Black Friday

ExpressVPN Router Review

Our summary

The ExpressVPN Linksys WRT1200AC is a powerful router that handles the processor-intensive task of VPN with ease. It is also very easy to use, and… just works.

Highlights

  • Fantastic processor and generous memory for excellent VPN performance
  • DNS leak protection and kill switch - no WebRTC leaks - Port forwarding
  • Split tunneling for connected devices is neat
  • One-to-one support with up to one hour TeamViewer support

In this ExpressVPN router review (or, more specifically, ExpressVPN Linksys WRT1200AC Router review), I find that powerful hardware makes for a great VPN router. But the stock unit is cheaper, more fully featured, and includes an OpenVPN client anyway.

As you can see from my recent ExpressVPN Review, I have been very impressed by this high-profile VPN provider. In addition to offering easy-to-use custom software apps for most platforms, ExpressVPN has partnered with FlashRouters to offer customized ExpressVPN routers.

These routers use stock Linksys WRT1200AC and Linksys WRT1900ACS hardware, which ships pre-flashed and pre-configured with ExpressVPN’s custom OpenWRT firmware app.  In this review, I take an in-depth look at the slightly cheaper ExpressVPN Linksys WRT1200AC.

PROS:
  • Fantastic processor and generous memory…
  • Which result in excellent VPN performance (no slowdown due to the router)
  • Very easy to set up
  • Firewall-based DNS leak protection and kill switch
  • Split tunneling for connected devices
CONS:
  • eSata and USB 3.0 ports not supported
  • Over twice the price of stock unit
  • Wi-Fi performance not amazing

Visit ExpressVPN Routers »

Pricing

Price: $299 from FlashRouters with the ExpressVPN firmware app preconfigured/flashed. This includes a free three-month Basic Support Plan and one-year warranty. This support plan includes one-to-one support and up to an hour of support using TeamViewer, should this be necessary. A one year Premium Support Plan is available for an additional $25.

It is possible to buy the base model from Amazon for $129.99, and flash the ExpressVPN firmware yourself. This is a somewhat involved process, however, and runs the risk of “bricking” your router (making it completely unusable). This will also invalidate its manufacturer and seller warranties.

Another alternative is to simply configure the router for ExpressVPN using the OpenVPN client included in its stock firmware.

Hardware Features

  • 11ac 5.8 GHz Radio Frequency, 802.11 a/b/g/n
  • AC1200 speeds up to 867Mbps on 5Ghz band, 400Mbps on the 2.4Ghz band
  • 3GHz dual-core ARM CPU
  • 128MB flash memory storage and 512MB DDR3 RAM
  • 2x adjustable, removable antennas to “ensure maximum range and performance in single and multi-story buildings”
  • 4x gigabit (1 GbE)  Ethernet ports
  • The 12V 1A power supply comes with a selection of international adapters (so great for me as a Brit!)

The stock hardware also features a 1x eSATA port for sharing files across a network with data transfer speeds of up to 3Gbps (can also serve as a USB 2.0 port) and 1x USB 3.0 port for external storage.

ExpressVPN router review

Router turned upside down in order to show its ports

Unfortunately, these ports are not supported by the ExpressVPN firmware, and are therefore not available for use.

The 1.3GHz dual-core ARM processor is very powerful. This is important in a VPN router because processing a strongly encrypted OpenVPN connection is very processor intensive. This means that most routers struggle when configured for VPN, resulting in slow internet connections.

Wi-Fi performance is not so impressive, however. The WRT1200AC supports the dual-stream (2×2) rather than the faster three-stream (3×3) Wi-Fi standard. 3×3 has a theoretical top speed of 1,300Mbps on the 5Ghz band and 60Mbps on the 2.4Ghz band.

That said, the real-world performance gains of 3×3 are often minimal, and dual stream transfer is still much faster than even the fastest internet connection. When it comes to using the router for VPN, the WRT1200AC’s powerful processor is by far the most important factor.

It is also worth noting that the two detachable antennae can be replaced with high-gain alternates supplied by a third party. This can increase the Wi-Fi range of the router.

Visit ExpressVPN Routers »

Physical Design

As you can see from the photos in this ExpressVPN router review, the WRT1200AC is a chunky piece of plastic that sports a very “classic” (read retro) design. This means that it will look good when used with other stackable Linksys WRT products such as the WRT switch or network storage system.

expressvpn-router-4

Perhaps most importantly, the WRT1200AC feels very robust. A nice touch is that the power supply comes with a variety international adapters.

Firmware Features

The WRT1200AC unit that I am reviewing here has been pre-flashed with custom firmware by ExpressVPN. This means that the stock Linksys GUI for the WRT1200AC has been replaced by the ExpressVPN app.

As with the stock Linksys firmware, the ExpressVPN firmware app uses a custom build of open source Linux-based OpenWRT.

The ExpressVPN Firmware App

Unlike DD-WRT, OpenWRT has no default GUI. It is instead a platform that others can build packages onto. It is wildly extensible, but requires customisation by developers to make it useful to end-users.

Unsurprisingly, ExpressVPN’s version of OpenWRT is concerned primarily with providing a smooth and hassle-free VPN experience. After all, ease of use is ExpressVPN’s hallmark!

To this end, the router app allows you to choose OpenVPN protocol (TCP or UDP) and server location (136 cities in 87 countries). A firewall ensures that no DNS leaks are possible, as all internet traffic is routed through the VPN tunnel to ExpressVPN’s servers.

expressvpn-router-firewall

The firewall has been pre-configured to prevent DNS leaks and act as a kill switch. You can tinker further, should you wish.

A static IP address can be selected if desired, which is useful for remotely accessing your system. It is also possible to port forward using the firewall.

As always, the beauty of running VPN on a router means that you can connect as many devices as you like to the router, and that every device you connect is protected by the VPN.

This includes devices such as Smart TVs and games consoles, which cannot normally be configured to use a VPN. Which is great for geo-spoofing.

expressvpn-router-realtime-graph

The app includes various tools that allow you to monitor and analyze your local network.

It should be said  as part of this ExpressVPN router review that the original firmware supplied by Linksys offers features not available on the ExpressVPN version of the router. These includes eSata and USB 2.0/3.0 support (as mentioned earlier), and signal optimization (see below).

Linksys also offers a mobile app that allows advanced remote network management and parental controls. This cannot be used with the ExpressVPN router.

The Process

Setting Up the ExpressVPN Linksys WRT1200AC Router

Setting up basically involves:

  1. Plug the WRT1200AC into your broadband modem or router.
  2. Connect your device(s) to it via either Wi-Fi or plugging in an Ethernet cable.
  3. Authenticate your ExpressVPN account using a provided authentication code.
  4. Choose a VPN server.

And that’s it! An extra step may be required if connecting directly to a cable modem. Full instructions are available here.

expressvpn-router-main-vpn-page

To use the router for VPN, you must have a subscription with ExpressVPN. But the router can be used as a simple no-VPN router without a subscription.

expressvpn-router-split-tunneling

A handy new feature 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.

Wi-Fi Performance

For this ExpressVPN router review, I tested local network Wi-Fi performance using WiFi Speed Test app for Android. I only tested for nearby range, as in my opinion distance through walls and so forth is too hard to meaningfully quantify. As a point of comparison, please see these tests published by CNET using the router’s stock firmware.

By default both bands use the same SSID, with older devices automatically using the 2.4Ghz band. It is easy, however, to give the bands separate SSIDs using the firmware.

exreessvpn-5ghz-performance

5Ghz band

exreessvpn-2.4ghz-performance

2.4Ghz band

These results are fine, and are more than fast enough to achieve full internet speeds through even the fastest broadband connection (especially on the 5Ghz band). They are, however, notably slower than the speeds obtained by CNET when testing using stock firmware.

This may due to Linksys performing a high level of optimization with its stock firmware, a fact strongly hinted at in its blurb: “Beam forming focuses and strengthens the Wi-Fi signal.”

VPN Performance (Speed, DNS, WebRTC and IPv6 Tests)

Of course, what really matters with this router is VPN performance! I used my UK 50 Mbps/3 Mbps fiber connection to perform all tests. The relatively modest UK control test speeds (no VPN) may be down to the powerline adapter I use.

expressvpn-router-downloadexpressvpn-router-upload

Graphs show highest, lowest and average speeds for each server and location. See our full speed test explanation for more detail.

As with my ExpressVPN software tests, these are generally excellent results. Again, download speed loss due to being connected to a nearby VPN server was less than 10%. Crucially, they show that internet connection is not being slowed down by the router’s processor, which is fantastic news.

expressvpn-router-leak-tests

The built-in firewall ensures that no DNS leaks are possible. It is also great to see no WebRTC leaks detected.

ExpressVPN Router Review Conclusion

I liked:

  • Fantastic processor and generous memory…
  • Which result in excellent VPN performance (no slowdown due to the router)
  • Very easy to set up
  • Works flawlessly
  • Firewall based DNS leak protection and kill switch
  • No WebRTC leaks
  • Split tunneling for connected devices
  • Port forwarding
  • One-to-one support with up to one hour TeamViewer support (extendible)

I wasn’t so sure about:

  • Wi-Fi performance poorer than mid-range stock performance

I hated:

  • eSata and USB 3.0 ports not supported
  • Over twice the price of stock unit

The stock Linksys WRT1200AC is a good mid- to high-end router (high-end hardware, mid-end WiFi performance). The fact that it sports a very powerful processor really pays off when used as a VPN router, as it clearly handles the extra processing required for encrypting and decrypting a VPN connection with ease.

The ExpressVPN firmware, as is typical of the companies’ other products, is very easy to set up and use. It works flawlessly, and produces superb VPN performance results. Using this router, you will enjoy some of the best VPN connection speeds currently available.

The problem is that the stock router on Amazon costs less than half the price of the ExpressVPN version, while being much more fully featured (and with better Wi-Fi performance).

The inclusion of an OpenVPN client in the stock firmware also means that you can easily configure the router to use ExpressVPN’s (excellent) service, while enjoying the full range of features the router’s manufacturer intended.

That said, the ExpressVPN Linksys WRT1200AC from FlashRouters is pre-configured for one of the best VPN services out there. And it offers built-in DNS leak protection and kill switch, provides WebRTC leak protection, and allows you to select which devices use the VPN (split tunneling). The one-to-one support (with optional TeamViewer support) is also not to be sniffed at.

As a complete plug-and-play VPN solution, it is a joy to use.

Visit ExpressVPN Routers »

Douglas Crawford

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.

12 responses to “ExpressVPN Router Review

  1. I recently purchased router through Amazon and flashed EVPN’s firmware. In your article you mentioned using Linksys’ stock firmware, but with EVPN’s OpenVPN client:

    The inclusion of an OpenVPN client in the stock firmware also means that you can easily configure the router to use ExpressVPN’s (excellent) service, while enjoying the full range of features the router’s manufacturer intended.

    EVPN does NOT offer this option, they only offer the firmware as a connection method. I see the option within the stock Linksys firmware for OpenVPN Server, but how would a user make this router an OpenVPN client and use ANY VPN service?

    I flashed to DD-WRT and tested NordVPN, but the constant server switching based on which video streaming service I wanted to use became a pain. I am also a fan of the stock Linksys firmware over DD-WRT. I have searched for an answer to my question, but I can never get a definitive one. I simply want to use the stock firmware with a router based VPN client. Any help is appreciated, thanks!

    1. Hi Jake,

      I think you may have misunderstood. You can use the ExpressVPN service using the Lynksys stock OpenVPN client with EVPN’s generic OpenVPN config (.ovpn) files. Lynksys’ official instructions for doing this are here.

  2. I hope everyone flash this router with original openwrt it comes with all features like USB esata and more. Than expressvpn app

    1. Hi chalky,

      That is indeed the case. As I note in this review,

      “It is possible to buy the base model from Amazon for $129.99, and flash the ExpressVPN firmware yourself. This is a somewhat involved process, however, and runs the risk of “bricking” your router (making it completely unusable). This will also invalidate its manufacturer and seller warranties.”

    1. Hi Dirgis,

      Interesting question! In theory, yes. All connections to the router should go through the VPN. I would check with ExpressVPN first, though, just to make sure (and please let us know the answer!).

  3. TP-Link has the ability to VPN out of the box for 45.00.
    You wouod have to be a performance nut to aford the 400.00 note on this set up .

    1. Hi Mech,

      A $45 router might be able to do VPN, but its processor will not be fast enough to do so at any speed.

    The ExpressVPN Linksys WRT1200AC Router works great as a VPN router if you can justify the price.

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