It can be difficult to choose a VPN router since there are numerous factors that must be taken into account. If you’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to secure your web browsing sessions is by installing VPN on a router, there are two key elements requiring your attention: the VPN service and the router itself.
Picking the ideal application can be challenging, considering how many offers are on the market. Currently, the top-rated VPN service that you should consider is ExpressVPN. It also occupies the highest rank on our website, followed by NordVPN and CyberGhost VPN.
In this article, we’re helping you find the VPN router needed for your home. Below, you can check out a table of contents of all topics (click to jump to topic):
- What’s a VPN router?
- Does my router support VPN?
- Types of VPN routers
- Hardware specifications for VPN routers
- Firmware specifications for VPN routers
- Our recommendations for VPN routers
- What’s next after picking a VPN router?
What’s a VPN router?
A VPN router represents a typical broadband router that supports virtual private network technology. As you know, VPN services can be installed on desktops and mobile devices to hide your IP address, ensure your online privacy, and unlock otherwise unavailable areas of the Internet.
But when you have multiple devices that require VPN protection, it becomes a tedious task to set up the service on everyone. Besides, not all devices have native support for this technology. A simple workaround, however, is to choose a VPN router, which we think is the best way to share your secure connection. As a result, everything that connects to the router receives VPN protection automatically.
If you’re serious about setting up a performant VPN router in your home, you should be prepared to cover the costs of premium processing power, memory, Wi-Fi frequency, Gigabit Ethernet, and other factors. In addition to this, you should start getting used to open-source firmware, understand how each feature works, and how to optimize router settings for VPN when gaming, streaming, torrenting or just browsing.
The pros of using VPN-enabled routers
Here are the most important advantages you get when choosing a VPN router:
- You only have to go through the installation phase once. Because the VPN service is configured directly at the router level, it’s not necessary to revise settings on every remote device connected to the router.
- All remote devices with a Wi-Fi adapter or Ethernet cable can benefit from VPN features, including desktop, tablet, laptop, notebook, smart TV, Xbox, PlayStation, and smartphone.
- If you have already subscribed to a VPN service, there’s no need to switch providers to enjoy secure browsing on unsupported devices if the service supports a reliable protocol like OpenVPN.
- Few VPN services allow multiple connections at the same time. But many devices connected to a router count as a single connection, so this issue is avoided.
- Typically, routers never go offline (unless there’s a power outage). That means that a VPN connection is always on, even for remote users who don’t have admin-level permissions to configure router settings. They can connect to the Internet as usual.
The cons of using VPN-enabled routers
To make things fair, you should also be aware of possible drawbacks when choosing VPN routers, compared to installing the VPN client one every device:
- Unless you have a powerful router focused on performance, it becomes problematic when too many devices connect to the same network and share bandwidth. A VPN service works by applying encryption, which takes more time compared to using non-VPN connections. Therefore, it’s normal to expect slowdowns in Internet speed.
- Toggling the VPN connection or configuring router settings can be tricky without smartphone apps that grant you direct router access since it’s necessary to visit the router page in your web browser.
VPN client vs VPN server modes in routers
Before choosing a VPN router, it’s essential to mention the differences between the VPN client and the VPN server. Most modern routers support VPN servers with various protocols, out of which OpenVPN is the most important. This means that you can manually configure the router to connect to an OpenVPN server.
But configuring an OpenVPN server isn’t enough to benefit from the security and privacy features of VPN clients. It’s mostly designed for users who want to set up a VPN connection to a remote network, like accessing your work computer from home.
On the other hand, routers with VPN client compatibility have support for specific VPN clients out of the box. You can enter the username and password associated with your VPN account directly in the router’s firmware, in order to easily connect to servers. Therefore, opt for a router with firmware that supports “VPN client” or “VPN client mode”, preferably for OpenVPN.
Does my router support VPN?
If you already have a router, check if it already supports VPN technology by visiting the router page in your browser, consulting the device manual or looking up this information on Google by router maker and model. In your web browser, you should find an option related to “VPN”.
If you have a device that works both as a modem (connects you to the Internet) and router (connects all your devices to the modem), then it most likely doesn’t support virtual private networks, except for maybe VPN passthrough (more on this later).
Almost all modern routers can connect to virtual private network servers, permitting you to gain access to your personal intranet even when you’re in another part of the world. But that’s not enough to ensure your security and privacy. Instead, the VPN router you choose should be able to behave like a VPN client.
Types of VPN routers
There are three main types of VPN routers that you can go with: routers compliant with VPN clients, pre-flashed VPN routers, or routers that you can flash yourself with VPN-compatible firmware (in no particular order). Each has its pros and cons that mainly boil down to cost and level of difficulty.
1. Routers with VPN client support
Also known as out-of-the-box VPN-compatible routers, you don’t have to install new firmware or any additional software to set up a virtual private network when choosing these VPN routers. All you have to do is head over to the router administration page, look for the VPN section, and configure connection settings. The downside is that few routers support VPN in client mode.
For example, ASUSWRT is stock firmware made for ASUS routers, which natively supports OpenVPN as both client and server. As such, you can use it with any VPN service that provides you with manual configuration files for OpenVPN.
2. Pre-flashed VPN routers
Flashing firmware means installing an operating system on the router. Each firmware comes with a particular set of features, adding new capabilities for the router. Although it’s possible to install new firmware on your own, it can be a daunting task for average users. Besides, there’s a slim possibility of bricking your router in the process.
Instead, you can choose a pre-flashed VPN router, which basically means paying someone experienced to install custom firmware on the device. This can be expensive, but you should keep in mind that you’re paying for the hardware (the router itself), firmware (VPN-enabled) and customer support.
An example is FlashRouters, an online shop that can build VPN routers with custom firmware for plug-and-play setup. It’s partnered with several top-tier VPN services and can activate the preferred VPN service before shipping it to you. Another example is Sabai Technology.
3. VPN routers with support for third-party firmware
If the stock firmware of your router doesn’t support VPN in client mode, then you should be able to install custom, third-party firmware, as most modern routers allow this. Flashing is not as complicated as most casual users think, especially since there are numerous guides available on the web.
It’s also a cost-effective solution when opting for open-source firmware like DD-WRT, Tomato and OpenWRT. For example, ASUSWRT can be dropped on ASUS routers in favor of Asuswrt-Merlin, a third-party alternative that focuses on firmware fixes. The two biggest downsides of choosing VPN routers with open-source firmware support are voiding your device warranty and the small chance of bricking your router.
Setting up a dedicated VPN router
There’s another hidden level that might pique your interest: setting up a dedicated VPN router. It means having two routers: the primary router that provides direct Internet access and the secondary router that provides VPN access. Besides, this can be done with any firmware for VPN routers. We’ll soon write an article on how to install a dual-router configuration with VPN.
Hardware specifications for VPN routers
VPN users might think it’s all the information they need to know: if the router supports VPN, it’s enough to proceed to the next step – setting up the VPN on the router. However, there are still technical considerations involved when choosing a VPN router.
You might have an old router that works with the VPN, but that doesn’t mean it should. The efficiency of the VPN service is affected by the router, like speed and stable connections. Thus, it’s important to check the hardware specifications of the router before purchasing it. It’s all about neutralizing the effects of VPN encryption (slower Internet) by finding ways to boost the speed at both hardware and firmware level.
CPU and processing power
Because a VPN works by encapsulating data packets into encrypted layers, it requires more processing power to perform encryption and decryption. It’s the most important hardware spec affecting VPN speed. Modern computers have no problem handling this since they have at least two cores.
However, not all routers benefit from the same processing power. In fact, many of them run on a single processor, which gets quickly overwhelmed by a VPN service trying to do its job. As such, the VPN speed is decreased, possibly to a halt.
Instead, you should choose a VPN router with dual cores and at least 600Mhz processing speed. If you’re interested in downloading torrents or watching Netflix via VPN, then the processing speed should surpass 1Ghz. It doesn’t restrict VPN connection speeds, not even when applying the strongest encryption methods, like 256-bit AES for OpenVPN.
As you know, RAM is partly responsible for your computer’s general speed (along with CPU). Similarly, the RAM of your router influences its speed. The general rule is, the more RAM you have, the faster the router will be at carrying out tasks.
Having a 256Mb RAM router is pretty expensive if you’re just interested in web browsing, chatting with friends over text or VoIP calls, and other simple jobs which don’t require much power. But things are different when it comes to encrypting every bit of information through a virtual private network service and transmitting it to multiple devices connected to the router.
If you want to play games, download torrents, watch Netflix and participate in other similar resource-demanding activities while benefiting from the privacy and security features of a virtual private network service, then you should choose a VPN router with at least 512MB RAM to make sure that it can handle many simultaneous connections and clients.
Another hardware specification you should look out for is the wireless band (also known as frequency band). It instructs the router on how to transmit data to other household devices via Wi-Fi. When you’re out shopping and trying to choose between several VPN router options, you will come across these terms: single band, dual-band and tri-band.
Single-band routers use just one frequency (2.4Ghz) while dual-band routers use 2.4Ghz on one band and 5Ghz on the other. Each wireless frequency can achieve something the other cannot: 2.4Ghz has a longer range for transmitting data but at a slower rate, while 5Ghz is the opposite (faster transmission but shorter range).
Tri-band routers use one 2.4Ghz band and two 5Ghz bands. Some people wrongly believe that tri-band routers grant more speed thanks to the extra 5Ghz band. But this is impossible since the fixed Internet speed negotiated with your ISP cannot be overcome without involving the ISP.
Instead, the two 5Ghz bands are in charge of sorting multiple devices connected to the same frequency into two networks. The idea is to avoid Wi-Fi congestion that would otherwise occur when all devices interfere with each other in the same 5Ghz network (in case of dual-band routers). Internet speed is normalized for all these devices, so it’s not possible to enhance the speed of a single device and overcome its limits.
Go with a dual-band or tri-band VPN router
If you’re planning to use VPN from devices that are wirelessly connected to the broadband device, then you will certainly want to choose a VPN router with dual bands. Faster data transmission facilitated by 5Ghz is required to counterbalance the slower Internet speed caused by VPN encryption. Besides, the 2.4Ghz frequency is open to interference made by nearby household devices running on the same frequency, like a microwave oven or a digital camera, which you definitely have to avoid when using a VPN.
Getting a tri-band VPN router is expensive and only necessary when having numerous devices connected to the virtual private network, which are simultaneously performing resource-demanding tasks, like downloading large-sized torrents on the desktop while watching Netflix shows on the smart TV. If you don’t have a high-speed Internet connection and numerous devices trying to get a slice of it for high-demanding jobs, then you won’t see a difference between dual-band and tri-band mode (except in price).
MU-MIMO (Multi-User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output) is a technology implemented into routers that permits multiple users to connect via Wi-Fi at the same time. Superseding SU-MIMO (Single-User MIMO), it adds more antennas for both sending and receiving data, so that routers gain better capacity.
This means that, if you’re interested in choosing a VPN router that will be simultaneously used by many people, you should make sure that it supports MU-MIMO as well as check out the number of antennas.
Hardware acceleration for routers with VPN
It’s no secret that VPN services negatively affect Internet speed due to encryption. Even if you choose a VPN router with dual bands, dual-core CPU @1Ghz and 512Mb, you might want to check out some hardware-based acceleration features that can go a long way.
For instance, some VPN routers support hardware-based encryption acceleration using AES-NI. It’s a technology made to boost the speed of any applications that encrypt and decrypt data using AES, and that covers VPN services, too.
If you’re willing to pay a hefty price for a piece of hardware designed to boost the speed of your VPN router, you can take a look at Sabai’s VPN Accelerator. It’s a physical device that connects to the router directly and takes care of the whole encryption when using VPN (like a mini processor). The device aims to bring the same Internet speed to all devices connected to the VPN router as if you were using a VPN client from your desktop.
Other VPN routers support Afterburner, a feature made to improve Wi-Fi performance. It’s also known as SpeedBooster, SuperSpeed, g+ SuperSpeed, 125M, 125 High Speed, 125* High Speed (by Asus), G Plus, HSM, Xpress Technology and Turbo G 125mbps (but not Super-G). DD-WRT can enable the Afterburner feature within compatible routers to speed up the Internet.
Firmware specifications for VPN routers
The firmware represents the operating system of the router. Older devices used to have standard firmware that could not be replaced. However, newer routers are more versatile. Some come with extensive firmware boasting many practical features, while others permit you to take over and set up your own firmware.
Whatever the case may be, it’s important to make a decision about which firmware to use before choosing a VPN router and make sure the two are compatible. Current popular firmware for VPN-enabled routers is: DD-WRT, Tomato, OpenWRT, and ASUSWRT.
DD-WRT is open-source firmware that supports OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP, SSH and Telnet as both client and server. It’s backed by a big community that continuously updates it. The firmware features bandwidth prioritization, custom DNS, Afterburner, easy torrenting, parental control, overclocking, port forwarding, customizable antenna transmission options to boost the Wi-Fi signal, and others.
Although the plethora of advanced settings is a thrill for skilled users looking to take control over everything, these might be intimidating for average users who are mainly interested in configuring VPN on the go. But DD-WRT is accompanied by a variety of online documentation and tutorials to help you every step of the way.
If you want to choose a VPN router that works with this firmware, make sure it’s compatible with DD-WRT.
It’s also open-source firmware but with a more user-friendly interface and intuitive options. It supports OpenVPN and PPTP as both client and server, together with L2TP as client only. The firmware features QoS, parental control, bandwidth limiter, built-in clients for BitTorrent and Tor, port forwarding, DNSCrypt, customizable antenna transmission options to boost the Wi-Fi signal, and more/
Tomato is known to be better than DD-WRT when it comes to handling the OpenVPN protocol. Unfortunately, it’s not as popular as DD-WRT among router vendors. Therefore, it’s essential to check if your chosen VPN router supports Tomato before purchasing it. Contacting the vendor to ask this is a good idea, too.
It’s open-source firmware, too, which supports OpenVPN and PPTP as both client and server. It grants you permission to write any file and add new software to extend its functionality. The firmware features QoS, port forwarding, dynamic DNS, integrated torrent client, bandwidth limiter, along with adjustable antenna transmission settings to improve the Wi-Fi signal, among others.
Just like DD-WRT, OpenWRT is ideal for users who want to fine-tune wireless settings. But it can be incredibly difficult for novices to handle. Also, it doesn’t benefit from the wide range of supported routers like DD-WRT. Subsequently, if it sparked your interest, you have to make sure the chosen VPN router is compatible with OpenWRT.
Our recommendations for VPN routers
If you need a bit of guidance when it comes to choosing the best VPN router, here are our top five recommendations when it comes to overall usage, speed, gaming, streaming, performance, and budget:
It’s the overall favorite VPN router for home usage. It has an enterprise-level 1.8Ghz dual-core CPU, dual bands, and 512Mb RAM. The router supports four antennas, MU-MIMO, three streams on the 5Ghz frequency to boost the Internet speed on short range, one USB 3.0 port, and four Gigabit Ethernet ports. It’s compatible with DD-WRT and OpenWRT (doesn’t work with Tomato).
It’s a VPN router that focuses on delivering the best possible speed for many devices at once, although it has a hefty price tag. It has a 1.7Ghz quad-core CPU with 1GB RAM and triple bands. The router supports MU-MIMO, four antennas, seven Gigabit Ethernet ports, and two USB 3.0 ports. It’s compatible with DD-WRT (doesn’t work with OpenWRT or Tomato).
It’s also a top choice when it comes to VPN routers, particularly for gaming, streaming and generally busy wireless network. It has a 1.4GHz dual-core CPU with 512Mb RAM and triple bands. The router supports MU-MIMO, eight antennas, one USB 3.0 port, and one USB 2.0 port. It’s compatible with Asuswrt-Merlin and DD-WRT (doesn’t work with OpenWRT or Tomato).
4. ASUS AC3200
This is another great VPN router released by ASUS. It has a 1.4Ghz dual-core CPU with dual bands and 512Mb RAM, featuring support for MU-MIMO, four antennas, one USB 3.0 port, and 1 USB 2.0 port. It’s compatible with Asuswrt-Merlin, Tomato, and DD-WRT (doesn’t work with OpenWRT).
It’s an affordable router that handles virtual private networks well, but it’s not ideal for resource-demanding tasks over Wi-Fi. It has a 720Mhz single-core CPU with 128Mb RAM and dual bands, three antennas, and two USB 2.0 ports, delivering great range. The router is compatible with OpenWRT and DD-WRT (doesn’t work with Tomato).
What’s next after picking a VPN router?
Choosing the VPN client is just as important as the router. You should go with a VPN service that supports OpenVPN and delivers great speed results when using this protocol, puts at your disposal many servers from many countries, comes with optimized servers for streaming and torrenting, and has excellent customer support in case you need help with anything.
- If you have decided to purchase a pre-flashed router, the seller should provide you with all the necessary instructions on how to set it up and configure VPN settings.
- If your router already is already equipped with firmware that supports OpenVPN client connections, you just have to access the router’s settings page to set connection details.
- If your router’s firmware doesn’t support OpenVPN clients, then you should flash it with open-source firmware like DD-WRT, Tomato or OpenWRT before setting up the VPN connection.
VPN routers are an excellent choice for users who want to share their VPN connections with devices that don’t have native support for VPN, as well as with their family members and visitors. But you should pay attention to the hardware and firmware specifications of the router before buying an expensive device that might not meet your requirements.