Best VPN Routers

Updated November 2021
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Buying guide for Best VPN routers

A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, provides an additional layer of privacy and security when you’re accessing the internet. Because we spend so much of our day connected to the internet in some way — through our work computers, personal devices, smart home devices, game consoles and more — privacy and security are more at risk than ever before.

A VPN router is an economical solution to protecting your online privacy. This device combines the functions and speed of a traditional router but routes outgoing traffic through a VPN layer. Your upfront costs are more than what you might pay for a VPN subscription to your smartphone, for example, but you’ll save money in the long term because you protect your privacy on multiple devices. 

If you’re new to the concept of a VPN router and not sure whether you’re picking the right one, know that VPN routers are user-friendly and fairly easy to set up. It’s worth noting the reasons why you should buy a VPN router, features to look for, and key considerations when choosing the best router for your needs.

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If you’re annoyed by a barrage of ads that appear after conducting an internet search or clicking on a social media post, a VPN router can help reduce or eliminate those ads.

How to buy the best VPN router

Why buy a VPN router?

While it’s possible to use a free or subscription-based virtual VPN service, setting up a VPN router gives you greater control over privacy when using the internet in your home or home office on any device connected to that router. 

Why does that matter? Virtual VPN services are installed on one device at a time. You may need to subscribe to one service on your smartphone, another service on your desktop PC, and so on. With a VPN router, all the devices in your home that connect to the internet through that router have VPN support without needing to activate another VPN service. It gives all of your devices, from gaming consoles to kids’ tablets to connected home devices like Alexa, Echo, or Nest, an extra layer of privacy and security.

How a VPN router works

Like any VPN, a VPN router shields your IP address and protects your surfing activity using encryption. Outgoing data (such as an online search for a new frying pan) is encrypted by the router before the data is sent over your ISP’s network and out onto the public internet. That data stays encrypted until it reaches a server operated by the VPN service you selected; it’s decrypted on that server and sent onward to the search engine you’re using. The search engine will see only the IP address belonging to the VPN provider’s server — not your actual IP address — so it doesn’t know where the original request actually came from.

In addition to setting up the VPN router on your home network, you’ll need to subscribe to a VPN service. There are several VPN services available, both free and paid.

What a VPN router can do

Protect your online privacy: A VPN router’s chief purpose is to help your online activities stay private. Many online entities, including search engines and internet service providers, collect your activity data — what sites you visit, what devices you’re using, what purchases you make, how much time you spend online, and even the average temperature that your connected thermostat is set to. This data is sold to advertisers, who use it to try and sell you more stuff, and it’s sold to other entities, whose use of your surfing data may not be so benign.

Limit the information about you on the web: If you’re worried about how search engines and third parties acquire and use information about your online activity, a VPN router is a great option because it limits the information those parties can access. 

Provide remote access: VPNs are helpful when you want to access a website that’s blocked due to your geographic location. The clearest example is Netflix, which has a different content lineup in each country it operates in. If you’re traveling in Europe, for example, but want to stream a series that isn’t licensed in the country you’re staying in, turning on a VPN and pointing to a U.S.-based server will enable you to log into your U.S. Netflix account and watch the show. This is an uncommon scenario on a home-based VPN router, but very common on mobile devices and laptops.

What a VPN router can’t do

Be your only security option: A VPN router is not considered a completely secure option. Its purpose is simply to hide your actual IP address and surfing activity. For example, when you’re conducting a financial transaction such as paying a credit card bill online, the card provider’s website has a layer of encryption (you’ll know this because the web address starts with “https” rather than “http”). Their secure website protects you from snooping eyes while conducting your transaction — not your VPN. 

Protect against viruses and malware: A VPN doesn’t protect your devices from computer viruses or malware. That isn’t its function. Make sure to install virus and malware protection on your devices and keep it up to date.

Be more convenient: The VPN will be a hindrance if you like the convenience of certain websites auto-detecting your IP address and quickly logging you in. You’ll have to contend with the added steps of confirming your identity each time you log into certain websites or apps.

Operate at the same speed as your network: A VPN router can slow down your surfing session because it takes a little time — from a few milliseconds to a few seconds — to encrypt, send, and decrypt your data. This may not be noticeable during casual use, such as reading a web page, but it can be annoying while streaming or gaming.

It may not be legal to use: In at least 10 countries, VPNs are banned outright. Their use may be limited or regulated in other countries. Be aware of the regulations in your country when considering a VPN router purchase.

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Did You Know?
You’ll still need a subscription to a VPN service (whether free or paid) to fully enable a VPN router because the encrypted data must be decrypted at a remote server.
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VPN router features

Compatibility with ISP gateways

A VPN router is able to connect to the internet through your internet service provider’s gateway.

Processing power

The more devices in your home that connect to the internet, the more processing power your VPN router will need. Otherwise, connectivity may slow to a crawl.

OpenVPN compatibility

VPN routers all support OpenVPN, a scalable, point-to-point, configurable VPN system.

Firmware 

A VPN router may come preinstalled with firmware (an operating system for the router), or you can choose the firmware to install, like Tomato, Sabai, or DD-WRT.

Bandwidth allocation (QoS) 

This “quality of service” feature is available once firmware is installed and allows the network administrator to customize bandwidth used by connected devices. For example, if you want to prioritize a game console’s connection over other types of internet use, you can set that rule to go in effect whenever the console is turned on and connected.

Dual-band or tri-band antenna 

A VPN router should at least have dual-band functionality, with 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz settings, so that older and newer devices can connect through it. If you frequently stream 4K video or games, step up to a tri-band router so you get that optimal performance you’re looking for.

Guest network support 

If you frequently have visitors who need to access your WiFi, a guest network option will give them that access without letting them see the rest of your network. At present, only DD-WRT firmware supports this option.

HSDPA modem

This is an optional feature in higher-priced VPN routers that is very valuable should you need to maintain network connectivity if the broadband internet connection fails. The modem — either built-in or plugged in via a USB port — connects to a mobile network while still providing VPN encryption.

Having trouble setting up a VPN router? If the manual isn’t helping, go to the help page of the VPN service you’re subscribed to. Often, they have additional instructions to connect your router model.

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Accessories

SIM card kit: SpeedTalk Mobile Data Only SIM Card Kit

Add a mobile failover option to your VPN router with a pay-as-you-go mobile data stick.

Router case: Allprimo Portable Router Case

For those who travel with a portable VPN router, this padded case protects the router and its peripherals.

Helpful book: The Art of Invisibility

Learn how to maintain your privacy and security online with this book written by a professional hacker.

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Staff Tip
Some secure websites, like your bank, may not allow you to log in when you’re using a VPN. Be prepared to take additional steps to verify your identity or to disconnect your device from the VPN router temporarily.
Staff 
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Pricing

Low: Best for casual surfing and low bandwidth demand, VPN routers in the $27 to $64 range provide good privacy protection but sacrifice speed and performance.

Mid-range: Plenty of extra features and processing speed can be had for VPN routers priced at $66 to $129, but read the fine print carefully, as the available options tend to be an eclectic mix in each model.

High: VPN routers in the $135 to $299 price range are optimal for users who need top-grade features like failover to mobile connectivity, tri-band capability, network security, and gigabit speeds.

Tips

  • A VPN router won’t protect your phone or laptop when you’re away from home, so you should still subscribe to a VPN service for each of those devices that will activate anytime you turn on WiFi.
  • Look for a VPN subscription that’s most compatible with the firmware you’re running on the VPN router.
  • A VPN service with lots of available servers and diverse geographical locations is ideal.
  • You should still protect your devices with antivirus and malware software. A VPN doesn’t stop viruses from being inadvertently downloaded to a device, especially if you click on a suspicious email attachment or mobile text.
  • If a VPN router frequently gets hot, reduce the number of devices actively accessing the internet at one time to reduce demand on the processor.
  • Look for a VPN router that’s optimized for the type of connection you use most. If you stream video constantly, do a lot of high-bandwidth gaming, or just use the internet to do research, the router you choose should boast about its performance for each of those use cases.
     
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Do you stream 4K video or frequently game using 4K? Opt for a tri-band VPN router that processes 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 4K signals.

FAQ

Q. I’ve heard I need to set up a “kill switch” on my VPN router in case it disconnects from the secure connection. What does the switch do?

A. A VPN kill switch is an extra security measure that can help protect your privacy when or if the router disconnects from the remote VPN server. A disconnect can happen when the internet signal is weak or unstable, when the server at the VPN loses connectivity or goes down, or when a computer’s firewall or antivirus inadvertently decides the VPN router is a threat. Some VPN routers come with firmware that has this kill switch available (or automatically enabled). If they don’t, you can configure a kill switch through OpenVPN. Your kill switch options are “active” (the router sends an alert to your preferred device warning you that it’s no longer connected) or “passive” (the kill switch blocks your selected devices from sending data until the router reestablishes a connection with the remote server).

Q. A VPN router seems like an expensive option compared to the router provided by my internet service provider. Why should I spend that much money?

A. Consider the long-term costs involved. For example, you may be paying $5 to $20 per month to rent a standard router from your ISP. Divide the upfront cost of a VPN router by the amount you’re paying now to rent a router, and the cost is about the same over a one- to two-year period. Sometimes it’s much less, and you get a convenient layer of privacy protection for all your WiFi and wired devices in the home.

Q. How do I know that my VPN router is truly protecting my privacy?

A. In addition to configuring a kill switch, you should periodically test the VPN router to make sure it’s connected to the remote VPN provider’s server. 

Q. Will my mesh network work with a VPN router?

A. Only a few mesh networks on the market right now natively support a VPN router (meaning, support is installed as part of the network’s operating system). You may be able to manually configure the mesh network through a VPN router, but both products need to be compatible to a certain extent. A mesh network that has OpenVPN compatibility is the best bet.

Q. How much processing power does my router need to accommodate all the WiFi devices in my home?

A. The more high-bandwidth devices used in a home, the higher a VPN router’s processing speed needs to be. A dual-core CPU is the bare minimum that you need; a quad-core CPU is even better.
 

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