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When you’re thinking of signing up for a VPN, the chances are you have a specific purpose in mind. (The two most common, in case you’re interested, are privacy and security, and access to geoblocked content.) VPN companies understand this, and they often tailor their services to a specific niche in the market, meaning their products will have different strengths and weaknesses. Then they’ll set out to build a reputation as the ‘number 1 VPN for X,’ be it streaming, torrents, privacy or security.

The truth is, most VPNs that are good at anything are reasonably good at everything; in most cases, a top-tier VPN will deliver more or less what you need unless your requirements are really off the beaten track. But it won’t necessarily excel at what you’re interested in. Be sure to compare VPNs before you purchase. It’s worth considering just what you do want before you decide and sign up on a long contract.

Streaming!

Do you want a VPN mostly for streaming? If you signed up to Netflix in the US and you’re reading this anywhere except the US, I’m guessing yes. Access to premium geoblockced content is the top reason why people outside the US want a VPN.  If this is you, look for a VPN with good obfuscation that’s known to work with your favorite streaming service.

Access to content for work

Writers, researchers, analysts, SEOs, the list goes on. You might need to be able to read the Chicago Tribune without being told it’s not available in your country because they can’t get their GDPR compliance sorted out; you might need to see how different websites perform when viewed from different countries, or you might just need easy anonymous access to a range of sites across the world. Whatever the reason, a VPN’s your answer — but choose one with a wide server net, and look for servers where you want them; many VPNs have lots of US and European servers, but skimp in South-East Asia, for instance.

Gaming

I see you, answering the Call of Duty in your seat on the red-eye from work to more work. If you’re a gamer and you want to be able to play uninterrupted wherever you are, you could wind up spending more time jumping through hoops to satisfy your game server that it’s really you and not the thin end of a DDoS wedge than you do wasting bad guys. Get a VPN optimized for gaming, with fast ping and plenty of servers where you need them, and you’ll never need to think about it again.

Business uses

VPNs have multiple legitimate business uses. For instance, most business communication tools are totally unencrypted — meaning your business data is vulnerable. Anyone who regularly needs to check business emails on any public wifi also needs a VPN with plenty of speed and solid security. And even if you’re staying home, moving business data around the internet can be risky; a VPN encrypts it for you, keeping you and your clients safe.

Torrenting

If you’re a regular torrenter, a VPN that allows P2P and can handle the download speeds required is a must. Not only do you need to be safe from prying eyes when you torrent, but you also need to stop your ISP from throttling your traffic — and together with streaming and games, P2P traffic is a prime throttling target.

Once you’re clear on exactly what you need from a VPN, you can start looking for something that matches your needs rather than shopping around for a one-size-fits-all solution.