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What are the best VPN routers and can you turn any router into one?

The best routers for VPN installation will combine safety, speed, and reliable connectivity. Here are ZDNET's top picks for VPN routers in 2023.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer on

When you're looking for a new Virtual Private Network (VPN) setup, there is a choice to make: software that will need to be individually installed on PCs, mobile devices, and Internet of Things (IoT) products such as compatible TVs, or you can choose to install a VPN on your router.

VPNs provide encrypted tunnels to protect your communication online. Encryption, combined with networks comprised of servers designed to hide your IP address, can mask your online identity and prevent your data from being intercepted or decoded, thereby making it more difficult to track you or steal your information. 

Setting up a VPN environment via your router can take the legwork out of protecting the multitude of devices we tend to run these days, and it can be far easier to do than you think -- as long as you have a compatible router to start with. 

With many router models, once you've gone through setup and ensured the connection is stable, all you will need to do is enable the VPN function. Furthermore, some routers come with inbuilt VPNs, and so you only need to click a button to stay protected.

Below are ZDNET's top choices for VPN routers in 2023. 

Must read:

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Built-in VPN
  • Easy setup
  • Up to 1,600 sq. ft. coverage
Cons
  • VPN exclusivity
More Details

Features: Wi-Fi 6 | Built-in VPN | 802.11ax, 802.11ac | Diverse server locations

The ExpressVPN Aircove is our top pick based on the router's speed, ease of setup, and security. The router offers users dual-band connectivity for homes or offices, providing coverage of up to 1,600 sq. ft.

When you pick a VPN-ready router, you still need to consider stability and speed. The Aircove manages speeds of up to 1,200Mbps (600Mbps/2.4GHz) when the VPN is not in use, although, as we should expect, speeds will drop when you are connected to VPN servers. 

An interesting feature is an option to diversify what servers are used by what devices connected to the router. For example, you might want a gaming PC to be disconnected from the VPN, whereas you want an office laptop to run through a US or UK VPN server. However, in any case, you will also need an ExpressVPN subscription.

Read the review: ExpressVPN review: A fine VPN service, but is it worth the price?

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Lightweight, portable
  • Multiple VPN hotspots
Cons
  • Potentially high initial cost
  • May not be suitable for every streaming service
More Details

Features: Ad blocker | Parental controls | Kill Switch 

The InvizBox 2 is a mobile-first VPN solution best suited for those who want a quick, easy way to use a pre-configured VPN. The dual-band device offers speeds of up to 100Mbps, and while this might be slow for some, the real benefit is the compact system's plug-and-play functionality. You plug the InvizBox into an existing router, connect your device, and that's it.

The InvizBox 2 comes with three purchase options, all of which are on sale at the time of writing. You can pick up the product and a one-month subscription to the InvizBox VPN for $79 ($30 off), a one-year subscription for $99 ($80 off), or a two-year subscription for $139 ($100 off). Alternatively, the router works with many other VPN providers, including ExpressVPN and NordVPN.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Tri-band
  • Extreme speed
Cons
  • Requires configuration
  • Expensive
  • Bulky design
More Details

Features: Tri-band | High speeds | 1.5 GHz Quad-Core CPU | Game Accelerator 

The TP-Link AX6600 WiFi 6 gaming router (Archer GX90) is a piece of kit that should be considered if you want speed and power first, VPN second. The tri-band Archer offers users speeds of up to 4804Mbps (5GHz) / 1201Mbps (5GHz) / 574 Mbps (2.4GHz) and has been designed with gamers in mind, combining a plethora of WAN and LAN ports with a 1.5GHz processor.

However, to set up this router with a VPN service, you will need to configure either OpenVPN or PPTP VPN, so be prepared to spend some time tuning the router to your needs. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • VPN flexibility
  • Gigabit
  • Mesh capabilities
Cons
  • Uninspired design
More Details

Features: Multi VPN-compatibility | Smart Connect speed, control management | 1.7GHz processor 

The Synology RT2600ac is another top option if you want flexibility in your VPN choice. The powerful router comes equipped with a 1.7GHz processor, dual-band connectivity and speeds of up to 2.53Gbps, traffic monitoring, and a Smart Connect feature for balancing speed and range. 

When it comes to VPNs, the router offers VPN implementation options with WebVPN, Synology SSL VPN, and SSTP VPN. Servers can also be set up for remote work and office purposes.

Read the review: Why I replaced Google Wifi with Synology's mesh networking gear (and why you might, too)

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Stylish
  • Gaming port
  • Instant Guard security
Cons
  • Configuration required
More Details

Features: Wi-Fi 6 | Dual-band | ASUS AiMesh support | VPN Fusion | speeds of up to 5400 Mbps

For a more stylish option, you may want to consider the ASUS ROG Strix AX5400. This VPN-ready router is designed in and outwardly for gamers, first, but there is an interesting feature called VPN Fusion. 

VPN Fusion allows you to run a VPN alongside a standard internet connection simultaneously. So, for example, you can keep the typical connection free of a VPN for gaming, whilst also protecting your other connection when you are browsing or working. You will need to set up the clients yourself, though.

What is the best VPN router?

VPN router

Price

Built-in VPN?

Speed

ExpressVPN Aircove

$190

✓ 

Up to 1,200Mbps (disconnected) | 180Mbps

InvizBox 2

$79

Over 100Mbps

TP-Link Archer GX90

$250

x

4804/1201/574Mbps

Synology RT2600ac

$169

x

2.53Gbps (dual)

ASUS ROG Strix AX5400

$215

x

Up to 5400Mbps

Which is the right VPN router for you?

Choose this VPN router

If you want

ExpressVPN Aircove

A user-friendly VPN router with strong coverage and speed

InvizBox 2

A mobile-first VPN solution

TP-Link Archer GX90

A heavy-duty, powerful router

Synology RT2600ac

VPN versatility at work

ASUS ROG Strix AX5400

To run a VPN and a standard connection simultaneously

How did we choose these VPN routers?

While we were deciding on the best VPN routers of 2023, we wanted to provide a variety of options suitable for different budgets, but our priorities were security, speed, and reliability. There's no point investing in a new router capable of handling VPN environments unless it serves its core purpose, of course, which is to provide solid and stable connections to the internet. 

We have also examined customer reviews in-depth, including both positive and negative experiences. Furthermore, we have kept in mind the reputation of router manufacturers, considering popularity, variety, and product accessibility. 

What is a VPN?

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a network of nodes -- or servers -- which reroute internet traffic to mask its original IP address. VPNs also add a layer of encryption to protect data packets and online communication. As the internet was not designed to be inherently secure, VPNs were developed to bridge part of the security gap. While they are not a foolproof solution, a reliable and trustworthy VPN can help protect your online privacy.

If you want to understand how VPNs work in more detail, check out our guide on everything you need to know about VPNs.

Is a VPN router worth it?

If you want to install a VPN directly onto a router, the process can be more of a hassle than just signing up for an app. However, it can save you time in the long run as any device -- including PCs and smartphones -- that connects to your router will use the VPN and will be automatically protected. In particular, this can be useful if you have internet-connected devices, including TVs and IoT products, that cannot support a VPN on their own hardware. 

You might want to consider setting up a VPN on your router if you have numerous devices which need protection and if you are working from home. However, if you are a remote worker, some organizations may require you to use their own VPN to access corporate resources.

A caveat, though: some online platforms, such as streaming services, will detect when you are using a VPN and may block you. If this is the case, you may have to disable your VPN service to resume watching, temporarily.

Can any router be a VPN router?

Many routers are now smart, intelligent devices capable of doing far more than just providing an internet connection. You can install VPN software on a range of routers today, and many tout VPN support as a feature. 

However, a word of caution: if you are installing third-party software on your router, you might end up voiding its warranty -- just as jailbreaking mobile devices or changing the firmware of a gaming console can result in a warranty becoming invalid.  

Why would anyone use a VPN?

A VPN can be a great tool for protecting your privacy. VPNs should be used when you are taking advantage of public Wi-Fi hotspots, at the least, but using them while you're online as default is the better option to consistently protect yourself and your information. VPNs are also beneficial in circumventing geolocation blocks and censorship.

You should keep in mind, however, that some countries either ban VPN usage entirely or heavily discourage their use. If using a VPN is illegal, you may be subject to fines or prosecution. According to NordVPN's country guide, countries that ban VPNs include Belarus and Iraq, among others, whereas governments in China and Russia only permit specific VPNs to operate. 

Are there alternative VPN routers worth considering?

You can put VPN software on a myriad of devices, ranging from PCs to mobile devices and routers. While we have showcased what we consider to be the best VPN-supporting routers in 2023, we can't highlight every worthy option -- and so you can check out alternative products below, including subscriptions:

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