Surfshark vs. Private Internet Access (PIA)

Last Updated: January 30, 2020
Muhammad Hamza Shahid

Muhammad Hamza Shahid

Trying to determine the best choice between Surfshark and PIA? Look no further and read this in-depth comparison of both providers!

Surfshark vs. PIA

Where Surfshark represents a new breed of VPN services, Private Internet Access (PIA) has got some miles on it and stands as a popular choice for many.

Are you trying to determine the better choice between the two? If so, then you are at the right place. Check out this in-depth Surfshark vs. PIA comparison analysis.

Highlights

Surfshark PIA
  1. 1040+ Servers in 61+ Countries
  2. Dynamic/Static IPs Available
  3. Unlimited Simultaneous Connections
  4. Apps for All Platforms/Devices
  5. Verified No Logs Policy (Audited)
  1. 3300+ servers in 30 countries
  2. AES-256 bit Encryption
  3. 10 Simultaneous Connections
  4. Apps for All Platforms/Devices
  5. Verified No Logs Policy (Audited)

Pricing and Discounts

Surfshark PIA
Subscription Period 1 Month 1 Month
1 Year 6 Months
2 Years 1 Year
Special offer 83% Off on a 24-Months Plan 67% Off on a 1-Year Plan
Highest price per month $11.95 $10.95
Lowest price per month $1.99 $3.33
One-Year Price $71.88 $39.95
Money-Back Guarantee 30-Days 7-Days

PIA and Surfshark are both budget-friendly VPN services that offer good value for lesser money. To start off, you have three tiers in subscriptions.

The monthly plan for PIA will cost you $10.95, whereas the same for Surfshark costs you $11.95. As such, PIA tends to be the cheaper option for monthly subscriptions.

Other tiers available from PIA include 6-months and a 1-year plan. The 6-months plan will set you back by $5.99/mo., billed as $35.95 once.

Meanwhile, the 1-year plan is available for $3.33/mo., giving you a massive 67% off. Therefore, users only pay a minimal $39.95 for 12-months.

Surfshark, on the other hand, does not offer a 6-months plan. After the monthly, they provide users access to 1-year and 2-years subscriptions.

The 1-year plan gives you a 50% discount on the original pricing. You pay $5.99/mo., which totals to $71.88 for 12-months. This is quite expensive compared to PIA.

However, Surfshark makes up for it by offering an 83% discount on the 2-year plan. For 24-months access, you only pay a minimum of $47.76!

As far as refunds are concerned, PIA only offers a 7-day guarantee. Meanwhile, Surfshark offers a lengthier duration of 30-days for getting a refund.

Get This Best Deal for Surfshark: Save 83% on the 2-year special

Get This Best Deal for PIA: Get 67% Off on a 1-Year Plan

Features

Surfshark PIA
Simultaneous Connections Unlimited 10
Operating System Apps Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android, iOS, Amazon Fire TV Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Linux
Manual Install Devices Set-Top Boxes, Routers, and Linux Some Routers
Split Tunneling Yes (All Apps) No
Free Extras Shadowsocks Support, Hacklock, Blindsearch, NoBorders Mode, TrustDNS SOCKS5 Proxy and ad/tracker blocker

Both Surfshark and PIA offer great functionality on multiple devices. With each provider, you have native apps for all popular platforms/devices.

These include Windows, MaciOSAndroid, Linux, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and even Fire TVs. You also get router support for Apple TVs.

Not to mention, you can even finds apps that work with Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch, which is quite helpful, to say the least for the gamer audience!

As far as simultaneous connections are concerned, PIA offers the ability to establish 10 multi-logins, whereas Surfshark goes the extra mile.

It gives users unlimited multi logins and features like Shadowsocks support for China, Hacklock for identity theft protection, and NoBorders mode for accessing obfuscated servers.

PIA, on the other hand, does not offer much in the way of features. Their apps are also missing the crucial “Split Tunneling” technology!

Unblocking Capabilities

Surfshark PIA
Netflix Yes No
Hulu Yes Yes
Sky Go Yes No
Amazon Prime Yes No
BBC iPlayer Yes No
ABS Yes No
CBS Yes Yes
NBC Yes Yes
ITV Yes Yes
Channel 4 Yes Yes

In terms of unblocking, I received exceptional capabilities from Surfshark. Sadly, PIA was not able to bypass geo-restrictions and VPN bans that easily.

The provider failed at providing consistent performance across multiple streaming services. As such, it may not be the best option for unblocking.

You receive better performance from Surfshark, which successfully unblocks  Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Voot, Hotstar, and even Disney Plus.

I faced no downtime issues with the provider, streaming was smooth even on Ultra HD quality, and I did not get the “proxy/VPN detected error” on all above websites.

China

Chinese netizens are always looking for services that allow users to unblock within the country or access local content from China elsewhere in the world.

“The Great Firewall” adopts various technologies like blackholing VPN services, DNS poisoning, DNS hijacking, and IP filtering, which makes the task difficult.

Where PIA failed at providing any incentives for either audience, Surfshark tends to be quite impressive; particularly for those residing in the country.

It offers a Chinese mirror website that allows individuals to download/install their apps. At the same time, it offers a “NoBorders” mode.

This mode activates Sursfhark’s obfuscated servers that transforms VPN traffic into regular HTTPs traffic to bypass geo-restrictions in China.

However, there is no support for those looking to buy a VPN to China, like PureVPN that offers 12 dedicated Chinese servers for accessing local content.

Users in China can download Surfshark from their dedicated Chinese page here: https://shark-cn.com/

Setup and Interface

Surfshark PIA
Automatic Setup Wizard Windows, Mac, Android, iOS Windows, Mac, Android, iOS
Main Location Selection List-based List-based
Extra Settings Pages Yes Yes
Mobile Friendly Yes Yes

In terms of interface, Surfshark’s apps are amazingly user-friendly and intuitive. The desktop apps boast a compact design that is incredibly easy-to-understand.

You have a location selection menu and connect button visible right after opening the app. This allows users to leverage instant connectivity to a VPN server.

For configurations, simply click on the “gear” icon. It will give you options for altering the protocols and encryption, along with other app functions.

Mobile apps are just as user-friendly and boast the same design and appearance but optimized for a smaller screen. Dedicated IPs are also directly accessible from within the app.

Surfshark Streaming Mode

PIA’s apps, on the other hand, boast a broader appearance and design that does require some work in the overall UI, as it gets quite complicated.

On the desktop, the app hides itself the second you hit the minimize button. This means, you have to constantly reopen the app every time you want to do something.

This can become quite infuriating for those trying to follow the steps in a configuration/setup guide. Of course, tech-y individuals will have no problem with the task.

Mobile apps are nicely designed though and tend to be clutter-free. All options are listed neatly and connecting takes barely a few seconds, which is quite remarkable.

PIA Windows app

Severs and Performance

Surfshark PIA
Server Countries 61 30
Total Number of Servers 1,040+ 3,300

Both Surfshark and PIA offer a good network infrastructure. The former boasts 1,040+ servers in 61 countries, whereas PIA supports 3,300 servers in 30 countries.

Though the server count of Surfshark is lesser than PIA. It makes up for it by adding more in the way of countries supported, which is quite helpful.

This is because most users want diversity in the selection of servers available. Although PIA supports 30 countries, the number is too less.

Similarly, Surfshark needs to upgrade on its number of servers to avoid speed/performance issues, as more users subscribe to their product.

Speed

Surfshark PIA
Speed Loss 12% 25%

To get a better idea about the performance, I conducted a speed analysis on both: PIA and Surfshark. This required testing 5 different servers from each provider.

The countries selected were USA, UK, France, Australia, and Canada. All tests were performed on my 100 Mbps connection to get the best results.

In bare speed tests, Surfshark managed to deliver an average of 88 Mbps in uploads and downloads, indicating a speed loss of 12%.

PIA, on the other hand, had a higher loss touching the 25% mark in speed reduction, recording an average speed of 75 Mbps.

Security

Surfshark PIA
VPN Protocols L2TP, IPSec, IKEv2, Shadowsocks, OpenVPN PPTP, L2TP, IPSec, IKEv2, OpenVPN
OpenVPN Data Encryption AES-256 AES-128, AES-256
OpenVPN Control Channel Encryption RSA-2048  RSA-4096
Cloaking Technology Shadowsocks None
App Security Kill Switch, Wi-Fi, DNS/WebRTC/ IP Leak Protection Kill Switch and DNS/WebRTC/ IP Leak Protection
DNS Status TrustDNS Private DNS

Surfshark is a big fan of the OpenVPN protocol and uses it as “default” across all of its devices with the exception of iOS. Users can shift between UDP and TCP whenever needed.

For encryption, it utilizes AES-256-GCM ciphers so no additional authentication is provided on the data channel.

For the control channel, Surfshark uses AES-256-GCM cipher with the TLS key exchange secured using RSA-2048. Perfect forward secrecy is provided by ECDH-(384?) key exchange.

PIA, on the other hand, supports the same number of protocols. As a default, it also uses OpenVPN across all devices with the exception of iOS and MacOS that uses IKEv2 protocol.

For the control channel, PIA uses the same ciphers and hash authentication, with the inclusion of SHA384 for authentication. Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFE) is available via ECDHE+ECDSA.

Leak Tests

To ensure you receive strong security from both providers, I conducted a leak test. This process involved using 6 varied tools for WebRTC/DNS/IP address detection:

WebRTC and HTTP Request Leaks:
DNS Leaks:
IPv4/IPv6 and Torrent IP Leaks:

Unsurprisingly, both PIA and Surfshark passed the tests with flying colors, anonymizing all crucial personally identifiable information, keeping you protected 24/7!

Privacy

Surfshark PIA
Headquarters British Virgin Islands United States
Connection Logs None None
Activity Logs None None
Sign Up Information Email Address Email Address
Anonymous Payment Methods Monero, Dash, Gridcoin, Rpple, ZCaas, Ehterum, Litecoin, Bitcoin 32 Cryptocurrencies

Based in the British Virgin Islands, Surfshark gains an edge over other providers. BVI imposes no mandatory mass surveillance or data retention laws.

Despite being part of the British Monarch, BVI is an independent jurisdiction, which follows its own laws that favor user privacy and security.

PIA, on the other hand, has its headquarters in the United States, which is a founding member of the Five/Nine/Fourteen Eyes Alliances.

Therefore, it indulges in intelligence sharing and imposes mandatory data retention laws that must be followed by telecom, internet, and VPN providers as well.

At any time, the government can issue a gag order accompanied by a subpoena that makes it necessary to cooperate to any log requests.

Configuration

Surfshark PIA
Address Allocation Shared/Static Shared
Static IPs 6+ Locations None
DDoS Protection Yes Yes
NAT Firewall Yes Yes

Where Surfshark adopts a shared/static network infrastructure, Private Internet Access (PIA) follows a shared address allocation structure.

This is quite problematic, considering that static IPs are necessary for accessing sensitive banking information or accessing home LAN in different countries.

Luckily, Surfshark does offer dedicated IPs as an add-on. Though you do have to pay extra, you have 6+ locations available for instant connectivity.

Customer Service

Surfshark PIA
Video Guides Yes Yes
Searchable Knowledge Base  Yes Yes
Phone Support No No
Email Support Yes Yes
Average Email Response Time 25 Minutes 45 Minutes
Ticket Support Yes Yes
Live Chat Support Yes Yes

With either provider, you have multiple options for support. These include ticket support, email, and live chat, along with a searchable knowledgebase and FAQs section.

All options work quite well and the response times on either VPNs live chat is quite impressive. It took only a few seconds to get answers to technical queries.

I even conducted a test on the response times from each provider on email support. The process included sending both providers four questions via email. See the statics for each VPN below:

Surfshark

Question Initial Response Time Number of Emails Question Answered
Does Surfshark work with Netflix? 20 Minutes 1 Yes
Is Surfshark good for Torrenting? 25 Minutes 1 Yes
Does Surfshark work in China? 30 Minutes 1 Yes
How to activate obfuscation? 20 Minutes 1 Yes

PIA

Question Initial Response Time Number of Emails Question Answered
Why is PIA located in a Five Eyes Country? 1 Hour 1 Yes
Does Private Internet Access keep logs? 45 Minutes 1 Yes
Does private Internet access work with Netflix? 50 Minutes 1 Yes
How do I get a refund from private Internet access? 44 Minutes 1 Yes

The Winner: Surfshark

Surfshark is the Winner

Undoubtedly, Surfshark wins this comparison, due to being better at unblocking streaming platforms, working in China, and offering dedicated IPs, all while being incredibly budget-friendly.

PIA is a good service too, but there are improvements required in several areas. Not to mention, the provider is based in a risky jurisdiction, which eliminates the whole purpose of leveraging privacy!

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