3 Best Wireless Routers for VPN 2021 (rated!)
For those who have had a chance to take a look at my VPN articles and reviews covering the best VPNs like ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and TorGuard, I’m sure you’ve probably noticed that my coverage of VPN use on routers has been spotty at best.
VPNs usually come with a limited number of simultaneous connections, so if you can implement it on your router and cover multiple devices, why not, right? Unfortunately, as with everything that sounds too good to be true in life, so is this theory.
Let’s take a look at why routers usually create terrible VPN channels.
Encryption takes important system resources
The main reason most of us turn towards a VPN is to keep our internet related activities private. VPNs do this by helping us create a secure tunnel between our devices and a secure server. It also encrypts the data that flows in this tunnel to maintain its integrity.
The encryption process is exactly the main thing that makes VPNs on routers a bad idea.
Most VPN users today choose OpenVPN because it offers the best combination of security and speed available. It is more secure than the old PPTP protocol and mostly faster than IPSec protocol.
Unfortunately, the developers haven’t made OpenVPN a scalable protocol yet. This means that it is very unique in nature, and cannot take advantage of multi-threaded processors. For example, if your computer or router claims to run a 1.5GHz quad-core processor, OpenVPN can only run one core that fast.
To put this in perspective, let’s take a look at 256-bit encryption.
256-bit encryption means that every bot of data that exits your computer is encrypted with a “key” of 256 bits (1 or 0 seconds). That’s why your computer or router needs a lot of processing power to handle VPN encryption.
Routers are much less powerful than computers
Encryption consumes system resources since you are primarily using your computer to encrypt and decrypt raw data. The average processor speed of your computer today is between 2.4GHz and 3.4GHz and is equipped with 4GB to 16GB RAM.
On the other hand, a regular consumer class router is equipped with any processor between 600MHz to 1GHz with memory from 128MB to 256MB.
Let me show you what I mean by using my experience with the ASUS RT-AC1300UHP Wireless Router.
With TorGuard VPN Client running on my Windows 10 laptop, I can almost achieve my ISP’s maximum allowed speed of 50Mbps.
However, running the same protocol on my router, drops me down to between 13-15Mbps. Looking at the image below, you will notice that even to achieve this speed, one of my router processors runs at more than 80% of the capacity.
Just to let you know that it’s not because of TorGuard, I also ran the same test for ExpressVPN and NordVPN, which similarly gave me slow speeds on my router;
* ExpressVPN performance on the router
* NordVPN performance on the router
How to set up a VPN on the router
The process of setting up a VPN on the routers themselves depends on the firmware of the router. However, it is a relatively painless process and usually only takes a few steps. Most VPN service providers will have a step-by-step guide on how to do this.
To illustrate how easy the process is, let me show you how I set up ExpressVPN on my ASUS AC1300UHP.
Step 1: Choose the device to configure
Once you sign up for ExpressVPN, you will be able to access the setup page where you can select the device you wish to configure for detailed instructions. In my case, I chose “ASUS (including Merlin)”. Merlin is a third-party firmware for ASUS routers, but the setup process works the same as the standard ASUSWRT firmware.
After selecting your router, I highly recommend you to choose the OpenVPN setting. OpenVPN offers the best combination of speed and security available.
Step 2: Configure OpenVPN
Once you click “OpenVPN ConfigurationYou will see two boxes containing a username and password. Below you will find some drop down lists that list the main regions from which you can choose a VPN server location. Select one and click the configuration file you want. save file .ovpn File to a location you can remember.
Step 3: Log in to the router
Open a web browser and go to your router’s login page. For ASUS routers, this is usually 192.168.1.1. Once you are logged into your router, in the left menu bar, click on “VPN“
Step 4: Add a new profile
On the VPN page, select “VPN Clienttab and then clickAdd Profile“
Step Five: Download the VPN File
click ‘OpenVPNand fill in the fields. NS ‘DescribeYou can enter anything that lets you know what this VPN connection is. Username and password from the previous step #2. then press ‘Choose a fileand select the .ovpn file you downloaded earlier and clickdownloadOnce you are done, click onYes“.
Step 6: Activate
Once done, everything should be ready to go. Click on ‘activationnext to the account you just set up and the connection should continue. To check that your VPN is working, be sure to run a DNS leak test.
Rating: 3 Best Wireless Routers for VPN
While certainly discouraged, there are routers that can handle VPNs a little better than average. Unfortunately, these are usually in the higher price range, at least as far as consumer routers are concerned.
There are two characteristics of VPN routers that you can consider:
- powerful processors
- Custom or modified firmware
Routers that were originally designed for low-latency gaming or high-bandwidth video streaming are good options, as they often feature very powerful processors.
Some VPNs also work with router manufacturers to preconfigure and set specific routers to run their VPN immediately. However, this is not available worldwide and you may not find it wherever you are.
To find a preset VPN router, have a look at FlashRouters. They offer preloaded routers for a large number of quality VPN services, such as ExpressVPN and NordVPN.
The last option is to choose routers that have custom firmware such as DD-WRT.
Having said all that, there are some routers out there that are absolute beasts and if you’re looking to run a highly encrypted VPN connection with them, you’ll be fine.
1. Netgear Nighthawk X10 AD7200
The Nighthawk X10 looks like something out of Alien vs. Equipped with Gigabit Ethernet and dual USB 3.0 ports, the X10 can not only act as an internet router but also stream HD media and support up to 20 devices.
Remember that despite its hefty price tag (A Nighthawk X10 would easily top $600, even on Amazon) – our main inspiration for looking at this router is its powerful processor. Again, the stronger the processor, the better your router will be able to handle the demanding encryption that your VPN requires.
2. Linksys WRT3200ACM
Looking great in the blue is the Linksys WRT3200ACM Wireless Router that can handle just about anything with a 1.8GHz dual-core processor. Many Linksys routers are easily configured with browser-based utilities and can be customized with Linux modifications. I’ve tried running DD-WRT on a Linksys router before and it’s powerful and stable.
What makes the Linksys WRT3200ACM doubly special is the company’s generous interface design that allows for easy installation of custom firmware such as DD-WRT. This firmware often gives you much more control over the router’s features.
This router comes at a more reasonable price compared to the X10. In fact, you can get it for less than half the price an X10 would normally cost, even with shipping included. It has also frequently received top ratings from technical bodies such as PC Mag and Techspot.
3. ASUS RT-AC86U
Built to reflect its flagship product line in The Republic of Gamers, the ASUS RT-AC86U is built to meet the needs of gamers, one of the world’s toughest consumer classes. The 1.8GHz dual-core processor is built for speed and the router is home networking ready with AiMesh technologies and built-in Protection from Trend Micro.
This model has been praised by big guys like CNET and is often rated as one of the best all-around routers. At under $200, the ASUS RT-AC86U is Linux-based and easy to use.
Caution before buying
While the three routers I have listed here are good and have been put in place by others looking for robust home networking solutions that include a VPN, they are not the only ones. There are many other routers that work as well. I highly recommend taking a look at FlashRouters to see what’s available.
To add to this, not all great routers work well with VPNs. A lot of this is also due to the original firmware that was loaded on these routers.
For example, I had a TP-Link Archer C7 which is also a good and stable router. Unfortunately their default firmware didn’t have a VPN option, so I wasn’t able to configure it without first flashing my firmware back to an open source option that did.
Take this warning seriously
Not all routers will work out of the box with a VPN.
Although I have flashed my Archer C7 to DD-WRT, this is not an option for all makes and models of routers!
Conclusion: Your choice of router matters
To round things off, let’s take a look at what you need to consider running a VPN on your router. First, the router that has a powerful processor (just look at single core speeds, multi-core has nothing to do with VPN). Second, one that can support VPNs. Alternatively, it can be re-flashed to support VPN.
A final word – Regardless, a standard consumer-grade wireless router is unlikely to give you great speeds compared to a PC-based VPN client. There’s no rocket science here, it’s simple math.
Computer processors (for now) will always be more powerful and will be able to encrypt VPN traffic much faster than routers. If you can live with that and want to power 20 devices through your router based VPN, that’s fine!