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If you’re concerned about keeping your internet activity as private and secure as you can, you need one of the best VPN routers. Most than just your average home router, these gateways offer advanced features that automatically encrypt of the traffic leaving your home network, keeping it safe from your ISP’s prying eyes as well as obscuring your actual location from other services you connect to around the internet.
However, there’s more to a VPN router than just privacy, as they can also be very handy for staying connected to the office or your school campus while working or studying from home, as well as helping to bypass location restrictions that lock down many services to specific regions. Many VPN routers can also offer a much better way to access your home network when travelling by taking third-party services out of the loop and letting you connect directly back home, privately and securely.
Here are the best VPN routers to keep your internet surfing private and secure.
The Synology RT2600ac combines all the must-have VPN router features in an affordable package, making it our top pick for the best overall. This router has excellent range, zippy Wi-Fi transfer speeds, can handle more than one broadband internet connection, and includes a fantastic VPN package.
The RT2600ac is a quad-stream (4x4) router that features four ethernet jacks and both 5GHz and 2.4GHz wireless networks, so it has plenty of speed and range. Where it really shines, however, is the firmware. This router is extremely easy to set up and use, but advanced users will find a huge variety of additional options.
The VPN package is robust and a lot easier to use than routers that require custom firmware. It includes must-have features like a kill switch to shut down the data connection in case of a VPN failure, supports PPTP, OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, and even has an app that allows your Android or iPhone to connect through your VPN remotely.
"This router is worth a look if you want something that’s easy to set up but hides a lot of hidden potential under the hood." — Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester
If you’re working on a really tight budget, but you still want to secure your internet connection with a VPN router, the ASUS RT-N12 gets the job done at a very stomachable price. You don’t get all the same features as more expensive VPN routers, but it has the basics covered.
The RT-N12 router supports IPSec, PPTP and L2TP protocols for pass-through, but it only supports the PPTP server protocol. If your VPN service supports that, you can enter your credentials and secure your entire connection. Otherwise, you can set the VPN up on individual devices.
While the RT-N12 features two antennas, supports MIMO, and is capable of streaming 4K video and running VoIP, this is a slower router than most of the more expensive options. It only operates in 2.4GHz, not 5GHz, and it tops out at 300Mbps. It also includes four Ethernet ports.
If you decide to upgrade to a more expensive VPN router in the future, the RT-N12 may still find a home in your network as a Wi-Fi range extender.
If you’re willing to splash out some extra cash on a VPN router, the Netgear Nighthawk RAX200 makes a strong argument for itself as a splurge. This router might look like a cross between a stingray and a futuristic fighter jet, but those swept wings conceal a staggering eight antennas that enable mouth-watering speed, rock-solid connections, and extremely competent VPN features.
This tri-band router features two 5GHz data streams and one 2.4GHz data stream, so it’s an excellent choice if you have a lot of data-hungry wireless devices. It also has two gigabit LAN ports and two gigabit WAN ports for superior wired speeds.
If you want a VPN router that can handle your gigabit internet connection, stream flawless 4K video, game without a hint of lag, and download blazing-fast torrents, the Netgear Nighthawk RAX200 can get it done.
Beyond its VPN features, the Nighthawk RAX200 includes another essential security feature: automatic firmware updates. Netgear essentially keeps the unit up to date for you, so you never have to worry about unpatched security holes.
Strong Tri-band Wi-Fi
Lots of Ethernet Ports
VPN Fusion for Gamers
If you're a serious gamer you'll know that there's a huge tradeoff between running a VPN and getting the kind of ultra-fast lag-free performance you need for fast-action FPS games. Many gamers have to shut down their VPN before a serious gaming session, but this is where Asus comes in with its GT-AC5300, a no-compromises secure router that's designed expressly with gamers in mind.
From a raw performance perspective, the GT-AC5300's specs are hard to beat, with maximum throughput of 5.3Gbps across the two 5GHz and one 2.4GHz band, and support for the WTFast Gamers Private Network means it can automatically route all of your gaming traffic to the fastest, low-latency servers available, while the eight beamforming antennas will give you solid coverage throughout a 5,000 square foot home, plus eight Gigabit Ethernet ports on top of that if your Wi-Fi performance just isn't cutting it.
What's especially great here for gamers, though, is Asus' VPN Fusion feature, which lets you keep your VPN up and running for all of your normal traffic while making sure it doesn't interfere with your gaming performance. This means that you can leave your VPN running 24/7 even if you're a hardcore gamer, and in addition to protecting your outbound traffic with a client VPN, there's also PPTP and OpenVPN server support for connecting to your home network securely when you're out on the road.
"There’s a gaming private network for heightened security and capturing the best connections, and you can also set up a VPN to run alongside your gaming activities without any lags or interruptions." — Yoona Wagener, Product Tester
Open source firmware
Very fast 5 GHz throughput
Middling 2.4 GHz speeds
Weak long range performance
Linksys' WRT3200ACM continues the legacy of a long line of classic open source routers, an almost direct descendent in both form and function to Linksys' WRT54G, the first open source router to ever hit the mainstream 20 years ago. However, unlike its now dated ancestor, the WRT3200ACM features all of the most current Wi-Fi technologies, delivering solid performance, fast throughput, and extremely versatile VPN support.
Thanks to Linksys' Tri-Stream 160MHz channel support and other advanced features like MU-MIMO and beamforming the WRT3200ACM can provide speeds of up to 2.6Gbps on the 5GHz band along with a healthy 600Mbps throughput on the 2.4GHz side, plus four wired Gigabit Ethernet ports so you can directly connect your PC or gaming console and USB 3.0 and USB 2.0/eSata ports for sharing media on your network.
As with its predecessors, however, the real strength of the WRT3200ACM lies in its already powerful stock firmware that can be easily expanded with packages from a variety of popular open source repositories such as OpenWrt or DD-WRT, making the sky the limit when it comes to VPN support, since there are modules that can handle everything from PPTP to IPSec servers, Tor and OpenVPN tunnelling clients, and even tools for capturing and analyzing network traffic or hardening your firewall. While this kind of flexibility isn't for the faint of heart, if you're looking for a router that you can tweak and expand to your heart's content, this one should be high on your list.
"Flashing Linux based alternatives like OpenWrt or DD-WRT is simple, and because the router is made with them in mind, firmware will be more stable than other routers." — Benjamin Zeman, Product Tester
The TP-Link TL-WR902AC is a pocket-sized powerhouse that can help you stay secure on the road, at the local coffee house, and everywhere else. It includes dual-band AC750 Wi-Fi, built-in support for VPN services, and works in multiple different modes.
This router is literally small enough to fit in your pocket, and it’s capable of acting as a Wi-Fi network range extender, connecting devices that don’t have Wi-Fi to a Wi-Fi network, creating a Wi-Fi network from a wired internet connection, and even connecting to a public Wi-Fi network and then passing that connection through its own secured Wi-Fi network.
In each of those use scenarios, you can set the TP-Link TL-WR902AC to run through a VPN service like NordVPN or ExpressVPN, and protect your privacy, security, and anonymity regardless of the overall security of the internet connection itself.
The ASUS RT-AC68U is an excellent dual-band VPN router that’s capable of handling all your devices and providing solid Wi-Fi coverage to moderately sized homes. If you end up with a dead spot, or your house is too big for a single router, it supports AiMesh to create a flexible whole-home mesh network by adding additional compatible devices.
This router can act as a VPN client or a VPN server, and it supports a wide variety of protocols, including IPSec Pass-Through, PPTP Pass-Through, L2TP Pass-Through, PPTP Server, and OpenVPN Server.
As a flexible home router, the AiMesh feature is the most attractive thing about the RT-AC68U. If a single router can’t reach dead spots or far-flung corners of your house, you can simply hook up additional AiMesh compatible devices to extend the reach of your network. With a VPN set up on your RT-AC68U, devices connected through the extended AiMesh network will receive the same protection.
Business-class VPN routers tend to be more expensive than general consumer devices, but they provide a much-needed extra level of stability. The D-Link DSR-1000AC splits the difference nicely, providing business-class features with a price tag that’s still relatively affordable.
The DSR-1000AC is designed to run a high-performance VPN using your choice of PPTP/L2TP, GRE, or SSL. If you have off-site workers, this router allows them to connect securely through the VPN without exposing your valuable data to the outside world.
With the business user in mind, this router also features port monitoring and bandwidth control, load balancing, and even web content filtering if you want to control access to the internet through your network.
While this router is an extremely capable unit, it’s more complicated to set up and use than most consumer grade VPN routers. That makes it better suited for small business than general home use.
The TP-Link Archer A7 provides a whole lot of value for your dollar. You can find more powerful VPN routers, but this unit strikes an excellent balance between price and feature set.
The Archer A7 is a dual-band router that’s capable of providing both 5GHz and 2.4GHz Wi-Fi networks. The 5GHz network is capable of running at 1,300 Mbps, so it’s even suitable for 4K streaming. It also includes four gigabit LAN ports to provide your wired devices, like game consoles, with a rock-solid wired connection.
VPN capabilities are relatively basic and include support for PPoE, L2TP, and PPTP for setting the router up with a VPN. It also supports PPTP, L2TP, and IPSec protocols for VPN pass-through if you prefer to set up individual devices with your VPN service instead of setting the router up directly.
The Archer A7 and Archer C7 routers are identical, with the minor difference that the A7 is certified to work with Alexa.
Synology’s RT2600ac is a well-rounded router that offers solid performance with all of the VPN features most users need in an affordable package, but if you’re an advanced user looking for even more flexibility, the open source Linksys WRT3200ACM will let you tweak configuration settings to your heart’s content.
Jesse Hollington has over three decades of experience in information technology and networking and has installed, tested, and configured just about every type and brand of router, firewall, wireless access point, and network extender, dating back to the days long before Wi-Fi even existed.
Jeremy Laukkonen is an experienced tech journalist with a background in automotive repair that has taught him the importance of breaking down complex technical subjects in understandable ways. He specializes in VPNs, antivirus, and home electronics, and manages his own automotive blog on the side.
Yoona Wagener enjoys helping people simplify processes. She has experience providing technical support and help documentation to end users, building websites for small business owners, and offering career advice to social-impact job seekers.
Benjamin Zeman is a business consultant, musician and writer based in southern Vermont. When he’s not reviewing tech products for Lifewire, he’s getting nerdy fixing them or solving complex problems for businesses in need of an outside perspective.
When it comes right down to it, the internet is a pretty public place, and most of the things you're doing online can easily be monitored and tracked by your ISP or anybody else in between you and the server you're talking to. While many websites offer encrypted HTTPS connections these days, that only protects the information you're actually exchanging with the website—it doesn't hide the names of the sites you're visiting, the services you’re using, or where your connections are actually coming from.
This is where Virtual Private Networks come in, or "VPNs" for short. As the name implies, they create a private network for your internet traffic, keeping it entirely hidden from anybody who may want to snoop on it. In this equation, a VPN router is simply a normal internet router that has the ability to automatically establish VPN connections for everything that enters or exits your network.
While there are a lot of different VPN apps you can install on your PC or smartphone, ranging from those made by specific commercial VPN providers to generic apps that can be manually configured to support a wide variety of personal and corporate VPNs, if you're looking to keep all of your internet traffic safe, having VPN capabilities built into your router is a much better way to go, since this will allow everything leaving your network to be securely encrypted, without you needing to install (and start up) VPN apps on every one of your home devices. This is especially important since you can't even install VPN software on many secondary devices like smart TVs, game consoles, streaming set-top boxes, and internet-of-things devices.
By contrast, a VPN router lets you keep your VPN up and running all the time, and there are advantages to this beyond simply protecting your personal data. A VPN router can also help you overcome geographical restrictions on certain types of content, since it can make services believe you're in a different place. Further, since all VPN activity looks the same to your ISP, using a VPN can also protect you against the kind of "throttling" where your ISP slows down certain services, such as online gaming or torrents,
While there are a lot of technical details about how VPNs work under the hood, the concept is actually quite simple. A VPN is, in essence, a tunnel created between your router and another server out on the internet. All sorts of internet traffic enters the tunnel on your end—at your router—and exits from the server on the other end, and return traffic comes back in via the same route. Inside the tunnel, however, all of your traffic is completely encrypted and unidentifiable as anything other than generic VPN traffic, in much the same way that a helicopter flying over a highway wouldn’t be able to tell anything about the cars driving through a physical tunnel.
VPNs have been used by businesses for years to allow remote workers to securely gain access through firewalls to servers and other resources inside a corporate network, and by the same token if your router supports it you can configure your own VPN service to do the same thing, letting you access computers on your home network when you're on the road. VPNs can also be used to connect two or more separate networks together as one larger network, which could be multiple branch offices in a business, or your home and a friends' house or your cottage in a personal configuration.
In recent years, however, there's been a proliferation of commercial VPN services as well, not only offering privacy, but helping users overcome geographic restrictions for online services. Since these services funnel your traffic through a private tunnel, online providers like Netflix see your connection as coming from the VPN exit point, rather than from your home computer. This means that if you're in Canada and you're using a VPN with an exit point in the U.S., then Netflix will think you're in the U.S. and provide its content library accordingly.
There are two important aspects to VPN services, and it's important to know the difference because some routers may only provide one or the other.
A VPN client refers to the ability to establish an outbound VPN connection to another server or router on the internet. These come in several different forms, which we'll discuss shortly, but the one thing that they all have in common is that they create the tunnel to another device and then funnel your traffic through it. A VPN client is what you will need on your router if you want to secure your outbound traffic or bypass geographical or throttling restrictions.
A VPN server, on the other hand, receives connections from VPN clients. For a home router, this would be used primarily to help you or others get access to your home network when you're not actually at home. To do this, you would normally install compatible VPN client software on your PC, smartphone, or tablet.
There's a whole alphabet soup of different VPN standards available, with names like PPTP, L2TP/IPSec, and OpenVPN, among several other less common ones. Without getting into too much technical detail, the most important thing to keep in mind is that you'll want to make sure your VPN router supports whatever standard is used by the VPN you'll be connecting to.
For most modern commercial VPN providers, this will be OpenVPN, since as the name implies, it uses open standards, it's quite secure, and it's one of the newer protocols available, at least among those that are in widespread use.
If you're planning to connect to your business or school using a VPN, however, there's a good chance you'll need one of the others. PPTP is one of the oldest—and least secure—VPN standards available, but it's also widely supported since it's been around virtually unchanged since 1995. For example, Windows has support for PPTP connections built right in without the need to install any extra software.
If you have a choice in the matter—if you're setting up your own VPN server, for instance—we'd recommend always going with OpenVPN. It requires a bit more work to setup on your devices, since support for it isn't included with Windows, macOS, iOS, or Android, but the better performance, security, and reliability is worth the small amount of additional effort.
There are a lot of different programs you can install on your PC to access it remotely when you're away from home, and many Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices also provide their own remote access solutions. However, a VPN server is a much more secure way to provide remote access to devices on your home network.
Most of these canned remote access solutions rely on third-party servers to handle the connections back into your devices at home. For example, a remote access app that you install on a PC will make a persistent outbound connection to a server run by the company that makes the app, effectively poking a hole in your firewall. When you're away from home, you access your PC by going through that other third-party server that your PC is already connected to. Essentially, this means that somebody else is acting as a gatekeeper to your network, so you not only have to trust that service, but also trust that it won't be compromised by hackers—and some of these services make pretty tempting targets, since they could offer access to thousands of PCs simply by breaking into a single online server.
By contrast, if you set up your router as a VPN server, when connecting back home you're going directly to your router from wherever you happen to be. No other servers are involved. Once the VPN tunnel is established, your remote device—whether it's a PC or a smartphone—simply acts like it's on your local home network. This means that you can then access your PCs, NAS devices, and other systems just as if you were on your local Wi-Fi.
Of course, while a VPN router isn't invulnerable to hackers, it's far less likely to be a target, since they'd have to find it first, and as long as you're using up-to-date and secure protocols like OpenVPN and strong passwords, it's definitely much safer than third-party remote access solutions.
Using a VPN will add some overhead, since your router has to process all of the traffic leaving your network to encrypt it and repackage it for the VPN. So if you plan to have a client VPN enabled all the time, it's important to buy a router with a fairly fast CPU, since that's where most of the bottleneck will be when it comes to managing your VPN traffic.
Even with the fastest routers, however, tunnelling gaming traffic through a VPN is almost always a bad idea, as the latency added by a VPN will be too much for most fast-paced online games. This means that you'll either need to shut down your VPN before a serious gaming session or look to a specialized router for gamers that can keep your gaming traffic off the VPN.
While most VPN routers also include other security features, since they sort of go together in concept, it's important to keep in mind that they're not inherently linked. Just because a router has a great VPN doesn't mean it has a great firewall, malware protection, or parental controls.
So it's important to do your research when buying a VPN router. Don't just assume that it's also a good secure router as well, and consider what other advanced features you may need in addition to a VPN, such as parental controls, which are almost always an add-on.
While Synology is better known for its very popular line of Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices, it also brings its expertise to create some pretty capable routers offering advanced security and VPN features along with good performance and a very seamless set up experience.
Asus makes an expansive lineup of affordable routers, ranging from some very wallet-friendly options that still offer advanced features for the price all the way up to its more expensive—and extremely powerful—gaming-class routers that can offer coverage for large homes and busy networks without breaking a sweat. Asus also offers some of the most versatile security and VPN features you’ll find on any router straight out of the box.
Linksys led the way in open-source routers over 20 years ago with its WRT54G, which was one of the first consumer routers to offer VPN support back in the day, and while the company’s lineup of routers has grown since then, it still maintains a lineup of current open-source routers that can directly trace their heritage back to the venerable WRT54G. Tinkerers and networking experts are huge fans of these routers, but the open source features aren’t for the faint of heart.
While most of the companies that make routers for consumer use tend to focus on that one area, Netgear’s products run the whole gamut from business-class switches and wireless access points to a whole lineup of home routers to meet every need. While some of its higher-end products can be a bit pricey, they’re generally worth the investment for the quality and performance, although the features and configuration interfaces always lean more toward the average rather than the advanced user.
Whether you’re trying to connect securely to your office or school to work from home or you’re concerned about keeping your network traffic private, a good VPN router can help you accomplish your goals, protecting and securing all of the traffic coming into and going out of your network.
Best of all, it accomplishes this without the hassle of running VPN client software everywhere or deploying questionable remote access products on your PCs just so you can get into them when you’re away from home, offering a faster and more secure way to keep your connections secure and your internet traffic away from the prying eyes of your ISP.