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WireGuard vs OpenVPN: Which is the Better Protocol?

WireGuard and OpenVPN are the top two most popular VPN protocols. Both claim to deliver the fastest, most secure, and most reliable experience. But telling them apart is almost impossible unless you have a deep technical understanding of VPN software. 

So, we decided to do the work for you. Our team of experts tested WireGuard and OpenVPN across numerous VPN providers, devices, and locations worldwide. This quick guide takes you through the results of those tests.  

If you’re in a rush, the best combination is WireGuard with ExpressVPN. ExpressVPN’s server network, with WireGuard turned on, provided the fastest, most secure connection. We could also access any content (including Netflix US) from anywhere in the world.

Quick summary: WireGuard or OpenVPN?

WireGuard beat OpenVPN in every test.

Our connections were faster and smoother. We could easily access top streaming and torrent large files across long distances. Even across huge distances – like the US and Africa – WireGuard consistently delivered instant connections with zero lag or buffering. 

And it used less data, too. 

OpenVPN is perfectly adequate. It’s secure, fast, and reliable, and some experts consider it more private. But it can't keep up with WireGuard. Every top WireGuard VPN offers both protocols and additional privacy measures, so we don’t see any reason to use OpenVPN if WireGuard is available.

WireGuard vs OpenVPN: A deep dive

Okay, let’s get into the nitty-gritty. 

In the following sections, we’ll analyze the results from our tests and compare WireGuard and OpenVPN in crucial aspects of their performance. 

Let’s start with the most obvious…

1. Speed

For years, OpenVPN was the "good enough" speed option. 

Most people experienced a manageable slowdown when they turned it on – 30% was typical. If you had decent home internet or 3G, your VPN was still okay for browsing, emails, and the like.

WireGuard changed the game. 

Top VPNs started promoting it heavily, promising insane speed boosts compared to OpenVPN. It's tough to isolate what's purely to the protocol, as networks are constantly upgraded in the background. Still, there’s definitely truth in the marketing.

Throughout our tests, WireGuard delivered significantly higher connections, especially over long distances. Some VPNs’ connection speeds doubled by switching to WireGuard.

What makes WireGuard so fast? 

It's built with significantly less code, reducing strain on your device's processor. Additionally, unlike OpenVPN, it can spread its workload across multiple CPU cores simultaneously.

For the best results, connect to NordVPN’s NordLynx protocol or ExpressVPN’s Lightway. Both are built on WireGuard, but optimized for increased speed.

Winner: WireGuard

2. Latency & lag

Latency and lag refer to the delay when you take an action online, and it’s reflected on your screen. Think about online gaming, and how frustrating it can be. Lower latency is always better, as high latency makes everything feel "laggy” and out of sync.

In our tests, WireGuard and OpenVPN performed well enough for everyday use, such as browsing the web, watching Netflix, or chatting. But WireGuard consistently had an edge – sometimes just a few milliseconds difference. 

Seems small, right? But for serious gamers, that's significant!

Either protocol will work if you're focused on smooth video calls or casual online play. But if you take gaming seriously, WireGuard offers that extra responsiveness that makes all the difference.

Winner: WireGuard

3. Data transfers

Every VPN protocol funnels your data through a series of security measures. Each measure can slow down transfers while using more data. 

We’ve already demonstrated that WireGuard is faster. It’s also more lightweight. 

OpenVPN uses an older SSL protocol, which requires an extra authentication procedure. It's like having a thorough security guard inspecting every package before it leaves, ensuring it gets to the right place. 

WireGuard, with its streamlined User Datagram Protocol (UDP), doesn’t need a connection to communicate. There are no checks, just fast data transmission. 

This is why WireGuard is much faster and less data-draining. It skips all the security overhead that slows OpenVPN – great for mobile users and people with limited internet access.

But, if you're dealing with sensitive stuff, like your online banking, OpenVPN's slower but safer approach is reassuring. You get that guarantee your data reached its destination without being intercepted.

Winner: It’s a draw!

4. Connection stability

We tested WireGuard and OpenVPN by switching between Wi-Fi and cellular data and hopping between numerous devices and locations – like you would on a busy day. 

WireGuard was the clear winner. 

OpenVPN took up to eight seconds to reconnect each time, even if there was only a small disruption to our connections (imagine you just got in a lift). 

In contrast, WireGuard reconnected in milliseconds. It was like nothing happened. You could forget you're even using a VPN.

Once connected, WireGuard was smoother and more consistent throughout our tests (see above, speed and latency/lag). 

Winner: WireGuard

5. Security

Security should be your top concern when choosing a VPN. 

WireGuard and OpenVPN use the latest, most secure encryption methods to shield your data, location, activities, and identity.

OpenVPN offers more choices: you can choose between AES, ChaCha20, Blowfish, Poly1305, and many other protocols with weird names. 

WireGuard is more limited. It’s fixed to ChaCha20 and Poly1035. You have no option to switch. 

However, every top VPN uses AES encryption as standard, so that it’s missing from WireGuard isn’t a big deal. 

WireGuard has a much smaller codebase – and less code means fewer places for bugs to hide. OpenVPN has been battle-tested for years and has a proven security track record. It's like a new, sleek safe vs. an older model that's been around the block and survived everything thrown at it.

Neither protocol has experienced a breach or similar vulnerability. 

The bottom line: WireGuard and OpenVPN will keep your everyday internet activity safe and sound, but WireGuard will keep you slightly safer.

Winner: WireGuard

7. Privacy 

With VPNs, privacy comes down to what information they retain about you. 

OpenVPN and WireGuard’s privacy policies are separate from your VPN provider, so they need special consideration. In theory, both protocols should keep zero logs. 

WireGuard keeps basic timestamps of your connections, which helps keep it streamlined. This is awesome for user experience, but if you want zero traces of your activity, it might not be enough. 

OpenVPN is more flexible. You can tweak it to keep zero logs and provide total anonymity. However, this requires advanced know-how, and your VPN may keep some connection logs to fix problems.

The choice here depends on whether you want zero-hassle privacy (WireGuard) or ultimate control over what gets logged (OpenVPN).

Winner: It’s a draw!

8. Battery drain

VPNs are notorious for battery drain, but some drain faster than others. 

We tested WireGuard and OpenVPN head-to-head on mobile devices, tracking how much battery they drained during a typical day of web browsing, social media, video, and music streaming.

WireGuard crushed it! Its smaller footprint means less strain on your phone's processor and no noticeable additional drain. 

OpenVPN was much more significant and drained the test devices much quicker. If you use your VPN on the go and need it for streaming, video, or work, WireGuard is much more reliable. So, don’t get caught out.

Winner: WireGuard

9. User experience

WireGuard wins in the "simplicity" category – but with a catch. 

The back end is cleaner, if you like modding your software. However, on some devices, it can get complex. 

OpenVPN is the opposite. Its front end is easier, but configuration gets seriously messy if you need to tweak advanced settings.

However, for 99% of users, this is irrelevant. You’ll probably only interact with the protocol occasionally, sticking to the default settings – which are sufficient for most people. 

Winner: WireGuard

Methodology: How we tested WireGuard vs. OpenVPN

In this head-to-head battle between WireGuard and OpenVPN, we prioritized factors critical to everyday user experiences. Our methodology focused on:

For more details on the tools and procedures used, you can check out a quick breakdown of our testing methodology.

WireGuard vs OpenVPN FAQs

So, WireGuard or OpenVPN – which is better?

Our tests put WireGuard and OpenVPN through the wringer, and the results are in: WireGuard reigns supreme. 

It's faster, provides seamless connections, and has a battery-friendly design, making it a clear winner for streaming, gaming, and getting the most out of your internet connection.

If you need advanced configuration, total control over privacy, or work with legacy systems, OpenVPN has some positives. 

But for most people, WireGuard will check every box – especially when combined with ExpressVPN’s Lightway protocol and advanced features.

Written by: Conor Walsh

Conor is a tech writer with professional paranoia. He's passionate about privacy, and when not writing about it, can be found trying to get far away from his phone and any other technology, enjoying some live music, outdoorsy stuff, or a good (physical) book.


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