Sign up with most VPN companies and you've no idea how busy their servers might be. Is there enough bandwidth for everyone to get decent speeds, or will performance drop to a crawl at peak times? There's no way to tell off the bat.
Swiss-based VPNBook's Dedicated VPN plan offers you a dedicated VPN server with CPU time, memory and 500GB+ monthly bandwidth allocated for your use. The idea is that you avoid the bottlenecks of the low-end competition, and maybe get more consistent speeds whenever you're online.
- Want to try VPNBook? Check out the website here
VPNBook doesn't have any apps, so expect to spend some time manually setting up your devices. There are basic setup guides for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, though, and you can connect up to five of your devices simultaneously.
VPNBook only offers servers in four locations: Canada, US East, US West and the Netherlands. If you need P2P, the list gets shorter, as it's only supported on the Canadian servers. And bear in mind that once you've chosen a location, that's it – you can't switch later, which may be a problem if the VPN doesn't give you access to a blocked site.
While you might expect a dedicated VPN to be expensive, VPNBook's offering is actually cheaper than some standard plans at only $7.95 per month. There are no setup fees or long-term commitments required, and the company offers a 30-day money-back guarantee if things don’t work out.
This starts with a statement that: "We do not collect any personal information or store any user's internet data"; the company isn't logging your internet activities.
It goes on: "The only thing we log is the IP address and time the connection was made"; there is some session logging. As this is a dedicated VPN product, VPNBook will always know the server you're accessing, and that means it's likely to have the information necessary to link an internet action back to your account.
The policy explains: "We log connection information in order to reduce abusive activities and keep this free VPN service online for all legitimate users." This confirms the purpose of the logging is to detect and deal with 'abusive activities'; if someone records your IP address and complains to VPNBook about something you've done, the company will be able to identify and deal with you.
How will you be dealt with? "If you do abuse the system, your IP will be banned", says the policy. That's just for the free service, but we would assume that if you abuse the system with a Dedicated VPN account, VPNBook will probably close it down.
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Getting started with VPNBook is very easy, at least initially. Choose a location, hit Subscribe, pick a payment method (card or PayPal) and complete the transaction. We were done in around 30 seconds.
The process then grinds to an immediate halt, though, as the website explains that: "We will setup your dedicated VPN server and email you the login information within 1 business day."
We can understand why setting up VPNBook's Dedicated service requires more work than a regular VPN account, and perhaps must be done manually, but this should be spelled out more clearly on the site. Otherwise, if a customer buys a server on Friday evening, and gets an email suggesting it might not be ready for around three days, we suspect they're likely to be disappointed.
In our case, an email arrived around eight hours later, with basic login details: OpenVPN and PPTP usernames and passwords, and a couple of OpenVPN profiles (TCP using port 443, and UDP using port 53).
There were no other details, not even the city or country where the server was located. If you ordered servers in two or more locations, there's no clear way to tell which credentials correspond with which country.
You might have expected the email would at least include a link to VPNBook's support pages, if not some setup advice of its own. But no, you're left to figure it out for yourself, so we headed off to the VPNBook website to explore its setup guides.
These were very limited, with only two sets of tutorials: one on setting up OpenVPN connections on Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Ubuntu, and the other covering setting up PPTP on Windows, Ubuntu and Android.
Even this tiny selection hadn't been maintained correctly. The PPTP links for Windows 10 and Ubuntu were broken, giving us a '404 not found' error.
The other tutorials don't have the depth or scope that you'd see with a top provider like ExpressVPN. Forget background details, troubleshooting advice or any useful extra information: all you get is a sequence of screenshots, with key areas of the screen highlighted (click this, click that).
If you've set up OpenVPN GUI or some other OpenVPN-compatible app before, none of this will be much of a problem, but VPN newbies might wish there was a little more guidance. Keep in mind that there's no 24/7 live chat, either – if you want to ask a question, expect to fill out a web form, and then be waiting for a reply 'within 1 business day.'
Checking out VPNBook's OpenVPN profiles revealed our accounts were set up to use AES-128-CBC encryption, rather than AES-256, but otherwise there were no surprises.
We signed up for two servers, one in Canada and one in US East. VPNBook doesn't get any more specific than that, but our Canadian server appeared to be in Burnaby (east of Vancouver, north of Seattle), while our US server was in New York.
We tried both servers with their local Netflix, but without success – the site spotted what we were doing and displayed its standard 'you seem to be using an unblocker or proxy' message. That's bad news, especially when you're buying access to a dedicated server, as you can't keep switching locations until you find one that works.
Performance was below average, too, with US speeds averaging 18-24Mbps, and Canada fractionally lower at 16-20Mbps. That's disappointing: VPNBook claims opting for a dedicated account will buy you improved performance, but in reality you're getting perhaps half the speed you'd expect from a quality VPN.
No apps, little support, a handful of locations, sluggish speeds – there's nothing wrong with dedicated VPNs as a concept, but VPNBook doesn't have the features, the performance or the resources to make this work. You'll get better results signing up for a regular account with a more capable VPN.
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