-optimized servers to avoid nasty copyright warnings, lawsuits, or fines/jail time.

torrenting on utorrent using nordvpn
NordVPN, another reliable VPN provider, working fine for torrents

Likewise, without P2P file-sharing support, you can’t guarantee the integrity of files you download/upload from/to peers over a Smart DNS or DNS connection.

Winner: VPN (4/5)

Bypassing Harsh Censorships

Custom DNS is already out of the competition since it won’t unblock content. Furthermore, Smart DNS isn’t enough to bypass harsh censorship.

So, you’ll have to defer to a VPN.

Smart DNS is only great for unblocking mildly region-specific content but can’t offer obfuscation or the high-level encryption required to safely tunnel your data, defeat content bypass blocks, and unlock harshly censored content.

Winner: VPN (5/6)

Bypass Firewalls

VPNs will bypass firewalls to access websites, online platforms, and content that’s been restricted behind the firewall. In fact, a VPN can bypass the Great Firewall of China faster, better, and more reliably than custom DNS or Smart DNS.

Winner: VPN (6/7)

Device Compatibility

You can configure Smart DNS and custom DNS for any internet-enabled device, but you can’t use VPN native apps on all such devices.

For context, you can use a VPN on:

  • Mobile devices (iOS, Android, and Amazon Kindle Fire)
  • PC (Mac, Windows, Linux, and Chromebook)
  • Web browsers (Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Mozilla Firefox)
  • Streaming devices (Roku, Amazon Fire TV)

In addition to the above, you can set up Smart DNS and custom DNS on smart TV units and gaming consoles (PlayStation, Xbox) without native VPN app support.

However, you can install a VPN on a compatible router to connect to these other devices without a native VPN app. Regardless, on the basic level, Smart DNS and DNS win.

Winner: DNS (1/8) and Smart DNS (3/8)

Gaming

VPNs are great for gaming on mobile and PC devices where you can download their native apps. Smart DNS, however, is great for gaming over PCs and gaming consoles (such as PlayStation and Xbox).

tweet about vpn that do not cut internet speed when gaming
Choose a speed-optimized VPN like ExpressVPN to avoid massive speed drops when gaming

Again, you can install your VPN software on a router, broadcast the secure connection to the gaming consoles, and enjoy faster speeds, gaming protection, and content unblocking. In fact, only a VPN allows you to specify what servers you want your gaming consoles to access the internet from.

Winner: VPN (7/9)

Setup

A VPN is the easiest to use and set up, often requiring a single click after installation to connect to your first remote server.

With custom DNS and Smart DNS, you have to tinker with the device’s network settings and satisfy other technical requirements to make them work.

Winner: VPN (8/10)

Customer Support

Reliable VPNs ALWAYS provide 24/7 customer care support via live chat to diagnose and troubleshoot problems. In comparison, only a handful of Smart DNS providers offer such (or any) robust customer support channels.

With custom DNS, you’re left to your own devices to troubleshoot issues.

Winner: VPN (9/11)

IP Leak Prevention

Dependable VPN providers incorporate IP/DNS and WebRTC leak protection into their software. They even include a kill switch that terminates all internet connections if you ever lose the VPN connection, so your IP never leaks.

locating network lock kill switch feature on expressvpn
ExpressVPN's Network Lock kill switch

Unfortunately, you don’t get the same with either Smart DNS or custom DNS.

Thus, you can still be deanonymized over the internet since the servers you communicate with will see your IP address.

Also, you’re still open to DDoS attacks on Smart DNS and custom DNS.

After all, what the hacker mainly needs is your actual IP address.

Winner: VPN (10/12)

Extra Value

A custom DNS and Smart DNS service come with just the DNS configurations and nothing more. With a VPN, you get unlimited extras, such as:

  • An antivirus software (e.g., Surfshark Antivirus)
  • Dedicated IP address
  • Port forwarding
  • Ad tracker and blocker (e.g., Threat Manager from ExpressVPN)
  • Malware blocker
  • Private browsers (e.g., InBrowser from PIA)
  • Password generator
  • IP/DNS/WebRTC leak checker
  • DDoS protection
  • Breach monitor

Depending on your chosen VPN provider, you may even get more.

And the majority of these come included in the VPN subscription at no extra cost.

Winner: VPN (11/13)

Price

VPNs are priced higher than Smart DNS and custom DNS services based on the listed price alone. However, VPNs offer better value when you consider the encryption, security, unblocking, and value-added offerings it brings.

pricing on smart dns providers with lifetime access
Pricing for a smart DNS provider with lifetime access

Also, you can use VPNs on simultaneous devices. Meanwhile, Smart DNS and custom DNS purchases are often limited to one user per account.

Looking at the base cost alone, getting custom DNS for free earns it a win in this section.

Winner: DNS (2/14)

VPNs win in 11 out of 14 comparison categories, with Smart DNS coming in a distant second with 3 out of 14 wins. Custom DNS is further down the line with 2 out of 15 wins.

So, it’s a no-brainer to choose a VPN provider for the best security, encryption, content unblocking, and a decent balance of speed.

For good measure, you can choose a VPN provider like ExpressVPN.

It offers MediaStreamer – a Smart DNS service for unblocking content – at no extra cost. Despite that, you can use a single ExpressVPN subscription on five devices simultaneously without bandwidth throttling.

Grab these ExpressVPN discounts to get started, save more on your purchase, and enjoy a 30-day risk-free money-back guarantee.

Troubleshooting Guide: What to Do When Your VPN, DNS, or Smart DNS Isn’t Working?

Try these tips if you’re having issues with your custom DNS, Smart DNS, or VPN service (in no particular order).

How to Troubleshoot Custom DNS Issues?

  • Choose a reliable provider. If you must use free addresses, providers like Google and Cloudflare are trustworthy.
  • Check your DNS settings. Confirm that you configured the new DNS correctly.
  • Clear your browser cache. Your browser stores information from the old DNS and might conflict with relaying web requests via the new DNS. So, a simple cache clearing may help.
  • Reboot your device. You sometimes need a system reboot to get the internet working after setting up custom DNS on some gaming consoles, smart TVs, or other devices.
  • Use a different browser. Your browser may not be compatible with the new DNS settings. Try accessing the web from another browser.
  • Temporarily disable your antivirus and firewall. This isn’t recommended for long. So, check to see if it works and revert to enabling them.
  • Update your browser. If you’re using an outdated browser, it may not work with the new custom DNS settings. Look for an update to install.
  • Speak with customer care. For those who paid for their custom DNS, contact customer support to get help.

How to Troubleshoot Smart DNS Issues?

  • Choose a reliable provider. When in doubt, choose ExpressVPN since it offers a VPN + Smart DNS service in one package.
  • Check your Smart DNS settings. Make sure you enter the correct DNS values in your target device.
  • Restart your device. Gaming consoles, smart TVs, and other devices should be restarted to activate the DNS change.
  • Disconnect any VPN service. Ensure you’re not connected to a VPN/other IP address spoofing software before setting up your Smart DNS the first time.
  • Disable IPv6. Smart DNS sometimes won’t work when there’s an IPv6 network detected. So, disable the IPv6 network for the device you want to use the Smart DNS on.
  • Check your base IP address. Smart DNS services often need your IP address to set up the service. With ExpressVPN, you can choose to automatically update your IP address to prevent issues.
  • Clear browser cache. If you set up Smart DNS in your browser, clear the cache to prevent the old DNS details from interfering.
  • Update your browser/app. Check for updates on the browser or app you set up with Smart DNS, and install such updates if available.
  • Try both servers. Smart DNS usually comes with a primary and secondary server address. If your device can only use one, try both (one at a time) to see if it works.
  • Enter the same DNS address. If your device has slots for the primary and secondary DNS but isn’t working, repeat either the primary or secondary DNS alone in both spaces.

How to Troubleshoot VPN Issues?

  • Choose a dependable provider. Buying a VPN subscription from a reliable provider solves most of your problems. I recommend ExpressVPN for PC, mobile, and routers.
  • Switch VPN servers. A server might be down, in maintenance mode, overcrowded, or unavailable. A reliable VPN usually has multiple servers in the same location anyway. So, connect to another.
  • Update the VPN app. Check for an update and install it if available.
  • Restart the VPN app. Sometimes, a simple VPN restart is all you need to get things working again.
  • Reinstall VPN configuration. Your VPN should automatically install configurations on your chosen devices when you use it. If it fails, you can usually find a one-click button to re-install the configuration inside the VPN app.
  • Switch protocols. Some VPN protocols might not bypass harsh censorship (use obfuscation under OpenVPN/Lightway), offer the best speeds (use WireGuard/NordLynx/Lightway), or mobile stability (use IKEv2). So, switching the protocols can help.
  • Speak to customer support. Reliable VPNs like ExpressVPN have 24/7 live chat customer support. They’re always ready to help you troubleshoot any issue and get the best out of your software.

Frequently Asked Questions

Changing your DNS to custom DNS servers is safe if you choose a reliable custom DNS provider. Otherwise, you risk DNS poisoning and DNS request hijacking, where the DNS provider re-routes your requests to compromised web servers.

Likewise, a poor custom DNS provider can collect information on your online activity and sell it on the black market. Thus, always choose trustworthy providers like Google and Cloudflare to get the best security, speed, and peace of mind.

Using a Smart DNS and VPN service together isn’t recommended.

They’re most likely to interfere and may cause a total internet connection loss on your device.

Suppose your device can use both a VPN and Smart DNS.

In that case, it’s best to choose an ultra-fast VPN like ExpressVPN since you get more servers in more countries, data encryption, and relatively fast content streaming.

You’ll need to get a standalone Smart DNS subscription if your VPN provider doesn’t offer Smart DNS as an add-on or its Smart DNS feature doesn’t work. However, premium VPN providers like ExpressVPN offer their own Smart DNS service, making it unnecessary to get a standalone Smart DNS package.

DNS sometimes gets better speeds than a VPN.

However, a reliable VPN provider is way better for a healthy balance of speed, security, DDoS protection, public Wi-Fi security, content unblocking, bypassing tough censorship, and encrypting live traffic.

Likewise, a VPN is easier to set up and offers better customer support to troubleshoot issues.

I don’t recommend using a free VPN or DNS service.

Free VPNs and DNS services can steal your internet traffic data and sell it to the highest bidder. Likewise, they monitor your online activity, log your connection requests, and even further steal your privacy.

Thus, they can deanonymize you for more targeted attacks, see sensitive banking/financial information you send, and hijack your conversations.

VPNs Remain the Best of the Three Worlds!

There’s no debate that reliable VPN services make you forget the need for custom DNS and Smart DNS solutions.

A Smart DNS service will unblock content and bypass ISP throttling.

On top of that, a VPN like ExpressVPN adds data encryption, DDoS protection, IP leak prevention, secure torrent downloads, and its own Smart DNS service.

So, if you’re ready to get better value with a VPN + Smart DNS package, grab these ExpressVPN discounts while they last.

help us to Spread the word
Share This Article!

Please help us spread the word by sharing this article and telling your family, friends, and colleagues.

Share
Share
Explore More

The Big Brother Is Watching You .

help us to Spread the word and create more awareness about the increasing invasion of privacy.

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Email