As a personal VPN service, pureVPN protects online activity so that users don’t have to worry about who may be trying to track or read what they are doing online. It’s easy to use, hides your online activity from eavesdroppers, and allows you to spoof your IP address to view content that is restricted in certain locations. PureVPN fits in well with the rest of the competition, but it also includes a few unique features and capabilities that may appeal to advanced users.
The market for VPN services is getting crowded, with several security companies rolling out offerings to complete with pure-play VPN providers. You have avast! SecureLine as an add-on service to its free avast! Antivirus. Symantec introduced its stand-alone VPN offering Norton Hotspot Privacy, which also happens to be our current Editor’s Choice. And there is AnchorFree’s Hotspot Shield Elite, which has been quietly protecting users for years.
For the most part, they all work the same, connecting the computer to a server in a specific geographic region and passing all online activity between a computer and a Website through an encrypted tunnel. Being able to use an IP address other than the one assigned by your Internet Service Provider makes it hard to trace online activity back to you. This can be useful to thwart government censors and snoops, as well as to access services that are geographically restricted. Depending on the service, users may have more or fewer server choices, but this is generally a turn-on-and-go type of software.
To use PureVPN, you need to have a paid account. If you must have a free version, consider our Editor’s Choice for free VPN services, VPNBook, and both VPN Direct and Hotspot Shield offer ad-supported versions. PureVPN gives a lot of options, though, beginning with $9.95 a month, $24.95 per quarter, $44.95 for a 6-month subscription, and a $49.95 annual subscription. Unfortunately, if you have more than two devices, you will need to get multiple accounts, as PureVPN supports only two logins per account
There is also a corporate version, where businesses can pay on a per-seat basis—$275 for 25 users, $475 for 50 users and $925 for $100 users. PureVPN promises to set up a dedicated server for the business, for a non-shared connection.
Right from the start, pureVPN felt different. The second screen in the installation process asks for the user’s location: “rest of the world” or “China.” I picked the option “rest of the world” for the original installation. It turns out I’d just downloaded the tool to kick off the installation—the actual installer executable is downloaded after I specify my region. If you don’t have .NET Framework 4.0 Client Profile installed, the installer prompts you to download and install that, too.
When I launched the tool after installing, it prompted me to go through the “Get Started” guide. Once complete, I was in the pureVPN interface, a single window with the status in the upper right corner and various menu options on the left side of the screen. The bulk of the interface was dominated by a graph tracking how many packets were being transmitted in real-time.
On my second installation, I chose China, and saw that it downloaded a different executable than the “rest of the world” installation. With the “China” version, you don’t get to choose the servers to connect—the software handles it for you. The software is designed to bypass government censors
Overall, the installation process feels a little long, compared to similar services. Considering how we view VPN as a set-up-and-go tool, the time it took to get set up seemed a little excessive.
The PureVPN interface has a login box towards the top of the screen, along with a drop down to select the protocol I was going to use to secure my VPN connection: PPTP, SSTP, and L2TP. PPTP is the most well-known and easiest one to work with. Many VPN services tend to offer PPTP or OpenVPN—which is why I was surprised OpenVPN was not one of the options offered.
The server drop down (in the “rest of the world” version) lists “fastest servers” across 21 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Egypt, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Panama, the Netherlands, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Within the U.S., I could chose between servers in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Washington, Chicago, Miami, and Sayreville, NJ.
That’s an impressive list, right there.
I entered my login credentials, hit connect, and I was up and running. It’s not as low-stress as Norton Hotspot Privacy or avast! Secure Line, but it’s still pretty straightforward as VPN services go—Next: Measuring Network Performance on PureVPN
Once I was connected, I could see my connection status, my new IP address, and the duration of my session in a box on the upper right corner of the interface. I could also view the traffic chart, showing me how much bandwidth I was consuming during my session. It’s a good way to be aware of my Internet usage, but considering PureVPN doesn’t have bandwidth caps, I wasn’t sure what its primary purpose other than just “fun facts.”
Intelligent Server Selection
Some countries had multiple servers I could connect to, and I could pick which one to use via the Personalized Selection menu option. This was an interesting and quite appealing menu.
PureVPN lets users select a server manually (under the Browse All Servers tab) or let the service select one for them, using “Intelligence.” Via a dropdown, the user would specify the primary reason for using the service, such as for watching TV, unblocking websites, VoIP, privacy concerns, or even just getting anonymity. The service would take into account real-time load on the server, the user’s current geographic location, and the stated “purpose” to decide which server the user would benefit the most from. Pretty cool.
Split Tunneling, currently in beta, was another cool feature. With it, you could decide which applications should use VPN. You can tell PureVPN which applications should use VPN, and which ones to not worry about. So I was able to set it up to use Internet Explorer with the VPN and not Firefox. If I am downloading fairly large files, I could do that without passing through the tunnel. I could also set pureVPN to reconnect automatically if the connection drops.
I also had control over my security options, to determine what level of encryption to apply to my VPN experience. Higher encryption levels mean slower streaming. I could choose between no encryption, optional encryption, require encryption, or maximum encryption. This could be a little confusing for the less-savvy but a good feature to have for users who need that extra bit of control.
While PureVPN was on, I watched some music videos on YouTube, played some music on Pandora, and uploaded large images to my Picasa account. I didn’t notice any noticeable lag to make it harder to perform these tasks on their own. The bandwidth chart that comes with the software got quite colorful at times.
I tested pureVPN by connecting to various wireless networks in public spaces as well as private network, browsed the Web and online forums, and logged into various accounts such as Amazon and banking sites. I had Wireshark open the entire time to analyze all the network activity entering and leaving my computer.
To measure network speed, I ran the speed tests from SpeedTest.net. The tests are designed to measure download and upload speeds when connecting to servers in different cities. I connected to a server, and then looked for a server closest to that location on SpeedTest to run the tests. I ran the test twice with the VPN service turned off, and again when turned on, and picked the best measurements. The figures below are over a wired connection. Since the list was so long, I tested the servers in the U.S., Malaysia, the Netherlands, Germany, and Turkey.
The best part about the service was how well it boosted performance when accessing international servers. Performance was in-line with many of the other paid services.
Nice Contender to Watch
In a market that is increasingly being overrun with VPN services, the team behind PureVPN has managed to add in some features that will appeal to advanced users, but its interface may be just a little too difficult for anyone just hoping for a get-up-and-go VPN service. The split tunneling is only in beta, but I would be interested to see how this capability would evolve in later versions. The lack of OpenVPN support and the harder-that-usual-setup will hurt pureVPN among less savvy users. The performance is solid and reliable. Despite a good showing by PureVPN, Norton Hotspot Privacy remains our Editors Choice’ for its ease of use and multi-device support.
|Tech Support||Chat and website support.|
|OS Compatibility||Windows Vista, Windows XP, Mac OS, Windows 7, Windows 8|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc