Despite the name and the privacy angle, TorGuard has nothing to do with the Tor Project. Instead it's a company which offers a range of privacy-related products, including an anonymous VPN plan for protecting your privacy while using torrents (which is where the "tor" comes from).
Product specifications are good, with a choice of 3000+ servers in 50+ countries, five simultaneous connections allowed, OpenVPN/SSTP/L2TP/IPsec protocol support with multiple stealth options to avoid VPN blocking (OpenVPN obfuscation, Stunnel, OpenConnect, and Shadowsocks.)
- Want to try TorGuard? Check out the website here
Getting started is easy with custom apps for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS, and there are setup instructions for Linux, routers and more.
Prices are mid-range at $10 (£7.70) per month, $5 per month paid annually. You can also purchase add-ons as you order, including a dedicated UK or US residential IP, DDoS-protected IP, or access to the company's 'premium 10Gbit network' (USA, UK and Canada only), each costing $8 (£6.15) per month.
It's also possible to add support for additional devices beyond the standard 5 for $1 each.
There's no free product or trial. The company offers a 7-day refund. The front page of the website says this is 'no questions asked', but the small print says, 'refunds can be denied within the 7-day period in certain cases', so that might not always be true.
If you do decide to sign up, there are all the usual payment options, plus Bitcoin, and many others via PaymentWall.
Privacy and logging
The technical side of the service is more interesting, at least for experienced users who can figure out how to use them. Multiple stealth and obfuscation technologies aim to get you connected, even in countries which detect and block regular VPNs. You're able to take manual control of your encryption algorithm, port and authentication method (SHA1, SHA256, SHA512.) Built-in blocking of WebRTC and IPv6 leaks prevents you giving away clues to your identity, and a kill switch blocks internet access if the VPN drops.
There are plenty of other options which could help, if you're willing to spend time setting them up. The Windows client can automatically launch a program when the VPN connects, for instance, and close it when it disconnects, ensuring everything it does online is always protected.
The key here is probably the user's knowledge and experience. If you understand everything TorGuard has to offer, you'll be able to set it up to deliver excellent privacy and security. The service won't help you much by default, though, so network novices might get better results from much simpler apps with a very few settings they might actually understand (global kill switch, DNS leak protection, auto-connect when accessing insecure networks.)
We began our TorGuard experience by signing up for the monthly plan. After paying, the website redirected us to an account page with a major privacy surprise: a map, with a marker displaying our current IP address, correctly highlighting our home city. If you're hoping for extreme anonymity, that may not be what you want to see.
Scrolling down the page took us to download links for Windows, Mac, and Linux clients, as well as browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox. That's good to see, although we're not sure why the Android and iOS app store links couldn't be included on the list.
We took the Windows option, downloading and installing the client in a few seconds.
The client interface is cluttered and far from beginner-friendly, with all kinds of intimidating options: Tunnel Type, Port/ Auth, Cipher, an 'STunnel enabled' switch and more.
Tapping Connect prompts for your password, connects to the nearest server, and displays even more technical details (HMAC, PFS/ TLS, protocol, cipher, and both local and remote IPs.) VPN novices will be confused, and even experts may feel they don't need to see all this information, all of the time.
TorGuard's location picker is better designed, with some neat and unusual touches. Although it looks like a regular list of countries, you can filter it by continent, for instance, or sort it by distance from you, or how often you've used each location, a simple and effective way to view your favorite servers.
Getting connected didn't work quite as we expected. Double-clicking a server in most VPN apps will connect you immediately, but here you're just taken back to the main console, where you must click a Connect button. And once you are using one location, you can't switch to another until you've manually disconnected. This isn't difficult to figure out - you'll understand in around 30 seconds - but it's still not as comfortable to use as most of the competition.
For all its interface shortcomings, the TorGuard client does have one major compensation, for experts at least: a hugely comprehensive Settings dialog with more low-level tweaks, options and customizations than we've seen anywhere else.
Many VPN apps will automatically assign their own DNS servers when they connect, for instance, but TorGuard gives you so much more control. You're able to use multiple other DNS providers (OpenDNS, Level3, Google, Quad9) while you're connected, change them at other points (when the application starts, while the VPN connects), add custom nameservers as required, refresh the local DNS cache when connected, save and recover the DNS state of your VPN session.
The client can run scripts before and after connecting, and after disconnecting. This could be handy for launching programs you only want to run when the VPN is active, or perhaps to clean up after it's closed (delete cookies or your internet history.)
The advanced features continue, with WebRTC and IPv6 leak prevention, and the ability to choose the network interface TorGuard will block as part of its kill switch. Experienced users are likely to be impressed, although everyone else will struggle to know what many of these options do.
Would TorGuard's Android app be easier to use, we wondered? No, not really. The interface looks much the same. It also has a lot of expert technical tweaks, yet leaves out more common features regular users might need more often (Favorites system, automatic protection when you access untrusted networks.) Usability doesn't appear to be TorGuard's top priority.
TorGuard managed to achieve decent real-world performance throughout our review, with the only significant issue being an inability to connect to the New York server. Annoying, but maybe we were just unlucky, and any service can have occasional problems.
Switching to our regular performance tests, we found UK servers were delivering a capable 55-60Mbps, close to the maximum achievable on our 75Mbps connection. Near European countries were much the same, and although speeds tailed off with distance (Latvia achieved 30Mbps, Bulgaria 25Mbps), they were always very usable.
It was a similar story with US speeds. At 20-45Mbps these weren't quite as fast or consistent as we've seen elsewhere, but unless you're aiming to spend all day downloading endless gigabytes of data, you're unlikely to notice.
Issues did begin to appear as we tried more distant locations, with for instance Australia struggling to 10Mbps, Chile barely reaching 5Mbps. TorGuard managed reasonable speeds in many areas, then, but it's average at best in others, and you should test the service carefully to see how it works for you.
The TorGuard VPN website is very confident about its unblocking abilities, claiming that it allows you to 'any location in the world and experience content without any restrictions.' Reality, or marketing spin? We wanted to check.
YouTube is probably the easiest service to access, so we weren't surprised to see TorGuard enable streaming of US-only YouTube content.
BBC iPlayer is always more of a challenge, and its VPN detection blocked all our viewing attempts. Experience content without 'any' restrictions? Not quite.
Netflix success is the real prize, though, and TorGuard enabled viewing US Netflix content with two of its eleven servers (Dallas, Los Angeles.)
If these are blocked later, upgrading to one of TorGuard's dedicated US residential IPs should resolve the problem, hopefully forever (no-one else will use the IP, so it's unlikely it'll be spotted.) It's an effective solution, but also an expensive one at $7.99 a month - you could buy another VPN service for less.
If you're baffled by TorGuard's complexities then you could head off to the support site, where you'll find a knowledgebase, video guides, user forum, and more.
Explore these sections, though, and you'll find they don't match the level of help you might see elsewhere. The knowledgebase is more about technical how-to's than general VPN guidance (the most popular article is apparently 'How to setup a SOCKS Proxy in uTorrent/BitTorrent On Windows'), forum questions might not be answered for days, the Video Guides section has seen only three additions in the past two years, and even they were more about marketing than helping you use the service.
Fortunately, you can contact support agents directly via tickets, live chat and even a toll-free phone number in the US. That's better than many competitors, but it's probably not the best way to master TorGuard's features and functionality, and we'd also like to see a much better knowledgebase to help users find their way around.
TorGuard has more low-level VPN tweaks and options than just about anyone else, but the awkward interface and feeble online help means most users won't find it easy to use. Still, well worth a look for power users who need way more than the VPN basics.
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