Readers of this site know that I don’t often post reviews of things here. However, with the internet in China getting less reliable by the day — or so it seems — it seems increasingly pragmatic for the discerning internet user (read: people who enjoy the internet rather than the Chinese shanzhai internet lite) to have two VPNs. Madness? Maybe. But a little backup is a good thing.
Also, let’s get this out of the way: I get a free account with ibVPN for posting this review. Yup, I have sold out.
Anyway, there are two basic things that are important with a VPN: how it works, and whether or not you can set it up.
The first thing I tried to do was set up the OpenVPN ((A VPN client software)) version of ibVPN ((a VPN service provider)) — they also offer PPTP which is reportedly easier to set up, but I like my net traffic secure, so OpenVPN it is. I downloaded some files, shifted some folders around, and after a little while, I had the VPN up and running. It’s not too difficult, but it’s definitely not the sort of one-click installation Mac users might be used to either. Like I said, the PPTP is supposedly easier to set up, but I didn’t want to sacrifice the security.
After I had OpenVPN set up, I tried to connect to several different connections. None of them worked. I also kept having to enter my password three times to connect to each one, which seemed really bizarre. That may be because of my computer’s security settings, which are pretty strict, but I’ve never had to enter my password three times to change any other connection settings. Anyway, finally I tried the bottom connection on my list, Washington, US. That worked (see below for more details on performance).
I did, briefly, also try to set up ibVPN on my PC at work. It went horribly, and I gave up pretty quickly, but I don’t think this is ibVPN’s fault. My work computer is a finicky, evil machine that seems to have been programmed primarily to stop me from doing whatever I’m trying to do at all costs. I assume that like with Mac, setting up ibVPN on your PC is very possible, but it takes a bit of fiddling, as these things often do.
This is what really matters. After all, you only have to set a VPN up once, but its speed and ease of use affect your day to day browsing. On this count, I must say ibVPN performs quite admirably. I’ve been using it for over a week now, and it’s fast enough that I have taken to just leaving it on more or less all the time.
What’s really amazing is that even things that aren’t blocked seem to load faster if their servers are abroad. For example, The Daily Show (not blocked), which I try to watch online every day, has been very finicky recently if I turn off the VPN, but strangely turning ON the VPN seems to make it load faster and stream more smoothly. The same is true with Youtube; videos just stream. It’s like being in the US…
…To a point. ibVPN is not a miracle worker, and higher-def stuff is slower. On Youtube, 240p tends to stream right out of the gate, 360p is hit-or-miss, and anything higher than that probably requires a wait time, as do generally higher-quality streaming sites like Vimeo. Still, streaming from Youtube even at 240p is impressive given that it’s blocked in China and that my internet connection speed is definitely nothing to write home about.
Of course, things in China fluctuate fast, as do connection speeds. There’s no way to be sure that a month from now, China won’t have shut down all VPNs forever. So with the caveat that no one knows what the future holds, I recommend ibVPN for those considering a backup to their current VPN (since this site is blocked, I’m assuming you all already have one). It’s worked great for me so far — once I got it set up — and it browsing with it makes the internet feel more like it is at home.
Now if only someone could come up with a VPN to fix the horrible design on all the Gawker blogs! Am I right? Guys? …..guys?