How to Choose the Right Server

How to Choose the Right Server

OK, so you've signed up to a VPN provider and you've got your client installed. Now you're faced with a question: which of the dozens (maybe hundreds) of the VPN servers available to me do I chose to sign on to?

The answer to this will usually be, 'the fastest one', because there's nothing more frustrating than slow response times when you're on the Internet. This is especially true if you're into online gaming or like to watch streaming media.

With its extra layer of complexity in the form of encryption, you'd reasonably expect using a VPN to slow you down. However, the opposite is often true. A VPN can actually speed things up. Why? Because as well as bypassing some of the throttles put in place by ISPs, they often provide a shorter route to your traffic's destination.

If response times do seem slow, it might not be down to the VPN. Factors that affect the speed of your connection include:

  • The speed of your computer.
  • The speed of your own Internet connection. This might be reduced if your ISP is throttling your connection.
  • The speed at which your ISP routes your traffic to and from the VPN server.

Obviously the biggest factor effecting the speed of your connection is likely to be the VPN server you're connected to. The nearer to a server you are, the faster its response times will be, and the nearest server to you will probably be the fastest, but this is not always the case. If the server is especially busy, it may be that one slightly further away has much less traffic and is therefore quicker to respond.

Wouldn't it be handy to know how long a message takes to get to and from each server available to you? Well, there are plenty of free tools online that allow you to do just that. To name just two, you could try pingtest.net or tools.pingdom.com. Or, if you're feeling adventurous, you could use your computer's own ping test facility. With the use of such tools, you can find the fastest server even when it's not the nearest.

Of course, there are times when you don't want to use the nearest server or indeed any server close to you. For instance, you may be in a country that blocks certain sites that you're interested in. In which case, you'd choose a server in another country where that site isn't blocked. Or, conversely, you might be abroad and want to access content only available to users back in your own country. Then you'd connect to a server in the country concerned. In either scenario, the speed of your connection will be slower than if you'd stayed local, but usually the difference is too small to notice.

If your connection is slower than you'd like, try changing the VPN protocol you're using – assuming that your VPN provider has more than one protocol available. If you're using a protocol that employs (let us say) a 256 bit encryption key (such as L2TP/IPSEC), switching to one with a 128 byte key (e.g. OpenVPN) might bring about a marked improvement in speed.

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