Why is Tor browser so slow? How to make it faster

Tips & tricks
8 mins

Struggling with slow browsing speeds on Tor? While Tor prioritizes anonymity over raw speed, there are some ways for you to optimize your experience and speed things up.

This guide explores various methods to streamline your Tor usage, helping you find the right balance between privacy and performance. Whether you’re a seasoned user or just starting out, these tips can help you navigate the Tor network with greater ease and efficiency.

Why is the Tor browser so slow?

While Tor is one of the most secure and private ways you can browse, an unfortunate trade-off is that it can be quite slow. This is simply due to some of the ways it’s designed, including:

  • Multi-hop design: Unlike a regular browser that connects directly to a website, Tor bounces your traffic through a series of three relays, each in a different location. The increased anonymity gained by this comes at the cost of adding extra steps and increasing travel time for your data.
  • Relay quality: Tor relies on a network of volunteer-run relays. While some are fast and reliable, others are slower due to factors like limited bandwidth or hardware capabilities.
  • Network congestion: With over 2 million daily users, the Tor network can run into periods of heightened congestion, especially when it comes to the most popular exit nodes (the final relay before reaching a site). This leads to slowdown and latency.
  • Geographic diversity: To further anonymize your connection, Tor prioritizes connecting to relays in countries different to your own. Due to the increased distance introduced, it can further slow your connection.
  • Security features: Additional security features like encryption and circuit construction add additional processing time compared with a standard browser connection.

How to make Tor run faster

There are a few methods to try to make Tor work faster.

1. Update the Tor Browser

Keeping your Tor installation updated is an important step in ensuring optimal performance. Here’s why:

  • Performance improvements: Developers continuously work on optimizing the code and implementing features to improve efficiency and speed.
  • Security fixes: Updates help you stay on top of security vulnerabilities and bugs, preventing potential exploits that could slow down the browser (and do a lot worse).

How to update Tor:

Open Tor Browser and click on the three horizontal lines in the top right corner. Go to Settings and then General or simply type “about:preferences” in the address bar. Click on Check for Updates and follow the on-screen instructions to install them.

Tor browser bridge settings: “Overview of Tor browsers bridge settings.”

2. Use a bridge relay

Bridge relays can be helpful if you’re encountering difficulties connecting to the Tor network due to censorship or restrictions. They act as hidden entry points that aren’t listed in the public directory so you can bypass initial connection issues. However, using bridge relays can also improve your overall speed.

They’re primarily useful if your ISP or government could be blocking access to Tor, or if you simply want another layer of security. In this case, by hiding the fact that you’re connecting to Tor in the first place. 

Note that while the right bridge can improve your speeds, a bridge with a heavy load and in a distant location could worsen your issue, so it may take a little trial and error.

How to use a bridge relay in Tor:

  1. Open Tor Browser and click on the three horizontal lines in the top right corner.
  2. Go to Settings and then Connection.
  3. Under the Bridges section, you have a few options, including:
    1. Choose from one of Tor Browser’s built-in bridges: This pre-configured option provides a readily available bridge without needing to manually input an address.
    2. Enter a bridge address you already know: If you have a specific (and trusted) bridge address, you can enter it here.
  4. Click Connect to apply the changes and attempt a connection using the bridge relay.

Tor browser new circuit settings: “Overview of Tor browser settings to set up a new Tor circuit.”

3. Create a new Tor circuit

Creating a new Tor circuit can help with speed while maintaining Tor’s rock-solid anonymity. The circuit you’re connected to may have overloaded exit nodes or slow relays, so connecting to a new circuit can route your traffic via better-optimized relays and offer you faster speeds.

How to create a new circuit in Tor:

  1. Open Tor Browser and click on the three horizontal lines in the top right corner.
  2. You’ll see two options:
    1. New Identity resets your browsing session entirely, thereby closing all open tabs and windows, clearing your history and cookies, and creating a new circuit.
    2. New Tor circuit for this site reloads the currently opened website using a new circuit, keeping it separate from previous browsing activity, without affecting other open tabs and windows.

Tor browser performance settings: “Overview of Tor browser settings with a focus on its Performance settings.”

4. Use optimized settings

Although the Tor browser by default does a good job of balancing security and performance, there are a few things you can do to attempt to squeeze the most out of it.

Note that the following options don’t improve server connectivity speeds, but may instead offer marginal benefits to the performance of the Tor browser running locally on your computer.

  1. Open Tor Browser and click on the three horizontal lines in the top right corner.
  2. Scroll down in the General section until you reach Performance.
  3. Ensure the checkbox for Use recommended performance settings is selected. What this does is enable or disable hardware acceleration—essentially offloading CPU-bound tasks to your GPU (if your PC has one) for snappier loading of websites.

Tor browser update settings: “Overview of Tor browser’s update settings.”

You can also disable JavaScript to improve website load times, although you should do this with caution. JavaScript is often required for proper website functionality, so you may end up with broken-looking sites or pages that you can’t interact with normally.

Generally, it’s worth keeping JavaScript on unless you’re dealing with significant performance issues or are running on a very underpowered device.

5. Optimize your system

Improving your system’s overall performance won’t directly impact Tor’s server speeds, but can at least help you run the browser faster locally. Try some of the following:

  1. Close unnecessary programs: If your PC has a slow CPU or limited RAM, freeing up resources can help load and run web pages in the Tor browser more quickly.
  2. Update your operating system: Keeping your system (and its drivers) up-to-date helps not only patch security vulnerabilities but can streamline performance and help Tor run faster.
  3. Manage your browser extensions: Disable or remove any browser extensions, since they may be causing performance issues and slowdown. The Tor Project itself also strongly discourages installing additional extensions due to the security issues they can introduce.
  4. Use a wired internet connection: WiFi can introduce a lot of instability, depending on the quality of your router and the distance between it and your device. Using a wired (ethernet) connection eliminates the issue of signal fluctuation and should allow for a stable high-speed connection to the Tor network.

Is Tor illegal?

No, using Tor is not illegal in the vast majority of countries. Like any tool, it can be used for good or bad purposes, but its primary purpose is to ensure heightened online anonymity and privacy for the user. This is something that everyone should have easy access to.

However, this isn’t to say that all activities carried out while connected to Tor are legal. One reason Tor has a reputation as a tool for illegal activity is because it is how people access the dark web, which has marketplaces selling illegal services, goods, and information. 

Accessing illegal sites or buying illicit products remains illegal, whether you’re doing so via Tor or any other browser.

Does Tor slow down your PC?

Using Tor can feel a lot slower than a regular web browser, but this is due to the way that Tor routes your traffic, rather than it directly slowing down your PC hardware. 

The Tor browser uses several methods to increase your anonymity while browsing the web, but they come at the cost of speed. Your speeds are impacted by Tor bouncing your traffic across multiple relays, those relays offering differing levels of performance, and the network sometimes suffering from congestion.

The only way that Tor is likely to slow down your PC is if you open far too many tabs and use up all your RAM, or open performance-intensive web pages, such as one streaming 4K video. Still, none of these reasons have to do with Tor itself.

How can I use Tor efficiently?

There are a few ways you can make more efficient use of Tor:

  • Use it for the right reasons: Consider your threat model, and whether your current needs require you to use Tor or if a regular browser will suffice. In many circumstances, using a normal browser with a VPN will offer a good enough level of privacy.
  • Respect the network: If you’re trying to download large files that don’t require a Tor connection, you’ll only be making things harder for yourself (and others on the network). Stick to a Clear Web (non-Tor) connection for downloads that don’t require anonymity and you’ll have them done much faster.
  • Minimize data transfer: If you have to use Tor for all activity in a specific session, try to limit the size of your downloads to ensure speeds remain fast.

Is Tor faster than Chrome?

No, Tor is generally not faster than Chrome. Tor and Chrome prioritize different goals, resulting in significant differences in speed. While Chrome prioritizes fast browsing experiences, Tor focuses on user anonymity. This difference in design philosophies directly impacts performance.

Chrome prioritizes the fastest route for whatever traffic is passed through it, while Tor purposefully routes traffic in unconventional ways to improve anonymity. This adds significant travel time (leading to slower speeds) compared to Chrome’s direct connections. Congestion can also factor in at busy times, since Tor browser runs on the Tor network, while Chrome is primarily reliant on your local connection and the server you’re connecting to.

However, it’s important to remember that this slower speed is a trade-off for the enhanced privacy and anonymity that Tor offers. Users who prioritize anonymity may be willing to accept the slower speeds as a necessary compromise.

Is Tor better than a VPN?

The question of Tor vs. VPN isn’t “better vs. worse,” but rather “different tools for different jobs.”

Tor strengths: Unbeatable anonymity, free and open-source, gives you access to the best .Onion websites on the dark web.

VPN strengths: Faster speeds, can choose your preferred country, easy to use, strong encryption for security, privacy protections apply to full device (not just web browser).

Choose Tor for top-tier anonymity, and a VPN for privacy, security, speed, and location changes. For the best of both worlds, you can also combine a VPN with Tor.

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