Best OpenWRT routers

Best OpenWRT Routers

Most people don’t know it yet, but they could potentially squeeze out more power from Wi-Fi routers than they imagined, and OpenWRT routers might be the answer. Unlike smartphones, most routers get less firmware updates during their lifetime. However, with an OpenWRT router, you can unlock even more power from your router to help you achieve more like getting a wider Wi-Fi coverage than before and even having more control over your Wi-Fi’s security. Ideally, OpenWRT is simply a Linux-based firmware that you can install on select routers. Because it gets more updates than your router’s original firmware, it offers better features that even the less tech-savvy would benefit from.

Why Should You Get an OpenWRT Router?

If you are on the lookout for a new router, grabbing an OpenWRT-compatible router would be a great choice. This is because you open up many possibilities with the OpenWRT firmware.┬áThe only shortcoming is that OpenWRT doesn’t work on all routers. This means that you’d have to check if your existing router is compatible with the firmware first. You could also check out other router firmware if OpenWRT doesn’t work for you. Below are some notable benefits of the firmware.

Benefits of OpenWRT

Image of cloud, spanner, and padlock representing VPN, customizations, and security
The best OpenWRT routers always outperform in VPN, customizations, and security (Image courtesy: Freepik)

Better VPN Handling

You probably know about the many benefits of using VPN even in your home network. They add a layer of privacy and ensure that less parties between you and the website you are accessing can know your true identity. Most people use VPN software on the actual devices they intend to protect. OpenWRT, on the other hand, ensures that you get better VPN speeds because it handles VPN traffic at the router level rather than on the device level. Of course, modern router can also handle VPNs at the router level, but not with the level of control that OpenWRT offers.

Endless Customizations

Power users will fall in love with OpenWRT merely because of the many customizations they can make to their router’s functionality. Unlike with the stock firmware, OpenWRT lets you change various aspects of your router and even install special kinds of software like BitTorrent clients and even server software! With this kind of capability, your router is probably more of a powerful minicomputer than a router as it can handle more workload than regular routers.

Advanced Security Features

While most people arm themselves with powerful antivirus software on their PCs and smartphones, they can easily forget to secure their home networks too. This creates a security loophole that could jeopardize your entire network’s security, but not with OpenWRT. For one, OpenWRT includes an SSH server which means that you can access your router via secure SSH tunneling. In addition, you can create more controlled network for your guests by only giving them access to guest networks where you determine the level of access a user has on your network.

Who Needs an OpenWRT Router?

Naturally, we assume that only the tech-savvy need great levels of control over routers, but the truth is that even the less tech savvy can benefit. If you need a router that will let you stream Netflix content from a different country, you’d need a router that handles VPN traffic efficiently, and OpenWRT routers are great for this. Forex traders could also benefit from using OpenWRT routers. This is because you can reduce internet lag on OpenWRT routers by using its Smart Queue Management (SQM) feature. Since latency is the amount of time it takes for data to travel from the source to its destination, a faster latency speed means that information travels to and from your computer faster. You can bet that even gamers would find great use for OpenWRT routers.

Best OpenWRT Routers For 2019 and Beyond

Linksys WRT AC3200

Image of the Linksys WRT3200AC router
The Linksys WRT3200 AC (Image courtesy: Linksys)

Its name alone speaks volumes. The Linksys WRT AC3200 descends from the original Linksys WRT54G that paved way for the OpenWRT firmware in the first place. It is a dual-band MU-MIMO Gigabit router with a maximum throughput speed of 3200Mbps. The 5GHz band offers speeds of up to 2.6Gbps while the 2.4GHz can go up to a maximum of 600Mbps. It also includes four Gigabit ethernet ports that you can connect switches to. As its maximum throughput speeds exceeds 1Gbps, the WRT AC3200 can offer true Gigabit internet speeds unlike some of its competitors. In addition to the four Gigabit ethernet ports and the single WAN port, the router also comes with two USB ports of which one of them doubles as an eSATA port. This easily allows you to connect your external hard drive and use the router as a media server. Since the other USB port is a USB 3.0 port, you can expect fast transfer speeds between your HDD and the router.

Performance-wise, the WRT AC3200 is a beast in its own way. It comes with a 1.8GHz dual core CPU that is crucial in delivering the kind of performance that you need. It also has plenty of RAM memory (512MB) which further enables it to run multiple applications on the router concurrently. For a router with these specifications, 256MB of flash memory makes it even more appealing because it allows you to install plenty of other applications on the router. OpenWRT firmware would have more than enough breathing room in the WRT AC3200. Even if you won’t be installing OpenWRT firmware on the router, you will still get to feel its fast response times.

Netgear Nighthawk X4S AC2600 (R7800)

NETGEAR R7800
The NETGEAR R7800 (Image courtesy: NETGEAR)

Before you judge the Netgear Nighthawk X4S AC2600 R7800 because of its slightly lower throughput speed of 2.6Gbps, you should know that it has a 1.7GHz dual core processor, dual USB 3.0 ports, and four Gigabit ethernet ports. Sure, it does seem more like the WRT AC3200, but the R7800 tends to bridge the gap for non tech savvy users by fine-tuning its original firmware to be easier to use. The Nighthawk app, for instance, lets you manage your home network and even setup your router directly from your smartphone.

If your sole focus would be to install custom firmware such as OpenWRT on the router, then you’d be happy to know that the R7800 has beamforming technology. This enables it to boost internet speeds to specific devices by sending the Wi-Fi signals directly to the devices rather than broadcasting Wi-Fi signals to all directions. Just like the WRT AC3200, the R7800 also comes with 512MB of RAM but falls short by incorporating a 128MB flash memory chip. While you’d still be able to install most of the applications you would install on the WRT AC3200, you are likely to run out of storage space faster if you get the R7800. Apart from the two USB 3.0 ports that we had mentioned earlier, this router also features an eSATA port too.

Out of the box, the R7800 comes with plenty of great features that would make even the less tech savvy feel like they have a high degree of control over their routers. The fact that it allows OpenWRT firmware as well makes it a router worth getting.

Zyxel Armor Z2


Zyxel might not be as popular as other router brands such as Linksys, NETGEAR, and even ASUS, but its Zyxel Armor Z2 is worth consideration. Initial impressions would have you thinking that the Armor Z2 is more like the R7800 mainly because it equally has a maximum throughput speed of 2.6Gbps. However, the reality is that the Zyxel Armor Z2 comes with bumped up hardware specifications that allow you to install more applications on your router. This is because of its 4GB eMMC storage and the same 512MB RAM that we’ve seen across all the routers so far.

The Armor Z2 has only two USB ports of which one of them is a USB 2.0 and the other is a USB 3.0 port. It also features four Gigabit ethernet ports along with one Gigabit WAN port. Like the R7800, this router has a 1.7GHz dual core processor as well. The fast processor comes in handy during stream boost optimization and even in beam forming since it enables the router to process and relay information to Wi-Fi devices at a fast rate. The Armor Z2 seems to be the one router that can handle more intense workloads than both the R7800 and the WRT AC3200, and this is mainly because its thermally enhanced design enables it to stay cool at all times.

Wrapping It Up

OpenWRT routers are basically mini powerhouses that can deliver performance when needed. The key distinguishing features between OpenWRT routers and regular routers is that they seem to have more regard for RAM capacity, processor speed, and flash storage. As such, you should be drawn to routers that have high specifications for each of these. Afterwards, you should ensure that the routers are compatible with OpenWRT firmware by doing a quick search online. In most cases, you will likely find that routers with high specifications are actually compatible with OpenWRT and several other custom router firmware such as DD-WRT and even Tomato firmware. Your choice will then depend on your own personal preferences and how much you’re willing to pay for the router.