Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

April 23, 2018

VPN routers are routers that have been configured to connect to a VPN service. Many modern routers have a VPN client built in, which can usually be configured via the router’s admin page.

It is also possible to flash routers with third party firmware such as DD-WRT and Tomato, which include a VPN client. Indeed, some providers offer pre-flashed routers that have been pre-configured for their service.

The main advantages of using VPN routers are:

  • Every device that connects to the router is protected by the VPN.
  • This includes devices that cannot run VPN software themselves, such as smart TVs, games consoles, and Roku boxes. This is very useful for geo-spoofing.
  • The router counts as just one VPN connection, as far as your provider is concerned. This means you can connect an unlimited number of devices to the VPN at once via the router.

All of which is great! The main downside, however, is that encrypting and decrypting VPN data is very processor-intensive (especially when using OpenVPN). Most routers struggle with the job, resulting in poor internet connection speeds.

This is particularly true of the slew of mini VPN boxes that have hit the market recently, such as the Anonabox or PandaPow WiFi. The hardware in such devices is so underpowered for the job at hand, that you can expect to lose 90% or more of your internet connection speed when using them.

It is, therefore, important to choose a VPN router with beefy hardware in order to prevent it from slowing down your internet connection. Let’s have a look at my pick of the best VPN routers out there.

List of the Best DD-WRT Routers

5 Best DD-WRT Routers Summaries

10.0/10.0

Editor's choice

Editor's choice

ExpressVPN Router Homepage
PROS:
  • CPU: 1.6 GHz dual core
  • Ram: 512MB
  • Flash: 256MB
  • Antennas: 4 external
  • USB: USB 3.0, USB 2.0 (also eSATA)
  • Transfer rates: 450Mbps 2.4GHz, 1450 Mbps 5GHz
CONS:

    The ExpressVPN Linksys WRT3200ACM is a monster of a router, and is big brother to the ExpressVPN Linksys WRT1200AC router that I reviewed very favorably here. It comes pre-flashed with ExpressVPN’s custom OpenWRT firmware, which makes setting up and using the WRT3200ACM as a VPN router ridiculously easy.

    It also ensures that there are no DNS or WebRTC leaks, and the built-in firewall acts as a kill switch. One particularly neat feature of ExpressVPN’s router firmware is split-tunneling. This means that you can route some connected devices through the VPN, while allowing others to access the internet outside the VPN.

    The 1.8 Ghz dual core is more than powerful enough to handle the demands of OpenVPN, so this router will not slow down your internet connection in the slightest (although you will still get a small speed hit from the VPN itself).

    All this all makes the ExpressVPN Linksys WRT3200ACM a fantastic VPN router. However, do be aware that in replacing the factory firmware from Linksys with custom firmware developed by ExpressVPN, you lose some features present in the baseline model. These include the use of USB ports and MU-MIMO technology designed to double 5Ghz speeds.

    Want to know more about the VPN service? Check out our full unbiased Express VPN review.

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    9.6/10.0

    Linksys WRT1900ACS DD-WRT  Homepage
    PROS:
    • CPU: 1.6 GHz dual core
    • Ram: 512MB
    • Flash: 256MB
    • Antennas: 4 external
    • USB: USB 3.0, USB 2.0 (also eSATA)
    • Transfer rates: 450Mbps 2.4GHz, 1450 Mbps 5GHz
    CONS:

      The Linksys WRT1900ACS sits in the middle of Linksys’ line of high-end routers, between the Linksys WRT1200AC and the Linksys WRT3200ACM. Featuring a powerful 1.6 Ghz dual core ARM processor, this router is plenty fast enough to handle VPN.

      Out of the box, this router comes open source ready, so you can easily flash it with custom DD-WRT builds that are specially designed to make the most of its features. Or you buy one pre-flashed from FlashRouters. This is great, as it ensures you do not lose any of the router’s functionality when upgrading from the stock firmware to DD-WRT.

      9.0/10.0

      NETGEAR Nighthawk Homepage
      PROS:
      • CPU: 1 GHz dual core processor
      • Ram: 256 MB
      • Flash: 128MB
      • Antennas: 3 external
      • USB: USB 2.0, USB 3.0
      • Transfer rates: 600 Mbps 2.4GHz, 1300 Mbps 5GHz
      CONS:

        Although not quite as well-specced as the above beasts, the NETGEAR Nighthawk R7000 is still easily powerful enough to handle the demands of processing VPN data. Sabai OS is open source custom firmware developed by Sabai Technology.

        In his full Sabai Technology Review, our reviewer was impressed by Sabai OS, and with the level of support provided by the company. For a full review of the NETGEAR R7000 Nighthawk (running Tomato), please see here.

        8.2/10.0

        Asus RT-AC56U Technical Homepage
        PROS:
        • CPU: 800 MHz ARM
        • Ram: 256 MB
        • Flash: 128MB
        • Antennas: 3 external
        • USB: USB 2.0, USB 3.0
        • Transfer rates: 300 Mbps 2.4GHz, 867 Mbps 5GHz
        CONS:

          Although it is now getting a little long in the tooth, the Asus RT-AC56U is very reasonably priced, yet has enough processing oomph to handle VPN connections without slowing them down. It therefore makes an ideal “budget” VPN router. And when the router is flashed with DD-WRT, the Asus RT-AC56U becomes a very flexible and fully-featured router.

          7.8/10.0

          PandaPow WiFi Homepage
          PROS:
          • CPU: 400 MHz
          • Ram: 64 MB
          • Flash: 8MB
          • USB: USB 2.0, USB 3.0
          • Transfer rates: 150 Mbps 2.4GHz
          CONS:

            As I mentioned in the intro, the PandaPow WiFi is one of a number of small and low cost “VPN boxes” to hit the market in recent months. Of the various ones of these that I have reviewed, it is my favorite. It is a little heavier and chunkier than other similar devices, but this is almost certainly down to the inclusion of a USB-rechargeable battery.

            It is still small and sleek enough, however, to comfortably slip into a jeans pocket.

            Wireless range is poor, and as with all these things, expect to see an 85-90% download speed loss when using it. But I detected no IPv4 or WebRTC leaks, could use it to watch US Netflix or BBC iPlayer, and liked the fact that it could split-tunnel the VPN (so you can specify which websites and/or devices will go through the VPN tunnel).

            This means that, although not suitable for day-to-day use, the PandaPow WiFi could make a handy travel router that will keep you safe while checking emails and suchlike using potentially unsecured hotel WiFi.

            Plus, if you consider that you get a year’s premium VPN subscription from PandaPow thrown in, this pretty much means that the router is free! I will briefly note that the Betterspot offered much better performance than the PandaPow WiFi, but Betternet is one of the VPN providers called out by a new research paper, which highlights the dangers of many free mobile VPN apps. Its Android app has a VirusTotal AV-rank of 13 (1 being best), which is, frankly, shocking. I will therefore not endorse one of Betternet’s products.

            Considerations for VPN Routers

            DD-WRT

            Commercial routers are generally designed for ease of use by non-techie users. 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.

            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 Wireless repeater to extend the range of your WiFi signal
            • Advanced performance graphs – DD-WRT lets you analyze your network performance and bandwidth use with detailed graphs and statistics
            • Kai Daemon – this feature provides network tunneling 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, Roku, and so forth 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 that 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 manufacturer has installed DD-WRT as the default firmware, such as 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 manufacturer’s warranty. 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 – RouterSource or FlashRouters  (FreedomRouters in Thailand).

            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. Thus 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 also sell routers pre-flashed with DD-WRT, and preconfigured for their VPN service. Third party router sellers such as FlashRouters also specialise in supplying routers preconfigured for popular VPN providers.

            For a detailed look at what DD-WRT can do, please check out The $100 Super Router – A Definitive DD-WRT Guide.

            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. This allows 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.

            FlashRouters VPN Routers

            The main problem with flashing a router with DD-WRT or Tomato yourself is that it is a tricky process, only suited to those who enjoy a technical challenge. There is also a very real danger of bricking your expensive router in the process, turning it into a very expensive door stop! Flashing your router also always invalidates its manufacturer’s warranty.

            FlashRouters is a US company that specializes in supplying routers pre-flashed with DD-WRT or Tomato, and preconfigured for popular VPN providers. Routers purchased through FlashRouters are rather pricey when compared to stock versions bought from Amazon, but it does mean that all the hard work is done for you.

            It also means that you don’t have to worry about bricking your router! FlashRouters will replace the manufacturer’s warranty with a warranty of its own, and provides extensive support to its customers. For a more detailed look at FlashRouters, please see our FlashRouters Review.

            VPN Routers Conclusion

            The most important consideration with VPN routers is processing power. If a router is too under-powered to easily handle encrypting and decrypting a VPN protocol such as OpenVPN, then it will slow down the internet connection speeds of all devices that connect to it.

            Assuming that the router is powerful enough, however, it can set your VPN free! You can connect an unlimited number of devices to it (even ones that cannot normally use a VPN), and they will all benefit from the VPN. Yay!

            The best VPN Routers Side by Side comparison

            Douglas Crawford
            April 23rd, 2018

            I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. You can now follow me on Twitter - @douglasjcrawf.

            2 Antworten auf “5 Best VPN Routers 2018

            1. Bolivar D. Shagnasty sagt:

              Douglas,
              Concerning the two Linksys routers that you reviewed, did you read the 1-star reviews for both routers on Amazon? I can easily imagine that you didn’t hook the two routers up and try them…. Merely reading the spec sheets would produce the sort of review that you wrote.

              1. Douglas Crawford sagt:

                Hi Bolivar,

                There are very few products that never receive 1 star reviews. Both those Linksys routers have a 4-star average on Amazon (73% gave the WRT AC3200 a 5 star review vs just 8% a 1 star, while gave the WRT AC19/1200 a 5 star review vs 16% a 1 star). An important point to note is that the WRT AC3200 recommended above is not stock – it runs ExpressVPN’s custom firmware (which has its pros and cons). I have fully reviewed the ExpressVPN WRT1200AC Router (custom firmware).

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