If you decide to invest in a VPN router, one of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make is whether to buy a pre-flashed, VPN-enabled, or unflashed router.
“Flashing” means to install new firmware, which is the router’s operating system that determines what it can and can’t do.
Here are all three options summarized:
- Purchase a pre-flashed VPN router. These routers come with a VPN pre-installed. This option is quick and easy, but is usually more expensive.
- Purchase a VPN-enabled router. These routers natively support VPN capabilities, so you won’t have to install new, VPN-enabled firmware. However, you will still have to install your VPN of choice.
- Flash an existing router with VPN firmware. This is the most complicated option. You might save money on new hardware, but you’ll have to install the VPN firmware manually.
The difference between these options is simple: pre-flashed routers already have the VPN installed on them. Unflashed routers will require you to manually install the VPN. The first option will usually cost you a little more, but it takes all of the work out of your hands – just plug it in and go.
If you got your router as part of your internet package then it’s unlikely you’ll be able to install a VPN on that exact device. Most ISPs now give their customers combined devices that function as both a modem and a router. In this case, you’ll need to buy a new, VPN-enabled router and connect it to your current device.
We’ll now cover each of these options in detail.
Pre-flashed routers are the simplest option in almost every situation. They come with a VPN pre-installed, allowing you to avoid the complex process of installing new software or firmware.
Buying a pre-flashed VPN router will usually cost a little more, but it takes all of the work out of your hands – just plug it in, enter your login details, and go.
Services like FlashRouters will deal with the installation process for you and provide a device that’s complete with your chosen firmware and VPN service. You can also find routers that are specifically configured for certain providers, which is great if you have an existing VPN subscription.
A selection of routers that are pre-configured for ExpressVPN.
Both FlashRouters and some VPN providers also provide dedicated apps to simplify the process of connecting your home network to a VPN. These apps create a custom interface that streamlines the configuration process and allows you to switch easily between VPN servers, providers, and configuration options.
These apps will work with leading router models including the Linksys WRT32X, Netgear R6400, and Asus RT-AC5300.
Your second option is to buy a new router that is already compatible with VPN software. These devices come with VPN-enabled firmware pre-installed, allowing you to configure a VPN service of your choice and connect to their servers straight away.
This is the option for you if:
- You bought a Flashrouter that did not come preconfigured with a VPN server.
- You want to configure your VPN router with another VPN server.
To find out if your current router will work with VPN software, read the router’s manual or search for the model number online.
Because these routers are already capable of supporting a VPN, you won’t need to install new firmware or link the router to an additional device. Simply purchase a VPN subscription and VPN-enabled router, follow the configuration instructions from your chosen service provider and you can then configure the device to a VPN server.
Popular brands that provide VPN-enabled routers include ASUS, Linksys, and Netgear. The Linksys WRT3200ACM and Netgear R6400 are both popular models that offer great value for money.
If you choose this option, you should also consider which VPN protocols the router supports and whether it can be flashed with new firmware if necessary. The latest VPN-enabled routers typically support the OpenVPN protocol, which means you can install any VPN service that also uses OpenVPN. Luckily, this protocol comes as standard with any worthwhile VPN service.
For more on OpenVPN, and encryption protocols in general, read our VPN encryption guide.
If your router isn’t currently compatible with VPN software, but is compatible with VPN firmware, you will need to flash it. This is a longer process that will depend on the type of router in question. You can find out exactly how to do this in our guide to installing a VPN on a router.
Manually flashing your router with new firmware will enable you to install the VPN software of your choice. This can save you money, but requires a little bit of technical knowhow.
The two most popular types of VPN router firmware are Tomato and DD-WRT. These are independent, open-source systems that you can download for free online.
Tomato is an open-source, VPN-enabled firmware for routers.
Both DD-WRT and Tomato provide an interface for you to control your bandwidth, increase the range of your WiFi, use different VPN protocols, and much more. You can learn more about the differences between these custom firmware options in this article.
It’s worth remembering that flashing router firmware yourself is not for the faint of heart. It could result in a broken router with a voided warranty. To find out more, read our guide to manually installing a VPN on your router.