With privacy on the Internet becoming an increasingly difficult to obtain commodity, and more governments beginning to censor politically sensitive websites or bow to the whims of the recording industry, having a VPN on hand has never been more useful. There are hundreds of VPN providers though, so today we’re going to take a comprehensive look at proXPN, a service with both free and cost-effective premium plans that we can all make use of in our Internet travels.
Free vs Premium Account
proXPN is fairly unique amongst VPN providers in that they provide a completely free to use option. There are no time limitations, however the speed is restricted to a very generous 300kbs and you may only use a single server location in the United States.
The free account may not be used for torrenting purposes, and you must connect using the OpenVPN protocol (this is more secure than PPTP anyway). Connecting is easily accomplished using the free software provided for both Mac and Windows. Each session will begin by going through a portal first, which looks like this, encouraging you to upgrade:
Click through to reveal a 10 second countdown timer, after which you’re automatically redirected. Still, you’re getting an awesome service for free, so you can’t really complain about a little push toward a premium account. Subsequent sites you visit during your free session are not affected by the portal page either, just an initial one after connecting.
The premium account comes with no limitations – and torrent downloads are possible, with no bandwidth cap. There’s a 7 day free trial available before you’re charged; prices start at $6.25/month when you pay for one year upfront.
Premium Account Speed Results
To get started, you may wish to disconnect from whatever server it has auto-connected you to – the server selection menu then appears under the Connect option.
Closest Server Test
This was tested by connecting to a UK server from within the UK – the closest server to me. The results were certainly faster than I would have expected – 20mb down / 5mb up; my actual fibre connection without VPN is roughly 50mb down and 5mb up. These tests were all performed using the premium account.
Furthest Server Test
A more likely situation is that you will want to connect through either a US server or a country different to your own, to bypass regional locks and state censorship. Connecting to Dallas, from London, I achieved a slightly less stunning average of 300ms ping, 3mb download and 1.5mb upload, but still quite useable for browsing needs.
Watching Netflix from the UK, for example, is quite a common use case for VPNs. Netflix did indeed display the full US selection, but unfortunately I was stuck with standard definition video. Video playback was full frame smooth at SD resolution, but if you’re looking to stream this out to a HD television, I’d suggest you look at non-VPN alternatives such as UnoTelly, which work by simply changing your DNS with no detriment to the speed or quality of streaming.
Free Account Speed Results
As mentioned, the free account is limited to a single US server location and 300kbs speed. What does this mean? In practice, Netflix streaming was possible, but at severely degraded resolution – pixelated even in a small browser window. YouTube videos were also watchable, but again only at 240p resolution.
Browsing the web under the free account was perfectly fine though; no discernable lag times or slow page loading. I also wasn’t cut off after 5 minutes like some free VPN accounts do. There is however a small popup window that appears in the corner of your PC occasionally – even if you’re not connected to the VPN (but the app is running).
The supplied software includes a VPN guard function, which will close applications when the VPN fails unexpectedly – although it won’t shut down the application if you click disconnect on purpose.
In testing, I didn’t experience any random disconnects though on either the free or premium account levels, but your experience may vary if your Internet is prone to connection troubles.
As noted, torrent downloads are only permitted on the premium account. Just out of curiosity, I did try on the free account also but it didn’t work.
Using CheckMyTorrentIP in an unconnected and then connected state showed that the VPN was successful in masking both my IP and any UDP leakage from the browser.
A fairly well seeded 4gb Ubuntu DVD image from PirateBay worked out at around 200–400kbs from the US, Dallas server with no connection errors. Of course, your torrent performance is going to vary greatly depending on the number of seeds so objective testing here is difficult, but the point is that you should see no discernible speed reduction by using proXPN.
proXPN does – as expected – a thorough job of masking your IP; this is the core function of a VPN, after all. However, records are kept for 14 days. If extreme privacy is something you need, this could be a concern, and you would be better looking elsewhere at a service such as privacy.io which keeps zero logs. For keeping torrent downloads private, realistically 14 days is unlikely to get your personal information handed over to authorities.
One thing I should note is that if you access your Gmail from an offline client, you may find emails mysteriously stop arriving – this is because Gmail detects the new, foreign IP as suspicious activity and blocks the connection. To fix this, log in to your Gmail via the web, and deal with the alert message by approving the connection. This is not the fault of the VPN of course, but simply something I thought worth mentioning.
The premium account is a competant and value-for-money VPN that offers a good level of privacy for average users. In extreme cases, if any amount of record keeping is a concern for you, you should look elsewhere. The fact that it allows torrent downloads – and does so at reasonable speeds – is quite rare in and of itself.
There are no speed limitations, nor bandwidth caps. However, the speed you can achieve is going to depend on your usage case; for opening up the US Netflix selection, you will be limited to standard definition. For general privacy, you can choose a local server to give excellent speeds; while for torrents, I suggest the European server for a good trade-off between protection and speed. Overall, it’s a great solution for a variety of tasks, and certainly good value for money.
The free account is mired by a few popups, but it is both time and bandwidth unlimited; you really couldn’t ask for better that that. If you’re at all concerned about your web privacy but can’t afford $6.25 a month, by all means go and grab the client now and make your free account. Just use it when you need it for complete piece of mind; it’s a scary online world we live in, and everyone needs a VPN.