What is DD-WRT?
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.
Installing DD-WRT on your router gives it the full functionality of a business grade router, but 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-DRT 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 routers to use DD-WRT
‘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
- 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 with DD-WRT pre-installed – just search eBay for ’preinstalled DD-WRT router’. There are a lot of sellers who will happily install and configure DD-WRT capable routers before supplying them to you, which makes life easy. In addition to this, although the manufacturers warrantee will probably be invalidated, many reputable sellers will replace it with one of their own.
Configuring a DD-WRT router to use VPN
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).
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 as FlashRouters) specialise in supplying routers preconfigured for popular VPN providers.
DD-WRT vs. Tomato
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.
5 Best DD-WRT routers for VPN
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 in price 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. Note that all prices are as per Amazon.com (May 2013), for a new, un-flashed router.
Linksys E1200 ($44.99)
This low cost Wireless-N (802.11n) single band router is consistently well reviewed, and has been picked as PCMag’s editor’s choice. For a single band router it is very fast, managing an average wireless maximum throughput of 60Mbps, and it comes with 4 10/100 Ethernet ports to connect wired devices. The E1200 is a basic, entry level machine, but one that works well and is fully compatible with DD-WRT.
Amazon has one of the best prices for this router, you can buy it here.
D-Link DIR-632 ($38.80)
This 8-port Wireless-N router come with very flaky out-of-the box firmware, but is very easily flashed with DD-WRT to make it a highly capable router at a ridiculously low price. In addition to the 8 10/100 Ethernet ports, this router has a USB port, which makes it ideal for adding network storage (NAS) or a network printer.
Asus RT-N16 ($82.98)
This single band Wireless-N gaming router is perfect for upgrading with DD-WRT, as the 2 USB ports, large RAM capacity (128 MB), large Flash memory (32 MB) and 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports mean that with DD-WRT on board it is capable of enterprise levels of performance at consumer level pricing.
Netgear WNDR3700 ($99.00)
The Netgear WNDR3700 is a dual band router that delivers simultaneous 300Mbs + 300Mbs performance for a combined speed of 600Mbs from its 8 internal antennas, and incorporates a WiFi amplifier for improved range. Also included are 4 x Gigabit LAN ports for high speed wired access, and a USB port for network drives and printers.
Linksys E4200 ($131.64)
With transfer rates of 300Mbs + 450Mbs resulting in a throughput of 750Mbs, the Linksys E4200 dual band router is one of the fastest consumer grade routers on the market, and has picked up a PCMag Editors Award. The 3×3 MIMO antennas ensure fantastic WiFi coverage, while the 4 x Gigabit LAN ports mean blazing fast wired connections. There is also a USB port for network drives and printers.
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.