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The 6 Best DNS Servers to Enhance Network Performance and Security

Domain Name System (DNS) servers act as the internet‘s phone book – they translate human-readable domain names like into machine-readable IP addresses that computers can understand. Your internet service provider (ISP) likely provides a default DNS server, but there are good reasons to switch to a third-party option. External DNS servers can offer faster speeds, better security, more customization options, and increased privacy over ISP defaults.

But with so many DNS providers now available, how do you choose? I evaluated six top contending DNS servers across several criteria to help you find the right pick.

DNS Servers: An Introduction

Before jumping into the options, let‘s briefly cover what DNS servers are and why they matter.

Every device connected to a network uses a DNS server to resolve domain names entered into your browser. They take the domain name, like, and convert it into an IP address that allows your computer to route requests properly.

DNS servers build a "map" that matches these domain names to correct IPs. They don‘t actually host websites themselves; they just provide the directory assistance to help you connect.

Your ISP assigns a default DNS server to your router when you sign up for internet access. And this default DNS works just fine for most users.

However, advanced users, gamers, families, and security-focused individuals often benefit from switching to a third-party DNS server for features like:

  • Faster speeds: ISP DNS servers often get bogged down with traffic, resulting in sluggish performance. Alternate DNS providers invest heavily in infrastructure to sustain fast look-up times.
  • Enhanced security: Some DNS providers implement advanced security filters that can block access to malicious sites and protect your network.
  • More privacy: Using your ISP‘s DNS means they can theoretically monitor and log some of your browsing history. Third-party options may better protect your data.
  • Custom filtering options: Parents and schools often appreciate DNS servers that allow blacklisting inappropriate or distracting sites.
  • Reliability: Large-scale specialty DNS providers may offer higher uptime than a smaller scale ISP option.
  • Bypassing restrictions: In some countries, governments censor access to parts of the web. Alternate DNS servers help residents bypass these blocks.

The catch is that not all DNS systems are created equal. I compared six top contenders head-to-head across five criteria to help you choose.

DNS Server Comparison Criteria

Speed – Fast DNS query and response times keeps websites loading without lag.

Security – Blacklisting dangerous sites and filtering traffic helps keep networks safe. Strong privacy policies also contribute here.

Customization – The ability to tailor whitelists and blacklists to specific needs.

Ease-of-Use – How simple is it to set up for an average consumer.

Cost – Whether the DNS option is free or paid.

Here‘s how the top six stack up:

1. Google Public DNS

Google Public DNS earns top marks for being a free, fast, and easy-to-use barebones DNS solution.

Key Features

  • Completely free
  • Very easy to set up
  • Extremely fast DNS queries
  • Available on most operating systems and routers
  • No advanced security filters


  • Lightning quick performance
  • Wide device support
  • No subscription cost


  • Lacks advanced security features
  • Less customizable than other options

Best For

Casual users looking for speed boost without added configuration.

Try Google Public DNS Now

2. Cloudflare DNS (

Cloudflare‘s DNS prides itself on blazing speeds and advanced security filters for safe web browsing.

Key Features

  • Totally free tier available
  • Includes basic security filtering
  • Extremely fast DNS queries
  • Easy to set up on multiple platforms
  • Apps allow quick configuration for less tech-savvy users


  • Other competing "fastest" DNS options
  • Very simple setup process
  • Baseline network security included


  • Lacks robust customization options beyond basic security
  • Privacy policy less transparent than rival DNS companies

Best For

Those prioritizing speed and protection who don‘t need custom whitelists/blacklists.

Test Out Cloudflare

3. OpenDNS

OpenDNS excels at security, offering comprehensive threat protection and granular customizable filtering options.

Key Features

  • Free tier available
  • Industry-leading phishing and malware protection
  • Custom whitelisting and blacklisting control
  • Content filtering suitable for home or business
  • Paid tiers unlock more advanced functionality


  • Powerful security filters to block threats
  • Highly customizable family/network filtering
  • Flexible free and paid plans


  • Slightly slower than competitors
  • Configuration less user-friendly than simpler options

Best For

Advanced users wanting maximum security with extensive custom controls.

Investigate OpenDNS Solutions

4. CleanBrowsing

CleanBrowsing stands out from the pack with extremely robust web filtering capabilities scaled for schools and families.

Key Features

  • Filters adult content, proxies, malware, phishing sites, and more
  • Customizable whitelist, blacklist, and categorization options
  • Affordable pricing – starts under $3/mo
  • Can enforce SafeSearch on Google/YouTube
  • Uses anycast network (3,500+ servers) for speed


  • Unmatched content and threat filtering tools for home networks
  • Easy-to-configure categories and exceptions
  • Competitive pricing structure


  • Niche appeal best suited for family filtering use-cases

Best For

Parents and schools needing to strictly control access for children and students.

Review CleanBrowsing Packages

5. Quad9

Quad9 is an enterprise-grade DNS solution focused on threat protection, speed, and high-volume service.

Key Features

  • Blocks against phishing, malware, spyware and more
  • Returns fast query responses
  • Free tier filters threats
  • Paid tier enables custom blocking
  • Uses 9,600+ edge servers for scale and speed


  • Robust threat blocking included free
  • Enterprise-level scale and redundancy
  • Very fast DNS queries


  • Configuration less intuitive than competitors
  • Requires paid service for full capabilities

Best For

Large organizations that prioritize security, speed, and reliability.

Learn More About Quad9

6. NextDNS

NextDNS brings customizable security services through an easy-to-use interface perfect for individuals.

Key Features

  • Blocks ads, trackers, phishing, malware, adult content
  • Fully customizable threat protection
  • 300k free queries/month before paid plans
  • Setup apps make configuration very easy


  • Extremely granular filtering options
  • User-friendly apps simplify setup
  • Free tier generous enough for most homeowners


  • Paid plans more expensive than rivals

Best For

Non-technical users that want robust security filters without the hassle.

Explore NextDNS Solutions

With so many options on the market, deciding the right DNS server for your needs depends on your priorities:

For raw speed – Google DNS and Cloudflare lead the pack when it comes to fast queries.

For robust security – OpenDNS, CleanBrowsing, Quad9, and NextDNS have the best threat protection.

For flexibility and control – OpenDNS, CleanBrowsing, and NextDNS enable extensive custom filtering configurations.

For ease-of-use – Products like Cloudflare and NextDNS offer simple apps and setup flows for the less technical.

For cost-conscious users – Stick to free tiers like Google DNS and Cloudflare to avoid ongoing expenses.

I suggest starting with the free DNS options to test performance gains in your environment before paying for premium features.

Most external DNS options provide a better experience than standard ISP servers. Find the solution aligning closest to your needs for a faster and safer internet experience.