Although there are many torrent clients available, many will notice that a few names will crop up repeatedly. Undoubtedly, one that most of you may have heard of will be uTorrent. As of 2020 it is the singular most popular torrent client with 68% of torrent users utilizing it.
For those who may be unfamiliar, torrenting is peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing. By using torrent files, information of files stored on devices around the world is shared. That information then helps torrent applications like uTorrent download those files from the P2P network.
Why Use a VPN with uTorrent?
While P2P technology itself is perfectly legal in most cases, the entire concept of file sharing has become somewhat of a grey area. The key issue at hand is not what the technology does, but what kind of files are shared on P2P networks.
If files or applications shared are copyright protected then the process becomes illegal. Applications which might be illegal for download on P2P networks can include anything from music files to software such as CyberLink PowerDirector.
In some cases, the sharing and download of restricted materials such as adult publications or video might be illegal as well. While the line may be clear for the major companies involved in protecting their assets – for users, it might not be so readily apparent.
Legal Cases Involving P2P Activity
Although not overly common, there have been incidents in the P2P arena where both operators of torrent sites as well as some users have been fined or even jailed. For example;
In 2016, the operator of KickAssTorrents, a major torrent website, was apprehended in Poland by US law enforcement officials. He was charged with various offenses, including assisting to distribute pirated files with a total value of over one billion dollars.
A German father was fined in 2017 because his 11-year-old son downloaded an audiobook using P2P. Courts held the dad liable for providing insufficient oversight with respect to downloading pirated materials.
ISPs May Take Action
Depending on where you are, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) may deal with torrent users in various ways. For example, some may choose to cooperate with those seeking to prosecute copyright infringements on P2P networks. In others, they may throttle line speeds to deter such activities.
As you can see, there can be significant penalties involved in torrenting if you aren’t cautious. The biggest issue is that guidelines and actions taken by authorities can differ greatly depending on your location.
The best way to avoid potential problems is by using a VPN. Part of the appeal that VPN offers is that they help anonymize your actions online.
How to Run uTorrent with a VPN
The first thing to understand is that the VPN service is separate from your torrent client (in this case, uTorrent). You need to have both installed on your device in order to route your torrenting through the VPN servers.
1. Download and Install uTorrent
For those who have not yet done so, install uTorrent and leave it with it’s default settings for the time being. Download the uTorrent installer and leave it to do its work. Be aware that uTorrent is available for different platforms – make sure you download the right one you need.
Do take note that uTorrent will try to get you to install some additional ‘partner’ applications. These are not necessary and I’d advise you to not accept them during the installation process. Do not worry, without them, your uTorrent installation will be fine.
Important note: uTorrent will ask if you will allow it to be added to your Windows firewall. Make sure to approve this request. If you do not, your torrents may not download, or at the very least, trickle in very slowly.
2. Sign up for a VPN Service
This step is important because VPN services vary greatly. Some will offer much better performance, flexibility, or value added services. Most importantly, not all VPN services allow torrenting. Of those that do, a number may restrict you to specific servers only.
In this example, we’re going to look at NordVPN as the selected service provider. NordVPN is a good illustration, since it is one of the best around, but does limit P2P activities to some servers only.
3. Setting up the VPN
Once you’ve signed up for an account you can download an application for your device. Most VPS will have applications for various mainstream platforms like PC, Mac, or even mobile devices.
After running the installer, you will need to run the VPN application. Sign in with the credentials you got from the provider and click on settings before you connect to a server. Here, set your VPN protocol to OpenVPN for ideal performance.
4. Connecting to a P2P Server
From the main screen, you can see a list of server locations on the left side. Scroll down towards the ‘Specialty servers’ mark and expand the option for P2P. Then, click on the P2P server closest to your location. This will typically offer you the best speeds.
5. Start Torrenting with uTorrent
Once the VPN service is up and running, all you have to do is visit your favorite torrent site and start looking for whatever you want to download. Most will have various files listed in long lists and allow you to use search functions.
If necessary, you can tweak the settings in the uTorrent client to better suit your usage behavior. uTorrent is extremely advanced and can cater to almost any usage model. One of my favorite features is its ability to adjust bandwidth limits following a schedule you can set.
VPNs May Affect Torrent Download Speeds
With the VPN service acting as the man in the middle, it would be hard to believe that download speeds will not be impacted. Unfortunately, this is true. However, before you start swearing at VPN support staff, understand that various factors may influence your speed.
Distance to Server
When you use a VPN, you’re connecting to a remote server and then getting routed to your real destination. That’s simply how it works and is part of the reason that VPN services can anonymize your activity.
Think of it as a flight between two locations with a stopover in between. That stop may be ridiculously far away from your destination depending on the route you choose. If your focus is mainly on torrenting with uTorrent, always choose the VPN server nearest where you are. This helps to reduce the time taken for data to travel.
Another element that comes into play is encryption. Data that is sent through VPN services are encrypted and decrypted on the fly. This increases the time taken, but helps you keep it from prying eyes.
Some VPN services like TorGuard may allow you to decrease the levels of encryption used. Doing so will decrease your data security, but that’s a tradeoff for increased speeds. It’s up to you to decide if this is an acceptable option.
Quality of Service
When speeds suffer, users are often quick to blame VPN service providers. Before you do that, do a speed test and check the quality of your line without a VPN first. Often, you’ll find that what you’re offered by your ISP may not be what you are really getting.
There are also differences between VPN service providers. Not all may offer good speeds, so check up on our reviews before you sign up for one!
Torrent Speeds on VPN Services
To get a more realistic idea of how much different torrent speeds can differ on torrents, look at the series of tests we’ve run;
No VPN Active
Without a VPN active, the line speed I get is around the same as what was stated by my ISP. This is excellent, but not everyone will be so lucky. In some cases, I have seen ISPs provide actual speed of less than half their advertised numbers.
VPN on Using OpenVPN Protocol
With the VPN service on and connected to the P2P server that’s best for my location, you can see that speeds drop significantly. Although the exact numbers will fluctuate, you can expect that this will generally be true and more noticeable on higher speed connections.
Because of that, your P2P speeds can show quite a bit of difference. Below you’ll find speeds captured while using uTorrent both with and without a VPN service active;
uTorrent Speed Without VPN
uTorrent Speed with VPN
As you can see, there is generally a playoff between the increased safety of using a VPN versus the speeds you can achieve on uTorrent. My advice is that it’s better to be safe than sorry. After all, those copyright trolls even went after the dad of that 11 year old. I believe they would have hauled the kid up in court if it was legal for them to do so.
At this point you’re probably considering if using a VPN with uTorrent is worth the hassle. I’d like to throw another monkey wrench in and let you consider one more issue – VPN services may not necessarily be legal where you are.