Using A Router With A VPN
A VPN-capable router is a convenient device — it can provide VPN connections to your computers and mobile devices via Wi-Fi. You won’t have to install a VPN client on each device. Instead, all your devices are routed via one connection to your VPN provider. Also, you can connect devices incapable running a VPN client — such as Kindles, Netflix boxes, Apple TVs and gaming consoles such as XBox and PS3.
VPN-capable routers tend to be like mini-computers, often supporting NAT devices via built-in USB ports, and support for VOIP phones.
Here’s my list of the best VPN Routers:
The Most Convenient Option: Buy A Pre-Configured Router
The easiest way to get a VPN Router running is to buy one that is pre-flashed and pre-configured for a specific VPN service. This means the router has a VPN firmware installed on it (DD-WRT or Tomato). The firmware replaces the router’s original built-in OS, allowing it to be configured for VPN (i.e. with PPTP, L2TP/IPsec or OpenVPN).
FlashRouters is a good vendor for such devices. They have routers that are pre-configured for the following VPNs providers: Private Internet Access, ExpressVPN, IPVanish, HMA and VPN.AC. Note that you must purchase the VPN service separately from the router.
You can find a list of all the pre-configured routers here: FlashRouters.
Flashing Your Own Router
Another DIY option is to flash a suitable router with DD-WRT or Tomato firmware. A good place to find information on flashing routers is MyOpenRouter, and you can find a guide to setting up OpenVPN here.
Here are the two of the best routers for flashing:
The NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1900 Router
If you can afford $200 for a VPN router, I’d recommend the Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 Router. The router forums are all buzzing about this router, and with good reason. It’s a 1900 Mbps Wireless-AC capable router, which is the latest Wi-Fi upgrade (it’s about twice as fast as Wireless-N). It has a 1GHz Dual Core processor, and USB 2.0 port and one USB 3.0 port. This router is also capable of “beamforming”, meaning it can focus Wi-Fi signals on devices that tend to move like smartphones, tablets and laptops. Reviewers say that the resulting range of this router is quite impressive. It also received a Editor’s Choice award from PC magazine, summarizing it thusly: “Sharp design. Great throughput at 5GHz. Excellent range. Wonderful QoS. Full VPN capability.” The only major cons for them was “less-than-expected throughput at 2.4GHz band.”
This router can run as a VPN server, so you can connect to it when you are not at home. You can, of course, flash the firmware, and install a VPN to encrypt your outgoing traffic. The DD-WRT firmware version to use on this router is the DD-WRT Kong AC. You can find some installation instruction here and here (this one is for the R6300 but it should work).
The ASUS RT-N16 Router
ASUS makes a number of routers that support DD-WRT. I like the ASUS RT-N16 because it’s a Wireless-N (300Mbps) router that you can get for about $80. The router has two USB ports, meaning that you can attach any USB hard drive or thumb drive, thus making a fully functional NAS device. It also has 128 MiB of RAM, 32 MiB ready for flash and three detachable antennas.
As with just about any other ASUS router, you’ll need to flash it with a proper DD-WRT firmware. Stock firmware does not possess an openVPN client by default. However, the flashing process is straightforward when using the ASUS Firmware Restoration Tool. See this guide to putting VPN software on it.
The router works well with either the PPTP, L2TP or openVPN protocol. When it comes to speed and stability, openVPN UDP probably you best bet.
Update: The ASUS RT-N66U is now out with “a 600 Mhz processor (25% more powerful than most high-end devices), 4 times the high-end industry norm in Flash Memory/RAM, Dual Band Wireless speeds up to 900 mbps and 2 USB ports”
Other VPN-Capable Routers
Sharing VPN Using WiFi
Another alternative is to set your desktop or laptop computer up as a WiFi hotspot, and to share your VPN connection with all connecting devices. It does require leaving your PC running whenever you want to use VPN on a mobile device however.