Surfshark vs PIA (Private Internet Access): Which is Better?

Among the top players in the industry are Surfshark and PIA. Each is highly-acclaimed with many users. However, my tests have consistently shown that Surfshark is a step ahead. To know why, we must dwell on the details. Luckily, this comparative guide is here to assist you.

We’re going to examine everything that each service has to offer. I’ll break things down by category and assign a winner for each.

Overall Winner: Surfshark

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Comparison

First, we’ll get an overview of the specifications that Surfshark and PIA have. Below is a table that compares one with the other:

  logo surfshark
Surfshark
logo pia vpn
Private Internet Access
Logging Policy No Logging No Logging
Jurisdiction The British Virgin Islands United States (Five-Eyes Member
Encryption AES-256
SHA-256 Hash Authentication
4096-bit RSA Key Exchange
ChaCha
AES-256
AES-128
SHA-256 Hash Authentication
4096-bit RSA Key Exchange
Protocols OpenVPN UDP
OpenVPN TCP
IPSec/IKEv2
IPSec/L2TP
Shadowsocks
OpenVPN UDP
OpenVPN TCP
IPSec/L2TP
WireGuard
Ad and malware blockers Yes Yes
Kill switch Yes Yes
Leak Tests No Leaks Found No Leaks Found
Speed Tests Fast Fast
Torrenting & P2P Yes (Optimized P2P Servers) Yes (On All Servers)
Streaming Netflix
Amazon Prime
Hulu
BBC iPlayer
Firestick
Roku (Via Router)
Kodi
Apple TV (Via SmartDNS)
Android TV
Netflix
Amazon Prime
Hulu
Firestick
Kodi
Gaming Windows
Android
iOS
Xbox One (Via DNS or Router)
PS4 (Via DNS or Router)
Nintendo Switch (Via DNS or Router)
Windows
Android
iOS
Xbox One (Via Router)
PS4 (Via Router)
Nintendo Switch (Via Router)
Compatibility Windows
macOS
Android
iOS
Linux
Chromebook
Chrome
Firefox
Tor
Selected Routers
Windows
macOS
Linux
Android
iOS
Chrome
Firefox
Opera
Tor
Selected Routers
Simultaneous Connections Unlimited 10
Servers 1700+ 3300+
China Yes Sometimes (1 Out of 3 Servers Worked)
Split Tunneling Yes (As Whitelister) Yes
Additional Features CleanWeb
HackLock (Add-On Feature)
BlindSearch (Add-On Feature)
MultiHop
PIA MACE
Prices $12.95/Month
$6.49/month (6 Months)
$2.49/Month (2-Year)
$9.95 (1 Month)
$3.33/Month (1-Year)
$2.69/Month (2-Years)
Our Rating 4.9 4.3
Website www.surfshark.com www.privateinternetaccess.com

Overall Winner: Surfshark

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Privacy & Security

PIA is disadvantaged as it’s headquartered in the US and, therefore, under Five Eyes jurisdiction. It must follow strict copyright and privacy laws or face being shut down.

In comparison, Surfshark is based in the British Virgin Islands. As such, it’s not restricted by any laws that make operating a VPN difficult.

Encryption Comparison

Surfshark and PIA adhere to strong encryption standards. Both utilize military-grade AES 256-bit encryption with SHA-256 hash authentication and a 4096-RSA handshake. A difference is that Surfshark VPN also makes use of ChaCha encryption on Android. This is great, as there’s a backup for AES-256 in case of failure of unavailability.

VPN Protocols

The two VPNs share support for OpenVPN (UDP & TCP) and IPSec (L2TP). Setting them apart is Surfshark’s support for IKEv2 along with Shadowsocks and PIA’s for WireGuard.

Note that WireGuard implementation on all servers has been announced by Surfshark. Once done, it’ll receive a considerable upgrade since WireGuard is the newest and most secure protocol available.

Leak Protection

PIA and Surfshark claim to provide complete DNS and IP address leak protection. The two also have a kill switch on all their apps. Furthermore, they regularly subject themselves to independent audits to ensure they’re trustworthy.

To see whether both live up to their claims, I conducted leak tests using IPLeak.net. Before looking at the results, here’s a screenshot of a test that I ran without using a VPN:

ip leak test no vpn
IP Leak Test – No VPN

Now here’s the outcome after I connected to Surfshark’s server in Hong Kong:

ip leak test surfshark hong kong
IP Leak Test – Surfshark Hong Kong

And this is the result once I switched to PIA’s Singapore server:

ip leak test pia singapore
IP Leak Test – PIA Singapore

Neither of the two failed to mask my real IP address. Thus, both can be trusted to keep my identity anonymous whenever I browse the internet. Using them, troublemakers won’t be able to know my location and do me harm.

Server Security

PIA doesn’t run their servers in RAM-disk mode while Surfshark does. That means that keeping logs isn’t possible with Surfshark making it more secure. Nevertheless, PIA has announced its plans to implement RAM-disk servers across its entire network soon.

Another advantage that Surfshark has when it comes to server security is HackLock. This extra feature (an additional subscription) is an alarm system that informs you when your data gets involved in a security breach.

In Conclusion

Surfshark’s use of military-grade and Chacha encryption and its running RAM-disk servers make it the winner of this category.

PIA has excellent security measures in place, supports WireGuard, and uses AES 256-bit encryption. Unfortunately, the service falls short since it doesn’t have a RAM-disk server network yet. Moreover, it’s based in the United States, which has laws that make it easy to access your private information.

Winner: Surfshark

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Speed Test

Speed is something that Surfshark is known for. The same can’t be said for PIA, which has been criticized for being sluggish. It hampers your internet connection, making it difficult to download files, play games, and stream movies.

To see if what people say is true, I did some tests. Let’s first check out my base connection:

speed test no vpn
Speed Test – No VPN

Here’s how Surfshark’s server in Singapore fared:

speed test surfshark singapore
Speed Test – Surfshark Singapore

Lastly, these are the results after connecting to PIA’s Singapore server:

speed test pia singapore
Speed Test – PIA Singapore

To my surprise, both services did well. However, Surfshark is a faster VPN. While my downloading got better after moving to PIA, the ping and uploading took a hit. Still, the results weren’t as bad as I expected. I’ve got to say that by no means is it slow.

Winner: Surfshark

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Torrenting & P2P

Most services encourage torrenting on their servers. Surfshark and PIA are no different, with Surfshark even saying that it’s the best VPN for torrenting. That said, it hasn’t enabled P2P on all its servers.

In contrast, PIA has a fully enabled P2P network. Hence, on paper, it’s better optimized for downloading torrents.

Surfshark has a workaround for its lack of a complete P2P-enabled network. The service detects torrenting activity and automatically switches you to a P2P-friendly server.

I put each service to the test to see whether they can truly protect me when I’m torrenting. Let’s first look at the results of a test without me using any VPN:

torrenting no vpn
Torrenting Leak Test – No VPN

Now, these are the results after connecting to Surfshark’s London server:

torrenting surfshark uk
Torrenting Leak Test – Surfshark UK

And here’s the results after I transferred to PIA’s server in California:

torrenting pia uk
Torrenting Leak Test – PIA UK

The two services were able to hide my real IP address as I torrented. Nevertheless, my winner for this round Surfshark vs PIA is Private Internet Access. I chose it because it’s got a fully enabled P2P server network. In addition, it is quick enough to ensure that I finish downloading in no time.

Winner: Private Internet Access

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Streaming

I’m a movie buff that streams almost daily. Due to that, I must have the right VPN for the job. Surfshark is known for being great at bypassing the geoblocks of most streaming websites. On the other side of the spectrum is PIA, which is reputed to be terrible at working around geoblocks.

Netflix

Since Netflix is the world’s #1 streaming platform, I had to see if each VPN could access foreign libraries on it. The first service that I tried was Surfshark VPN. I tried watching Spotlight on its server in New York:

netflix us surfshark
Netflix US – Surfshark

After that, I accessed the title once more while connected to PIA’s NY server:

netflix us pia
Netflix US – PIA

As you can see, both VPNs bypass Netflix USA’s geoblocks. Sadly, only Surfshark performed well as PIA wasn’t able to load the title in full resolution. Additionally, it caused some buffering that almost ruined my viewing experience. Because of that, my winner in this round is Surfshark.

Winner: Surfshark

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Gaming

The gaming capabilities of a VPN is a great measure of its quality. A service must protect you while also linking you to foreign game servers. Moreover, it has to work on consoles as well as smartphones and computers.

I’m a Call of Duty Mobile addict that plays whenever I have free time. Due to that, I used the game to test out Surfshark and PIA’s gaming capabilities.

The first service that I tried was Surfshark. My server of choice was the one in Hong Kong. I played 3 matches that were all great. For each one, there was zero lagging or frame drops. Everything ran so smoothly that I forgot that I was using a VPN.

After my initial try, I moved over to Private Internet Access’ server in Singapore. Unlike with Surfshark, I experienced some lagging. Fortunately, the delays weren’t game-breaking. Still, they were frustrating since I’m used to gaming without hindrances.

The winner of this category is Surfshark. Without a doubt, it’s an excellent VPN for gaming that’ll meet your needs. Although PIA didn’t perform poorly, it still didn’t manage to satisfy my needs as a gamer due to its lags.

Winner: Surfshark

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Compatibility

A VPN would be useless if it weren’t compatible with your devices. Hence, it’s a must that you subscribe to a service with a high degree of compatibility. In this regard, PIA and Surfshark both shine as they have apps for many operating systems. Additionally, they can also be installed on compatible routers.

To get a better insight on what each VPN works on, refer to the table below:

Surfshark Private Internet Access
Windows
macOS
Android
iOS
Linux
Chromebook
Chrome
Firefox
Tor
Selected routers
Windows
macOS
Android
iOS
Linux
Chrome
Firefox
Opera
Tor
Selected routers

Surfshark is compatible with Chromebook, while PIA is not. Meanwhile, Private Internet Access has a browser extension for Opera; something Surfshark doesn’t have. It should be noted, though, that Surfshark has apps for some smart TVs like Android TV.

My winner in this round of our Surfshark vs Private Internet access battle is Surfshark because it supports Chromebooks and a few smart TVs. PIA may have a foothold with Opera, but that browser isn’t popular.

Winner: Surfshark

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Simultaneous Connections

A VPN that allows for more simultaneous connections gives you more value for your money. It can protect more members of your family or business organization. As such, it’s best if you select a service that allows for more concurrent device pairings.

PIA lets you connect up to 10 gadgets at the same time. It stands out in the industry because of this. Only a few other VPNs match its offering or provide a better one. An example of which is Surfshark that allows for unlimited simultaneous connections.

Winner: Surfshark

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Servers

More servers make it easier for a VPN to hide your IP address. Thus, a service with a larger network is a better one. Luckily, both PIA and Surfshark have a decent amount of servers that make them worthy of praise.

Surfshark has managed to create a network of 1700+ in just a few years. Its rapid growth makes it an attractive prospect. The service still has a lot of catching up to do, though, as PIA boasts a network of more than 3300 servers. Because of that, it’s the winner of this category.

Winner: Private Internet Access

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China

Only a few VPNs can bypass the Great Firewall of China. The task has been holding PIA back from gaining a better reputation. Reports state that only 1 out of 3 servers can climb the Great Firewall. To make things worse, the capable servers don’t even perform with consistency.

In comparison, Surfshark has received nothing but praise for its ability to work around the Great Firewall. It consistently does so without difficulty. For that reason, it is recommended by many as a go-to for anyone going to China.

Winner: Surfshark

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Interface & Usability

PIA and Surfshark both have user-friendly apps with simple interfaces. Even their color schemes are similar, with both taking on a dark theme by default. However, PIA gives you the option to switch to a light theme. In that sense, it has the edge over its competitor.

Unlike most VPNs, PIA’s Windows app doesn’t minimize to the taskbar. Instead, it hides in the system tray.

Once opened, you’ll immediately see a large quick connect button. A full list of servers can be accessed by pressing the “VPN SERVER” button below. The settings are accessed by clicking the three-dot icon on the top right corner of the app.

interface pia
PIA Interface

Surfshark also shows you a quick connect button after opening its Windows app. Under that is a list of servers that you recently connected to. On the side is a bar where you may access the settings, unique features, and a full list of servers that the VPN has.

interface surfshark
Surfshark Interface

My preference lies with Surfshark’s app because I don’t like how PIA’s minimizes into the system tray. The overall vibe of Surfshark’s app is also much more inviting. As such, I’m declaring it as the winner of this round of our Private Internet Access vs Surfshark match.

Winner: Surfshark

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Additional Features

PIA has a built-in adblocker called PIA MACE, which is effective at keeping malware away. It isn’t the best adblocker, but it’s decent enough.

Nevertheless, I recommend that you use a different blocker if you’re looking to be fully protected. It should also be noted that Surfshark has a counterpart called CleanWeb.

Meanwhile, Surfshark has a feature called Whitelister, which is its version of split tunneling. With it, you’ll get to provide your information to specific websites and services that need it.

It also has MultiHop. The feature routes your web traffic through two servers to increase security.

The VPN also boasts two paid add-on features. The first is HackLock, an alert system informing you if your data has been involved in a data breach. Second is a proprietary search engine called BlindSearch.

The winner of this round is Surfshark, as it has more features that you may find useful daily.

Winner: Surfshark

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Customer Support

Surfshark and PIA offer excellent customer service. You may contact them in a variety of ways. I did so via chat, as I had a few questions regarding their pricing. The representatives of both services quickly gave me detailed answers in a cordial manner.

Below is a quick overview of what each service offers in regards to customer support:

  Surfshark Private Internet Access
Live Chat Yes Yes
Email Support Yes Yes
Phone Support No No
Ticket Support Yes Yes
Video Tutorials No No
Online Knowledge Base Yes Yes
Average Response Time 4 Hours 39 Minutes

The two VPNs are equal in what they offer. However, Private Internet Access wins this round of our PIA vs Surfshark match because of its faster response times.

Winner: Private Internet Access

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Prices

PIA is known for its affordability. Compared to most in the industry, it’s cheaper, making it a prime choice for those on a budget. In comparison, Surfshark VPN’s prices are almost on par with those of NordVPN and ExpressVPN. Neither are known for being affordable services.

To get a better understanding of how much each VPN costs, refer to the table:

  Surfshark Private Internet Access
Subscription Lengths $12.95/Month 1 Month ($9.95/Month)
  $6.49/month (6 Months) 1 Year ($3.33/Month)
  $2.49/Month (2-Year) 2 Years ($2.69/Month)
Highest Price Per Month $12.95 $9.95
Lowest Price Per Month $2.49 $2.69
One Year Price $77.88 $39.96
Money-Back Guarantee 30 Days 30 Days
Special Offer 81% discount for a 2-year plan
50% discount for a 6-month plan
73% discount for a 2-year plan + 2 months free

PIA and Surfshark offer the same plan schemes. That said, the difference in price between the two is quite large. PIA is very much cheaper than Surfshark, whose one year price is almost double that of PIA’s.

Winner: Private Internet Access

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Verdict

Is Surfshark better than PIA?

Yes. Surfshark dominates in almost every category. The fewer servers that it has shall only increase with time. And, though it’s more expensive, it can be installed on an unlimited number of devices. If anything, the service gives you incredible value for your money.

Surfshark is faster and provides better security. The VPN can be used in China, which makes it able to tap into a whole new demographic. Finally, it’s got more extra features and better apps.

Overall Winner: Surfshark

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About the author 

Kris Soliongco

Kris has two passions in life: writing and tech. He’s been building computers since he was eight years old and is very knowledgeable about online security. The first time he was exposed to VPNs was in 2016. Since then, he’s used a plethora of services and has gained much experience.

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