Commercial routers are generally designed for ease of use by non-techy users. Unfortunately this ease of use comes at the cost of limiting what you can do them. DD-WRT is an open source project aimed at developing a Linux based firmware solution that removes the restrictions placed on routers by their default programming.
At the end of this post we will explore different points relating to DD-WRT routers such as the advantages that DD-WRT providers, how to go about it flashing a normal router if you wish to go about it on your own and how to set up VPN on DD-WRT.
Flashed Router Providers
There are two primary providers of Flashed Routers: FlashRouters and RouterSource, both have their good and bad points. FlashRouters is definitely a lot bigger and provides a much larger range as well as having marginally lower prices. FlashRouters also provides Tomato routers alongside DD-WRT but Router Source also provides Sabai OS flashed routers which is designed with VPN users in mind and performs excellently and also has what they call “Gateways” – with which you can specify which devices connected to the router use the VPN and which bypass it.
On the support side RouterSource definitely trumps FlashRouters as not only does it provide 1 year hardware and technical guarantee it also provides a 90 day satisfaction guarantee (compared to 90 days and no satisfaction guarantee) – so if you’re a beginner in the world of flashed routers and feel like you might run into a lot of issues, RouterSource will likely be worth it’s more expensive price.
If you live in Thailand there is also the small provider FreedomRouters whom you can use.
There are a lot of routers that are compatible with DD-WRT, so this list can in no way be considered definitive. Still, these routers come highly recommended, and are good, solid choices. Given the differences and capabilities, we have decided against putting them in order of preference, in favour of letting you choose which features etc. are important to you.
Prices quoted are from Amazon/FlashRouters/RouterSource on 10/12/2014 respectively. While the routers from Amazon are considerably cheaper (especially with higher end models) you avoid the risk of bricking it and get quality support too.
Netgear Nighthawk R7000
(Amazon: $265.23 , FlashRouters: $349.95 , RouterSource: $349.95 )
– Up to 1900 Mbps Wireless-AC Dual Band
– 1 GHz processor
– 3 Powerful External Antennas
– Ram/Flash: 256/128
– 1 USB 3.0 & 1 USB 2.0
The Nighthawk is the daddy of all DD-WRT routers! It’s powerful processor gives you the maximum capabilities for VPN encryption and decryption thereby giving you the best speeds possible. It’s flash size also allows the biggest, best and most powerful DD-WRT builds out there. It’s also allows a fantastic 1900 Mbps transfer speeds and is one of the few routers out there that provides USB 3.0. If you have the money to spare we would fully recommend this router in order to give you the fastest/ most capable DD-WRT router.
(Amazon: $199.99 , FlashRouters: $299.95)
– Up to 1750 Mbps Wireless-AC Dual Band
– 600 MHz processor
– 3 Powerful External Antennas
– RAM/Flash: 256/128
– 2 USB 2.0
Similarly to the Nighthawk, the RT-AC66U by Asus has a great flash size meaning it can also handle the largest and most optimized DD-WRT builds. On the downside it has a significantly slower CPU, meaning the VPN speeds will be lower. As a cheaper alternative to the Nighthawk it is a great and it is by far the most popular Asus AC Model. We’ve previously reviewed both the AC66U as well as it’s small brother the N66U and we’ve been very pleased with both ever since.
(Amazon: $109.99 , FlashRouters: $199.95)
-Up to 1450 Mbps Wireless-AC Dual Band
-800 MHz Broadcom processor
-1 USB 3.0 & 1 USB 2.0
The Netgear AC1450 is a highly overlooked & underrated economy wireless-AC Model. On the upside it has a more powerful processor than the popular AC66U with the same RAM/Flash (so handles the best DD-WRT builds). On the downside it only has internal antennas meaning that it’s not suitable for longer range transmissions.
(Amazon: $129.99 , FlashRouters: $149.95 , RouterSource: $169.99 )
-Up to 600 Mbps Wireless-N Dual Band
-680 MHz Atheros processor
-1 USB 2.0
The Netgear WNDR3700 is a great small household model. It has a respectable processor but with a small RAM and Flash it is only able to handle medium sized DD-WRT builds. It’s small overall transfer speeds and only internal antennas are a minor let down, as well as no AC capability but it would fit perfectly in any family home.
Cisco Linksys E1200
(Amazon: $59.99 , FlashRouters: $89.95)
-The Economy DD-WRT VPN Choice
-Up to 300 Mbps Wireless-N Single Band
-300 MHz Atheros processor
The Cisco Linksys E1200 is a great little economy model for those that have a more sensitive wallet and only need the router for a few devices. This router is minimal in every aspect of it’s specification so it’s no surprise that it’s only able to handle small to medium DD-WRT builds. Despite this, it’s a nice discreet piece of kit for those starting out with DD-WRT or wanting a cheaper option. You can also find our review of the E1200 here.
Advantages of DD-WRT
While default router firmware has been improving, installing DD-WRT on your router gives it the full functionality of a business grade router, without the cost. A full list of all the many advantages would be too long for this article, but some of the most useful are:
- Advanced Quality of Service (QoS) controls – lets you change bandwidth allocation settings for different networks, and usually provides UPnP media streaming
- Network storage (NAS) – external hard disks and USB flash drives can be plugged into DD-WRT flashed routers that are equipped with USB ports for use as network drives
- Network printers – printers can also be plugged into a USB port for access from anywhere on the network
- DNS caching – speeds up host name lookup to improve connection speeds to popular websites
- Wireless bridging – turns the router into a WiFi repeater to extend the range of your WiFi signal
- Advanced performance graphs – DD-DRT lets you analyse your network performance and bandwidth use with detailed graphs and statistics
- Kai Daemon - this feature provides network tunnelling for the PC, Xbox and other consoles to the open source Xlink Kai game platform
- Adjust antenna power – to increase wireless range
- VPN – DD-WRT can route the signals from all connected devices through a VPN service. This is particularly useful when you want to connect devices such games consoles, Kindle Fire tablets, mobile phones, AppleTV, Roku etc. that do not have built-in VPN clients.
Flashing your own router
‘Flashing’ is the process of changing or upgrading the firmware (built in programming) of a hardware device. Not all routers can be flashed with DD-WRT, but there is an increasingly long list of ones that can, with models by Linksys, Buffalo Technology and Belkin so prominent they have started to include DD-WRT as the default firmware on some of their models. A full list of DD-WRT compatible models is available from the official DD-WRT website.
There are a number of ways to ways to get a flashed router:
- Buy one in which the manufacture has installed DD-WRT as the default firmware i.e. Buffalo
- Buy a compatible router and flash DD-WRT onto it yourself. While not too complicated, this can be a bit tricky and requires some technical know-how. Also, while unlikely if you follow the instructions carefully, it is possible to brick your router so that it will no longer function, so is performed entirely at your own risk. You will, additionally likely void your manufacturers warrantee. On the other hand, it is the cheapest option! The full, official guide to installing DD-WRT can be found here
- Buy a router from one of the companies mentioned at the beginning
Configuring VPN on DD-WRT
Pretty near all builds of DD-WRT support VPN using the PPTP protocol. However, this is not very secure and it is generally better to use OpenVPN. The basic framework for DD-WRT supports OpenVPN, but unfortunately not all routers support builds that do, so it is always best to check before buying if this is important to you (recommended).
Many VPN providers supply setup guides for DD-WRT routers, although some only provide support for PPTP. General guides are available on the DD-WRT website for setting up PPTP and OpenVPN.
Some providers (such as TorGuard and ibVPN) also sell routers flashed with DD-WRT and preconfigured for their VPN service, while third party router sellers (such asFlashRouters) specialise in supplying routers preconfigured for popular VPN providers.
DD-WRT vs Other Platfroms
Tomato is an alternative Linux based firmware package for routers, most notably the Linksys WRT54G/GL/GS, Buffalo WHR-G54S/WHR-HP-G54 and other Broadcom-based routers. Like DD-WRT, it can be used to flash a compatible router, allowing it to be used as a VPN gateway, as well as providing similar functionality to a DD-WRT flashed router.
DD-WRT is compatible with more routers, and is generally reckoned more newbie friendly, but many people prefer Tomato’s interface and excellent real-time network monitoring capabilities.
A DD-WRT router is a fantastic way to take control of your wireless network and give you business grade functionality for a fraction of the cost. Most importantly as far as we at BestVPN.com are concerned, is the fact that it is the easiest way to connect all the internet enabled devices in your home to your favourite VPN service, shielding your internet use from prying eyes and allowing you to spoof your location so you can access services normally denied you based on you geographic location.