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With the advent of smartphones and smart TVs, the need for a wifi internet connection has been steadily growing. Long gone are the days when our homes had one desktop computer connected to the web via cable and family members would take turns to check their email, browse the news or play online games. Even at work, most of us have been switching to laptops that are easy to take to meetings or on business trips. But such mobility wouldn’t be possible if each device needed a separate internet cable. Luckily, we now have wifi. But what about the safety of such wireless connections via the router? Can a virtual private network encrypt its traffic? And if so, what are the best VPN routers for this task?
Why might it be a good idea to get a VPN router
The issues of unsecured wifi connections are well documented. That’s why it’s become a rare sight to see a network with no password. Such a setup is child’s play to abuse. And even those Wi-Fi’s that do have passwords are starting to use more elaborate ones to prevent security breaches. And still, that’s far from enough to ensure your personal data is safe.
While we’ve been covering virtual private networks (VPNs) that can be installed on your devices to encrypt web traffic, securing your connection at the router level might be the best idea for small offices and homes that have multiple users with multiple devices. Here are the main reasons why:
A limited number of simultaneous connections. One VPN account usually offers from three to six simultaneous connections. So while this would be enough for a couple, it quickly becomes not enough for a family of four.
Using multiple accounts is costly and unwieldy. Even if you don’t consider the additional costs of several VPN accounts, managing them will become a nuisance, especially when sharing the same devices such as smart TVs or game consoles. And who will guarantee that your employees or your kids will remember to use a VPN everytime they log in? If a VPN is used sporadically, it’s more of a waste of money than a means to ensure security and privacy.
With all that said, there’s no other logical choice but to install a router VPN for your home or office to make sure that any device connected to Wi-Fi is protected at all times. But what are the best VPN routers available now? And is yours among them? Read on to find out.
The criteria for choosing the best VPN router
If you already have a router that is not on our list, it doesn’t mean you have to start looking for a new one. Better check some reviews first and see if your wifi router pairs well with VPNs. But if you consider buying a new device, make sure you have these criteria in mind when choosing the best VPN router for you.
Good speed is mandatory to be considered for the title of “best VPN router”
Possibly the most important criteria for all users is speed because connecting via VPN slows things down and the router itself can play a major role in it. Since the VPN router will need to handle the traffic of multiple devices, you have to make sure that it has enough processing power to handle such a task. And if you’re investing in a high-quality product, make sure it has the AES-NI feature to speed up the encryption process. Last but not least, your VPN router’s CPU clock should be at least 800 MHz. This is not to be mixed with the wireless signal that is also measured in MHzs and GHzs.
Unfortunately, the majority of routers on the market have CPU’s that are too slow for a VPN connection.
The best VPN router devices should be easy to set up
While setting up the router itself can be quite a nuisance, no one wants to make it double by spending hours getting the VPN of their choice to work. That’s why “easy to set up” is one of the key criteria in many VPN router reviews. It will not be as easy as downloading an app for your smartphone and logging in, but it shouldn’t be something a user can’t handle themselves, maybe with a little help from the VPN or router customer support.
It’s worth noting that some VPN providers, such as TorGuard or NordVPN, offer pre-configured routers that save you the hassle, charging a bit more for the device or the pricing plan. And if your favorite VPN does not sell a pre-configured router, there are dozens of third-party vendors offering the same service. For US residents, we recommend either FlashRouters or Sabai Technology. The former sells pre-configured routers with DD-WRT and Tomato, while Sabai endorses its own OS.
Price is always a factor when seeking the best router for VPN
Naturally, the price is not at the end of the criteria list when choosing the best VPN router. They range from $100 to $300 or more. While this plus your VPN subscription might seem like the total price, those looking to maximize their bandwidth should be ready to pay extra, especially if there will be many users.
Obviously, the best VPN router must support VPN
Like the best father must support his children by paying alimonies after divorce, the best VPN router must support VPN. There are many router types out there in the world, but to make sure it’s a good one for VPN, it has to support OpenVPN or come with the DD-WRT or Tomato operating system that already supports OpenVPN. Your router will probably have the OS of its manufacturer, meaning it will have to be flashed to either DD-WRT or Tomato first, which are open-source. But if you want to make sure that your router is compatible with OpenVPN, you should choose Asus, Synology, or Buffalo.
Best VPN routers
Below you will find a selection of the best VPN routers available on the market right now. While speed, ease of use, and price were the key factors, there were instances when a specific pro or con came to be the decisive one when choosing which devices will end up on this list.
Linksys WRT3200ACM router
Linksys WRT3200ACM MU-MIMO Gigabit Wi-Fi Router is one of the most recommended VPN routers you will find. Praised by Amazon customers and tech writers, it boasts impressive 5GHz throughput and supports up to 600 Mbps on 802.11n, making it suitable not only for home but also for a smaller office.
There are four Ethernet ports, one USB 3.0 port, and one ESATA/USB 2.0 port adding to its versatility. Linksys WRT3200ACM is compatible with DD-WRT open-source technology, so it shouldn’t be a problem to set up a VPN on it. The listed price of this great VPN router is $249.99 on Amazon, but you can certainly find a better deal.
Asus RT-AC5300 router
Asus is a well-known brand in the tech world, and RT-AC5300 is one of its best-received products. This 8-antennae wifi router sure looks like a dead upside-down spider. A giant spider, we must warn, which might seem like a con to those who are sensitive about their interior design, while others might see it as a pro because those spider legs are very good at giving a strong signal. It’s fast just like Linksys WRT3200ACM and even fares better when 2.4GHz throughput is in use. A hands-down best choice for gaming, Asus RT-AC5300 will also be appreciated by those looking to stream Ultra HD video content. Its CPU features AES-NI – an instruction that helps encrypt the VPN connection faster.
It’s not cheap though – the listing price on Amazon is set to $349.99. But our spider sense tells us RT-AC5300 is worth it.
Asus RT-AC86U router
Another Asus product is on our list, and rightfully so. Again, it’s suitable for gaming and other home use, offering excellent speeds and easy setup. While it no longer resembles a dead spider, its looks might still make some people want to cover it with a paper bag, leaving its three LAN, one WAN, and a pair of USB 2.0&3.0 ports unused. RT-AC86U is listed at $199.99 on Amazon, well below the aforementioned best VPN router options. We could recommend this VPN router to anyone who’s not looking for the best possible speed and is content with just “very good.” For such a user, the Asus RT-AC86U router should stand above all, easily beating some of the pricier competitors. Its CPU also features the AES-NI instruction that helps encrypt the VPN connection quicker.
Buffalo AirStation WZR-600DHP router
Buffalo AirStation WZR-600DHP is the cheapest entry on this list, but it sure isn’t the worst. For $150 your home will be getting good speed with a high data transfer rate and support for DD-WRT. This means that if you’re not into streaming 4K or using dozens of devices at the same time, it should be just about enough. We were happy to find such a small router having five LAN ports and one USB 2.0 port, which suddenly becomes important if you buy a printer.
Linksys WRT-AC3200 router
Our list ends with another Linksys product which is aimed more at the mid-price range. Costing around $180, WRT-AC3200 packs a powerful punch that threatens to knockout VPN routers from a $250+ division. It’s DD-WRT compatible, so installing your preferred VPN shouldn’t be an issue, though flashing the original firmware can a bit tricky. One of its main features is the so-called Dynamic Frequency Selection. It helps to avoid interference between all your devices by searching for available frequencies.
There’s a bunch of good and very good VPN routers to select from, and new models are always in the pipeline. This makes choosing the best VPN router a bit tricky even after reading a list such as this one. But the general consensus is that if you want top speed, be ready to pay top dollar. And if your needs are moderate, there’s no point in spending more than $200.
Remember that even if a router is capable of working with a VPN, its firmware will have to be upgraded either to Tomato or DD-WRT to get the most of it. This task will be up to you if you don’t want to pay extra for a pre-configured VPN router and have limited customization options.
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Karol is an experienced freelance writer, translator, and editor. His creative output covers a wide range of technology topics such as fintech, privacy, cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and more. He does not limit himself to just plain articles and writes guides, editorials, think pieces, and reviews.