Commercial routers are generally designed for non-techy users to operate easily. Unfortunately, this ease of use comes at the cost of limiting what you can do with 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 article, we’ll explore different points relating to DD-WRT routers, such as the advantages that DD-WRT provides, how to flash a normal router by yourself, and how to set up VPN on DD-WRT.
Flashed DD-WRT Router Providers
There are two primary providers of flashed dd-wrt routers – FlashRouters and RouterSource –and both have their good and bad points. FlashRouters is definitely a lot bigger, provides a much larger range and has marginally lower prices. It also provides Tomato routers alongside DD-WRT. RouterSource also offers Sabai OS flashed routers, which are designed with VPN users in mind and perform excellently. They also feature “Gateways”, which allow you to specify which devices connected to the router use the VPN and which bypass it.
On the support side, RouterSource definitely trumps FlashRouters. Not only does it provide a one-year hardware and technical guarantee, it also offers a 90-day satisfaction guarantee (compared to 90 days hardware and 30 day satisfaction guarantee). So if you’re new to the world of flashed routers and could run into a lot of issues, RouterSource will likely be worth its more expensive price.
A lot of routers 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’ve decided against putting them in order of preference, in favour of letting you choose which features are important to you.
Prices quoted are from Amazon/FlashRouters/RouterSource on 10/12/2014 respectively. While routers from Amazon are considerably cheaper (especially the higher end models), you also avoid the risk of bricking them and get quality support.
Netgear Nighthawk R7000
(Amazon: $265.23 , FlashRouters: $349.95 , RouterSource: $299.99 )
– 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! Its powerful processor delivers the maximum capabilities for VPN encryption and decryption, thereby giving you the best speeds possible. Its large flash memory allows the biggest, best and most powerful DD-WRT builds. It offers fantastic 1900 Mbps transfer speeds too, and is one of the few routers to support USB 3.0.
If you have the money to spare, we fully recommend the Nighthawk – the fastest, most capable DD-WRT router out there.
(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
Similar to the Nighthawk, the Asus RT-AC66U comes with a large flash memory, meaning it can handle the largest and most optimized DD-WRT builds. On the downside, it has a significantly slower CPU, so VPN speeds will be lower. As a cheaper alternative to the Nighthawk, it’s a great buy and by far the most popular Asus AC router. We’ve previously reviewed the AC66U and its small brother the N66U, and have been very happy with them 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 and underrated economy Wireless-AC router. On the upside, it features 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 sports internal antennas, so isn’t suitable for longer-range transmissions.
(Amazon: $129.99 , FlashRouters: $149.95 , RouterSource: $149.99 )
-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 compact model for those on a tight budget who only need a router for a few devices. It’s minimal in every aspect of its specification, so not surprisingly 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 find our more in-depth 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 the many advantages would be too long for this article, but here are some of the most useful:
- 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 Wi-Fi repeater to extend the range of your Wi-Fi signal
- Advanced performance graphs– DD-WRT 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 as games consoles, Kindle Fire tablets, mobile phones, AppleTV and Roku, which don’t 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 an increasingly long list can, with some models from Linksys, Buffalo Technology and Belkin starting to include DD-WRT as the default firmware. A full list of DD-WRT-compatible models is available from the official DD-WRT website.
There are a number of ways to get a flashed router:
- Buy one with DD-WRT installed as the default firmware, such as Buffalo
- Buy a compatible router then 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’s possible to brick your router so that it will no longer function, so is performed entirely at your own risk. You’ll probably void your manufacturer’s warranty too. On the other hand, it’s 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 of this article
Configuring VPN on DD-WRT
Pretty much all builds of DD-WRT support VPN using the PPTP protocol. However, this isn’t very secure and it’s generally better to use OpenVPN. The basic framework for DD-WRT supports OpenVPN, but, unfortunately, not all routers support builds that do, so it’s always best to check before buying if this is important to you.
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 to their VPN service, while third-party router sellers, such as FlashRouters, specialise in supplying routers preconfigured to 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 and providing similar functionality to a DD-WRT flashed router.
DD-WRT is compatible with more routers and is generally considered more newbie friendly. However, 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 yourself business-grade functionality for a fraction of the cost. Most importantly, it’s 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.